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.


  1. hey raph:

    nice work on the cassin! any suggestions on rack for seventh rifle?


  2. Thanks! As for the 7th Rifle, I think we carried a double set of cams (from C3s to #3 C4, I forget whether or not we had a #4) and a set and a half of wires. We brought no ice gear of any kind, which made for light packs on the route but some hair-raising moments getting down from the rappels and then up to the base of the route.

    I hear it is a heavy-snow year in the Bugs, so it might be a while before the route dries out. The bottom half goes up a low-angled gully, which might stay quite wet.

    Good luck, have fun!