Pigeon Spire (W Ridge)

Pigeon Spire from SE
Pigeon Spire from SE
The Bugaboos being mostly a place for Real Climbers, I had planned to skip them entirely. However, feeling a passing lack of ambition, and having been encouraged to visit them by Canadians met on the trail, I decided to play tourist there for a bit. They are a bit like the Cirque of the Towers — huge granite walls an hour down a dirt road from a podunk gas station — but with the glaciers that carved those walls still in place. I drove the road, chicken-wired my car with one of the hundred rolls left in a corral, and hid from the mosquitoes in back of my car.

Approach trail
Approach trail
The west ridge of Pigeon Spire is the easiest thing in the central Bugaboos, so I decided to do that. Getting a late start, I sweated my way up the trail to the Kain hut, admiring the lower section of the huge Bugaboo Glacier. I had read on SummitPost that the most common approach route through Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col was ugly thanks to an open bergschrund and lots of rockfall — thanks, global warming! — so I approached up the Bugaboo Glacier, on the other side of Snowpatch Spire. After skirting most of the lower glacier, I followed an old boot-pack up the last part to the ice plain below the Snowpatch-Pigeon icefall, then up the somewhat more crevassed upper glacier and around Pigeon’s west side.

Howser Towers
Howser Towers
At the col, I found a sign pointing to a pit toilet, and a couple of roped teams descending. After admiring the Howser Towers and their fearsome glacier/bergschrund approach, I started up the supposedly 5.4 west ridge. Partway up, I met a fellow soloist, fishing for his smartphone in a crack. I tried to put my scrawniness to use and retrieve it, but came up a foot short. As he returned to the col to retrieve an ice tool to help with the recovery, I continued up the ridge.

Bugaboo and Snowpatch Spires from Pigeon
Bugaboo and Snowpatch Spires from Pigeon
I found one exposed hand traverse, and a few similarly-exposed balance-beam sections, but nothing that felt 5.4 on the initial climb. The route levels out and crosses a few false summits before climbing the left-hand side of the true summit. I finally found a few possibly-5.4, non-exposed moves downclimbing one of the false summits, and some low 5th class slab leading up the true summit. Descending from summit, I went farther east before cutting back, and found an easier way to avoid the slab. On my return, I noticed the phone had been recovered, but my compatriot had already started on the descent. Since he had a rope, he chose to rappel next to the Snowpatch-Pigeon icefall; ropeless, I just retraced my steps.

Kain hut and Eastpost Spire
Kain hut and Eastpost Spire
Since the day was still young, I stopped in to check out the hut, and found it even more luxurious than the one near Assiniboine, with a large kitchen area, a dining room, and bunks with padded mattresses. The friendly Scottish-Canadian caretaker offered me tea with milk and fig bars, so we sat and talked for awhile. He confirmed that the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col was ugly and dicey, squashing my vague ambition to do the Kain route on Bugaboo Spire. Later, an American couple on an epic climbing road-trip came in with vast quantities of gear, and I talked with them over yet more tea. After waiting out the afternoon rains in the hut, I made the short hike back down to the parking lot, thinking about how my no-partner, not-staying-in-the-hut approach was probably the Wrong Way.

2 thoughts on “Pigeon Spire (W Ridge)

  1. Beautiful pictures! And I enjoy your stories. I have to visit those mountain ranges some day. But have my hands full chasing the SPS list as it is.

    Keep it up! Love reading about your adventures.

    –Amin

    1. Thanks, Amin! Of all the ranges I’ve visited, the Sierra are one of the most “friendly” and pleasant, so you could certainly do worse. Have fun with the SPS list — I have to finish that one of these years — but don’t pull a Burd and start in on DPS and HPS (ugh!) after that. ;-)

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