Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Experiencing a classic ski tour in the Columbia Mountains
Our flight into the Bugaboos lasts about an hour, including 4 quick stops to set up food and gear caches at several points along our intended route. The trip starts on a high note as the weather is clear and sunny, making for a really memorable flight. It's hard not to feel a little intimated by the terrain, especially all the glaciers and icefalls that we just don't have in the Sierra Nevada, where I have done the majority of my backcountry skiing.
Here are a couple terrible videos of some terrain from the flight in. They install these sort of blurry, soft, plastic covers over the window glass, probably to protect it from scratches from dorks like me, and it's generally better to just shoot through it rather than to try to shoot around it. I always forget this though until after the fact. Anyway, if you've never flown through the mountains you might still enjoy a few seconds of these. The helicopter ride is always a highlight for me.
The Bugaboos is an alpine climbing paradise that I've wanted to visit for a long time so I am pretty excited as the helicopter drops us off at a high point right between the well-known (to climbers) Howser Towers and Pidgeon Spire. From there, our first run takes us down the Vowell Glacier, past Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires.
We then continue north over "Bill's Pass" and past the wonderfully-named Snaffelhound Spire to the Malloy Igloo, an odd but comfortable little fiberglass structure, where we'll spend our first night. It's a pretty short first day but it gives us a chance to get our bearings and spend some quality time practicing our beacon searches, probing, and shoveling in case someone gets buried in an avalanche.
From here we climb up the opposite side of the valley and set up camp in a well-protected stand of mature trees.
It was windy and snowing so I still wasn't taking many photos, but the visibility eventually improved enough to enjoy some decent skiing as we descended to the valley south of Snowman Peak. From there we climb up a short drainage to Snowman Lake, the site of our first cache.
We get more of the same weather as we head out on day 4.
The next morning we are moving before sunrise in hopes of getting over Malachite Col before its southeast-facing slope sees much sun.
Ridge to Malachite Col
James leads the way out onto the ridge
...with help from Jesse, making for a safe and efficient traverse
These guys are really alpinists at heart so we can't pass up an opportunity to try to climb the spire. Once again we drop our overnight gear, then our skis, and set our sights on the top.
Happily though, the breakable crust conditions that I feared I might have to contend with on my lightweight and skinny touring skis never materialize and we actually find some pretty good corn skiing as we continue our descent to Silent Pass and on into the trees.
A lot of sidehilling through the trees eventually leads us to a burned area that James had earlier scouted as a route to valley bottom on the flight in. There isn't quite enough snow to make it all the way down but it's not entirely unpleasant either, especially if you are accustomed to spring skiing in the Sierra. Once in the valley we are able to forgo skins and freeheel it along an old snow-covered logging road to the location of our last food cache, where we spend the night.
Happy to give our feet a break and get them out of our once-again soaking wet boots, we enjoy the warm sun and quickly polish off the couple bottles of whiskey that we'd placed in the cache. We get a couple of somewhat contradictory weather forecasts via InReach and sat phone. We optimistically plan around the best forecast and set our alarms for midnight in order to maximize our chances of climbing on firm snow.
We also decide to forgo shelters for the night so that we can get moving quickly and because Trevor and I are pretty fed up with our borrowed tent for this trip. It's a non-breathable single-wall design that vents poorly in anything less than gale-force winds and generally seems poorly designed for snow camping. Actually it just seems poorly designed all around. By this point in the trip I'm regretting not bringing my old BD Lighthouse or Megalight (which is also what James and Jesse are using). This isn't Yamnuska's fault - we opted to supply our own tent to save a little weight.
An hour or two after crawling into our sleeping bags I feel the first raindrops and pretty soon we need to scramble to get our gear under the Megamid while we set up the tent. Our plans for a nighttime departure are scrapped as it continues to rain well into the morning. We thought our tent was bad in the snow, but we learn that it's far worse in the rain as the incessant Chinese water torture caused by terrible condensation makes it hard to sleep
The rain and continued warm temps create a big avalanche problem with our intended route back into the alpine, and we are forced to head down valley to the north and hope that we can use an alternate route to get back on track if we get a good overnight freeze. If not, we might be forced to slog 20+ miles out to the nearest road!
We spend the afternoon doing a lot of bushwhacking through forest and alder thickets until the vegetation thins out enough and there is enough snow to put skis on again as we climb up the valley that separates Beaver Overlook Peak and the Grand Glacier.