Bruce Miller and I had each climbed in the
Bugaboos twice previously without setting foot on North Howser Tower, so
on our first day together in the range we focused on the section that is
simply too impressive–and too intimidating–to ignore: the west face.
We left our comfortable camp in the East Creek Basin July 30 at 3:15
a.m. for a new route attempt on this wall. The first crux–the sketchy
transition from snow to rock without crampons or a solid anchor–came at
the start of the face. By day’s end we had climbed more than 2,000 feet,
of which at least 1,500 feet were on new terrain. The route’s crux, a
ten-foot slabby traverse, involved the only aid of our climb: I used
tension to lead it (although Bruce followed it clean). Our haul pack was
light (we had no sleeping bag or stove), but we paid for this choice
that evening as we shivered together, each in a thin bivy sack and belay
jacket. By 2 p.m. the following day we stood atop the highest point of
the Howser Massif, and by 5:30 p.m. we were back at camp. On the top
half of our route, we shared some pitches with Young Men On Fire, but
many of our pitches climbed to its right or left.
Two sunny rest days in the breathtaking East Creek Basin cirque
provided motivation for another climbing day. A short approach just
above camp brought us to a highly featured wall just right of the
classic Beckey-Chouinard Route on South Howser Tower. Eight hundred feet
of new climbing led to a point between Pitches 5 and 6 of the
Beckey-Chouinard, which we followed to the summit. Lost in the Talus (V
5.11-) offers a steep and sustained variation to the Beckey-Chouinard’s
With clear skies prevailing we climbed two more days in a row,
establishing a new route each day on a previously unclimbed 300-foot
face in the Pigeon Feathers. Peek-A-Boo Pinnacle hides just out of sight
behind Fingerberry Tower, and now contains two excellent routes of
vastly different character: Peek-A-Boo (III 5.11+) takes an overhanging
finger crack on the right side of the face while ICU (III 5.11+) attacks
a steep offwidth and roof on the left side.
How long would the perfect weather hold? Our unfinished business on
North Howser Tower remained in the backs of our minds. Despite our
fatigue, we both felt that a one-day free push of our route would be
On August 11 our packs contained short axes, lightweight crampons, a
pared-down rack, food, jackets and a liter of water each. We carried no
bivy gear. The first few pitches ran with water in places from a large
snow patch at half-height. (In a drier year or later in the season the
rock might not be wet.) The rock quality on the route surpassed our
expectations, and unlike some parties who have climbed the face, we
experienced no rockfall. Before the sun had reached us, Bruce led the
tension traverse free on his first attempt with numb fingers and toes.
Inspired by his success, I followed the delicate section free as well.
We now needed only to climb fast without mistakes up familiar stone.
Fifteen hours after starting the climb we once again stood atop the west
face of North Howser Tower, having made its first one-day free ascent in
twenty-one hours round-trip from camp. Hey Kool-Aid! (VI 5.11+) is the
second free route on the west face.
Chris Weidner, Boulder, Colorado