Brenta Spire

September 13, 2020


Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC

Brenta Spire is a little bit obscured in the Bugaboos but climbers do go there. It’s the highest of the spires in the “Colbalt Lake Group” immediately to the north of Crescent Spire and Crescent Towers in the “core zone”. The standard access is however, from Crescent Spire/Towers col, which itself is accessed from Applebee Dome camp via the standard approach. Ambitious parties might prefer a traverse of Brenta Spire and Northpost Spire finishing by an exit down Colbalt Lake trail, but it seems like the “norm” is to just climb the south ridge of Brenta Spire in-and-out from Crescent Towers col. I had climbed a few spires and routes in the Bugaboos in the period of 2013-14 back in my Rockies days but had never come back since I moved to Vancouver. For obvious reasons I wanted to climb Snowpatch Spire and the Howser Towers but I didn’t think I was there yet, so among the easier peaks that I hadn’t done, Brenta Spire was the highest on my priority list. Towards the end of 2020’s summer alpine season I finally found an ideal partner for the mission. Winnie M. and I had spent a good number of days scrambling and mountaineering together and she expressed how much she wanted to just “be in the Bugs”, so the trigger was pulled.

Earlier in this mini road-trip we climbed Uto Peak in Rogers Pass before moving to the Bugaboos. In our first day in the “Bugs” we carried overnight gears to Applebee Dome camp and made an ascent of Lions Way on Central Crescent Tower. This was meant to be a warm-up climb but turned out to be much harder than Brenta Spire itself. In the morning of our second day we woke up with a thick layer of smoke but such wouldn’t bother us from carrying on.

Lions Way and Brenta Spire in Bugaboos. GPX DL

We again, had a lazy morning making Winnie’s coffee and my spicy ramen and didn’t start our day until probably 9 am. The first stage of this ascent was to slog up to Crescent Towers/Spire col. The lakes and tarns were still beautiful but the views were heavily obscured by the thick smoke. We had seen this stage of the hike in the previous day so didn’t take as many photos. We stopped at the outflow of the glacial lake under Crescent Glacier for drinking water, and had a little bit of struggling to scramble up the 4th class step immediately above the outflow. This was my third time scrambling up this step and every time I felt it a little awkward. Then we easily traversed the base of Crescent Towers and slogged the loose gully up to the col. This stage was overall easier and shorter than expected.

Snowpatch Spire from Applebee Dome camp

Winnie at our camp in the morning

My trusty BD Hilight tent

Eastpost Spire and its reflection in one of the scenic tarns

East face of Snowpatch Spire and its reflection

Winnie ascending a tricky 4th class step on the approach hike

Other climbers at the start of Lions Way climb

Winnie ascending the loose gully towards Crescent Towers/Spire col

Bugaboo Spire from Crescent Towers/Spire col

The next stage was a short traverse/descent of Crescent Spire’s east face on choss. I was expecting permanent snow patches and/or complicated route-finding but it turned out to be quite easy. We did have to deal with some compact choss but the scrambling had never exceeded “moderate”, or “class 3-“. This short descending traverse brought us to the broad NE Ridge of Crescent Spire. We then followed the climber’s path descending the north side and around a buttress and then onto the more exposed section of the NE Ridge of Crescent Spire. We followed the knife-edge to a dead-end, and without an existing rappel station we knew this was not good. We backtracked for about 20 meters and found a possible line to down-climb onto a ledge system on the north side. In retrospect we should have backtracked farther but the line we took still worked (awkward 4th class on questionable rocks). Traversing that ledge was very exposed, but not difficult and the next thing we were at the 5th class crux down-climb. This short down-climb looked more like what we had been reading so we set up a station (sling around a pitch point) and went for a short rappel. After that we still had to traverse and down-climb some sketchy 3rd to 4th class terrain before reaching Crescent/Brenta col.

Starting the traverse across east face of Crescent Spire

As you can see, this stretch of the scramble was pretty shitty

Me heading for the knife-edge. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie starting the knife-edge on NE Ridge of Crescent Spire

After a while we came to a dead end…

We backtracked and found this correct but exposed ledge

Winnie rappelling the 5th class step on NE Ridge of Crescent Spire

We still had some fair amount of 4th class terrain to descend

Me down-climbing. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie finally at Crescent/Brenta col

We ditched snow gears at the col as it’s apparent that they weren’t needed on this particular day. The lower portion of Brenta Spire’s south ridge was a tedious plod on talus and boulders which none of us enjoyed, especially in this thickening smoke. Eventually we came to the false summit and the ridge narrowed down. We took a very long break near the false summit before going for the summit push. There was at least one awkward step before the final “5th class chimney”. I’d seen various grades from 4th class to 5.6 and I was expecting it to be difficult, but we ended up just scrambling and soloing all the way to the summit. The hardest part of that chimney was to mentally trust a few blocks to grab onto. The rock on this peak is granite, but never felt solid enough to put all our fate on.

Bugaboo Spire from partway up the south ridge of Brenta Spire

The upper south ridge of Brenta Spire when things became narrow

Winnie and her Gu…

The scrambling started to become a bit more interesting

Me mantling up a bouldary move. Photo by Winnie M.

Me tackling the chimney. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie starting the chimney pitch

Winnie on the last few tricky moves before the summit

Bugaboo Spire et al. in the “core zone” of the Bugs

Snafflehound Spire et al. in The “Vowells”

Northpost Spire is a future (easy) project

Me on the summit of Brenta Spire

The view from the summit was not very good thank to the smoke so we didn’t linger too long. None of us was keen to down-climb the chimney so we were looking to rappel. I was surprised to find no existing rappel stations but thankfully we had brought enough cords. We found a bomber boulder on the south side and did one easy rappel to get off technical terrain, followed by a somewhat tedious descent to Crescent/Brenta col.

Me tossing the rope. Photo by Winnie M.

Me rappelling. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie on her rappel

Down-climbing the bouldary move

Back onto easier terrain with Brenta Spire in the bag

To re-ascend the NE Ridge of Crescent Spire we more or less followed our own route. We both soloed that short 5th class step because we were too lazy to take the rope out again. I didn’t even bother to swap my footwear back to rock shoes and I had to say that to climb that step in mountaineering boots was a tad challenging and awkward. We made better route-finding decisions on the ledges above that technical step that we didn’t encounter any sketchy spot on the return. That traverse from NE Ridge of Crescent Spire to Crescent Spire/Towers col was not very pleasant, but not difficult. The descent of the loose gully on the opposite side of the col was also not very fun. We took our time packing up the gears at camp, but once committing to the return hike we settled for a relatively fast pace.

Winnie soloing the 5th class step on NE Ridge of Crescent Spire on return

Finding the correct ledge was very important on this climb

Winnie taking a long break once the hard parts were over

This part of the traverse back across East Face of Crescent Spire was bad

A review shot of the loose gully between Crescent Spire and Towers

Down-climbing the tricky 4th class step on the approach

Back to our camp at Applebee Dome

The typical view and trail on the hike-out

A mandatory shot of this via ferrata section…

The drive out of the Bugaboos was a slow show thank to the washboards and pot-holes. I was also tired from the climbs and the drive so in that evening we only made to past Golden. I knew a good car-camping spot somewhere 20 km up the Bush River FSR so we drove there and settled for a night. There was nobody around as expected. On the last day we woke up again, in thick layer of smoke so just leisurely drove home. We made multiple stops along the way including a luxurious Chinese lunch in Kamloops.