On August 27&28th, Lilla and I finally made it up All Along the Watchtower on the west face of the North Howser Tower in the Bugaboos! We had a few days off together with good weather and so I made a last minute decision to fly to the Rockies to giv’er another go.
Day 1: running around Canmore doing last minute logistics, then driving to the Bugaboos, leaving the trailhead around 3ish, we re-collate our stuff and hike to East Creek via the Bugaboo Glacier and the Pigeon-Howser col. We are in bed after 10 pm under the lovely Minaret.
Day 2: A few hours pass before the alarm clock rouses us, we groggily enjoy some coffee and homemade banana bread to get us going shortly after 3 am on the trail up to the Howser Bivy Boulder. Because we were saving time and weight, this approach involved us chopping steps in the moat (thanks to our guides training! ; ) )
I felt anxious about the glacier approach as we did our 5 rappels. Last time, this section had more snow than this time. I was the one without the crampons on this section last time and this time too, but this time the bullet-proof ice was even tricky for the person with the crampons. Its a couple hundred meters of hard glacier ice ranging from 20 to 35 degrees. We were slow with our rappelling and downclimbing and lost at least an extra hour here this time, which I would regret at the end of the day ; ).
The bottom half of the route went really smoothly. We knew where we were going. We lead the same ‘blocks’ as last time. Last time, I was short on sleep and had older rock shoes which really affected my experience. This time the rock was drier, I was full of energy and had some sweet new Katanas on and I was loving the climbing.We tried to haul one of the harder 5.10 pitches, but the pack was so heavy and the rock not quite steep enough to make it an efficient means of upward progress. So mostly, the second carried the pack. This was A LOT of work.
There was no water on the route this late in the year, as we expected, so between us we had 5.5 L of water. For the record, I drank more than my share. It is a well known fact that Lilla is a camel and a much tougher climber than I. As with most things, she handled this gracefully.
Lilla lead the 1st pitch of the dihedral which had a 5.10 rating. As with most of the 5.10 on the route, I found it to be burly. I lead the rest of the dihedral in 60m pitches. I found the 5.11 climbing to be well-protected and FUN. Less burly then the 5.10 climbing, stemming and laybacking on great granite in the sun. Unfortunately, the setting sun. As I entered the 5.12 traverse pitch, it was obvious, due to dwindling daylight and increasing muscle fatigue, that french free and A1 were the methods of choice. Disappointing, due to the fact that the rock was dry and we had had so much success up to this point, but still endorphed by the amazing route and the fact that we were 70m from the top of the “tower” (the hard climbing).
Exhausted, Lilla took the hard job of aid climbing in the dark the final 70m to our ‘bivy ledge’. Due to fatigue and dehydration, this took a really long time. I struggled to stay awake at the hanging belays, despite being slowly tortured by my harness at my pelvis/femur joint. A heavy gri-gri seemed like a really good idea at this point.
3 am, brought us relief at the plush ledge and the familiar preparations of the ‘open-bivy’ that lie ahead. We welcomed a few hours of shut-eye. We did bring a super light sleeping bag and tarp, we sat on ropes and packs and spooned. The trade off of Lilla being the big spoon and I getting the outside of the ledge was unspoken.
Day 3: Woken by sunrise and the hard cold surfaces we lay on, we slowly regained our momentum from the previous day. The shadow of the Howers on the surrounding valleys was an inspiration to us. We would not believe we made the ascent and the summit until much later. The sweetness of success takes awhile to reach the neurons. Perhaps, the drive to push through all obstacles needs to be so present, there is no room for savoring victory.
We didn’t know what the summit ridge and descent held for us. Our anxieties from being mountain guides who are always analyzing the worst case scenario and problem solving until we are home in our beds prevents us from enjoying the journey.
In retrospect, topping out on this route is so much easier than failing, rappelling and ‘going around’, especially under the threat of thunderstorms.
The summit ridge proved to be pretty straight-foward and mostly dry. The occasional snow patch provided an icy bite of desperately needed fluids. The descent, which we had done a year earlier, became familiar with each rappel. The excitement of rappelling over a 60m ‘shrund was escalated with the find of icicles to wet our parched mouths. Just a few hours later we were sorting gear outside the Kain hut, where we were 48 hours before. I rushed down the hill to cold beer, salty chips and the anticipation of seeing my new boyfriend. Ahhhh, the good life.