SOUTH HOWSER TOWER

Posted on: March 1, 2004


It was the best free pitch wed ever climbed: Nick Martino topping out the immaculate sixty-meter 5.11 finger corner on Soul Cinders (V 5.11 R C2, 20 pitches, Martino-Ozturk, 2003), South Howser Tower, Bugaboo Provincial Park, Canada. Martino and Renan Ozturk established the route in a rare weather window when the Park was, unbeknownst to them, closed due to wildfires. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

Nick Martino and I experienced a rare weather window from August 25 to September 5 in the Bugaboos. "Why is there not a soul in the Towers these days?" I wondered early in the trip as I squinted into the sun, watching the barometer rise. Deciding to abandon our poorly-protected free project on the Minaret, we ditched the puffy jackets, ice tools and crampons and took the hammer and pins off the rack for a single-push attempt of an untouched natural line on South Howser Tower that we had scoped with cheap binoculars.

It was barely light when we reached the base of the route, and I was already worked from clawing up gravel-covered ice. We simulclimbed through an initial 400 feet of lower-angle terrain and gained a giant, intimidating, bomb bay chimney. Cold, dark and three pitches long, it was capped by the icy, wet jaws of a roof split by a squeeze chimney. Nick took the lead line past unprotected face features, which set me up to lead into the beast's mouth. Adorned in Gore-Tex, I proceeded into the beast's belly, from which I was regurgitated cleanly into the corners above. "It goes! It goes!" I yelled, excited about our progress.

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An immaculate 200-foot corner with a finger crack in the back continued our adventure; we agreed it was the best free pitch we've ever climbed. The upper chimneys required airy stemming to navigate around solid, giant chockstones. On the summit Nick held out his two remaining dreadlocked bangs. "Can I have a haircut?" he asked. I cut one off for him to stash in the summit register, then gazed toward the Towers, the jagged skyline distorted by forest-fire smoke. There was nobody in sight.

We rapped down the east face and over a large receding bergschrund that was still dripping from the day's sun. Glissading into camp, we kicked back on a flat boulder and enjoyed a fiery red sunset, capping off a magical day on a great route we named the Soul Cinders (V 5.11 R C2, 20 pitches).

The next morning we rested and racked for All Along the Watchtower (V 5.12-, 34 pitches) on the North Howser. The sky was still cloudless, but nobody had come to climb the ever-popular Beckey-Chouinard Route—or for that matter, to donate food to our meager supply.

The next day I once again found myself climbing out of a dream in a t-shirt high on Howser granite. French-freeing for speed, we reached the summit, where I cut Nick's remaining dreadlock for the near-empty summit register.

Where was everyone? There were still no signs of human life when we descended to the Conrad Kain Hut. Throwing off our packs we ran toward the hut, excited to share our experiences. Nick pounced to the lead in the hopes of talking to someone other than me, then stopped in awe at the door. The park was evacuated, a sign said; it had been closed for a week due to the fires. We had been obliviously tucked away in the Howsers while the world burned below, the sole senders during a brilliant weather window.

— Renan Ozturk, Rhode Island, with Nick Martino, Flagstaff, Arizona

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