They got “bugaboo-ed”. That’s what they say of the gold hunters who came up empty from the peaks, once known as the Nunataks, in southeastern British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains around the turn of the 20th century. The prospectors renamed the spires the Bugaboo Mountains, inspired by the word meaning to annoy or anger.
Guests at Bugaboo Lodge can look out at Anniversary, Houndstooth, Pigeon and Snowpatch spires (left to right). (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
Considered some of the most inaccessible peaks in Canada, if not the world, one can certainly appreciate their disappointment. It undoubtedly took no small effort to prospect the peaks. For the renowned explorers and climbers who later climbed the spires, and the modern-day adventurers fortunate enough to partake of one of the country’s only heli-hiking experiences, the Bugaboos do guarantee riches of thrills and golden vistas.
Indeed, the Bugaboos have a storied history of mountaineering. Famed pioneers Byron Harmon, Conrad Kain, Tom Langstaff and Arthur Oliver Wheeler visited the region in 1910. In the ’50s and ’60s, legendary climbers Yvon Chouinard (founder of the Patagonia clothing company) and Fred Beckey made first ascents of a number of the imposing spires. And mountain guide extraordinaire Hans Gmoser, the originator of heli-skiing, built Bugaboo Lodge in the range in 1968, to offer comfortable lodging to anyone who’s dream of skiing or hiking the isolated slopes.
In early September, I laced up my Irish Setter boots for the heli-hiking experience run by Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) at Bugaboo Lodge, located about an hour’s drive via logging road from Radium, B.C. (or a 15-minute helicopter ride, which is how most guests arrive). As an exclusive bonus for the trip, CMH integrated a photography workshop with Neil Ever Osborne, a conservation photographer from Toronto who teaches storytelling through images.
While I’m no mountaineer (though I do hike regularly) and an amateur photographer at best, I certainly relished the opportunity to explore the remote trails and capture the rugged peaks of the otherwise secluded Bugaboos from the unique vantage of a helicopter.
After brief introductions from Osborne, guide Lyle Grisedale (an accomplished photographer in his own right, who advised the group that should we encounter a grizzly, we should form a cluster in front of him, ahem) and the assembled photo workshop participants we get a quick helicopter safety tutorial.
Photographer Neil Ever Osborne prepares to take a shot on Black Forest Ridge. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
Thus prepared, we spend the first rainy afternoon capturing the stunning view of the Bugaboo spires that presents itself directly from the front of the lodge. The mist, fog and clouds that wash over Anniversary, Houndstooth, Pigeon and Snowpatch spires during the afternoon offer ample opportunity for dramatic images. Each day ends with an indoor session exploring photographic storytelling with Osborne. Day one, however, also comes with an assignment: capture three to five images over the following days that tell a story of the Bugaboos.
Days two and three of the trip are jam-packed with short helicopter trips to remote locations each of which provides a unique perspective of the Bugaboo peaks, as well as some easy hiking (including a short walk on the Vowell Glacier). Most notable of these stops: our sunset shoot on day two, where the helicopter landed on a cliff with the tail hanging out over the precipice; and the sunrise shoot the following morning, where the chopper climbed up the deep mountain valleys to a peak near Mount Conrad Kain, suddenly emerging above the mountaintop and leaving me wondering just where it could possibly land. (The pilot later told me he was wondering the same thing.) Needless to say, the views of the mountains are phenomenal and the choppering in and out of them is thrillingly nerve-wracking.
After dinner on day three (the food, by the way, was as satisfying as the sights), the photography workshop participants gathered to share their images. Mine focused on perspectives. I was captivated by the large-scale dramatic landscape vistas, simple, almost abstract images (such as rock patterns that looked like wood) and by the unrivalled views one could capture (such as helicopters jetting off or spires reflected in a pond). Everyone produced inspired work. There may indeed be no gold in these hills, but there’s no shortage of precious images — and memories.
The Bugaboo Lodge was built by the inventor of heli-skiing, Hans Gmoser. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
Bugaboo Spire rises above the Vowell Glacier. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
As part of his photography assignment, Aaron Kylie captured this shot of mountain goat hair at Rocky Point Ridge. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
The guests came across this unique rock formation of granite at Black Forest Ridge. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
The view from Bugaboo Lodge reflects in a nearby pond. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)