Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Experiencing a classic ski tour in the Columbia Mountains

Trevor, James, and Jesse with Bugaboo Spire

One of Chic Scott's "Grand Traverses", the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass ski tour has been on my radar for the past few years thanks to a borrowed guidebook (thanks "Docta Pow"!) and Google Earth. I was really pleased to finally have the opportunity to give it a shot this season (2015). I was joined by my friend Trevor, ACMG mountain guide James Madden, and ACMG apprentice alpine guide and ski guide-in-training Jesse Petersen. James and Jesse work for Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore, which organized the trip.

Our trip begins at the airport in Golden, British Columbia where we load up a helicopter with all the gear that we will need for the next 10 days. Compared with the busy helipad operations on ski hut exchange days that I've experienced on a couple of other trips in the area, things seem much more relaxed here.

Our helicopter being pushed from the hangar

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.

James and Jesse bury a food cache near Snowman Lake
Trevor and Jesse check out the incredible terrain from the air

An unexpected 5th stop is made when our pilot reports that an engine sensor that detects metal in places that it shouldn't be is reporting a possible issue. After a little bit of poking around in the engine compartment we are underway again.

A quick check-up in the field

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.

James, Jesse, and Trevor with some of the most well-known of the Bugs' 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.

En route to the Malloy Igloo
I'll let Trevor explain what is going on here
Julian and Trevor at the igloo

The weather isn't nearly as cooperative on day 2 and we spend much of the day traversing the Conrad Icefield with poor visibility.

Jesse finds us a route across the Icefield

Occasionally we'd see something like this and give it a wide berth.

Seracs on the Conrad Icefield

Eventually though we approach Crystalline Pass and visibility improves as we get off the glacier.

Jesse checking out the view of Cuestaform and Crystalline Peaks

We get a few turns in good snow but unfortunately skiing conditions deteriorate rapidly as we get into the cliffy section of the cirque at the head of the valley. I'm pretty sure we all felt a sense of relief after carefully sideslipping our way down a "no-falls" stretch that led us out of the cliffs.

Trevor at the base of the cirque

From here we climb up the opposite side of the valley and set up camp in a well-protected stand of mature trees.

Crystalline Valley and camp

The poor visibility continues on day 3 but the group energy is still upbeat and everyone is feeling good.

James leading the way up to Climax Col
Digging a quick snow cave to get out of the wind

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.

I bet Trevor wishes that he brought some puffy pants

We get more of the same weather as we head out on day 4.

Continuing on toward Syncline Peak
Syncline Peak fades into view in the distance
Jesse leading the way toward Syncline Pass
TZ on the skintrack

But once again, the second half of the day brings better visibility and we enjoy some good skiing on the other side of Syncline Pass.

Improving light and snow
Continuing down toward Vermont Creek before the sun disappears

It continues to snow a little bit through the evening and early morning but the clouds finally depart as the sun rises on day 5.

Jesse and Trevor with Azurite Peak across the valley

We ski up the valley and then gain the ridge between Syphax and Vermont peaks.

James looks at our options around Vermont Peak
Taking advantage of good vis to look at the route ahead

From here we enjoy the best turns of the trip so far and ski a really nice north-facing powder run for approximately 1000 feet.

Woohoo!
Trevor ending his run in style

The skiing is so good that we decide to make the most of it by dropping our overnight gear and skinning back up to the notch just below Vermont Peak for another run.

Climbing back up for more

From the notch we start climbing up a short chute that leads to the top of peak but James wisely aborts as we discover a wind slab that quickly grows in depth as we climb higher. We still get to enjoy another fine run back down to our gear and then continue skiing down the valley to Malachite Creek.

James heading toward Horseman and Malachite Spires
Views from camp below Malachite Col
Julian posing with some pretty incredible ski terrain on the north side of Syphax

The next morning we are moving before sunrise in hopes of getting over Malachite Col before its southeast-facing slope sees much sun.

Views from the approach to Malachite Col

James digs a few test pits and explores a couple of variations to ascend to the col but unfortunately isn't satisfied with his results. We regroup in a safe spot to consider our options and eventually decide to climb a safer route to the ridge and then follow the ridge back to the pass.

Aborted climb to Malachite Col
Weighing other options

Ridge to Malachite Col

Our eventual route over the Horseman Glacier is visible above the ski tips at the top of the photo

James leads the way out onto the ridge

...with help from Jesse, making for a safe and efficient traverse

Once off the ridge we still need to wrap back around to the col

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.

Ascending the short rock pitch to the top of Malachite Spire

Once we are back on snow and skis we continue across the Horseman Glacier and then down to International Basin.

Skiing across the Horseman Glacier toward International Basin
Happy to put the rope away for the day after getting off the Horseman Glacier
Julian enjoying some turns below International Peak
Looking back at our route below International Peak

Once we reach International Basin a short climb leads to the Kingsbury Hut and our next food cache. The hut's basic amenities are much appreciated after the previous five nights of snow camping.

