American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mountaineering Club of Alaska

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  • Publication Year: 1991

South Howser Spire, East Face, Bugaboos. On the left side of the gully first climbed by Beckey and Chouinard in 1961 lies a large buttress that extends from the bottom to the top of the east face of South Howser Spire. Its most conspic uous feature is a 150-meter-high, left-facing dihedral that begins a pitch above the bergschrund and ends a few pitches below the summit. On August 7, Jon Turk and I climbed this dihedral. We first had to climb the upper wall of the bergschrund and the ice slope above. A large sérac, more than 30 meters long and 15 meters high, had slumped into the schrund. Jon led up the 75° ice on its left side and onto its top. He traversed rightward for 15 meters to its highest point and climbed the steep ice above to gain the rock above. The first rock pitch traversed a short gully with loose boulders before we gained the solid rock that characterizes the rest of the route. A full rope-length of 5.7 got us to the dihedral. Two long 5.8 pitches followed the dihedral to a comfortable niche near its top. I climbed a short off-width crack above the niche to a steep leftward-ascending crack and then to a small ledge. I continued up a steep 5.9 finger-crack as far as the rope allowed and set up a bombproof belay, seeing the next pitch was going to be the crux. There were several possibilities. One was a clean hand-crack which split the wall about ten meters to the right of the belay. I suggested a pendulum across the blank granite into the crack, but Jon had a different idea. Announcing he was going to do a friction traverse from the belay to the crack, he gingerly smeared onto the steep face. Somehow his feet stuck although he was palming his hands on the featureless rock. Several identical moves left him well above me and in the middle of the blank face. He continued the delicate footwork, moving up and right on unprotected 5.10 until he was finally able to sink a jam into the hand-crack. He followed the 5.7 crack to a comfortable seat at the top of the buttress. An easy 5th-class scramble led past the cornice and to the top of the spire. The entire climb took six hours. (7 pitches, IV, 5.10R.) The route also provides an alternative descent route that is relatively free from objective danger since it is not threatened by the cornice which overhangs the currently used descent gully, namely the Beckey-Chouinard route. It has good stances and cracks for anchors about 45 meters apart all the way down.

Gray Thompson

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