Category Archives: Friends

Ethereal – South Howser Tower, Bugaboos

Ethereal  ~  extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.

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There are only a handful of days in a climber’s life where weather, conditions and partner line up like the planets aligning to create a rare event: a magical first ascent.

Tim and I have over fifty years of climbing between the two of us and we both cherish this experience as one of the highlights of our climbing careers. Despite, never getting paid to climb, the amount of work and sweat equity put into our passion defines it as a career.

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We got to the Kain hut at midnight after making the last minute decision to capitalize on an improving weather forecast and prime conditions. After sleeping-in past our alpine start time, we were happy to meet our friends Jeff and Mike in the kitchen of the hut. We all agreed upon different objectives and went merrily on our way under starry skies. Tim and I couldn’t stop taking photos all the way up to the base of the route so we ended up being almost an hour behind our fast friends.


Lagging behind after taking a thousand photos in the most picturesque place in the world ;) “Whaaaat?” ; )

We had planned to attempt a new line further left on the face, but we hadn’t expected to see the arrow of ice that drew our eyes and our hearts into longing and excitement.


The thin line to the left of Perma Grin caught our eye and our hearts…

The best and worst thing about attempting a new line is the not knowing. The uncertainty. Will it go? Will we have to retreat in disappointment? Will I find protection or even a retreat anchor? Uncertainty prevailed for the first half of the route. However, the excitement of a small child on christmas day also filtered through the shadows of doubt. We were so psyched to be climbing such an exquisite line of ice in one of our favourite places in the world under clear skies — it was worth the risk of failure and retreat.

We melted some extra drinking water at the base of the face while we fantasized about the possible exits to the obvious gem of a line we were drooling over. We made a mental note of the options that would become less apparent once we were climbing on the wall. We found a super aesthetic line up through the bergschrund.


Tim McAllister photo

Tim started out the hard climbing through the ‘schrund with a pumpy start through icicles to a styrofoam ice ramp to the base of the gully feature. Very fun!

Tim starting the route out with a pumpy crux!

Tim starting the route out with a pumpy crux!

Tim put in a few pins and brought me up to his anchor. We could of brought more small cams on our route, but I was nervous about cams in icy granite still since my accident in Scotland. So Tim made short work several times with pins. I found the cams to be really solid in general on the South Howser tower and not at all like the humid frosty conditions in the Cairngorms. Bomber cams and pins gave me more confidence. Also, the combination of lots of drytool training and enough time has passed that I trust myself again. We both agree that the longer we climb, the more complacent we get. We need to constantly be diligent to double check our systems and be aware when we feel too relaxed in this extreme environment.

Pitch 3 starts on on a ribbon of snice... into a steep gully above.

Pitch 3 starts on on a ribbon of snice… into a steep gully above.

I love placing a nest of gear. Like a couple nuts or cams and then my mind is free to try hard on the next difficulty. I enjoy the challenge of uncovering the treasures that are hidden by a blanket of snow:  cleaning gravel or ice out of the cracks and finding a solid placement for my tool or gear. This can be a very creative part of climbing and integral to the flow of upward progress.

Tim crushing the unexpected.

Tim crushing the unexpected.

Pitch four, I call the crampon dangler pitch. While belaying Tim on this pitch, I was witness to the ultimate in self-trust and a calm demeanour when the shit hit the fan. As Tim was moving up trying to decide the best route to gain the left-facing dihedral above, his crampon popped off his foot. It was dangling from his ankle while he negotiated a steep crack system. He made it another body length to a snowy ledge, hopping up his cramponed-foot delicately while systematically hunting out pick placements. After placing a three point pin and cam nest, he felt comfortable enough to put his crampon back on and continue up to a cruxy finish of the pitch. Very improbable climbing that included hand-jamming and dancing on small edges to a sling and nut belay at the base of the ethereal corner system.

Tim inspired me and left me no choice but to attempt the stunning corner above. How could I not step up to the plate after witnessing such bravery and mastery of climbing craft?


