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Protecting Access to the Bugaboos

Posted on: July 30, 2008

Dear BC Parks Head Office,

I just returned from an enjoyable mountain climbing trip in Bugaboo Provincial Park. But I was saddened to learn about two proposals that Bugaboo Provincial Park is considering, both of which would have adverse effects on climbing and climbers. I learned about these proposals from a survey form that the hut custodian was asking climbers to fill out. I am writing today to ask you to not ratify these proposals, and to conserve the wild and inviting nature of the Park.

The two proposals in question are as follows.


1. Restricting access. The survey reports that 60 people per day visit the Bugaboos in high season, and implies that this is too much. A related question explained that the Park is considering capping user rates at current levels using some sort of registration or sign-up system. I disapprove of this proposal for three reasons. First, I do not agree that the park is over-used. Crowding is the exception (to be found in moderation on only the very most popular and easiest routes). During my recent visit in late July (high season), I experienced virtually no crowding. Second, limiting numbers has the effect of disadvantaging climbers that are trying harder and more committing climbing routes. To get on these types of routes, one is wise to wait for a good forecast (the weather in the Bugaboos is notoriously bad even in the summer) and leave on short notice. Should access be restricted, those that have the luxury of booking their trips long in advance are advantaged—-those that are trying the easy, standard routes that "go" in any weather. Third, putting a cap system in place contaminates the open and free social "climate" of the Bugaboos, and would render it hostile. This is what happened in Red Rocks (near Las Vegas, Nevada) and Yosemite National Park, California, where user restrictions created a context of "cops and robbers" between climbers and rangers. Heavy-handed, arbitrary restrictions contaminate environments.

2. A Via Ferratta. About half of the climbing routes in the Bugaboos are accessed via snowslopes leading up to the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col. Several accidents have occurred there (due to either rockfall or slips). To reduce future accidents, I understand that the park is considering installing an European Alp-style via ferratta, starting on Snowpatch spire and ascending the rock buttress to the left of the current standard approach. This is a preposterous idea! I take three issues with it: First, "dumbing down" the mountains with aims of eliminating danger is a misguided enterprise. Mountain climbing, by its very nature, entails risk, and always has. The Bugaboo-Snowpatch col ascent involves the usual and expectable kind of danger encountered in the mountains. I've been up and down it in a variety of conditions, and always found the risks manageable. The climbing guidebook for the Bugaboos makes the dangers of the col perfectly clear. Those that choose to go to the col do so at their own risks. Making the Bugaboos into a "safe" tourist thoroughfare would be a grave mistake. Second, the proposed line makes no sense. It is twice as long as it needs to be and does little to reduce rockfall hazards. In fact, it crosses a chute that is likely more dangerous that the current route. Third, I understand that user fees in the Bugaboos are falling well short ($12 per user per day) of budget. The responsible thing to do seems to be to cut back spending rather than engaging in an unnecessary and excessively lavish project such as the Via Ferratta.

The Bugaboos are a world-class Alpine climbing destination. Alpinists from around the world as well as locals revere the Bugaboos for the exceptionally high quality rock, relaxed atmosphere, and untamed nature. I strongly urge you to protect these qualities by keeping access unrestricted to the Bugaboos and by canning the proposal for a Via Ferratta.


Jeremy Frimer, MA Vancouver, BC

Through the grapevine, my letter found its way to the individual responsible for the proposal, the head ranger at Bugaboo Provincial Park, Tay Hanson. He and I have since had a bit of an email dialog. Mr. Hanson is quite interested in feedback from those concerned about the Bugaboos. His email address is Tay.Hanson@gov.bc.ca. Please feel free to send your words of concern to the decision maker. —Jeremy

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I sent along a letter myself:


I recently read at Alpinist.com a letter regarding two proposals in Bugaboo Provincial Park:

www.alpinist.com/doc/web08x/rb-bugaboo-letter If the park is indeed becoming overcrowded (obviously somewhat of a subjective question, especially given the dozens of heli-hikers and helicopter flights out of CMH Bugaboos) then a fast, easy and beaurocracy-light way of "restricting" access is to close the giant ACC hut/hotel (Conrad Kain) which is up there (or at least remove much of its infrastructure and leave it solely for the use of wardens).

Obviously, leaving the toilets in place would be necessary.

Removing the hut would eliminate approximately 40 people per day (the hut's capacity) while at the same time very likely reducing commercial guiding in the park (which is probably the biggest contributer to increased traffic on the easier, "classic" lines). It would also, in my opinion, increase safety as I believe that people who "need" the hut to go there in the first place are likely to be less experienced. Trying to plan a climbing trip in the Bugs is already hard enough, with weather and partner logistics — adding the need to get some type of "pass" to go up the trail will further complicate matters. In fact, this would probably put even more people into a position to make a riskier decision; faced with the possibility that they won't get another "pass" that year and can't delay an attempt any longer more parties may decide to "go for it" in marginal conditions.

Building a toilet at the Howser/Pigeon col and eliminating helicopter-supported climbing out of East Creek would also go a long way to reducing impact, increasing safety and reducing visitors while keeping the paperwork overhead to a minimum.

The idea of a "via ferratta" up the Snowpatch/Bugaboo col is also a bad idea for safety: anyone up there who can't safely get up the col shouldn't be on any of the routes accessed from the top of it. I think building a ladder like this would discourage people from taking appropriate safety gear (e.g. ice axes and crampons) on routes and would increase the number of novices in this more-dangerous area. I am sure that the prospect of climbing the Bugs/Snowpatch col has kept at least a few inexperienced parties from getting further into trouble.

Thanks for your time, mike warren

2008-08-05 17:20:57

These two proposals seem entirely contradictory. The first mentions that they want to restrict the number of users to the Park yet with the second they propose adding a project that will likely attract MORE people to the Park since it 'lessens' the dangers involved. If they are concerned with the number of people of visiting the Bugaboos, they should not be making popular routes in the Park even more accessible to less seasonsed climbers.

Regardless, the Bugaboos are nowhere near being used at a level that requires restrictions. It is not Yosemite or Mt. Whitney. Living out in CO, I have witnessed during peak season 60 people every hour use the Longs Peak trail system for hiking and climbing purposes yet RMNP thankfully does not impose a quota. Please allow climbers to continue to enjoy what the Bugaboos have to offer without unnecessary regulations.

2008-08-05 01:30:41
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