Hiking the Bugaboos — Dang steep but totally worth it

We attempted the Spires Trail hike to Conrad Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park. Every reviews said it’s steep. They definitely weren’t kidding! We didn’t make it to the Hut. Although my knees were still sore two days later, I would do it again.

The first time I heard about Bugaboo Provincial Park in British Columbia was from reading Phil Armitage’s website. The picture of the Bugaboo Glacier that was flowing around the Hound’s Tooth and the colorful fireweeds in the foreground was stuck with me since. I thought one day when getting a chance I would like to do this hike. That was about 5 years ago.

Bugaboo Provincial Park is not an easy place to visit. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The closest decent-sized town is Radium Hot Springs. From Radium Hot Springs, you drive 27 km (17 mi) north on Hwy 95 to Brisco. From Brisco, it’s another 50 km (31 mi) or so of gravel road which, depending on the time of the year, may be full of bumps, potholes, and/or mud. The road is shared with logging trucks. The park website said a 4WD is not required, but the last 3 km is a rough road and low-clearance vehicles need to go slow to avoid scraping the bottom.

On a positive note. Despite being well known and popular with climbers, Bugaboo Provincial Park is not as popular with hikers due to its remote location and difficult access. This means it’s not at all crowded.

So…how steep is it? On paper, this hike (from trailhead to Conrad Kain Hut) is about 5 mi return (depending on where you get the info, it might be between 5-6 mi) with about 2,500 ft in total elevation gain. This number is deceptive, however. The first mile is relatively flat. Most of the ascent (about 2,300 ft) comes in the last 1.5 mi. How could a trail gain that much elevation that quickly? LOTS of big, knee-punishing steps over rocks and boulders. A rule of thumb that I’ve been using to gauge the trail steepness was how much it gains elevation over one mile distance. I consider a trail to be steep when it gains about 1,000 ft over a mile. The last 1.5 mi of this hike gains 2,300 ft, that’s about 1,500 ft in a mile!

Parts of the trail also go through narrow and exposed ledges. At these places, chains bolted into the rock provide assurance and security. There was also a place where a metal ladder (about 24 ft tall), securely attached to a steep rock face, was used to climb up (and down). We went through the chain and ladder sections without problem. This section was actually shorter and easier than the Angels Landing in Zion National Park in Utah where the chain sections went on a long time. For those who have fear of heights, this might be more of a problem than the steepness of the trail.

The day we did this hike, we were slow getting on with our day. We didn’t get to the trailhead until about 2:30 pm. Once we arrived at the trailhead, we had to protect the truck from porcupines and other animals from chewing on rubber brake lines and tires (according to the park). So you had a parking lot full of vehicles fenced with chicken wires and weighted down by rocks and sticks (the park supplied the chicken wires). Even though we didn’t see any porcupines around, I supposed we’d better be safe than sorry. By the time we hit the trail, it was 2:46 pm. We knew we didn’t have much daylight to waste for this long hike. This hike should take about 5-6 hours to complete and that was about time we had.

In hindsight we really needed more time. While it wasn’t a particularly warm day, it was a little humid. We should have taken more time to rest or go slower as necessary and drink more water. But since we didn’t have any to spare, we pressed on and paid for it. By the time we got through the steepest part of the trail, David felt ill. It might be dehydration exacerbated by exhaustion. Whatever it was, we didn’t feel good to continue despite being less than a half mile away from our destination. Not only we still had about 500 more ft to climb, but we also had to face the exposed chain sections on the way down, not a good place to be doing while in questionable physical condition. Following our best judgement, we decided to have lunch, took a nice long break, and, after David was better, headed down.

All and all, the Spires Trail was a spectacular hike. The view was majestic and continual throughout the hike. Unlike some of the hikes where you won’t get much view until at the destination. We would do it again if we have another opportunity.

Thanks for reading. Here are pictures from our hike. Enjoy.

The view we saw as we approached the parking lot.

That’s Ren, our truck camper, fenced up with chicken wires, rocks, and sticks, to deter rubber-loving porcupines. Better be safe than sorry. It’s a long bumpy way to the nearest town.

The trail was well maintained. There were board walks through a swampy section.

Wooden planks for creek crossing

Lush and green ferns from lower sections

After the first mile of relatively flat trail in the forest, the climb began with a boulder section. It’s all up and up from here.

This looked like dwarf red whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium), also known as small-leaves huckleberry or grouseberry. They were like little flavor bombs. Wished we had more time to pick and eat them. Gotta go.

The squirrel on a rock in the foreground was standing there for a long time as if to show off the view of spire and glacier in her backyard.

Up to this point, we saw several views of the Hound’s Tooth a few times already. But the first time we had a full-on view, all I could say was wow. Excuse me while I picked up my jaw, somewhere in the paintbrush patch.

We were about one or two weeks too early for peak blooming of these fireweed, I think. To see what it could have been, check out Phil Armitage’s website. Darn…I wish we could see it in person.

The Bugaboo Glacier was glorious.

First chain section

Metal ladder

Once up above the ladder, here’s the view behind us.

Second chain section

Isn’t it pretty?

Wildflowers were everywhere. Here was the spot where we turned around.

We were amazed by the Bugaboo Glacier. Imagine the immense force that pushed these enormous mass of ice upward.

David navigated the second chain section on the way down. Yeah, it’s a long tumble down to the river below. Although it wasn’t too scary, I just tried not to look or think about it and watched the steps.

On a better footing now. The view of the valley was vast.

Same view in a different lighting. It’s what made this out-and-back hike fun for photography.

Admiring the view for one last time before heading into the forest.

For more information about Bugaboo Provincial Park, please visit the park website.

  • Date hiked: July 12, 2017
  • Hiking time: 5h 6m
  • Distance: 4.2 mi return to our turnaround point (out and back) (about 5 mi return to Conrad Kain Hut)
  • Elevation change: Approx. 2,000 ft gain (about 2,500 ft to Conrad Kain Hut)
  • Note: Carry mosquitoes repellent for this hike. You will need it. These hungry mosquitoes were everywhere, in the parking lot and on the trail.

8 Comments

    1. I think Seamus won’t have trouble with the chain sections. He will have to be hoisted up and down the ladder section. The ladder was made of round steel pipes. I didn’t recall seeing any signs at the trailhead whether dogs are allowed on the trail though.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  1. Definitely paid the price for having a slow morning 😦 Hurrying was a bad idea.
    When we got to our turn around point we found I’d only drank one liter of water on the ~2,000 foot ascent. Not nearly enough for me; and a humid day to boot. A “wring out the sweat band” kind of a hike, if you follow…

    Felt better after a rest and some food (and water). All better.

    You’d think I was new to this stuff. Geez.

    -David

    Like

    Reply

Please leave a comment. We love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s