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Known by many as simply “The Bugs,” the Bugaboos in the Purcell Mountains of BC are one of the province’s great natural wonders. Spires of sheer rock soar skyward out of oceans of broken snow and ice.
The entire location is nothing short of stunning and most visitors to the area will have seen nothing like it before in their lives.
This is how it was for me. I spend quite a bit of time hiking and exploring in my local mountains in Coastal BC, but nothing prepared me for what I would see and experience in the Bugaboos. It’s understandable why this arena of rock not only attracts climbers from around the world but also hikers, artists, runners and families. If you visit this area, prepare to make memories that will last a lifetime.
To get to the Bugaboos, either drive 77 km (48 mi) south of Golden, or 27 km (17 mi) north of Radium Hot Springs to the small community of Brisco. Turn west onto Bugaboo Creek Road and follow it for 50 km (31 mi). This road is quite rough and narrow in sections so care should be taken.
When you get to the parking area be sure to surround the base of your vehicle with wire, logs and rocks to protect its underside from the tenacious porcupines, known to chew through brake lines. These supplies are provided for you.
If the Conrad Kain Hut is your destination, then on a clear day you will be able to see it ahead of you from the parking area. Something that is quite unique about the hike in.
Even though the hut is only 4.6 km (2.9 mi) from the parking area, it is more than 700 m (2297 ft) higher up. Be prepared for a steep and strenuous, but short hike. If you are experienced with backpacking, it should take you somewhere between 2-4 hours depending on how heavy your pack is.
Even though the trail is steep, it is incredibly well built. One of the best trails I’ve ever been on. In sections of steep rock, steps have been built and chain handrails installed to assist you. There is also one mandatory ladder that is about 6 m (20 ft) tall but not too difficult. If you have young children you may want to assist them in climbing this ladder.
The views for most of the hike in are amazing as you look up the valley towards the “Hounds Tooth” and the tongue of the Bugaboo Glacier.
You have a few options as to where to stay in the Bugaboos if you are staying overnight.
The first is the Conrad Kain Hut. The price is $25 per night which is amazing considering the location. The hut is heated, and has running water, electrical outlets and propane stoves for cooking. Sleeping is dorm style like at a hostel.
The weather turned rapidly during my visit on a number of occasions and I was glad to have the hut to come back to to dry off and wait out the weather.
The Applebee Dome Campground is about an hour beyond the Conrad Kain Hut. Benefits include the fact that it is cheaper at $10 per night, and the views are truly panoramic.
The drawback to the panoramic views is that this camping area is exposed to any weather that might blow in. The Bugs are notorious for having sudden changes in weather. During my short visit at least 3 days were forecast to be sunny but instead we woke up to storms and snow.
Custodians try to post weather updates to a bulletin board at Applebee daily. If a system of bad weather is rolling in and you are camping, you can always escape to the hut for a few days. The hut custodians take cash and credit if there is availability.
If you are planning a stay of more than a few weeks, then staying at Applebee would be economical. You always have the option of evacuating to the hut or completely out to Radium Hot Springs if an extended period of bad weather rolls in.
If you are staying for a week or less, then definitely stay at the hut. Watching the sunrise from the dining area windows each morning was amazing. Watching the storms rolling in and then feeling the gusts of wind vibrate the cabin was awe inspiring also.
A hike to the Applebee camp is amazing. If you continue past this campground you will be able to visit a series of picturesque lakes below Eastpost Spire. If you are looking to climb up something, then Eastpost Spire itself is a worthwhile objective. The scrambling to the summit is mostly easy with a few Class 4 moves to gain the summit itself.
If you are looking to climb something in the Bugaboos, give yourself a few days to get a perfect weather window. First on your list should definitely be the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.
The grade is 5.4 YDS, but the majority of it is Class 4. It is known as the “Best 5.4 in the World” for good reason. People from all over the world visit the Bugaboos to climb this route. It’s scenic, high quality and the exposure is truly wild. It will give you that big mountain feeling that is difficult to find elsewhere on rock of this easier grade.
If you are not experienced in rock climbing, then I’d recommend hiring a guide to take you. If you are an able-bodied hiker then you will be able to climb Pigeon Spire with a guide. We witnessed parties on the route from all walks of life, including some ladies in their mid-60s who had never really done any form of mountaineering before. That was truly inspiring!
So there you have it. Look at your calendar and plan a trip to the Bugaboos (July and August are the best times to go). Even if you’re not a climber, this area is definitely worth a visit. While in the area we met trail runners just passing through, families staying at the hut with their children, seasoned climbers as hard as nails and also novices looking to hone their skills on the easier routes. The Bugaboos offer something for everyone.
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