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.
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.