Climbers conquer the Bugaboo Spire — 1916 style

Four climbers re-enacted the historic first ascent of the Bugaboo Spire in the Purcell Mountains — using gear from 1916, right down to the hobnail boots and long underwear.

'Well, it was a suffer-fest, to be honest'

Four climbers reenacted alpine climber Conrad Kain's historic 1916 ascent of Bugaboo Spire. From left to right: Rob Leblanc, Natalia Danalachi, Garry Reiss, and Bryan Thompson. (Ivan Petrov/Hobnails and Hemp Rope)

Imagine climbing a spectacular peak considered one of the nation's most difficult alpine climbs.

Now, imagine climbing that same peak using only equipment from 1916.

That is what four climbers accomplished on the Bugaboo Spire — a 3,204-metre peak in the Bugaboos mountain range — last month.

They were re-enacting the first ascent of the Bugaboo Spire — using the same equipment, clothing and eating the same food as the 1916 expedition led by pioneering climber Conrad Kain.

The team has all arrived at the Applebee Dome Campground at the base of Bugaboo Spire. (Krista Petrie-Wallace/Hobnails and Hemp Rope)

Bryan Thompson led the 2016 expedition, and he spoke with Daybreak South's Chris Walker about why they did it.

"It is widely considered — still considered — the toughest climb ever accomplished in Canada at that time and up until the 40s when rock climbing gear was invented ... he's a bit of a hero of mine."

Thompson's team didn't use any specialized gear instead relying on leather hobnail boots with nails in the sole — and a hemp rope tied around their waists. 

They had no helmets, harnesses, crampons, protective holds or ice screws, he said.

Bryan Thompson describes hobnail boots as firm leather boots with just nails nailed into the soles. (Bryan Thompson/Hobnails and Hemp Rope)

But they didn't stop there.

Thompson and his team even decked themselves out in the same clothing — "right down to the union suit long underwear underneath" — and slept in a heavy canvas tent on spruce tree branches and wool blankets.

"They didn't use sleeping bags or mats."

The group used old pots and pans, cooking only food that Kain would have cooked, and eating only what was available at market in 1916.

"Well, it was a suffer-fest, to be honest."

Bryan Thompson led the expedition to climb Bugaboo Spire, in the same way his hero alpine climber Conrad Kain did in 1916. (Ivan Petrov/Hobnails and Hemp Rope)

Thompson said the expedition renewed his respect for what Kain accomplished.

"I have a real deep respect for the toughness, the spirit of adventure and the fortitude that these pioneers of mountaineering had when they were going out and exploring Canada's west."

The expedition was filmed and is being turned into a documentary called Hobnails and Hemp Rope.

With files from Daybreak South.


To listen to the audio, click on the link labelled Bryan Thompson, expedition leader, on Bugaboo Spire reenactment.