Central Crescent Tower (Lions Way)

September 12, 2020


Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC

“Crescent Towers” is a group of minor peaklets immediately to the south of, and attached to the officially-named Crescent Spire. From peak-bagging perspective these towers are very minor in nature with hardly any prominence to speak of. However, they do boast several classic alpine climbing routes, in particular the “Lions Way” on central tower, and “Ears Between” on the south tower. The north tower is actually the tallest, but doesn’t boast a classic line. About 6 years ago I had come to the Bugaboos with Ben Nearingburg and Ferenc Jacso and had scrambled Crescent Spire and North Crescent Tower in addition to the classic climbs of Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire and West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. Now 6 years later I finally made a return visit, with my friend Winnie Miao from Vancouver. This was Winnie’s first time in the Bugaboos and the objectives were Lions Way and Day 1 and Brenta Spire on Day 2.

The Lions Way on Central Tower is one of the most popular routes in the Bugaboos thank to its superb position and the easiness to access. One doesn’t need to hop onto a glacier to reach the base of it. The climb is also more beginner friendly. It’s a legitimate multi-pitch rock climb but there are lots of “scrambling” in it and the hardest climbing goes at a mere grade of 5.6. Winnie and I drove south down Columbia Valley after finishing an ascent of Uto Peak in the Rogers Pass area. The drive from Golden to the Bugaboos was longer than I thought and the roads were also rougher than I expected. I was hoping for a smooth sail but the roads had lots of washboards and pot-holes slowing us down. The last few kilometers was actually not too bad. We made to the trail-head and set up the tent just before midnight.

Lions Way and Brenta Spire in Bugaboos. GPX DL

The next morning we took our time because all we needed was to set up camp at Applebee Dome and go climb Lions Way. The sky had unfortunately turned a little bit smoky thank to the forest fires in the States. The view of Hound’s Tooth and Bugaboo Glacier from the approach was just as impressive as I remembered from my visits in 2013 and 2014. After a few fine viewpoints the trail started to climb steeply through increasingly rocky terrain. There’s one fixed ladder as well as some stretches of concrete staircases. Eventually the steepness eased and we made to Conrad Kain Hut. I was exhausted from the heavy pack that we took a long break regaining some much needed strength.

Me coming into the peak-a-boo view. Photo by Winnie M.

Me with Hound’s Tooth behind. Photo by Winnie M.

A closer look at Hound’s Tooth poking out of Bugaboo Glacier

Crossing one of the many hiker’s foot bridges

Me approaching the hut with Snowpatch Spire ahead. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie hiking towards Conrad Kain Hut

Winnie volunteered to take the rope as I was very tired. There’s still over 200 m gain from the hut to Applebee Dome camp. On the way up there we got caught by a ranger asking for camping permit (which we had none). We simply paid him some cash and carried on. The last stretch before the camp was a bit confusing that we briefly went on a side path towards Bugaboo/Snowpatch col. Thankfully we soon corrected this mistake and ten minutes later we were at the camp. The Applebee Dome was much quieter in September comparing to my memories from previous trips. There were many 5-star tent pads available and we just needed to randomly pick one. The only downside was the lack of water source as the nearest available water was from a tarn, at least 5 minutes of walk away.

Looking back down at the hut

The massive east face of Snowpatch Spire

Me plodding up the trail towards Applebee Dome camp. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie on the last push below the campsite

Our tent and Snowpatch Spire

Me taking a break in the tent doing some Instagram things…

After setting up the tent we immediately turned our attention towards the climb. I had done the approach to the base of Crescent Spire and Crescent Towers before but I remembered very little from that trip. Thankfully the climber’s path was fairly well defined. There were still a few residual snow patches from the previous spring. We passed one incredibly scenic lake at the base of Eastpost Spire. While contouring around the larger and higher lake directly under Crescent Glacier we had to scramble up a short but stiff 4th class step. Beyond that step we followed some loosely defined paths around the lake and then scrambled up some shitty scree and talus. We consulted our topo maps and terrain photos multiple times to locate the start of Lions Way. It wasn’t very obvious from below, but once there it made sense. Scrambling to the base of the climb wasn’t very pleasant.

South Crescent Tower looms above

Eastpost Spire behind a scenic tarn

Winnie posing in front of Eastpost Spire

Bugaboo Spire behind Crescent Glacier

Winnie in front of Snowpatch Spire

A closer look at Bugaboo/Snowpatch col in late season conditions

Me taking a water break. Photo by Winnie M.

