Bugaboo is a first-class mountaineering region, situated in the rugged Purcell Mountains in the BC Rockies region of British Columbia.
This 13,646-hectare park encompasses extensive ice fields, the largest glaciers in the Purcells, and spectacular granite spires, some of which exceed 3,000 metres in elevation. Its challenging peaks in the northern extremity of the Purcell Mountain Range have attracted climbers from around the world since the late 1880s.
Particularly popular are the North Howser Tower and the South Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, which are considered to be very difficult. The landscape is certainly breathtaking, but you shouldn’t attempt to hike or climb this region unless you are experienced, well-equipped and in good physical condition.
The Purcells, bounded by the Rocky Mountain Trench in the east, are actually ancient compared to the much younger Rocky Mountains, dating back 1,500 million years when the only form of life on the planet was algae. It was not until the dinosaurs era that the Rocky Mountains were born, some 70 million years ago. Heavy snowfall of the ‘Columbia Wet Belt’ continues to support large remnants of the vast alpine glaciers that shaped the rugged Purcell Mountains.
This rugged landscape was first explored between 1857 to 1860, when the Palliser Expedition conquered and named the mountains after Goodwin Purcell, the expedition sponsor. Since that time, the mountains have attracted miners, loggers and some of North America’s top mountaineers. Harmon, Longstaff, A. O. Wheeler and the renowned guide Conrad Kain visited the Bugaboo area in 1910. Kain returned with the MacCarthys in 1916 and climbed the North Howser ‘Tower’ and the South Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, which he considered his most difficult Canadian ascent. Thorington mapped the area and climbed with Kain in 1933 on Crescent Spire. In 1938 and 1939 Northpost, Eastpost and Brenta Spires were conquered. Snowpatch, beyond the techniques used in Kain’s time, was finally conquered by Arnold and Bedayn in 1940.
Climbers including Fred Beckey, Ed Cooper and Layton Kor in the late 1950s blazed the first face routes on Snowpatch, Bugaboo and Pidgeon Spires. Chouinard traversed the Howsers in 1965 and Chris Jones pioneered the 600-metre West Face in 1970. Free climbing techniques enable faster ascents, with reduced exposure to the frequent lightning storms. It also continually opens up new lines in areas where the elements of glaciers, major routes on firm rock, significant altitude and violent weather combine to create world-class challenges.
Bugaboo Provincial Park is, by its very nature, extremely isolated. People contemplating a visit here must realize that it is pure wilderness without supplies or equipment of any kind. Visitors must be prepared for true outdoor living. Weather conditions can change suddenly in this area and lightning storms with hail and snow are common in summer. Only experienced climbers trained in crevasse rescue and properly roped, should venture onto the snowfields and glaciers. Ice axes, sunglasses, prusiks or ascenders with foot slings are essential. Climbers should check with park rangers before departure. A registry is kept in the Conrad Kain Hut for this purpose – and visitors convenience. The rangers will be pleased to offer assistance or any other information required.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed, but no facilities are provided. Camping in Bugaboo Park in the Crescent Glacier area is restricted to tent pads situated below the Conrad Kain Hut, at Boulder Camp, and on Mount Applebee. The Conrad Kain Hut is available for overnight accommodation for a maximum of 35 persons. Reservations can be made through the Alpine Club of Canada. Propane stoves and eating utensils are provided. Visitors must bring all other necessary equipment. A nightly, per-person fee is levied during the period June 1 to September 30. Hut accommodation is not available in winter due to avalanche dangers. The Malloy Igloo is a hut that can accommodate a maximum of six persons. No facilities are provided. Climbers are responsible for their own safety, as rescue services are not readily available.
Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park is in a class of its own. Although much of the attraction of the Bugaboos is for hard-core climbers, there are a few hiking trails that cover a variety of distances and terrains, and don’t demand technical mountaineering skills. The Conrad Kain Hut Trail begins in the parking lot and follows the northern lateral moraine of Bugaboo Glacier. The trail is very steep and strenuous. Cobalt Lake Trail leads up a steep grade to an open ridge and views of Cobalt Lake. A marked route then descends to the lake itself. Malloy Igloo Trail begins at the Conrad Kain Hut and terminates at the Malloy Igloo. Only roped parties should attempt this hike because several glaciers have to be crossed. Alternatively, access to the Malloy Igloo via Malloy Creek is also possible.
Bugaboo Provincial Park is located 28 miles (45 km) west of Highway 95 at Brisco, between Golden and Radium Hot Springs. There’s good gravel road access to the park, but the roads are used by logging trucks, so check with BC Parks regarding road use and condition before embarking on the trip.
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