Pigeon Spire – West Ridge (II 5.4)

On July 29th, John Guy and I climbed the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.  Touted as “The Best 5.4 in the World,” this route fully lived up to that reputation.  John and I needed a low stress, fun day out after our epic on Bugaboo Spire.

The classic view of Pigeon Spire.  Our route roughly followed the right-hand skyline.  Photo: John Guy

We left Applebee Camp at 6:15am, quickly hiking over to Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col and climbing to the saddle.  It was a beautiful day, and we took several brief stops to take in the incredible views.

John on the approach.  Bugaboo Spire stands proud on the left, with the Kain Route (our descent) roughly on the right skyline.  Pigeon Spire is behind me.

We took our time on the approach and started the route at 9:30am.  There’s not much to say about the climbing itself – it is straightforward and consistently 4th class with occasional sections of easy fifth class.  We simulcimbed the vast majority of the route but were hindered by a very slow team that wasn’t interested in letting us pass.

John getting the party started near the bottom of the West Ridge.  
More jaw-dropping views of Bugaboo.
Surveying the section between the first and second summits while giving the slower parties a chance to get ahead of us.  Photo: John Guy

After the first summit, the ridge looks extremely steep and intimidating – I thought that we might have to pitch out the climbing after all.  However, the climbing was consistently low angle and casual with great holds.  We cruised over the second summit and continued up to the true summit at 10,354′.  From here, we made two rappels past the 5.4 crux section and simulclimbed back down the West Ridge.  We did one more rappel right at the end to bypass a steeper section.

Placing a piece to protect a couple of bodylengths of slabby 5.4  near the summit.  Not as steep as it looks here.  Photo: John Guy
John organizing our first rappel.  The incredible Howser Towers are behind him.
On the summit.  Photo: John Guy
John on the first rappel.

By the time we returned to Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, there was literally a line of alpinists waiting to make the rappels that bypass the steepest snow.  After a slow and frustrating rappelling experience, we returned to Applebee Camp and celebrated our successful trip while loading up our huge packs – mine weighed 60 pounds.  This route is a classic climbing experience for climbers of any skill level – highly recommended!

Hiking back to camp.  
Evening at Applebee Camp.  This is when climbers from all over the world finish socializing for the night and begin preparing for the next day’s mission.  

Gear Notes:

We used a set of nuts and a single run of cams from .3-3.  This rack was plenty for the route.  Only one 60m rope is required.  Don’t bother with climbing shoes – approach shoes worked better for the slabby, easy climbing you’ll find.  I did wear mountain boots on the approach and hike back to camp – the glacier was pretty slushy in the afternoon heat.

Strategy Notes

This route makes for a good exercise in simulclimbing and would also make for a relaxed solo.  If you are moving slowly, please be courteous and allow faster parties to pass.  It’s entertaining to be casually walking an easy part of the ridge while the team in front of you is placing their entire rack for protection and scrambling on all fours. It’s frustrating when that scenario becomes the theme of the day.

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