Climb the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire

Rate this Adventure Canada Bugaboo Spire Trailhead

Added by Tam McTavish

One of the most spectacular climbing routes in Western Canada the Kain Route is a complete classic for experienced climbers with mountaineering experience. It's also a terrific option for less experienced climbers to do with a guide.

I'm probably not qualified to give a thorough description of this route having only done it once, but with the guidebook out of print there isn't a ton of information out there. If possible I would encourage you to find the original guidebook, rather than use this post as a source. Banff Library, and the Banff Centre Library should have the old edition you can photocopy. 

Getting to the route requires mountaineering skills, and the frequent storms and exposure add risks and challenges that aren't well represented in the 5.6 grade. You may be able to climb 5.12, but that won't help you navigate a bergshrund, rap efficiently or predict the weather. Guiding services like Cloud Nine Guides are highly recommended if you don't have much previous experience rock climbing in the alpine, or mountaineering. 

Bugaboo Spire is one of the most phenomenal features in the climbing world. A startling spire of granodiorite it has two exceptional routes on it, and a lot of potential for adventure. The Kain route is the easiest and the original ascent route, first climb from the valley bottom in 1916. The rock quality is exceptional and the whole route, top to bottom is exceptional climbing. 

While the Bugaboos have always been popular interest has spiked in recent years. There are far more backpackers and hikers coming to explore the area then ever before. This can make  accommodation a little challenging as there are only two climbing areas from which you can stay at for Bugaboo Spire. They are the Applebee Campsite and the Conrad Kain Hut. If you want to explore the Bugaboos without climbing I would recommend staying at Cobalt Lake so as not to deprive climbers of access to this wonderful objective. It's nearby and offers much of the same day hike options. Cobalt Lake is also quieter and you won't be woken up at 4am to the sounds of climbers racking up and cooking breakfast. 


The drive to the Bugaboos starts in the hamlet of Brisco, BC. Take a right turn onto the dirt road heading towards CMH Bugaboo. Follow the signs for CMH Bugaboo about 45 minutes up decent dirt roads. In recent years the roads have been in good condition, and stories of Toyota Corolla's and VW golfs managing the drive fine are common. You certainly don't need a 4x4. 

Just before you get to CMH Bugaboo you will see a wooden BC parks sign announcing Bugaboo Provincial park. Drive up this short road to the parking lot.  You will probably see many cars already with chicken wire and logs around them. There is normally enough chickenwire to fill the parking lot. This is to stop porcupines from chewing brake lines. 

The trailhead is on the Southwest corner of the lot, and it starts gentle, but gets pretty steep fast. It gets up into the rocks, but there are ladders and a rock staircase to make it easier. Depending how much gear you're carrying it can take between 1.75 and 2.5 hours to get up to the Hut. The campsite is a 30 - 45 minute hike beyond. 

The Kain Route, Alpine Grade AD - , 5.6

An alpine start is needed to make it up the base of the BS Col before the sun comes up. The approach takes between 40 min from Applebee to 1 1/2 hours from the Conrad Kain Hut.  

Follow the trail to the base of the glacier. Crampons and Ice Axes go on. It's up to you to assess the crevasse risk. Heading up the BS Col is pretty quick just bootpacking. Some years the bergschrund can get very challenging, especially later in the season. Other years there has been a lot of rockfall off of Bugaboo Spire making it too dangerous, and so the alternative route must be taken.

Leave your mountaineering gear at the BS Col, and head up the ridge. The slope is gentle at first over slabs and talus, and there is a slight trail where the talus is reduced, as well as cairns, but both are inconsistent. It's mostly 3rd class terrain so if you find yourself on anything harder than 4th class, backtrack and try and find the easier route. Head upwards trending NorthWest for about 250m. This will end as you get to a brief ridge feature, that forces you onto the east face. 

You'll get to a blocky chimney of 5th class climbing up about 40m. . The rock is solid, if a bit steep. You should arrive at a set of chains, and a series of rocks called the diving boards. Here is a good place to switch into rock shoes, and leave your hiking boots, if you don't have light mountaineering boots, or the superior dexterity of rock shoes. From here the roped climbing begins for many parties as it's about 5.5. The climbing isn't too exposed, and it's mostly jugs, with a few mantling moves thrown in. Climb about two pitches of good rock, following the crack system. Look for the good jugs, and solid cracks. This gains a ridge leading to the final steep section. 

