Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Family Backpacking in the Bugaboos, BC

I still remember the first time I saw the granite spires of Bugaboo Provincial Park 11 years ago. We had planned a September backpacking trip to the Conrad Kain Hut with friends and it was our first visit to this provincial park in the Purcell Mountains of Southeastern British Columbia.

Going over a rise on the drive in, we caught our first glimpse of Hounds Tooth Spire and Marmolata Peak, and promptly jumped out of the vehicle, mouths wide open! "Did we suddenly get teletransported to Patagonia" I remember asking? "There's no way we're in Canada anymore" was next out of my mouth.

The Bugaboos with the Conrad Kain Hut

I still get the same feeling that I'm been whisked off to South America every time I visit the Bugaboos, even now after my fourth visit, and I am pretty sure I could never become complacent with this park's beauty no matter how many times I return. One thing that has changed over the years though is that "Bugaboo weekend" doesn't have to equate to "climbing weekend."

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with Hounds Tooth Spire as our backdrop

We've just tackled our first family trip to the Conrad Kain Hut this past summer and it was every bit as enjoyable as previous adult trips. We spent a free day at the hut traversing the wildest terrain our son has experienced yet, and did our first glacier walk as a family (something I never imagined we'd be doing with a 7 year old!) We enjoyed scrambling around the Applebee Dome Campground above the hut, sent the dads off to do a fun little scramble up East Post Spire (the first spire that we'll attempt as a family in another year or two,) and entertained ourselves just playing on giant boulders outside our cozy cabin.

Playing on giant boulders outside the Conrad Kain Hut (Bugaboo Glacier in the background)

Getting to Bugaboo Provincial Park

Bugaboo Provincial Park is located between the towns of Golden and Radium Hot Springs in Southeastern British Columbia.You start your trip from the small town of Brisco, where you leave Hwy 95 and switch to gravel roads for the next 50 kms.

While you won't "need" a 4x4 vehicle, it is recommended that you have something with good clearance on the final section of road leading to the parking lot for the Conrad Kain Hut. You'll also want to protect your vehicle with chicken wire when arriving at the parking lot to ward off feisty porcupines who supposedly like to chew on brake lines and tires at night. (You don't need to do this if just taking a day trip up the valley.)

To note if it's been a while since your last trip to the Bugaboos, the road has improved a LOT. Back when we first visited the Bugaboos, you really did need a 4x4 truck. Today you can make it in with pretty much anything if you drive slowly and proceed with care on the rough sections. Also, you don't need to bring your own chicken wire and stakes anymore. There are bins in the parking lot where people are encouraged to leave their used wire for the next user (and they were full.) I'd still encourage you to bring wooden stakes or long pieces of wood though if you have anything kicking around the house.

Protecting the truck from critters with sharp teeth

Hiking to the Conrad Kain Hut

While there certainly are other hiking trails in the park, the one up to the Conrad Kain Hut is definitely the most popular. It's also the hike that will get you closest to the granite spires, and at 4.6 km in length, is definitely doable as a day trip.

We could have hiked in for the day to introduce our gaggle of kids to the Bugaboos, but why would you when there's a gorgeous backcountry hut perched on a bench overlooking the glacier and several large spires including Snowpatch and Hounds Tooth!

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with a gaggle of kids (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

The Alpine Club of Canada website told us to expect a 3 hour hike but we got an early start because nothing ever takes "just 3 hours" with kids. Well, this is one trip where I was pleasantly surprised! Our kids, not burdened down by heavy climbing gear (unlike most visitors to the area,) made it to the hut in LESS than 3 hours! My husband jokes that I was the limiting factor in our speed and that we probably could have made it up in 2.5 hours. (And I'd pretend to be offended except that he's probably right.)

One of the more interesting parts of the trail into the Bugaboos (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

While much of the hike is just "steep walking" on a very well maintained trail, there are a few narrow sections with hand lines and cables. I imagine climbers with heavy packs appreciate the extra security if they are feeling unstable with the weight on their backs. Our kids however, were fine and didn't seem too phased by the narrow ledges we had to traverse. My husband briefly put our son on a length of short rope on the way up but we quickly realized it wasn't necessary at all.

Rock stairs carved into the hiking trail up to the Conrad Kain Hut (are we in Peru now?)

