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[TR] South Howser Tower, Bugaboos - The Beckey-Chouinard 9/4/2011


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Trip: South Howser Tower, Bugaboos - The Beckey-Chouinard


Date: 9/4/2011


Trip Report:

The Beckey-Chouinard!


This route initially captured my imagination on my first trip to the Bugaboos in 2006, when I talked to a couple of climbers staying in the Kain Hut with us who had just gotten back from their climb. At the time, I didn't really understand what the route meant, but I knew it was well beyond my abilities and wondered if I would ever be the kind of climber who could accomplish something like that.


The answer is yes, barely.


I hadn't been climbing much this year, a combination of many excuses including bad weather and a hurt finger. On August 1 my buddy Doug asked me if I wanted to go climb the Beckey-Chouinard over Labor Day. Chances like this with a rock-solid partner don't come up all the time, so I said yes and knew I needed to get in shape. I climbed as much as I could during August and by the beginning of September, felt almost ready.


Doug and I left Thursday after work, and drove into BC in two shifts. After sleeping in the car for a few hours we finished the drive through significant rain showers, and the unwelcome sight of snow on the hills around us. We hiked in through unsettled weather, and when we got to Appleby we found a couple inches of snow on everything. The cute but very serious custodian chick said we were brave. We were concerned.








Our tentative plan had been to haul all the way into the East Creek Basin but the snow and the cold encouraged us to set up camp at Appleby instead. We started talking about other routes in the area. Neither of us were willing to say "plan B" but we were both thinking it.


We goofed around for a while and then went to bed. It was a cold night, we put on everything we had and were still a little chilly. The alarm went off at 4, Doug didn't hear it, I took a quick vote and nobody wanted to get up so we slept until the sun hit our tent. Morning was bright and cold. We ate breakfast and headed up to scout out the approach to South Howser and climb Pigeon. The B-S col was in the best shape I'd ever seen, and both my previous trips were in July! We found up to 8 inches of fresh snow on the upper Vowell glacier.










When we got to the P-H col we could see that the West Ridge of Pigeon still had snow on it. We decided to give it some time to warm up, and scout our descent into the East Creek Basin. The fresh snow turned out to be a blessing. We were able to set up 2 raps off boulders over the steepest part (I have never heard of this idea before, but it was perfect for us), and then kick steps all the way down to the bivy sites.








With good steps put in, we hoofed it back up to the col. We decided the best plan was to abandon the climb of Pigeon and get back to camp to turn in early. But first we scouted out the descent off South Howser. It looked good! We went home and cooked dinner, and then I tossed and turned and caught some sleep.


The alarm went off at 2 am, we got up and ate, and stole away under starlight. It felt surreal to be a tiny pool of light alone on the glacier with the world quiet around us. We retraced our steps of the previous day and our timing seemed perfect, reaching the boulder hopping section below the route just as the sky was getting light.




Hundreds of feet of scrambling later, Doug took the first lead. The plan was to simul the first 3 pitches, to below the first 5.10a pitch. He got off route but it didn't matter much. He led the next pitch too, then I took a couple leads.








And then we swung a few more leads before reaching the big bivy ledge.






I'd been warned the 2 pitches off the ledge, on the Great White Headwall, were "real asskickers". This is 100% accurate. The pitches are sustained and are LONG, about 60 meters each. Doug took the first one, a really nice hand/fist crack to a pedestal, to more cracks to a little face climbing.


I took the second, hands and fists in a corner, to nice face cracks, then back into the corner for a squeeze finish. I'd read you can do this pitch with a pack on, and it's true, although if you had an axe on that pack it would suck. The crux for me was hugging a snow-covered chockstone and pumping out with freezing hands, trying to muscle my way up 3 times and realizing each time I didn't have the strength, before getting smart and using my feet.






When the pitch was done, I breathed a sigh of relief, despite the hole in my ankle I had just noticed was filling my shoe with blood. We had finished the hardest portion of the route, just 3 pitches and some scrambling to go, and the sun didn't look too low in the sky yet. Doug took the next lead and somehow linked up most of the next 2 pitches. I took the final lead, tension-traversing around the corner and then up the gully to the rap station. By now it was getting pretty dark...




The scramble after the rap was snow-covered and poorly lit, and we wasted some time swapping leads because I was unsure of where I was going. It's actually straightforward, the real ridge you can see is the one you are heading for.


Doug found the rap anchor and brought me up as the last rays of sunlight were fading.








The raps started pretty badly for us. The first one was straightforward, but on the second one the rope got stuck below us, and I rapped down to free it. After a whole lot of dicking around I got it out of the crack, and prusiked back up again.


Now it was Doug's turn. He rapped down and couldn't find the bolts, so he prusiked up and tried a different direction, which also didn't have any bolts. I was getting really cold and worrying about the possibility of a bivy, which would have been a bad scene. But on his third try he located them. When I followed him down I saw why he'd tried two other choices first: the rap was very diagonal, over a low angle and narrow ridge, which on that day was covered in ice and snow. If you slipped and blew it, you'd pendulum off the ridgecrest and sideways into the dark unknown. Sketchiest rap I've ever done.


Mad props to Doug for saving our asses. He can save yours too, if you read this.


After this, the raps were straightforward. Doug went down first on every single one and did a fantastic job of finding the anchors quickly. As we lost elevation it warmed up and the wind subsided, and we started to feel like things would be okay. We'd spend the night in our tent, instead of cuddling under a pop-tart wrapper. The last rap took us over the bergschrund and onto soft, low-angle snow, upon which I knelt and deposited grateful kisses with my catastrophically chapped lips. From here it was an easy slog back to camp.



I'm still kind of in shock that we got this done. It's been the most ambitious climb on my to-do list for so long, and it always seemed out of reach. Next year, I'll have to find some other whale to chase, but for now, it's time for fall!


Gear Notes:

Nuts, double Camalots from # .4 to 3 and a single #4. We had 3 tiny cams which weren't necessary and they were gummed up anyway.


Approach Notes:

Round trip from Appleby is reasonable. We were able to leave crampons and axes at the top of the B-S col, this is totally conditions dependent. Moving slightly faster, or having a couple more hours of daylight, would have made things easier.

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Nice work guys! Thanks for the beta too (we were the folks you talked to the following morning). We didn't have as much luck on the approach conditions as you did, that fresh snow melted off and we were left with harder ice. We were forced to carry boots, crampons, and axes all the way through. We opted to climb the 5.10 face cracks instead of pull our packs through those chimneys and it worked out alright.


I ended up having to prussik out of that long rappel too! Damn, what a pain when you're that exhausted...

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Jon: Good to meet you! Glad you guys got it done, I hope at least some of what we told you was useful!


Jared: Thanks, and thanks for the beta! At least some of what you told me was useful! It's impressive to me that you got this done a few years ago, I was glad to have a few years of extra climbing experience under my belt.


D-Rep: Yeah, it was a bunch of mismatched schedules, wasn't it? You'll see me at the gym and cragging around until the weather gets real bad, let me know if you need a partner in the meantime.

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