South Howser Tower (Bugaboos) beta


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Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 30, 2006 - 06:11pm PT
I am headed to the Bugaboos in August and, weather permitting, am thinking about an attempt on the Beckey-Chouinard route on the South Howser Tower. I am hoping for some beta from others who have done the route. Mainly looking for a length and difficulty comparison to Yosemite routes/linkups. I've heard that all the routes in Canada are tougher than the ones in the States. Any info would be greatly appreciated!

San Francisco
Jun 30, 2006 - 11:46pm PT
Nothing real hard on it. Mostly just good clean sustained 5.8-9 crack climbing. You can run a lot of stuff together, simul, etc. Weather is supposed to be the crux, but we got perfect conditions on our first try. We had a couple of slow parties ahead of us, so it took all day. If I did it again I would try harder to be first on the route. We did it in a day from the hut due to the logistical issues with bivying at the col or base. I don't think you are supposed to bivy at the col, but that is probably the best plan. There is no way in hell I would plan to bivy on the route.

The last rap was fixed. Just keep going, and trust that it will eventually lead to someplace semi-safe - it seems like you are going to end up in the (huge) bergschrund!

If you are really concerned about beta let me know and I will look at the guidebook and try to remember, but it's pretty straightforward.

Hard to compare to Yosemite - it's clean like Sons of Yesterday, but steeper, with more dihedrals. Length-wise, maybe a little longer than Steck-Salathe, but cleaner, and without the wide stuff.

Oh yeah, and it feels a bit harder because you are wearing a pack with ice ax, crampons, boots, jacket etc. Ice ax on your back is a pain in the ass in the dihedrals!

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 1, 2006 - 02:26am PT
I did it in 1991. The description, picture, and topo in "The Bugaboos" (Atkinson & Piche - 2004) are quite informative and accurate. Not knowing you or your background, I'll provide some general information.

The main things are to be very fit, be prepared, and go as light as you safely can. Two 9 mm ropes may be advisable, and if you can safely manage with one pack, do so. (We hauled only on one pitch.) It's 20+ pitches, of which half are steep, sustained cracks in the 5.8 - 5.9 range. There are 5-6 moderate pitches, and a few that are mostly moderate with harder bits. I did the northeast buttress of Higher Cathedral two years ago, and in some ways it was comparable - though shorter, steeper, with more wide cracks.

There is one relatively wide crack, the pitch off Great Sandy Ledge, the half way point. Wider than fist, anyway, for 5 - 10 metres. There are bits of chimney and stuff elsewhere, but nothing that I recall as bad.

We took a double rack of Friends from 0.5 - 4 (about 20 in all), a set of wires (or more?), and lots of slings and biners. (Lots of gear = quick belays.) We hiked in approach shoes - no boots, crampons, or axes. That really helps, but is very condition and experience dependent. (Good comfortable rock shoes mandatory - not a climb for slippers.)

You may want to leave the hut late the night before, grab a nap and a bite somewhere, then arrive at the base at first light. (It takes 3-4 hours, or more.) With luck, there won't be any slower parties ahead, or bivied near the base. (Ask around camp.) The only downside is that travel at night may mean travel on hard snow = boots etc. There are places on the route where you can pass other parties, if they're agreeable. Getting off Bugaboo climbs early is a good idea, and the Pigeon-Howser col is a very bad place to be in a thunderstorm - trust me.

You could cache supplies and equipment for the descent at the col, if you're careful of snafflehounds. It is worth scoping out the approach and descent beforehand, and getting what information you can. Crevasses are a concern on both.

The descent is six rappels down an open face, with lots of corners and gullies. Be very careful of other parties above/behind you, and of rope eating cracks. The last rappel, over the bergschrund, particularly requires attention - it is often better to zig zag back and forth through the "lips" on foot, with tension from above, rather than rappel straight over. As soon as you're down, you have to convert to full glacier travel mode - lots of holes around.

There are lots of medium size Bugaboo routes to train on, many of which are classics in their own right. From 5 - 12 pitches, allowing training and acclimatization and such.