That glacial lake with Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires behind

A closer look at Snowpatch Spire behind that glacial lake

Yes there’s another photo of the glacial lake and Snowpatch Spire

While swapping footwear for rock shoes we made the decision to solo the first two pitches as the terrain appeared more “class 4” than “climbing”. The beta we had also indicated the lower pitches were mostly just scrambling so we didn’t have to waste time setting up belays. The route-finding wasn’t very obvious and the divide for each pitch was also not very clear as there was no existing belay/rappel stations. We kept soloing until I felt uncomfortable to keep going and asked for a belay. The transition spot was extremely awkward but we made it work nonetheless. I was in the position to lead that pitch and even with a rope it took me a while to figure out the sequence (probably mid 5th class). I kept climbing to the base of a blank slabby spot. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was on the 5.6 pitch or what to expect higher up and I also wasn’t quite sure if I had enough gears, so to play it safe I built a trad anchor and belayed Winnie up. This belay station was also very awkward. Winnie led the slabby spot using a .5 cam as a aid and continued onward for a while. I followed and also had to pull on the cam two times.

Me starting the first pitch. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie soloing the first pitch

The route-finding was a bit tricky here

Winnie’s artistic photo of me climbing.

Winnie belaying me on one of the lower pitches.

Me finishing the 5.6 slabby pitch. Photo by Winnie M.

I believe what we just did was the 5.6 slabby crux but I wasn’t 100% sure. Beyond this pitch we had a short stretch of easy terrain so packed the rope and went for a scramble. The next technical spot was a short but awkward hand crack. I tried to solo it but gave up after a few moves. It’s a bit strange that there had a gigantic pre-existing belay station at the bottom of this crack pitch. Winnie volunteered to lead it and continued leading until she ran out of the rope and then belayed me up using a trad station she made. The crack surely felt difficult and so did the upper part of this pitch. Beyond that was just a short low-5th class pitch that I easily led and the next thing we were on the summit. The tower immediately to the south of us (which I believe wasn’t the “south tower”) appeared definitely higher so I investigated a few minutes to see if there’s a way to traverse over. A few minutes later I convinced myself that the traverse would involve technical climbing on unknown terrain, so settled on this lower of the two “central towers”.

The “south tower” from partway up Lions Way

Winnie on one of the easier stretches

Winnie leading the awkward crack.

Winnie nearing the top of this long pitch.

Winnie doing her rope management in front of Bugaboo Spire

This was not far from the summit

Winnie on the summit with Bugaboo Spire behind

Summit Panorama from Central Crescent Tower. Click to view large size.

Snowpatch Spire with Pigeon Spire behind

Just some random peaks in the Purcells.

The south ridge of Brenta Spire

This is the higher tower immediately to the south of us

Me on the summit of Central Crescent Tower

Another photo of the glacial lake under Crescent Glacier

Another photo of me on the summit

Me in front of the North Crescent Tower

We down-climbed the uppermost pitch and then correctly located the descent gully. This gully was mostly an easy plod other than the constraint in the middle of it (4th class). We were surprised that there wasn’t even a rappel station but whatever. It wasn’t that hard so we just down-climbed it (in mountaineering boots). Winnie and I took slightly different lines to minimize rock fall hazard. Once this step was cleared we were back onto easy albeit loose and crappy terrain. The descent down the main chute between Crescent Towers and Crescent Spire was not pleasant at all. Once back to the climber’s trail we took our time plodding back to camp. We loaded our water containers at the outflow of the larger glacial lake as there wasn’t any water source near the camp.

Winnie down-climbing the uppermost pitch

The down-climbing wasn’t that easy as you can see here

The south face of North Crescent Tower

Winnie down-climbing the middle of the descent gully. 4th class

Me down-climbing a slightly different line

Me descending easy terrain now. Photo by Winnie M.

Winnie descending the loose gully between Crescent Spire and Crescent Towers

Snowpatch Spire behind Crescent Glacier

Eastpost Spire again

A zoomed-in shot of Mt. Farnham the highest in the Purcells

Taurus Mountain

That awkward 4th class step on the approach

Back to the shore of the scenic lake under Eastpost Spire

Our tent looks tiny compared with Anniversary Peak

Hound’s Tooth and Marmolada Mountain

Winnie in our tent taking a well-deserved break before dinner time.

Overall the climb of Lions Way was definitely Type 1 fun that I would definitely recommend. It wasn’t “mostly just a scramble” like I’ve seen on some sources and in fact, I would say it’s a legit multi-pitch alpine rock climbing objective, albeit an easier one in the Bugaboos. This turned out to be a awesome intro-to-Bugaboos climb for Winnie. The next day we would wake up in some thick smoke and made an ascent of Brenta Spire.