I vomited 4 times en route up to the Conrad Kain Hut last Monday. Maybe it was the seventy pounds of food, clothing, camping supplies and rope pressing me down into the Earth. Maybe it was the scorching sun beating down on meas I climbed switchback after switchback up over 2300 vertical feet in the span of three miles. Or maybe it was the fact that I’m not in great shape and haven’t been on a run in over two months. Three hours after leaving my car behind, I stumbled onto the picnic table next to the Conrad Kain Hut, perched at the base of the Bugaboo Provincial Park, dumped my pack, and smiled. And then I vomited again.
Last fall I had the opportunity to assistwith the social media presence for the release of REEL ROCK 11. One of the feature films was the documentary called Boys in the Bugs, which chronicled the first free ascent of the Tom Egan Memorial Route by Will Stanhope and Matt Segal. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the Bugaboos. It always seemed like such a magical place. So unique. So unlike anything in the lower 48. It’s the poor man’s Patagonia, cheaper and easier to access, but just as beautiful. I knew that I had to visit.
As way of background, I’ve been climbing for roughly 5 months. I’ve hired guides and climbed one off days here and there prior to that, but it’s only been five months since I really decided to launch into trying to improve and learn more about the sport. I’d definitely put myself into the beginner category. I probably had no business going to one of the climbing meccas of the world. But, luckily, I’m foolish enough to disregard practicality and bought a plane ticket to Calgary, hired a guide, and started hitting the climbing gym, hoping to get just good enough to not embarrass myself.
On Friday of last week, I stumbled back down the Conrad Kain Hut Trail, absolutely destroyed. My hands looked like I had spent the last five days punching a brick wall. My legs were cut up, my arms covered in rope burns, my face peeling from sunburn and every part of my body throbbing. Every time I removed a layer of clothing or adjusted a strap, I found a new bruise, a new welt, and a new badge of honor.
During my time in the Bugs, I climbed McTech Arete, the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire and the Kain Route of Bugaboo Spire. These are some of the classic climbs in the Bugs, and to most, probably not that impressive. But to me, it was as if I had sent some of the hardest pitches in the world. And every time I topped out, I couldn’t help but be in absolute awe. Awe of the pioneers of the sport, those who had come before and set the standard for climbing. People like Conrad Kain, without whom, the Bugs would have been entirely different. Conrad Kain first did the Kain Route in 1916, in steel toed boots, leather pants and without any protection. While guiding three tourists! He stood at the crux pitch for an hour, looking for a way around the gendarme, before finally launching himself into the unknown, over the edge and around to the summit. He called it his greatest feat in mountaineering. As I smeared my high tech rock shoes against the rock, wedged my fingers into the horizontal crack fault and cleaned the cams placed for protection, I realized just how impressive those who came before us truly were. They were the true warriors, the true pioneers, the true adventurers.
None of it would have been possible without the support of the other people I met while in the Bugaboos. It became a common theme throughout the trip. The climbing was amazing, the scenery almost impossible to believe, but it was the people that really made the trip worthwhile and special.
People like Alex (@gearysguiding), my guide, a native Australian who had been transplanted to Canada in search of better rocks. A guy who put up with my cursing, banging my head (and sometimes fists) against the wall, grunting thru crack climbs, cleaning my blood off of his rope, pushing me down a glacier so I would be forced to practice my self-arrest techniques, all the while keeping a smile on his face and telling me to “stop right there” so he could snap an epic photo of me looking like I was competent. People like Morty, Pat, and Jeff, guides that were working their own clients in the Bugs, but hung out with us at night, sharing stories, swapping jokes, planning for the next day. People from every reach of the world- Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Spain. People who, just like me, had been drawn to this mythical place.
Maybe I should have waited until I was more proficient of a climber to visit the Bugs. Maybe I should have trained harder. Maybe I should have been more aware of what I was getting myself into. Or maybe I did it exactly the right way. We all have our reasons for taking risks, for jumping without looking. I found mine- the desire to push myself, to get outside of a zone of comfort and get into a place of controlled fear.
On several occasions since I’ve re-emerged from the woods, battered, bruised and beaten, strangers have stopped me mid conversation to ask about my hands. It happened on my ride back to the hotel in Calgary after dropping off my rental car. “Oh my god, what happened to your hands? You did that climbing? Why would you do that to yourself” a couple with whom I was sharing a shuttle with asked. I smiled “Oh, sometimes it’s worth it.”