Drying gear at the Kingsbury Hut on day 6
Lynx tracks near the Kingsbury Hut

The good weather continues into day 7 and we depart for the Beaver Creek / Duncan Creek Valley that divides the Purcell Mountains from the Selkirks.

View of International Basin from the slope above the Kingsbury Hut
Trevor with International Basin as backdrop

We find more good snow as we ski around Cony and David Peaks but it's warm and even though we are on north-facing aspects it gets a bit heavier and punchier as we descend.

Icefall beneath Cony Peak
A nice view of our upcoming route on the horizon as we pass beneath Cony Peak
Taking a short break before descending to Silent Pass

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.

"We can probably follow these bear tracks right to our next cache..."
Looking back toward David and Cony peaks from the vicinity of Silent Pass

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.

Descent from Silent Pass to valley bottom

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.

Camp based on the best-case forecast

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

Drying out (again) the morning of day 8
Draining the EV2

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.

An afternoon of "type 2" valley bottom bushwhacking - the photos don't really do it justice
Pretty rocks near our campsite on day 8
View of our route up to the Deville Neve from camp
Trevor, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Grand Glacier from our campsite

Luckily, the temperature falls quickly this evening, the skies clear again, and this means we can continue with the traverse.

We camp in the open again but this time the skies stay clear through the night and we are treated to great stargazing followed by a gorgeous view of the glacier illuminated by moonlight. We get moving early so that we can climb the ledges leading up to the Deville Neve before the snow gets too soft.

Early morning view of Sugarloaf and Grand Glacier
Climbing some ledges and gullies to get to the Deville

The sun is really intense as we begin our traverse of the Deville. So intense that we take shelter in the Mid when we stop for lunch. Skiing this section is like traveling through a very flat desert valley while surrounded by big peaks. After a little while though a small breeze picks up and the pitch tips slightly downward making for really pleasant traveling.

Trevor in front of Grand Mountain
Jesse and Mt. Wheeler
James and Jesse as the Illecillewaet glacier comes into view on the other side of Glacier Circle
Trevor and the vast expanse of the Deville Neve
The east ridge of Selwyn and Glacier Circle from the north end of the Deville Neve
The first rappel anchor next to the icefall
James setting up our the first of three rappels down off the icefield

Rappelling with big packs and skis is a little uncomfortable but not as bad as I feared it might be, and it goes pretty quickly due in large part to the well-practiced efforts of James and Jesse. Once down off the icefield we find ourselves in a huge slush-filled bowl filled with avy debris. We get our skis on quickly and ski away from the nearby cliffs to a relatively safer local highpoint in the center. From here we watch as a small serac fall turns into a big wet slide.

Rappel route is just to the left of the icefall
Not a good place to spend much time taking photos

We put our skins back on our skis and we have one short final sketchy traverse below a cornice that is baking in the sun before escaping to safety on the other side of a moraine.

Sketchy traverse

A little more skinning in the trees on the other side takes us to the historic Glacier Circle cabin.

Glacier Circle cabin
James is probably wishing Trevor would stop helping

Hut life is once again a welcome respite from snow camping. Case in point: the cabin is fully stocked with multiple Harlequin erotica titles, so you can leave those at home. Tired from a long day under intense sun and once again aiming for an early morning departure, we turn in early.

Although packing up on this final morning seems to take me a little longer than usual due to having my gear spread out all over the cabin, we do ok and have a pretty but uneventful climb up to the Illicillewaet Neve.

Jesse getting ready to leave the cabin on our last day
Departing Glacier Circle
Jesse and Mt. Fox
Getting out of Dodge before that face wakes up
Skinning up to the Illecillewaet Neve from Glacier Circle
Our tracks leading onto the Illecillewaet

Once on the Illecille we set our sights on Youngs Peak and James leads us to a crevasse-free ramp of snow that has some great skiing down to the Geikie Glacier.

The gang in front of our final summit of the trip, Youngs Peak
James finds us some great skiing amidst very glaciated terrain

We rope up for the last time and carefully climb up the Geikie glacier toward an obvious saddle on the east ridge of Youngs.

Jesse and Trevor on the Geikie Glacier
Looking back all the way to the Deville Neve

We ski up to the summit under completely clear skies with virtually no wind.

Ascending the east ridge of Youngs
Nearing the summit of Youngs
Panorama of Rogers Pass from the summit
Team "Dino" on the summit of Youngs

We take our time on the summit, sending texts, taking photos, eating the last of our candy bars. The top of our final run starts out as good powder but it has gotten warm so unfortunately it doesn't last for as long as we'd hoped and the descent has its challenging moments on the skinny skis. Nonetheless it is still a pretty great way to finish the trip.

James drops in on our final run
Followed by Trevor
"Forever Young" looks worthy of a return trip
Heading down the Asulkan Valley on our way out to the road

My heartfelt thanks goes out to Trevor, James, Jesse, and the fine folks at Yamnuska for helping to make this amazing trip possible.

Our approximate route

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