Jen on crux pitch, photo by Tim McAllister

There was the potential of protection and good pick placements in the right-hand wall that kept pulling me upward. Also, the promise of lower-angle snice lured in my periphery. I love the challenge of finding the stemming position that will gain the next good pick placement and the dance begins.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, there was a relaxed confidence in every movement up the icy face.

Our belief increased with every pitch. The only question that remained in our minds was which line would take us to the summit.

I often felt reassured knowing we had a siltarp, stove/fuel/pot, soup&tuna, and puffy pants to save us from any unexpected delay or bad weather.

Tim’s pitch naturally led him up to the left. It made the most sense not to fight this continuous line of snice in a shallow corner system. We quickly found ourselves moving into the major left-hand weakness that led to the summit ridge. This 70m pitch flowed with occasional fun cruxes separated by lower angle snow and ice, spotted with bomber rock placements.

Tim suspected we would be on top in one or two pitches. I, the skeptic, disagreed.

Tim was right.

Tim was right.

Sometimes, I really like it when Tim is right! As I belayed from the summit ridge in the sunshine, was definitely one of these times.

Luckily, Tim recently guided the Becky-Chouinard on the SHT so we made quick work of the descent in the quickly deteriorating weather. As the winds picked up we methodically made our way towards the haven of the Kain hut. We used the Pigeon-Snowpatch rappel route and a cairned climbers trail around stopper crevasses on the Bugaboo glacier.

We are grateful to the stewards of the Bugaboos who install safe and efficient rappel lines on major trade routes. This allowed us to retreat from the summit to the hut in less than five hours and fourteen rappels without incident.

Thank you to Tim, a solid climbing partner. Thank you to the climbers who have gone before; letting us know what is possible.

It’s a fat early ice season in the Bugs — go get some!

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Tim surrounded by heaven on earth.

We had a very satisfying deep sleep in the Kain hut before descending to the Columbia Valley the next day.

Shared with bear.

Shared with bear.

On our slog out we saw evidence of the great animals we share our wilderness with.

When we got to the parking lot we were greeted by our friends Ian and Margot and their kids, they were headed up to the alpine with an iffy weather forecast to enjoy camping at Appleby.

We were happy to share our adventure, as they embarked on theirs — while we cracked our breakfast beers and gnawed on salty bacon.

Ethereal, South Howser Tower, BugaboosD+ 320m M6 WI4 R FA Tim McAllister, Jen Olson October 10, 2014

Ethereal, South Howser Tower, Bugaboos D+ 320m M6 WI4 R
FA Tim McAllister, Jen Olson October 10, 2014

Approach left of the middle of NE face of South Howser to gain bergschrund.

Pitch one: 50m snow and ice.  Cross crevasse and traverse under over hanging ‘schrund to rock and ice belay.

Pitch two: 30m WI 4 Tunnel through ‘schrund trending right, up snice to pin anchor at base of gulley/chimney.

Pitch three: 30m M6 up steepening snice to small gully feature. Rock protection on side walls. Climb through a bulge, dry tooling to snice. Belay under over hanging flakes.  Number three camalot crack in anchor.

Pitch four: 25m M6: the crampon dangler pitch.  Move left six meters then straight Up m4 cracks.  Head for left facing corner using straight in hand crack.

Belay at the base of the corner. Sling and nut belay.

Pitch five: 40m M6. Head up corner using decent protection and hooks in the right hand wall. Sustained with thin ice. Crux pitch. (same dihedral as Thompson-Turk route D+ 5.10R)

Pitch six 65m.  WI3 M5 R. Continue up right leaning corner ten meters then step left to snice climbing with occasional nuts and horns.

Pitch seven 70m WI 3 M5. Continue up left leaning snice gully. Step left under flakes over snow covered slab to major weakness. Follow main weakness through short lived cruxes to summit ridge.

Pitch eight 20m scramble on rock to summit and find rappel route on north side of summit block.

Descent South Howser rappel route with a 70m rope.


Filed under Alpine Climbing, Friends, inspiration

Spring Roadie 2014

New states and crags for this girl on the 2014 Spring roadie. I wanted to visit some family in Saskatchewan and check out a school in Saskatoon, so we decided to sample some of the quality stone in the Black Hills of South Dakota on our way to warmer pastures.

