Posted on: March 1, 2006

Bruce Miller and I had each climbed in the Bugaboos twice previously without setting foot on North Howser Tower, so on our first day together in the range we focused on the section that is simply too impressive—and too intimidating—to ignore: the west face.

We left our comfortable camp in the East Creek Basin July 30 at 3:15 a.m. for a new route attempt on this wall. The first crux—the sketchy transition from snow to rock without crampons or a solid anchor—came at the start of the face. By day's end we had climbed more than 2,000 feet, of which at least 1,500 feet were on new terrain. The route's crux, a ten-foot slabby traverse, involved the only aid of our climb: I used tension to lead it (although Bruce followed it clean). Our haul pack was light (we had no sleeping bag or stove), but we paid for this choice that evening as we shivered together, each in a thin bivy sack and belay jacket. By 2 p.m. the following day we stood atop the highest point of the Howser Massif, and by 5:30 p.m. we were back at camp. On the top half of our route, we shared some pitches with Young Men On Fire, but many of our pitches climbed to its right or left.

Two sunny rest days in the breathtaking East Creek Basin cirque provided motivation for another climbing day. A short approach just above camp brought us to a highly featured wall just right of the classic Beckey-Chouinard Route on South Howser Tower. Eight hundred feet of new climbing led to a point between Pitches 5 and 6 of the Beckey-Chouinard, which we followed to the summit. Lost in the Talus (V 5.11-) offers a steep and sustained variation to the Beckey-Chouinard's low-angled start.


With clear skies prevailing we climbed two more days in a row, establishing a new route each day on a previously unclimbed 300-foot face in the Pigeon Feathers. Peek-A-Boo Pinnacle hides just out of sight behind Fingerberry Tower, and now contains two excellent routes of vastly different character: Peek-A-Boo (III 5.11+) takes 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.

How long would the perfect weather hold? Our unfinished business on North Howser Tower remained in the backs of our minds. Despite our fatigue, we both felt that a one-day free push of our route would be worthwhile.

On August 11 our packs contained short axes, lightweight crampons, a pared-down rack, food, jackets and a liter of water each. We carried no bivy gear. The first few pitches ran with water in places from a large snow patch at half-height. (In a drier year or later in the season the rock might not be wet.) The rock quality on the route surpassed our expectations, and unlike some parties who have climbed the face, we experienced no rockfall. Before the sun had reached us, Bruce led the tension traverse free on his first attempt with numb fingers and toes. Inspired by his success, I followed the delicate section free as well. We now needed only to climb fast without mistakes up familiar stone.

Fifteen hours after starting the climb we once again stood atop the west face of North Howser Tower, having made its first one-day free ascent in twenty-one hours round-trip from camp. Hey Kool-Aid! (VI 5.11+) is the second free route on the west face.

Chris Weidner, Boulder, Colorado

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