Climbers mark centennial of Kain ascents

The year was 1916. Thirty-three year old Conrad Kain was at the peak of his climbing career as he set out on a summer-long climbing spree.

  • Aug. 3, 2016 12:00 p.m.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Conrad Kain’s most successful and ambitious season

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Conrad Kain’s most successful and ambitious season

By Brian Patton

The year was 1916. Thirty-three year old Conrad Kain was at the peak of his climbing career as he set out on a summer-long climbing spree. When the season ended, he had led ascents of 15 virgin peaks, including some of the most difficult ever attempted in Canada, and established himself as the country’s premiere mountain guide.

Conrad’s remarkable season began on July 19, when he and his partner Albert MacCarthy worked out the complex route finding up the near vertical limestone ramparts of 2,682-metre Mount Louis near Banff, not only ticking off a first ascent on this demanding peak but completing it unroped.

Later that month, Albert and his wife Bess would accompany Conrad on 14 remote and difficult ascents in the Purcells from their Karmax Ranch in Wilmer. Smitten by the natural beauty of the Upper Columbia Valley, both the MacCarthys and Kain had recently settled in Wilmer.

Riding on mining and Indian trails up Toby Creek with Dr. and Mrs. Winthrop Stone, they explored and mapped out the territory between Toby, Glacier and Jumbo Creeks, building trademark summit cairns on 12 peaks.

On August 25, the MacCarthy/Kain trio, joined by a hitherto unknown climber named John Vincent, reached the summit of the highest peak in the Bugaboo Group, 3,412-metre Howser Spire.

Two days later they completed a 15 hour long traverse of Sextet Ridge to Howser Peak (at the top end of today’s popular Silver Basin hike) and the very next day climbed the technically difficult peak known in 1916 simply as “Nunatak #3”, again in a 15-hour push from the valley floor.

The team gave 3,204-metre Bugaboo Spire its name after Conrad spent two hours rehearsing the intimidating gendarme crux pitch moves near the summit, “… nonplussed at the sight of a veritable bugaboo, which immediately suggested to our minds the appropriateness of the name ‘Bugaboo’ for this spire.”

Bugaboo Spire remained one of the most daunting alpine climbs in Canada until neighbouring Snowpatch Spire was finally climbed in 1940. Little did Kain and the MacCarthys know that their bold explorations would open up a world-class climbing mecca to future generations.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kain’s most successful and ambitious season, 10 students from Invermere, Cranbrook and Kimberley travelled to Bugaboo Provincial Park on July 22 to participate in the annual Conrad Kain Bugaboos Teens Climbing Camp.

The three-day camp, which took them in fog and rain across Bugaboo glacier to the summit of Hounds Tooth Spire and a brilliant day atop East Post Spire, is a legacy project sponsored by the Conrad Kain Centennial Society and generously supported by many individual and corporate sponsors. It has introduced students from the Columbia and East Kootenay valleys to Bugaboo granite for the past eight years.

This year’s climbing team included Matthew Sappach, Oliver Orchiston, Thibaud Bonniard, Emerson Ferrier, Katrina Romanowicz, Jack Bolger, Megan Strachan, Janine Harach, Emma Thompson, and Eric Engler.

The students were accompanied by BC Parks climbing ranger Craig Browne and perennial ACMG guides Kirk Mauthner, Jen Olson and Tim McAllister. As usual, photographer Pat Morrow tagged along to capture the highlights.

Megan Strachan was inspired to write: “This weekend challenged me, made me learn more about myself and allowed me to grow as a person. I am so thankful for all the work you put in to make these trips a reality. I would love to help out with any future trips or projects in any way I can.”

Parents provided long-distance shuttle service for the event, and Brisco’s master raconteur Leo Grillmair sent the climbers off on their adventure with a gripping Snowpatch Spire climbing tale.

In addition to the guides who led the climbs, the Conrad Kain Centennial Society thanks the Alpine Club of Canada, Columbia Valley Community Foundation, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, and Canadian Mountain Holidays for helping to facilitate this year’s camp.

“All the students were great team players, and developed a keen appreciation for nature on this brief but intense outing, very much in the spirit of Conrad Kain,” said event organizer Pat Morrow.

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