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[TR] West Face, North Howser Tower - All Along the Watchtower 8/26/2012


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Trip: West Face, North Howser Tower - All Along the Watchtower


Date: 8/26/2012


Trip Report:

Where to start?

This route was a significant one for me on a lot of levels: first grade VI, first time in the Bugs, first planned bivy, first unplanned bivy, and definitely the most committed I've ever been in the mountains. In the end it was an amazing experience with a great partner in one of the wildest settings I've ever been in. It's difficult to communicate the turbulence of thoughts and feelings I experienced during this climb.


Anywho, the timeline format seems to work well for TRs and this one starts in April. I was sitting in the St. George Public Library wishing it would stop raining in Zion and learned about the AAC Live Your Dream Grant. I thought "Finally! A grant for us normal people. What's an appropriate objective for that sort of thing and who could I do it with?" (ironically, we didn't end up getting any money...) I'd definitely heard about Watchtower, but had only recently looked at it as anything other than a route that was hopelessly beyond me. In the light of that day it now looked like the perfect objective: definitely a reach, but with minimal potential of being totally crushed by it. I'd cragged with Jonathan a bit at Trout and felt like he was a strong partner who also had a compatible attitude and personality-something pretty important for stepping into bigger terrain. Long story short, I sent him an email: what's your August looking like and what do you think of this route? Months of email exchanges ensued. Jonathan went off to Ashford to walk up and down a hill all summer and I did more or less the same down in Oregon.


Things wore on and the likelihood of our schedules aligning simultaneously with eachother's, as well as a forecast that would allow us to tackle this seemed decreasingly likely. By early August, this trip had become an almost forgotten hope in the back of my mind. And then, amazingly, in mid-August I got the email. Things would finally match up for about a week at the end of the month. With the Bugaboo Provincial Park weather forecast loaded as my homepage, I started obsessing over the weather. A week went by and it actually looked like the it might be stable enough for us to push the button. It was happening!


8/23: The goal for the day was to drive from Eugene to Kennewick. In PDX, I got a call from Jonathan with some bad news. It turned out his passport was in storage in Bend. Thankfully someone was able to find it and meet me with it in hand at 10:00PM. What's a few extra hours of driving when you're en route to climb something as awesome as this?

8/24: We met in the REI parking lot and sorted stuff. On the way to Canada we made a quick stop in Spokane to fortify ourselves with frozen mango from Trader Joes. (1 lb for 3 bucks!)



Yardsale in the Kennewick REI parking lot.


8/25: Not really knowing what to expect, we had a pretty fluid plan in terms of overall strategy. We weren't sure how the approach would go, so we didn't want to commit to camping at East Creek, the Howser Bivy Boulder, or on the route. In the end, it turns out after walking up and down hill all summer, getting to the B-S Col in two hours was no big deal and it wasn't far to East Creek from there. We faffed around East Creek caching our camping gear in anticipation of bivvying on the route after Pith 3.



Jonathan posing down in front of the Kain Hut.



Heading down to East Creek Basin.


The raps in went smoothly except for a slight core-shot to our lead line sustained while pulling our rope on the second rap. Nothing a bit of athletic tape couldn't fix. (out of site out of mind!) It's worth noting that the basin below the raps is very active in terms of rock fall and large amounts of it were raining down the cirque we had to cross every 10-40 minutes.



Jonathan psyched to commit.




Our repaired rope at the base of the route.



There were also a couple of others on the West Face. Looks like they did Spicy Red Beans to a newer line put up by some locals out of Golden.


We started up the line late in the afternoon and just made it to our bivvy in the last light of day. There are some very compelling crack systems that pull you too far left on the face into a dead end. We found a sporty traverse that allowed us to connect our mistake into the left end of our intended ledge just as the light was fading. Thankfully it was a warm night, so cold wasn't much of an issue. Sadly, the ledge was far from deluxe and the real limit on sleep was from general discomfort.



Splitter climbing that sadly wasn't part of our line.



Tucked in for the night.


8/26: Not much to say other than we woke up and started climbing. Thankfully, it wasn't too cold and the shady western aspect actually offered pretty pleasant temps. We accidentally climbed another bonus pitch up to the ledge underneath Armageddon and had to rap back down to our line. Eventually we worked up into the base of the corner in the early afternoon. The corner was absolutely stellar climbing on splitter rock. The meat of it is rated 11+ and, to be honest, felt like Trout Creek 10+. Slabby lie-backing and stemming all with super good friction. In any case, very good fun on warm, dry rock. (I imagine it'd be a different story if it were wet and/or cold) I gave up on the free effort one pitch below the crux and started french-freeing for speed. Throughout this section of the route and especially on the crux pitch, off-set aliens were absolutely crucial gear. The sun set just after I finished up the crux pitch and Jonathan pulled out the lights before cleaning it. This left us with 250 more feet of corner which we were eventually finished with by 12:30.



The beginning of the corner.



Fading light below the crux pitch.


The forecast had called for a storm to roll in the evening of the 27th and throughout the day a system had been visible far off to the west. That, combined with a dramatic increase in wind in the evening, prompted us to forgo the bivvy and keep pushing up the last 1000' of ridge after a short break. Eventually exhaustion caught up with us a few hundred feet short and we napped for a few hours through very minor flurries of graupel. Thankfully the morning dawned relatively clear and calm and we tagged the summit and headed home.



Time to go down.


The only other notable event was finding wolverine tracks as we were headed up the Pidgeon-Howser Col over top of the boot track we'd put in coming down the Col only an hour prior. Wild! The Bugs are an amazing place with a massive volume of high quality climbing packed into a very compact zone. I'm definitely psyched to go back!


Thanks to Lee (aka luvshaker) for the off-set loan. They were key!

Also thanks to Tay for putting up with my beta-mining/pestering as we were hammering out the final details.


Gear Notes:

1x 00 and 0 TCUs

3x 1-4 TCUs (including 1 set of off-set aliens)

2x .75-3 C4s

1x 4 C4

Double Set Stoppers + Brass

Lightweight crampons and axes.


Approach Notes:

Surprisingly compact and straight-forward. It's pretty mellow to get from the car to the raps in half a day.

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Nice effort, guys. Beautiful route!

Colin and I made the same mistake climbing too high into Armageddon, super easy to do that as the terrain vacuum is in full effect. However, for future parties who repeat this error, know that there's a loose quartz dyke that diagonals up and left from the base of the Armageddon corner that does lead to the Watchtower corner, arriving about one pitch below the start of the corner. It is steep and a little heady, probably 5.9+R, the R because the pro was spaced and the rock was loose. But the climbing wasn't too hard, fortunately.


Definitely second the rec of triples on finger sizes for the corner, that thing goes on forever.

I wish the bolted rappel-in approach from the South Howser area had been established (or perhaps, we hadn't heard of it as it was new about when we did the route). We approached from a bivi at the North Howser col- not recommended!! Choss, and steep, hard snow, barely got by w/o crampons and axes.

Thanks for the report.

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