Friday, August 20, 2010

Seventh Rifle

The alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. I do not hear it, as I have my earplugs in against Jon's snoring, but he does. I stick my head out of the tent and look at the sky. Not a single cloud obscures the thousands of stars; there is no excuse to go back to sleep. Unfortunately by the time we choke down our instant oatmeal the stars have disappeared behind dark clouds. But with a full French press' worth of coffee in our veins there is no turning back, and we set off boulder hopping by headlamp across the moraines. The early morning light is just enough to see by when we crest the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col. What we see is not very inspiring: thick, low clouds are streaming from the north across the Howsers. The thought of rappelling into the west face in marginal weather does not appeal. We run back down to Applebee, where we crawl into our sleeping backs and do not reemerge until almost noon.

Wake up and smell the coffee!

The stormy Howsers from the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col.

The scene replays itself two days later, but this time the stars keep shining all through breakfast, and from the col the Howsers are black silhouettes against a perfectly clear sky. We cache all excess gear including crampons at the col, and with the double set of cams that just does not fit into our small daypacks clinking around our hips, continue across the Vowell Glacier. We walk through a small tent city in East Creek, but it is early and everyone is still asleep. Not long afterward we stand on the spur overlooking the glacier below the magnificent west face of the North Howser. The day's adventure is about to kick into high gear.

A pre-dawn stroll across the Vowell Glacier.

Four rappels deposit us on the glacier. As we descend, we dig the heels of our approach shoes into the steep, hard snow, mindful of the long runout to the talus below. With no ice gear, no bivi gear, a single rope and a rack, I feel the exhilarating lightness of our commitment. Likely the easiest, and certainly the most pleasant way back to the fleshpots of Applebee leads over the summit. We fill up on water where it trickles from the snow into the talus, and sketch back up more hard neve to the base of the rock, nut tools doing double duty as miniature ice axes. To escape the exposure down the slope we have just ascended, we crawl down into the moat and start the climb from its icy depths. The first pitch, with hard moves on wet, polished granite, is a rude awakening. Fortunately it deposits us in a low-angled gully, and simul-climbing quickly warms us up. We do stop to belay over a couple of desperately slimy chockstones, but soon we are moving again and emerging into the sun on the slabs below the imposing upper headwall.

Committing to the rappels to the base of the west face...

... and sketching up to the start of the route.

The first pitch. Photo: Jon Walsh.

Simul-climbing on the low-angled slaws halfway up the face.

We take advantage of a trickle to pound back a bunch of water and fill our bottles for the climbing ahead. A few more ropelengths of simul-climbing gets us to what looks to be the business: fun, steep climbing on good, rough granite. A couple of pitches in particular get our attention, with thin, balancy moves but luckily good gear. Eventually the summit ridge comes into view. So many times one grows tired of a climb before it is over, but here we do not have the time to wish for the steep stuff to end when we pull onto the nearly horizontal summit ridge. And what a ridge! The granite is warm in the early evening sun, huge walls drop off on both sides, and we are grinning from ear to ear as we gun for the summit of the Bugaboos. On top we celebrate with the firecrackers Jon brought along for the occasion, read through the entries in the summit log, and turn our attention to the descent. It goes more quickly than expected, and we don our headlamps only for the last rappel over the yawning 'schrund. We skip across the Vowell Glacier, down the bucket steps below the col, and arrive back at Applebee just after 11 p.m. Too much fun!

Filling up on water.

Quality climbing on the upper half of the face.

The last bit of the summit ridge.

The obligatory summit shot.

Evening sun on Bugaboo, Snowpatch and Pigeon Spires from the summit of North Howser.

Summary: A one-day free ascent of Seventh Rifle (VI 5.11-) on the west face of North Howser Tower by Jon Walsh and Raphael Slawinski. Applebee-base: 5 hours; base-summit: 11 hours; summit-Applebee: 3 hours.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Bugs!

Last month "Polish Bob" Rogoz and I spent some time in the Bugaboos . We enjoyed good granite, sunshine and storm; in other words, the classic Bugs experience.

Are there really porcupines up Bugaboo Creek, or is it all a myth?

The west face of Snowpatch Spire.

Yoga on the (south) summit of Snowpatch. Photo: Robert Rogoz.

Life and death on the glacier.

Sunrise on the Howser Towers.

A piece of gear should ideally serve more than one function. For instance, a sharpened stick works as an ice axe but also comes in handy for staking vampires.

The sun's first rays warming the top of the Beckey-Choiunard route on South Howser Tower.

The Great White Headwall on the Beckey-Choiunard. Photo: Robert Rogoz.

A disturbing scene on the summit of South Howser Tower.

A Rockies' rat does not like to venture out of sight of his favourite mountains: Bugaboo Spire with the Goodsir Towers in the background.

In the clouds on the summit ridge of Bugaboo Spire.

Bugaboo moonrise.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Huatulco bouldering

Huatulco? What does a tropical beach paradise in southern Mexico have to offer to a climber beside cold margaritas? Well, first of all margaritas are nothing to sneeze at, especially when consumed to the accompaniment of vuvuzelas at the FIFA World Cup on the beachside-bar TV set. But wait: what is that iguana sitting on? Is that high-quality granite? While Huatulco is not likely to become known as a bouldering mecca anytime soon, there are enough stones strewn along the coast on which to to shred one's fingertips, before wrapping them around the aforesaid margarita glass. ¿Cuál es el resultado?

Huatulco stone.

An iguana topping out on a classic problem.

"The Egg of Huatulco" offered some great problems with a variety of landings.

The key beta: pull with the arms and push with the feet. Photo: Vera Slawinski.

Then again, some problems did not require much in the way of footwork. Photo: Vera Slawinski.

On any road trip it is hard not to get psyched out by locals running laps on problems they have ruthlessly wired.