South Howser Tower, The Minaret, Retinal Circus. In early August Aaron Martin from Mammoth Lakes, California, and I, from Moab, Utah, visited the Howser Spires in the Bugaboos. Before I arrived, Aaron had a huge solo day linking four major formations (see above). Two days after hiking in we started up a striking line on a feature called The Minaret, which is a turret of steep, clean granite attached to the South Howser Tower. We decided to attempt this route with a minimum of equipment: a double set of cams up to three and a half inches, eight pins, one hammer, a 9mm lead line, a 7mm tag line, and food and water for one day.
This style looks good on paper, but you usually get skunked trying it. This time we scored, though. Someone else had attempted the line before but had bailed about eight pitches up, placing bolts and leaving pins and stoppers. This helped us tremendously, because we would often short-fix off their anchors and lead in blocks. The climbing here was sustained and mostly high- quality free and aid. The crux free climbing went to Aaron—flared runout liebacking above an uninspiring TCU belay. We topped out on the Minaret at dusk, all smiles but ready for it to be over. However, with our rack we felt it unwise to try to rap our route, and other routes that end here are about 20 pitches long, leaving us little choice but to continue to the summit of the South Howser Tower. The guidebook said something about a few low-fifth-class pitches leading to the summit, so we figured we would be fine. Several hours and a thousand feet later, in the dark, we would joke about this. We discovered solid 5.10 climbing and circuitous route finding.
The sky, however, felt it was showtime. Simulclimbing and short-fixing along the exposed ridge, I would sometimes stop moving and stare at our first sight of the northern lights. A halfmoon of Halloween orange highlighted the distant peaks and valleys. In another direction a meteor shower was exploding with streaks of light lasting several seconds. We motored along and after dozens of false summits we found the real one, 15 hours after we started.
Early the next morning the perfect weather broke into a violent lightning storm just hours after we touched down. We fled our exposed bivy and began a heady descent to Applebee Campground,
stumbling and laughing at each other. We decided to name the entire experience Retinal Circus.
Zack Smith, Uninhabited