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Timmy give’r on the warm up


Photo by Tim McAllister


My Uncle Vic and Aunty Leila – LOVE :)

Tim McAllister and I packed up his truck and truck camper and headed south across the prairies in spring storms through the Dakotas to the wilderness of Spearfish and The Needles.

We ended up sampling many new crags on our trip as the weather pushed us around a bit.

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Photo by Tim McAllister


Spearfish canyon hosts many limestone clip-ups. The rock and bolt quality is mostly good and the new guidebook by Mikel Cronin 2011 does a good job of leading you to the trailheads and crags. We were able to pick our crag based on aspect and star quality to find great climbs. There is a good range of quality climbs from 5.8 to 5.13 that are safely bolted. We were happy to have our stick clip more often than not.

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One highlight was the Indian Wars wall at the Mohican area. We found fun projects on quality stone there.


Photo by Tim McAllister

We could camp for free as it was early season and we found ourselves headed into town every other day for groceries or a visit to one of the numerous coffee shops for wifi. The recreation centre was a great place to shower and also had wifi. The Crow Peak Brewery had cheap pizza and cold beer.


photo by Tim McAllister

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The long term weather forecast was rapidly deteriorating back to winter like conditions so we headed south in hopes of sampling the Mount Rushmore area before the snow.

Mount Rushmore

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This was my first time to see the old bastards carved out of stone and visit Rapid City which also has many a man carved out of stone on every street corner. I wondered if there were any women who roamed the planet during the time of the stone carvings. I fantasized about climbing out the eyelid of a president, but based on this drawing, I see I am not alone.

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Rapid City had a couple outdoor shops and we learned about some local bouldering, but when we inquired into bad weather climbing zones, including indoor, we came up pretty empty handed. The YMCA had a dismal vertical only bouldering wall. We realized that we wouldn’t be trying to stick out any bad weather in the Black Hills.

I feel really lucky to have prioritized this trip to the Black Hills. I found the pine forests to be lovely and the rock quality amazing. The guidebook was rich with historical references to the first ascentionists. Many notable climbers in North American climbing cut their teeth on the granite of these pristine outcrops.


We used the 2012 guidebook called the Needles of Rushmore by Busse and Burr to navigate our way around this National Memorial. Most of the approaches are less than ten minutes. We sought out ultra classics from 5.6 to 5.12. We cheekily used our stick clip to negotiate the often very heady starts to these old school “sport climbs”. At no point did I feel like I was “sport climbing”. Most of the routes we did are serious. Not death but definitely wheelchair and guide crippling consequences to falling. These are mostly vertical and less than vertical face climbs with occasional crack features and crystals to get excited about. I most enjoyed the easier classics or the harder well-bolted test pieces. Many of the routes in-between felt serious which took away from my enjoyment.

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I would like to return to project some head points and continue to do easier classics. We got chased away by bad weather after taking no rest days for over a week in anticipation of a rain day. We drove through a few of the local towns like Hills and Custer to try to get more beta on bad weather climbing. Finally we drove through The Needles which were very beautiful. We passed by a large family of mountain goats who were being chased by local wildlife students up a mountain. We barely fit through some tunnels and we enjoyed seeing Buffalo roaming wide open plateaus.

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Photo by Tim McAllister

We went a little out of our way to a town called Hot Springs which actually doesn’t have any!

On our long drive to the Utah desert we witnessed hours of sky-filled lightning and rumbling thunder across the open ranges of Wyoming.


We spent a couple days in SLC working on our camper and our gym climbing in the new Momentum. What an amazing training facility. I decided to become a boulderer and so I invested in a new Organic bouldering pad that is real pretty with orange and purple. Mostly, I want to work on my weaknesses, gym climbing and bouldering included.

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Tim Getting his first Pedicure

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Based on the regional cold temperatures, we headed to Ibex in the no man’s land of SW Utah close to the Nevada border. A highlight of our trip was re-supplying in Delta which is an hour away from the climbing. Delta always seemed to provide despite being in the middle of NOWHERE. We got showers at the campground and wifi at the McD’s. We had three dollar stores to choose from as well as a couple good grocery stores.


