After two weeks rock climbing and road tripping with my wife, I arrived home to a phone call from Chad Kellogg: “Dude, when are we going to the Bugs! We have two weeks before leaving for China and we have to get in a training climb.” I checked the forecast, secretly hoping for bad weather, but…blue skies and 0% chance of precip.
Our original plans to attempt the classic All Along the Watchtower were jeopardized during the drive, as we pored over the maze of unclimbed crack systems visible in the Alpinist profile of the Howsers. Looking to simulate our upcoming objective (Chinas unclimbed Seerdengpu [See China section of this Journal for Johnson’s report on their first ascent of Seerdengpu—Ed.]), we thought attempting a new line would be more appropriate than reading a topo.
After a 12-hour drive and a couple hours of sleep beside the car, on August 11 we packed light bags with one rope and no bivy gear and headed toward the west face of North Howser under perfect skies. Our intended route appeared difficult but doable, so we started up without delay.
It starts near the biggest left-facing corner on the far right side of the face. The next major system to the right is the start of Hey Kool-Aid!, which, we later learned, we joined for a pitch or so. The big corner itself is a seam, but the twin finger cracks 15' left of the corner went for 4-5 pitches at 5.10 C2. After pitch 5 we traversed right under a roof, climbed a crux pitch (5.11 C2) on the arête formed by the right side of the giant corner, and entered a prominent chimney system. We stayed in this system—including a four-hour brew-and-shiver stop at 2 a.m.—until one-and-a-half traversing pitches at pitches 11 and 12 took us to the next chimney system to the right. One pitch later we gained the 1970 Southwest Face route.
As the skies illuminated, we encountered wind and low, dark clouds, but we kept climbing, thinking the morning crud would burn off. Then it started snowing. It became clear that our only shot at topping-out was to abandon our plans for an independent line, so we continued on the upper Southwest Face. For the rest of the day the weather deteriorated into snow, thunder, and minimal visibility. Near the top it snowed three inches in less than an hour. We crested the summit ridge at 7 p.m., soaked and cold—we wore tennis shoes and Chad had only fingerless gloves. I stumbled around on the summit ridge trying to get oriented in the total whiteout. Neither of us had been to the summit of the North Howser before and I couldn’t figure out where the east face was, let alone the rap stations. I nearly rapped off the north face (thinking it was the east face), and then the whiteout thinned for a moment and the glow of the setting sun identified west—we finally got our bearings. Several raps later we barely cleared the ‘schrund with our single line and found the boot track below South Howser at dark. We walked back to the car, arriving just under 42 hours after leaving. A short sleep later and we were on the road, returning to Seattle 78 hours after departing. We placed no bolts or pins, and the only gear left was a small piece of tat for a lower-out on pitch 11. The Simulator (19 belayed pitches [12 new], 5.11 C2).
On the way home, looking at photos we realized that in the whiteout we had been standing on the wrong side of the summit gendarme (some 20' shy), so I suppose it was merely an attempt!