Adventure Stories: Tackling Canada's Most Famous Ski Traverse


, by Charlie Boscoe

Al Schulkins leading the way up and onto the Deville Glacier. Photography courtesy of: Boscoe Collection.

When a 'we'll do it one-day' trip became a reality, Charlie Boscoe got to tackle one of Canada's most famous - and challenging - ski traverses: Bugs to Rogers in the Bugaboos, British Columbia.

As I wallowed up waist-deep powder snow, trying not to ponder the potential for an avalanche or the physical brutality of my endeavor, I took a break, pulled out my phone, and checked my location. My teammates and I had been dropped off by helicopter over an hour before, yet we'd moved less than a mile and were making achingly slow progress climbing up a snow-filled gully at the foot of Bugaboo Spire. Every foot of vertical height came at a considerable physical cost, but I was trying to keep my heart rate at a sustainable level - there were 80 miles to go, and I needed every drop of energy. 

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It was over a decade and a half since I'd first heard of the legendary Bugaboos to Rogers ski traverse, but I never foresaw a time when work/partners/weather/conditions/life would come together so that I could attempt the trip. The Selkirk and Purcell mountains, through which the route goes, have some of the worst weather in BC, and I wanted to have at least three weeks available to wait for the best window. I also wanted a strong team, as stable as possible avalanche conditions, and plenty of preparation time to train for the trip. Just getting four suitable people together and having them block off three weeks in their calendars is challenging enough, so I'd always filed Bugs to Rogers away as a "do it one-day" trip, right until my friend Dean called me last September and reminded me that "one day" never comes. If we wanted to do the trip, we needed to assemble a team, block the dates, and start training. He was right, of course, but saying that you'll get around to a trip one day is easier than actually doing it, and our first day was proving this point.

A brief clearing on our first day allowed us a glimpse of our surroundings. Photography courtesy of: Boscoe Collection

After two exhausting hours of inching up the gully, we finally crested the first col of the trip and peered into the swirling clouds, trying to catch a glimpse of the Vowell Glacier below us. With a crevasse band across the middle of the glacier and an incline rarely exceeding 10 degrees, we weren't expecting a great ski descent, but the prospect of sliding effortlessly downhill was appealing. Our spirits soared as gravity suddenly became our friend, the clouds parted and the sheer magnificence of the Bugaboos was revealed.

The trip had got off to a tough start, but we were making progress and finally covering some ground; the thrill of the adventure was palpable, and it fueled our determination to push forward.

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One of the easier sections of the glacier saw us poling along to maintain our speed, and it was irresistibly comical when Al, a member of our party, lost his balance and landed with his heavy pack pinning him down. The amusement was somewhat dampened when he finally got to his feet and realized that the reason for his fall was that one of his rear bindings had ripped apart. 3 hours and less than 2 miles into the trip, we had made horribly slow progress and were now down a binding. Al soldiered on admirably for the rest of the day, somehow managing to ski with his heel loose on some tricky, steep slopes, but it was a dejected group that finally reached a good campsite just after 6 pm.

We'd traveled less than 5 miles, had broken a binding and were all tired despite the relatively short distance we'd covered - this was a bad start, but one element of the trip which we had planned well was the decision to bring a spare binding. Over the course of a few hours we managed to drill and mount a new heel piece, and kept fingers firmly crossed that it would hold.

Camping in the wilds of the Selkirk mountains. Photography courtesy of: Boscoe Collection.

We woke the following day to blue skies. Having packed camp away and got moving, our spirits began to soar—our surroundings were utterly spectacular, and we were picking up speed. Over the course of the day, we crossed the Conrad Icefield and then enjoyed a fantastic descent into Crystalline Creek as the sun began to dip towards the horizon. Over the next couple of days, we really started to put the hammer down as we pushed towards the tiny Kingsbury Hut - the spot at which we wanted to sit out a storm which was forecast to arrive midway through our trip. The scenery we passed through was stunning, with wild, rocky peaks - many of them unnamed - towering above deep, tree-filled valleys, and as we neared the hut our determination to reach it strengthened, and that desire drove us to keep going until 11pm on day 4 when we finally opened the hut door. 

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In a highly satisfying turn of events, the storm arrived as we slept, and we awoke to a whiteout. After four hard days and with a food cache (which we'd dropped at the hut on the helicopter flight to the Bugaboos) waiting for us, that day in the hut was one of the highlights of the trip. We sorted and dried gear, repacked food, and gorged on the treats we'd put into the food cache. Despite being in a hut of less than 300 sq feet, the day was blissful and just the reset we needed before the push to Rogers Pass.

Looking back at the Kingsbury Hut and International Glacier as we skied away from it. Photography courtesy of: Boscoe Collection.

After such a relaxing day in the hut, it was almost disappointing to wake up after our second night there to find a perfect blue sky, low temperatures, and not a breath of wind. As is often the case, the key was to get moving, and once we were underway again, we continued to push the pace, knowing that we had four short days to get to Rogers Pass before the next bad weather arrived. The scenery and ambiance were, if anything, even better than what had preceded it, and that, coupled with the knowledge that we were into the second half of the trip, provided all the motivation we needed. Moving efficiently through epic mountains is one of life's best feelings, and we had it in spades over the next few days as we pushed through Beaver Creek, up onto the Deville Glacier and down to the famous Deville rappels. 

(Left): Scouting terrain near Malachite Spire. (Right): Beginning the second and steepest rappel from the Deville Glacier. Photography courtesy of: Boscoe Collection

Generally considered the final major crux of the Bugs to Rogers, there are three bolt-equipped rappels down a cliff at the foot of the Deville Glacier, and they've seen many a struggle! The key, as with any rappel, is to be focused, efficient, and careful. Rappelling is a simple process, but mistakes are made when attention wavers. Despite the grandiose surroundings, the physical strain of steep rappels with a heavy pack, and the profound fatigue of a long ski trip, we pulled the ropes at the bottom of the cliff a little more than an hour after leaving the top of it, and were soon making our way to the famous Glacier Circle Hut - our accommodation for the final night, and a special place in the annals of Canadian mountain history.

The following day dawned clear, and with "only" a 2500-foot climb and then a cruise down the Illecillewaet Glacier to go, spirits were high as we skinned away from the hut. In my humble opinion, knowing that you're going to succeed on a trip is a better feeling than the moment of success, so that final day was utterly wonderful. For the first time in nine days, we could enjoy our surroundings without pondering the future and truly live in the present.

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The descent down towards Rogers Pass was sunny, fun, and beautiful, and skiing straight into the parking lot was surreal. After so long dealing with decision-making, physical fatigue, and discomfort, that feeling of lying in the warm dirt, drinking the beers we'd stashed at the trailhead before starting the trip, was indescribable, but suffice to say that if you could bottle it, you'd be rich. It's a feeling that can only be earned, never given, and certainly not described, but it's tinged with a distant sadness that it will soon wear off, and once again be replaced by desire.

For a few brief moments, though, the air was warm, the drinks were cool, and all was well with the world. 

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