Photo by Tim McAllister


Photo by Tim McAllister

We found a raw wilderness in Ibex. When we first arrived we were welcomed by a Pronghorn who timidly ran away in great speed. I suspect the Pronghorns are the namesake of Ibex first named by european residents.


Photo by Tim McAllister

We pulled in behind a large boulder called the red monster for our first night of high winds. We tried to boulder using only Mountain Project as our guide. The strong winds constantly took our bouldering pads and tossed them away from the base of our problems. This was an entertaining start to our trip.

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Flaggin the Wind

Luckily, the next day the winds died down in the morning and so we tried out a few of the sport climbs. We really enjoyed the rock quality. Its called quartzite but its not exactly metamorphosed sandstone like at Lake Louise. Its more like a hard sandstone filled with small crystals. There are some cracks, but mostly face climbing on edges. I was weary of the old school routes for good reason- old bolts, pins, tat and very specific racks were required. We sought out more modern or retro-fitted routes. We did a couple multi pitches. A highlight was The Nose Shadow, which my friend Kim Csizmazia got the FFA on many moons ago with Kennan Harvey. The second pitch, a 40m 12a jug fest was one of the best sport pitches I have ever climbed in such an adventurous setting.

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Cruxy fun fest, photo by Tim McAllister

Over the next couple weeks we visited Ibex again and sampled both the boulders and the multi-pitch climbs. We really enjoyed the remote nature and quality rock.

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Flyin in the Wind, photo by Tim McAllister

We also enjoyed driving on the Hardpan. a smooth surface of mud that required very little of the driver. ie. Tim tried to get out of the drivers seat!


Summit, photo by Tim McAllister


Bouldering in Candyland, photo by Tim McAllister


Product Testing our new Innate Beer Sleeves, photo by Tim McAllister


Joe’s Valley-


Anna and I, photo by Tim McAllister

Once the weather warmed up a bit we visited the popular Joe’s Valley a handful of times. We met Anna and Obie there for a weekend of bouldering. We enjoyed more free camping and a recently published guidebook to enable our climbing addiction. I especially liked “New Joe’s” because I like hiking, getting away from the cars and the crowds. I like feeling like I am in the wilderness – even if the car is only five minutes away. We had to work the shady sides of the boulders often, but luckily there are many pebbles and many different styles of climbing here. I loved trying to find low balls with the cruxes even closer to the ground. Funny how I can be on the edge of a North face without thinking twice but challenging myself five feet off the deck is an unacceptable risk!

I can see how bouldering is a family friendly activity. Obie inspired us daily with his bravery and natural climbing ability.


Anna and Obie, photo by Tim McAllister

Orangeville and Castledale are the outposts for Wifi and showers just 15-30 minutes from Joe’s. The Ranch provided groceries and wifi, but even better wifi was at the city park in Orangeville. The rec centre in Castledale provides cheap clean showers.


Jen trying hard, photo by Tim McAllister

We needed some rest days so we headed to The Swell to check out future climbing opportunities, hike and get lost in the desert.


photo by Tim McAllister


San Rafal Swell- radically different landscape

We didn’t actually climb in San Rafal Swell, but we really enjoyed dropping into its canyons and exploring a completely different landscape. I plan on returning to climb some one pitch classics and a few of the towers, but I intend to bring a hand drill with me to replace poor anchors that we read about on mountain project for many of the mulit-pitch classics.


Photo by Tim McAllister


Photo by Tim McAllister

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Indian Creek

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To finish our trip up before a work stint, Tim and I headed into Indian Creek in the middle of a spring thunderstorm. We lucked out by getting to appreciate a brief respite of weather to hike to and from our climb. We inhaled the post rain smells of the desert and ascended one of the only cracks that stays dry when its wet out. Annuaki provided an enjoyable morning of pumped forearms and satisfying jams. We both reminisced about our days of crack climbing and planned to make a trip back in the near future.


Photo by Tim McAllister


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Filed under Friends, Rock Clamberin, Sport Climbing