The ridges is about 110 metres long, and is solid. The ridge eventually collides with the main face, and you will see the spectacular gendarme above. One pitches of stiff 5.6 climbing gets you to the crux pitch, The Gendarme. 

The Gendarme is kinda tricky but also one of the most unique pitches I've ever done. Lot's of cams are jammed in to the climbers right where people have strayed a bit too far. The move upwards and mantle onto a pretty flat stretch just a couple metres bellow the Gendarme peak. From here an awkward stretch will into a corner using a tiny crystal allows you to slide into a corner. This offers good holds onto a hand traverse crack. You move traverse along a few metres, and then the feet run out. You have to lower yourself onto a foothold that cannot be seen beneath a lip. It's ways down, and a bit of a leap of faith. Shorter climbers will have to lower all the way to reach it. Once on those feet it's an easy hop and skip to the belay. It's often to polite to pop a cam in here for your second as it greatly increases their comfort. 

It's a quick 3rd class traverse west that brings you to a corner with one last pitch of 5.5. And then you're on top!

Take a moment to enjoy the view, then find the rap anchors and head back down. The descent can be a little tricky. It's a quick rap back to the traverse, and over to the Gendarme. On the east side of the Gendarme is the bolts, they are over the edge, so it can be kinda tricky getting to them as you have to hop over the edge before you rappel. There is a second station a bit to the climbers left (skiers/rappers right) that starts on the other side of a notch. One more rap gets you back to the 4th class ridge. If you have double 60m you can make this in one rap from the notch station, if I recall correctly. A short traverse brings you to the next rap station. This gets you to the first of two rap stations back to the diving board rocks. From here you can do more rap for some tat, or down climb. 

Once back at the col you can go down the alternative route, or take the the three rap stations down the col. This can be risky as even in the early afternoon rock fall is common. The last rap is the most dangerous over the bergshrund, and presents the greatest risk. 

Pack List

  • Hiking or light Mountaineering Boots. Some people do it in approach shoes. Rock shoes will make certain sections much easier. 
  • Layering system - Base, mid, shell, and warm belay layer. Softshells are nice to have. 
  • Small (15-25L) climbing pack, and Large (60L) pack for approach
  • Dark sunglasses
  • Headlamp (with extra batteries)
  • Gloves, one light, one heavy
  • Sleeping bag
  • Waterbottle
  • Hat
  • Food, Snacks

Sundries and other optionals

  • Extra socks
  • Buff
  • Trekking poles
  • Tarp (for the frequent storms)
  • Camping gear (tent, pad, stove, mess kit) if staying at Applebee
  • Stuff Sacks (for food)

Climbing Gear

  • Standard personal kit -  personal anchor system (single screwgate, or dedicated cowtail if you prefer), belay device with HMS, 1 HMS biner, 1 extra screwgate, 2 spare wiregate, 1 120cm sling with screwgate, 5m of 6mm cord for prussiks and rescue. 
  • Crevasse Rescue Kit
  • Ice Axe
  • Crampons (aluminums are fine for the BS Col)
  • Helmet
  • Harness

Okay, so this is pretty personal. Going as lightweight as possible really speeds up the scrambling and mountaineering sections, and the less gear you place the faster you go. Some folks would probably fine with a light Alpine Rack:

  • Cams 1.25 - 2in.  (BD 0.75, 1, 2)
  • Half set of nuts
  • Two 120 slings, one 240cm sling
  • 4 Alpine draws, 2 60cm slings

Personally, as someone who leads 5.9 at Squamish, but who also has weak headspace I found it was comforting to have a full rack with me on the final two pitches. They are very steep, and felt more like 5.8 then 5.6 to me, but that could have been the exposure. 

  • Cams - 0.4 to 3 in. (BD 0.1 -3)
  • Full set of nuts
  • Two 120cm slings, 1 240cm sling
  • 6 Alpine Draws, 6 60cm slings
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Added by Tam McTavish

Long time outdoor industry worker, based in Canmore, AB. Certified gear nerd, just trying to legitimize my addiction by actually taken them out. Mountaineering is my biggest stoke. I love being on glaciers, and experience the long hard days of big mountains.

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