American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New York Section

  • Club Activities
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

North Howser Tower, Hey Kool-Aid!; South Howser Tower, Lost in the Talus; Pigeon Feathers, Peek-A-Boo and ICU. I never thought that here in the Bugaboos I would hold my breath for a crappy forecast. Bruce Miller and I had completed four new routes in eight days, from a camp in the East Creek Basin, and our weary bodies needed rest. Our hands were swollen, sore, and dinged, and our thumb pads were split and oozing blood. But with warm sunshine, high pressure, and a colossal amount of solid rock greeting us every morning, how were we supposed to relax?

Bruce and I had each climbed in the Bugaboos twice previously without setting foot on the area’s showpiece. So, for our first climb together in the range we focused on one of North America’s greatest alpine walls: the 3,000' west face of North Howser Tower. Our spotting scope revealed an intriguing series of untouched cracks and corners, which appeared climbable, on the right margin of the face.

By 3:15 the following morning (July 30) we were underway, carrying just enough gear to survive a bivy, which we hoped to avoid. The first crux came at the base of the face, with a sketchy transition from snow to rock, without crampons or a solid anchor. The first few pitches ran with water in places from a large snowpatch at half-height, but in a drier year or later in the season the rock may be dry. By day’s end we had climbed over 2,000', of which at least 1,500 were new terrain. The crux involved the only aid on the route: a 10' near-featureless traverse on which I used tension to lead, but which Bruce followed clean. By 8:45 p.m. it was nearly dark. We had been moving for more than 17 hours and had climbed two-thirds of North Howser Tower. These factors made our decision to bivy an easy one, although our bed of sloping granite blocks perched next to a 2,000' drop-off was unalluring. Deep reds in the west segued into a long, torturous night of shivering and moaning, huddled together in just our clothing and paper-thin bivy sacks.

By 2:00 p.m. the following day we stood atop the highest summit in the Bugaboos, and by 5:30 p.m. we were back at camp. The top half of our climb coincides with pitches of a previously established route, Young Men On Fire, but many pitches deviate to its right or left. The quality of rock on the entire route surpassed our expectations, and unlike some parties who have climbed the face, we experienced no rockfall.

Two sunny rest days provided motivation for another new route. A short approach just above camp brought us to a highly featured wall in between the classic Beckey-Chouinard and the Catalonia Route on South Howser Tower. Eight hundred feet of new climbing in five long pitches led to a point between the fifth and sixth pitches of the Beckey-Chouinard, which we then followed to the summit. Lost in the Talus (V 5.11-) offers a steep and sustained variation to the low-angled start of the Beckey-Chouinard route.

With clear skies prevailing, we climbed for two more days, establishing new routes on a previously unclimbed 300' face in the Pigeon Feathers. The south face of Peek-A-Boo Pinnacle hides behind Fingerberry Tower, and now contains two excellent routes of vastly different character: Peek-A-Boo (III 5.11+) climbs 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.

In the back of our minds lurked unfinished business that we began 12 days earlier on North Flowser Tower. Would our new route go completely free? And if so, could we do it in a day? On August 11 we carried lightweight crampons, two mini-ice tools, a pared- down rack, a lead line, an 8mm haul line, two belay jackets, two liters of water, and some food. We carried no bivy gear. Before the sun reached us, and despite numb fingers and toes, Bruce led the crux tension traverse free on his first attempt. Inspired by his success, I also climbed this delicate section free, relieved to have the most difficult moves behind us. But with 2,300' to go, and with the clock of daylight ticking away, we focused on climbing quickly

and without mistakes. Fifteen hours after starting we once again stood atop North Howser Tower, having made its first one-day free ascent (21 hours round-trip from camp). With loads of 5.10 crack climbing and a short crux, Hey Kool-Aid! (24 pitches, VI 5.11+) is the second free route on the west face.

Chris Weidner, AAC

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