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Mason Earle’s Probable First Free Ascent of Gar Wall Sends Out the Bugaboo Classics Trip—Part Five
Posted on October 25, 2014

Descending the Kain Route, Bugaboo Spire

All good climbing trips must come to an end, and that’s the case for Mason Earle and Erik Leidecker’s tour de classical force in the Bugaboos of BC’s Purcell Range. After classic big wall missions up the Beckey-Chouinard route (5.10) and Solitary Confinement (5.11), the duo topped off the trip with Mason’s probable first free ascent of the slabby section of the Gar Wal (5.13). As an encore, they navigated a high fourth-class circuit of the famous granite towers, then tackled some serious philanthropic cleanup before their departure. In final reflective summation, Mason Earle files his last report from the Bugs. —LYA Editor

Mason Earle working the Gar Roof Project, Pigeon Feathers

Words by Mason Earle, Images by Andrew Burr

At some point during the night, the rain stopped, and we awoke to clear skies. Enormous wet streaks lined the previously dry rock faces. We had a lazy morning waiting for the walls to dry up. Breakfast evolved into a jam session, which led to a game of extreme glacier bocce ball. In the early afternoon, when the rock looked like it was drying out, Erik agreed to give me a belay on the hard slab pitch of Gar Wall. Our fixed ropes were soaking wet as we jugged up to the crux pitch. I climbed back up to the slab and began working out a sequence.

The holds on this short boulder problem were so small, I had to have my nose just inches from the wall to find edges to use. I worked out a sequence of moves that barely allowed me to levitate up the featureless wall: left credit-card-crimp to high-step, reach up and right to another credit card, smear out left, dig fingernails into lichen, and so on. Slab climbing can be extremely intricate, and often terrifying—like trying to write an English comp paper with an axe murderer in your house. I came down to the belay and rested for a moment, then proceeded to climb the pitch. I launched into the crux sequence, making the delicate moves, and my hands and feet stayed on the wall. Soon I was in easier terrain and reached the ledge. While I didn’t free the route in a single day, I was happy to free every pitch. We found out later that this was likely the first free ascent.

 

 

The next day, Erik proposed a Tour de Bugs. We would make the trek over to the busy Applebee campground, climb McTech Arête to the magnificent Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, down-climb the Kain Route, and then slog back to camp. We had a magnificent day, scrambling up the towering formations while enjoying perfect weather. After several pitches on Bugaboo Spire, the climbing became easy enough to unrope. We navigated the final ridge to the summit and had a leisurely guides meeting there. Getting back to the glacier involved down-climbing a few thousand feet of 4th-class terrain. By the time we arrived at camp, our legs were much more tired than our arms, and the après climb refreshments tasted that much better.

Our departure date was finally upon us, and the climbing had wrapped up for the trip. There was, however, one final mission. The three 55-gallon barrels that collected waste from the latrine were nearing full capacity. With a busy season ahead, they had less than a week of use left. We asked one of the caretakers of the nearby Kain Hut about the latrine, and he told us with a long face that the alpine club had already used up its heli budget and had no way to fly the full barrels out. With a helicopter on its way to pick us up, we quickly set a plan into motion. Erik got on the phone with Eddie Bauer and told them the situation. Without any hesitation, EB approved the extra flight time to fly the full barrels of waste out of East Creek. It was a magnificent sight watching the heli long-line the heavy barrels up and out of the mountains.

After a soulful first trip to the Bugs, it felt great to help out and ensure a good experience for future climbers. On the flight out, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy. The Bugaboos are a true monkeys playground. I can’t wait until next summer.

Iconic Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Author: - Saturday, October 25th, 2014
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