For the kids, the highlight of the hike in was the giant ladder that they had to climb to get up a cliff blocking our way to higher slopes. The ladder is permanently bolted in place and very secure. We still kept a careful watch on the kids though and tried to place an adult right behind the youngest children.

Now if every hiking trail had ladders at the cliff bands! (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Ladder and ledges aside, it was a beautiful hiking trail and not terribly challenging. If I had to choose the hardest thing about this trail I'd actually say that it's the heat!! It gets pretty intense on warm days when you're down in the trees on this trail. Reaching the upper ledges is actually a relief because you finally get a breeze.

Ladder bridge crossing to reach the Hut with Snowpatch Spire in the background


The Conrad Kain Hut (5 Star Backcountry Lodging in the Bugaboos)

It doesn't get much fancier than the Conrad Kain Hut for backcountry "camping." Maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada under the jurisdiction of BC Parks, this is the only ACC hut that can boast of having electricity, hot running water, lights, and heat!

Thanks to a pretty awesome hydro generator, one could easily be fooled into thinking they were in a front country hostel or lodge while staying at the Conrad Kain Hut. You can walk into the kitchen, turn on a tap, and wash your dishes with clean hot water. You can fill your water bottle straight from the tap (no filtering required!) When it's dark, turn on the lights (no propane lanterns here.) And when it starts to cool off at night, the heaters come on guaranteeing a toasty warm hut stay.

The only challenge with staying at the Conrad Kain Hut is knowing that the next hut you stay at will feel very primitive by comparison.

Kitchen facilities at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Unlike a luxury hotel, you will be sharing sleeping accommodations at the hut but you can't really expect much more in the backcountry. And at $25.00 a night per person ($50.00 per family,) I'm ok sharing a bedroom with a few strangers.

Fortunately, there are two floors or levels to spread yourselves out on for sleeping and both are above the main cooking and living area. This isn't one of the smaller huts where you'll sleep, eat, and hang out all in the same room. (thank god!) If your child goes to bed early, just put him or her down on the top floor far away from the main area, and they won't hear a peep.

Room with a view at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

For  more information on the hut and what to bring, visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website.

Morning at the Conrad Kain Hut

Exploring Around the Conrad Kain Hut

One doesn't have to go far to get good views from the hut. Simply look out the windows from the tables where you're playing cards, walk outside to the bathrooms, or take a short jaunt through the boulder gardens towards the Bugaboo Glacier.

Team work! (and believe it or not, nobody fell off any of the boulders!)

Our kids loved playing on the huge boulders and practiced a bit of climbing on the biggest one beside the hut.

Two small boys, a stick, and a giant boulder garden for hours of amusement

I'm pretty sure we could have actually spent the whole day just playing outside the hut without going anywhere for a day hike.

Climbing up the biggest boulder outside the hut

Day Hiking from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to actually go exploring while at the hut? Applebee Dome it is then! The climbers base camp is perched a kilometre above the hut on giant rock slabs. It's an impressive campground to see and the setting is pretty hard to beat for views of the various climbing objectives surrounding the dome.

Applebee dome Campground above the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

We took the kids up the well maintained path towards the campground and wow has this trail improved since I first hiked it 11 years ago!!!! I warned everybody about how hard it would be to hike back down at the end on the slippery gravel trail, only to find that they'd carved out rock steps and made it into a pretty decent hiking trail! Thank you to everybody who helped with that!!

Our group of kids on the way up to Applebee Dome

We didn't go all the way to the campground but cut off earlier towards the Crescent Glacier and the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. We had no intention of taking the kids anywhere dangerous but knew we could safely do a small circuit around the area, traversing the glacier, and returning via the campground for a round trip distance of roughly 7 km.

Hiking towards the Crescent Glacier below Snowpatch Spire (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Crossing the glacier was definitely the highlight of the outing and I have dozens of photos I could share! I had never thought of taking kids as young as as 5 - 10 years old on a glacier traverse but the Crescent Glacier was the perfect choice for a family outing. The part that we were on was flat, crevasse free, and without any technical difficulties.

Approaching the glacier on snow fields and rubble covered ice

Those who had helmets wore them but we were not in any danger from rock fall so they weren't needed in any way. We did put ice cleats on every child and adult though so that there was no risk of slipping and falling into the melt water pond at the bottom of the glacier.

