Just as Alberta's Rocky Mountains, British Columbia's Purcell Mountains are covered in the faded footsteps of Conrad Kain. The legendary mountaineer – the Alpine Club of Canada’s first professional guide —amassed more than 60 first ascents in Canada, including its tallest peak. But Mount Robson wasn’t Kain’s most challenging ascent.
He gave that distinction to Bugaboo Spire.
Located in southeastern British Columbia in today’s Bugaboo Provincial Park, the 3,204-metre high Bugaboo Spire was considered the nation’s most-difficult alpine climb until the middle of the 20th century. Now, 100 years after Kain’s historic ascent, the Bugaboo Spire Centennial Climb Project aims to celebrate the renowned mountaineer and Canada’s golden age of mountaineering by reenacting his 1916 climb.
Joined by five other climbers, Alpine Club of Canada member Bryan Thompson will lead the expedition up the notoriously difficult Kain Route (a “safer” second ascent route, the Northeast Ridge, was established later) in mid July in the same way Kain himself did a century ago. The group will tackle the climb using the same clothing, camping gear and equipment (including hobnail boots and hemp rope), with the exception of two or three sections deemed not safe enough to face today with historic gear.
“I have often felt that I was born in the wrong century and wish that I had been around in the days when people were exploring the mountains and going out to places where no one had ever been and doing things nobody had ever done,” Thompson says.
The experience, believed to be the first historic Canadian climb ever reenacted, is sure to highlight anew the challenges Kain faced 100 years ago in climbing what is still considered one of the most inaccessible peaks in the world.
The project will be filmed for a documentary (Hobnails and Hemp Rope, see trailer above), which will be entered in the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in September. That same month, expedition members will attend a centennial celebration of Kain’s Bugaboo Spire ascent at the nearby Bugaboo Lodge — one more fitting tribute to the man who helped first record numerous peaks in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains.