One of the most spectacular climbing routes in Western Canada, the Kain Route up Bugagoo Spire is a complete classic for experienced climbers. It's also a terrific option for less experienced climbers to choose to climb with a guide. Bugaboo Spire is one of the most phenomenal features in the climbing world. However, this is a serious alpine climb, and further research of the current guidebook, and other resources is recommended. Getting to the route requires mountaineering skills, and frequent storms and exposure add risks and challenges that aren't well represented in the 5.6 grade. You may be able to climb 5.12, but that won't help you navigate a bergshrund, rap efficiently, or predict the weather. Guiding services like Cloud Nine Guides are highly recommended if you don't have much previous experience mountaineering or rock climbing in the alpine but are still keen to check it out.
This startling spire of granodiorite has two exceptional routes on it. The Kain Route is the easiest and the original ascent route, first climbed from the valley bottom in 1916. The rock quality is exceptional from top to bottom and includes a spread of fun fifth class cliimbing, ridge traverses, and exposed, well-protected moves on easier grades.
While the Bugaboos have always been popular, interest has spiked in recent years. There are far more backpackers and hikers coming to explore the area than ever before. This can make accommodation a little challenging because there are only two climbing areas where you can stay if you are accessing Bugaboo Spire: the Applebee Campsite and the Conrad Kain Hut. If you want to explore the Bugaboos without climbing it is better to stay at Cobalt Lake so as not to deprive climbers of access to this wonderful objective. Cobalt Lake is nearby and offers many of the same options for day hikes; it is also quieter, and you hear the sounds sounds of climbers racking up and cooking breakfast at 4 a.m.
The trailhead is on the southwest corner of the parking lot. It starts gently, but it quickly becomes steep. Ladders and a rock staircase to make the ascent easier. It can take 1.5 to 2.5 hours to reach the hut depending on how much gear you are carrying; the campsite is a 30- to 45-minute hike beyond the hut.
An alpine start is needed to make it up the base of the BS Col before the sun comes up, and being off the route early helps avoid afternoon thunderstorms. The approach takes between 40 minutes from Applebee to 1.5 hours from the Conrad Kain Hut. Follow the trail to the base of the glacier. Crampons and ice axes go on here. It's up to you to assess the crevasse risk because it changes from year to year, though it's rarely very complex. Heading up the Bugaboo Snowpatch Col is pretty quick snow climbing. In some years the bergschrund can get very challenging, especially later in the season; in other years there has been enough rockfall off of Bugaboo Spire to make it too dangerous, and so an alternative route must be taken.
Most parties ditch their mountaineering gear at the BS Col before starting up the ridge to shed weight. At first the slope is gentle and leads over slabs and talus; there is a slight trail and some cairns where the talus is reduced, but both are inconsistent. It's mostly third class terrain, so if you find yourself on anything harder than fourth class, backtrack and try and find an easier route to save energy. Head upward trending northwest for about 250 meters. This will end as you reach a brief ridge feature that forces you onto the east face.
You'll reach a blocky chimney of fifth class climbing up about 40 meters. The rock is solid, if a bit steep. You should arrive at a chain anchor and a series of rocks called the diving boards. This is a good place to switch into rock shoes and leave your hiking boots if you don't have light mountaineering boots. From here the roped climbing begins for many parties because the rock is about 5.5. The climbing isn't too exposed, and consists mostly of jugs with a few mantling moves thrown in. Climb about two pitches of good rock following the crack system. Look for the good jugs and solid cracks. This gains a ridge leading to the final steep section.
The ridge is about 110 meters long and is solid. The ridge eventually collides with the main face, and you will see the imposing gendarme above. One pitch of stiff 5.6 climbing gets you to the crux pitch, the gendarme.
The gendarme is a little tricky, but it is also one of the most unique pitches of alpine climbing in the Selkirks, if not Canada. Lots of cams are jammed in to the climber's right where people have strayed a bit too far. Move upward and mantle onto a pretty flat stretch just a couple of meters bellow the gendarme peak. From here an awkward stretch into a corner using a tiny crystal allows you to slide into a corner. This offers good holds onto a hand traverse crack. You can traverse along for a few meters before the feet run out and you have to lower yourself onto a foothold that cannot be seen beneath a lip. This foothold is requires a reach down and a leap of faith; shorter climbers will have to lower all the way to reach it. Once you reach the hold, it's an easy hop and skip to the belay. It's often to polite to pop a cam in here for your second because it greatly increases their comfort. It's a quick third class traverse west that brings you to a corner with one last pitch of 5.5. And then you're on top!
Take a moment to enjoy the view, then find the rap anchors and head back down. The descent can be a little tricky. It's a quick rap back to the traverse and over to the gendarme. The bolts are on the east side of the gendarme over the edge. It can be tricky reaching them because you have to hop over the edge before you rappel. There is a second station to the climber's left (skiers/rappers right) that starts on the other side of a notch. One more rap gets you back to the fourth class ridge. If you have double 60-meter rope you can make this in one rap from the notch station. A short traverse brings you to the next rap station.This gets you to the first of two rap stations back to the diving board rocks. From here you can do more rap or down climb.
Once back at the col you can descend the alternative route or take the the three rap stations down the col. This can be risky because rockfall is common even in the early afternoon. The last rap over the bergshrund is the most dangerous and presents the greatest risk.
Sundries and other optionals
Some folks would probably fine with a light alpine rack, and going as lightweight as possible really speeds up the scrambling and mountaineering sections. The less gear you place, the faster you go.
As someone who leads 5.9 at Squamish but who also has weak headspace, I found it was comforting to have a full rack with me on the final two pitches. They are very steep, and they felt more like 5.8 then 5.6, but that could have been the exposure.