There are places where you can beat the heat

There are places where you can beat the heat

Getting High on Houndstooth Spire

East Kootenay teens in the Bugaboos on a sixth annual climbing program.


On July 25, the 6th Annual “Bugaboos Teens” climbing program, organized by the Conrad Kain Centennial Society, got off to an auspicious start.  The 10 high school kids from Invermere, Kimberley and Cranbrook got to meet local mountain guiding legend Leo Grillmair, as they were getting outfitted at Canadian Mountain Holiday’s Bugaboo Lodge with climbing helmets, ice axes and crampons.

Leo and CMH founder Hans Gmoser built the lodge in 1968, and in the intervening years Leo has introduced countless enthusiasts (including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) to the secrets of the world famous granite spires. After posing for a group photo, he bade them good luck with his full-bodied Austrian accent and the group began the 2-hour hike up the trail to the Conrad Kain Hut.

The “Bugs” are a world-class climbing destination, and our objective was Houndstooth Spire. Sprouting from the middle of Bugaboo glacier, part of the challenge of reaching the summit is to negotiate the crevasses, visible and hidden, on the way to the rock and ice climbing on its north slopes.

In order to get the team safely to and from the mountain and to give the participants rudimentary climbing instruction, Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Kirk Mauthner, Jen Olson and Tim McAllister joined us again this year. Mt Baker High School Outdoor Ed teacher Leigh Cormier, BC Parks area supervisor Brett Yeates, mountain writer Lynn Martel and I rounded out the crew.

During a rest stop, Brett gave an informative talk about BC Parks and career opportunities in the field of Outdoor Rec, Parks and Tourism in BC, which was convincing enough to recruit some new supporters of wild beautiful places in our province. The day was perfect and everyone celebrated the spectacular summit view, 1600 vertical meters off the valley floor.

The next day, we climbed 2728 m Eastpost Spire. The trail passes by Canada’s most spectacular campsite called Applebee Dome, where among the 30 or more tents, we met two hard core alpine rock climbers, Will Stanhope from Squamish, BC and Matt Segal from Colorado.

For the past three summers, the two have been trying to forge a new route on Snowpatch Spire’s east face and they light heartedly told the awestruck teens stories that reflected the commitment it takes to get there and the importance of following your dreams.

Afterward, Jake Harach, from Mount Baker High School, was sufficiently inspired to write: “This trip changed the way I see mountaineering, and inspired me to get out there and experience all the amazing places that are right in our own backyard. I would hope to hear about the program’s continued success in years to come.”

Selkirk High School student Joy Johnson echoed his sentiments: “Experiencing the Bugaboo Teen Camp was absolutely amazing. This trip has inspired me to continue with my exploration of Canada’s amazing environments.”

I received this equally rewarding email from a parent: “I just wanted to let you know what a profound impact these last few days have had on my daughter. Since returning from the Bugaboos, she has been showing me her images of the experience and telling me all about it (she is usually pretty quiet). Judging by her descriptions of the experience I would have to say this has had a very large impact on her. She is all smiles and still beaming!  A question I believe I’m sensing from her is what’s next?  (That is music to my ears…scary, as a parent…but still music to the ears)”

My answer: in order to hone the skills necessary for safe travel and exploration in the high mountains, there’s no substitute for climbing, hiking and skiing a lot in the back country, and this can be done with with friends and family. To learn the technical skills of climbing and rope work, almost every community in the Kootenays has a climbing wall. Notably, Kimberley has a commercial gym, and in Invermere, the Conrad Kain Climbing Wall is at J.A. Laird School.

I would urge you to join the Alpine Club of Canada and attend summer camps, or instructional weekends out of Canmore and Golden as well as exploring many other learning opportunities that are being offered locally in this age of connectivity.

Photos taken by the teens, and me, can be viewed in the news section of

I’d like to thank the following sponsors for their investment in building environmental awareness and teamwork skills in the region’s youths: the annual support from the Columbia Basin Community Fund, BC Hydro, the membership of the Conrad Kain Centennial Society, Canadian Mountain Holidays, BC Parks, the Alpine Club of Canada, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, and parents of the teens who car pool to the trail head.

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