Albert MacCarthy

Photos by Albert MacCarthy
Courtesy of The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

(Above Left)
Canadian mountaineering history reached a pivotal moment when mountain guide Conrad Kain led his clients and friends, Albert and Bess MacCarthy on the first ascent of then unnamed Bugaboo Spire in 1916. We see Conrad contemplating the crux pitch, which took two hours to negotiate. In that era, steel pitons were not in use yet in Canada, and the only protection from falling he had was a rigid hemp rope tied around his waist. He was essentially climbing solo, since a fall would have been fatal. He would have pulled his unanchored team mates off their lofty perch, 600 meters above the glacier below. When he finally launched himself across the smooth slab in his slippery tricouni-souled boots, he established the most difficult alpine rock pitch in Canada until neighbouring Snowpatch spire was climbed in the 1940s.

(Above Right)
Once they reached the summit, they had to get back down using a primitive rope system. Conrad lowered Bess MacCarthy, fixed one of his two ropes on a large boulder, and shinnied down to join his companions for the rest of the descent. Bess was one of the most accomplished female climbers in North America, and accompanied her husband and Conrad on 19 of Conrad’s finest first ascents in the Purcells and Rockies.

In 1916, Conrad Kain and the MacCarthys rode and walked their horses to the head of Bugaboo Creek valley. They spent a couple weeks exploring the glaciers and snowfields, including a reconnaissance to view the South Howser Tower. The modern day classic climbing route, the Beckey-Chouinard, which lies on the left skyline, was first climbed by Yvon Chouinard and Fred Beckey in 1961 and in its time was comparable to the level of commitment of Kain’s route on Bugaboo Spire in 1916.