There are no fixed belays, but lots of good cracks. You will save a hella lot of time if you can set up quick alpine belays. 20 pitches, plus six rappels, is 26 total. At a half hour per pitch, all inclusive, every moment counts. If you spend ten minutes f*g around at every belay, constructing a perfectly equalized and bombproof belay, you'll be sorry. This is alpine rock climbing, emphasis on the alpine. If you're doing similar but shorter routes at 30 minutes/pitch, that should help your confidence. Leading in blocks seems common practice now.

There is no water or snow on the route, though sometimes ice in the upper cracks.

We only simul-climbed the first two and last two pitches, all in the class 3 - 5.5 range. Doing so elsewhere on the route depends a lot on your ability, fitness, and experience, and given altitude, loads, and safety, may not be wise.

Good luck, don't be too disappointed if the weather craps out or the conditions aren't right or there's too many people around or it's too much for you. It'll always be there next year. Have alternatives, both in the Bugaboos and elsewhere.

E-mail if you want more, but I won't tell you too much - it's not that kind of climb.


Social climber
Jul 1, 2006 - 11:26am PT

Some visual beta for ya!
Taken yesterday.

right here, right now
Jul 1, 2006 - 12:07pm PT
You great white northerners got any more detail pics of the Bugs?
Wup 'Em Out Please!

Nice Houser perspective Grover.

San Francisco
Jul 1, 2006 - 12:23pm PT
Anders' advice above is spot on. We did it in late season - Bug-Snowpatch col was ice, so we needed full regalia. I would still take an axe in case my partner fell in a hole. Speaking of which, he is correct, there are a lot of crevasses around the base of the descent. We were standing around shooting the sh#t with a couple of other parties after getting down, and two of us punched through. "oh yeah, I guess we should rope up!"

I would climb NEB of HC, and then run over to Serenity/Sons and climb that. If that doesn't feel too bad, next weekend climb the Steck-Salathe. If that feels good, you won't have any problems on this route.

Trad climber
somewhere near Mammoth Lakes, CA
Jul 1, 2006 - 05:20pm PT
Anders, at the risk of sounding like a troll (which I'm not), what exactly is an "alpine belay" ??

Thanks in advance.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 1, 2006 - 06:13pm PT
It's all about time.

To me, an alpine (rock) belay is one that is fast to set up and take down. Often two reasonable sized well-placed cams, with a quick tie in. Non-locking carabiners save time, but should be multiple/redundant. As little use of slings and doohickeys as possible. (Saves more time, and gear.) Bombproof, likely SERENE, but above all quick. Elaborate anchors and tie-in systems may be a bit better, but use a lot of time. Five minutes/pitch in construction and deconstruction adds up quickly.

A half way decent stance with quick, good anchors is often better than a big ledge with poorer anchors, although running out the rope(s) and reducing the number of belays can be helpful. (Or lead to rope drag nightmares.)

Another good way to squander time on alpine climbs is to remove your shoes at the end of each pitch, then put them back on. 1 minute/climber/pitch for shoe removal and replacement adds up. If the shoes are so tight that you can't wear them continuously, they're probably too tight. Plus you run the risk of dropping a shoe. (I bet Acopa makes a really nice comfortably snug lace up that would be just right - it's not all that hard a route, after all.)

There are a zillion tricks to safely speed up alpine climbing in the various books. A lot is a frame of mind, preparation, and experience. Many "standard" rock climbing techniques are not well-adapted to alpine climbing, as the time/safety equation is considerably different.


Edit: Don't forget to forget the Grigri, and similar heavy and unnecessary gadgets.
Tim Lawrence

Trad climber
Madrid, Spain
Jul 2, 2006 - 10:09am PT
Is there a bivy at the beginning of the route?

Who here has done the Sunshine route on Snowpatch? Any beta?

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Jul 2, 2006 - 02:40pm PT
thanks for the alpine climbing lesson Anders...

Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 3, 2006 - 02:06pm PT
Thanks for all the info and the picture! I didn't realize that some people do it in a day from the hut, that sounds brutal. If the weather permits, and we get up the route, I'll post a TR.
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