Taking the Kain Route

We begin the next day by eating cereal with rehydrated milk powder, gathering our things and setting out. The hike and scramble to the base of the climb involves navigating past several glacier pools, ascending a snow ramp in crampons, and scrambling up a loose low-angle rock slab. Upon reaching the saddle between Bugaboo Spire and Crescent Spire, we continue up an easy section of the north-east ridge to the start of the technical climb.

When dawn arrives we discover two other climbers ahead of us; while we wait, we put on our harnesses, decide who will lead first, then we rack up and take in the sights. The saddle already provides us with our first peek behind the cirque: more mountains, spires, and glaciers, oh my!

Our friend Jeremy leads the first five pitches (each pitch being about 45 meters long), making quick progress. The two climbers ahead manage to get off-route, which gives me the opportunity to pass them as I when I take hold of the ‘sharp-end’ (take the lead). Most of my pitches are relatively easy and we gain a lot of vertical mileage quickly.

The last bit of climbing to the top is incredibly exposed and thrilling; I am practically tripping over my arms in my excitement to reach the summit. Once at the top we take in a 360 degree view. I feel relief, sheer joy with finally succeeding in standing on the tippy-top of a ‘true’ alpine route. Unfortunately, due to the large time-commitment of the route, we can’t stay for long. Unlike a lot of big routes, where you can rappel down the way you came up, the recommended way off of Bugaboo Spire is to traverse over to the south summit, and then descend the ‘Kain Route’, a popular and easy way up the south ridge. Our troubles begin immediately, as we rappel too far off of the north summit. I must climb back up, through an unknown finger-crack, to gain the easier scramble. After this hiccup, we do a mix of unroped and roped-up simul-climbing, based mostly on how exposed and unsafe we feel. Reaching the South summit requires multiple sections where we have to choose whether to take the time and rope-up and cross safely or just scramble and trust our skills. After one particularly long traverse we arrive at another rappel station, which we descend and then must make a decision: rope up again to do a small but exposed traverse to the south summit, or cross untethered and try to block out the fear of the potential death-fall. For some reason we choose the latter, which we immediately regret. The scariest move involves stepping out onto a less-than-ideal ledge, with no solid hand-holds, over a void. Beneath us, emptiness looms. A slip, or simple mistake will mean my life, and lifelong emotional trauma for my friends.

Fortunately, we all make it across safely and gain the south summit. From here the Kain Route is relatively safe and straightforward. Upon reaching the saddle between Bugaboo and Snowpatch Spire, we have to descend a very steep snow face, which requires crampons and the readiness to self-arrest ourselves with our ice axes in case we slip. In the end the route has taken us 14 hours, camp-to-camp.

Shortly after we arrive at base camp and start to make dinner the second wave of friends arrive, looking more haggard from the hike-up then we do from our climb. We share stories and swap hugs. We learn that our friend Dan has heroically carried up a small can of condensed milk. I do not know how to express how absurdly marvelous this is. There is quite possibly nothing better than condensed milk in your coffee in the early hours of morning in the alpine.

Regaling our newly arrived friends with our story of Spire conquest, the excitement for the what is to come over the next few days is palpable. I honestly just want to sleep in and do nothing.. But the weather report dictates that I use all of my energy reserves to take advantage of this incredible bounty.

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