Our mighty boys (ages 7 and 8) on Crescent Glacier in the Bugaboos

The kids had a blast running around on the glacier and it's probably the only time in their lives that they'll get to "play" on a glacier without being tied into a rope, without having to follow safety protocol, or without having to walk single file following a leader. The kids ran wild and free across the glacier and it was magical to see.

The kids leading the way across the Crescent Glacier with Bugaboo Spire in the background

Our only challenge now is finding another equally "safe" glacier to play on next summer! I'm not sure we'll find one.

Such great models these kids make!
Wild and Beautiful Bugaboo Provincial Park
The kids giving me their best "mighty mountain man and woman" poses
Summer Goal: Walk on a Glacier - check!

Getting back to the campground from the glacier actually turned out to be a lot more difficult than we'd expected it to be - and was the crux of the whole outing. There was lots of scrambling involved, short cliff bands, route finding, and false endings where our path would end in cliffs (causing us to either help the kids down or find another route around.)

Helping the kids down cliff bands on the way back to the campground

We also had to get around a small pond which ended up being a bit sketchy in spots (cliffs ending in water on one side, snow ending in water on the other side.) I'm happy to say though that nobody fell in!

Crossing snow slopes on our way back to the Applebee Dome

I was so proud of our kids and of how well they did on this wild and crazy adventure in the Bugaboos. There were definitely challenging moments but they rose to the occasion and kept good attitudes through most of it.

Family photo on Crescent Glacier, Bugaboo Provincial Park

The Best Part about the Trip - the Friends!

The hike out from the hut took roughly 2 to 2.5 hours (not much shorter than the hike in actually) and was uneventful, always a good thing. Best of all though, we'd made new friends on our trip that I hope to do many more trips with in the future.

When Outdoor Bloggers meet for the first time in epic places! (photo: Chris Erickson)

We planned the trip with friends visiting from Utah and this was the first time we'd met in person (despite being great friends on social media for years.)

Strangers to Best Friends in a weekend (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

I'd been collaborating and partnering with Alyssa of the blog, Kid Project, for several years, and this was our first time meeting in person, Utah and Calgary not exactly being neighbors.

The Mighty Bugaboo Junior Explorers

Alyssa and I already knew we'd love each other when we met but fortunately the kids all got along fabulously as well and we ended up spending many days in the mountains together while they spent a month in the Rockies this summer (those stories still to come.) Our husbands even got along super well and got to spend a day doing some multi pitch climbing in August.

The Calgary Team!

Next summer, we have another family from Utah coming to visit us so I'm thinking we'll just continue to invite amazing folks from the US to come visit us for a month each summer. Let me know if you want to come spend a month with us in 2018 and I'll start planning our epic backcountry trip. :)

Hiking out from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to plan your own trip to the Conrad Kain Hut? 

Please visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website for more information on booking huts. You'll need to be a member to make an advanced booking at most huts but reservations at the Conrad Kain Hut don't require membership since it is under the jurisdiction of BC Parks and not located in a national park. You can make a reservation for the Conrad Kain Hut now for next summer and I'd recommend booking early for prime summer spots.

To read Alyssa's trip report and see more of her photos (some featured in this story) follow this link to Backpacking into the Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboos.

Parting shot and my best mountain woman pose


  1. Hi thank you for all the info ! I would like to know how long is the drive from brisco to Conrad Kain Hut Trailhead parking lot ?

    1. It's at least an hour drive. The road is rough and you'll want a high clearance vehicle for the most comfortable trip. If not, take it very slow and I'd at least want an AWD vehicle. When you get there don't forget to wrap your vehicle in chicken wire to protect it from porcupines. You'll see what I mean when I get there. The other vehicles will be similarly wrapped. You'll find lots of posts/logs and scraps of chicken wire there in the parking lot. Sometimes we bring our own just in case too.

  2. Thank you. Did you do this hike in mid-Sept? Hoping to do so next week but wondering how weather and snow line is usually this time of year.

    1. It was July. Sorry. Make sure the bridges and hand lines are still in. We went once late September and they’d been taken out for the winter. The park website should say.

    2. The Bugaboo Forest Service Road will be closed September 21–30 at 32 km for a new bridge installation. Bugaboo Provincial Park will not be accessible by cars/trucks during this period. Hut users with bookings at the Conrad Kain Hut during this period have already been contacted about their bookings. For those thinking of camping, or day-tripping the Bugs, do it before the 21st, or push your plans to next summer.