Words by Will Stanhope. Photos by Adrian Samarra.
In August 2009 Matt Segal, Jason Kruk and I motored north from the trade show in Salt Lake City, loaded up on food in Invermere and marched into the Bugaboos intent on finding new free routes. Upon arriving, sweat soaked and exhausted from the hike, we found plenty. We were like kids in a candy store. There was so much to do. And for the motivated few, there still is and always will be.
We hiked over into East Creek and set our sights on the unfreed West Face of the Central Howser Tower. After a couple tries we did it. Kruk was really the man of the hour on that mission, and managed a cryptic 5.12+ slab traverse that cracked the code and allowed the route to go free. The route, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, was no joke, stacked with burly crack climbing and took us about 18 hours round trip.
The next year I climbed the gigantic North Tower via All Along the Watchtower with Andrew Rennie. Somewhere along there, the idea of linking up the three towers: free in one day, crept in. Inspired by my heroes Leo Houlding, Sean Leary, Tommy Caldwell and Dean Potter who had enchained multiple walls free in a day in Yosemite, the idea germinated that perhaps a similar link up was possible in the Bugs. The inspiration, at the core of it, stems from just how stunning the Howser towers are: three rocket ship needles, sat side by side. I can’t remember exactly when the idea took hold, but at some point it took hold fiercely and wouldn’t let go.
In 2013, on a blustery day, my girlfriend Jo and I climbed the South Howser via the eternally classic Beckey-Chouinard. Having completed all the pieces of the puzzle, I was of the belief that this was perhaps possible.
In the winter of 2015/2016 I sent Leo an email out of the blue with an image of the towers and spilled my guts with my idea. To my surprise and elation, he was instantly IN. The next summer, we teamed up for a couple weeks in the Bugs and took down the Beckey, the Watchtower and a new free route on the Minaret. The trifecta though seemed intimidating and out of reach.
This past August, Leo and I arrived in the Bugaboos with a crew of psyched characters Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth and Adrian Samarra to get some VR footage of the Beckey-Chouinard and hopefully make a film of the Bugaboos Triple Crown. I was feeling nervous beforehand at having convinced these guys to come to the Bugaboos to document a project that I truly didn’t know was even feasible. But, as always, a little blind faith never hurts.
We ended up fixing the Central Tower essentially top to bottom to facilitate micro traxioning laps and to enable a fast descent. After two weeks, we were still on the fence as to whether it was even remotely safe to climb the North Howser after climbing the Central. And the Beckey on the South tower after that? We vowed to play as safe as possible and stay on the right side of the wild line.
On the evening of Aug 28, we saddled up at the Howser Bivy Boulder and all took a nip of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, toasting a gorgeous sunset over the wild, uninhabited valley to the west.
The next day we awoke at 3:30 AM, marched up to the base of the Central Howser and started climbing at dawn. After about 5 hours of climbing up gruelling cracks, corners and a delicate 5.12+ slab we had reached the summit. Buoyed by our fast time, we zipped down our fixed lines to the base, chugged some Red Bull, and discussed dropping into the hyper-committing North Howser Basin. The approach to the base of the tower involves crossing a bowling alley snowfield that often gets bombarded by rockfall from above. And it was around high noon- the most dangerous part of the day. Once we were on the route retreating wouldn’t be easy at all. With a few cracks in the armor, but feeling more or less OK, we nervously dropped into the basin and committed ourselves to the face.
The next few hours up the first half of the North Howser were the most demoralizing of the day for me. Low angle, tedious climbing with a huge rack, water, crampons all in the blazing afternoon sun. I was worried that this might have been a really bad (ie: dangerous) idea. Luckily Leo seemed to have hit his stride and playfully teased me out of my negative thoughts. This pattern repeated itself throughout the day: both of us riding the undulating waves of psyche, and other one picking up the slack when the other was feeling down.
Once the sun started to set, I instantly felt better just as we started up the centrepiece 200-meter All Along the Watchtower open-book corner. Just as it was getting dark we both fired the powerful and footsy 5.12c crux pitch. With the redpoint crux of the day behind us we hit the gas pedal and found ourselves at the top of the North Howser in the middle of the night.
After a technical descent and bergschrund hop we looked at each other and asked each other, “Are we going to do the South Tower as well?” Though basically a formality at this point, and nowhere near as hard as the Central and the North, the Beckey-Chouinard is still a 15-pitch, 600 meter route. Back at camp the boys had prepared some food for us and were visibly jazzed about our progress. Riffing off their psyche, and after some more caffeinated and electrolyte beverages, Captain Leo announced, “We leave in fifteen minutes, yeah?!”
With the boys in tow we marched to the base of the South Howser Tower. Around 3 in the morning, when the talus turned to 5th class terrain, we left them behind and took off in a simul-climbing blur of endless granite hand cracks, Leo in the lead. At the “bivy” ledge a few pitches below the top Leo groggily handed over the sharp end to me. It was my turn to take the psyche reins and I gunned it to just below summit ridge just as the sky turned from pitch black to a muted gray. At the top of the South Howser, with minutes to spare before the 24-hour mark, we gazed over at the Central and North Towers. The sky had turned a smoky orange due to the wildfires still blazing across BC. The fatigue was strangely gone, and I was effused with a boundless psyche thanks to the sunrise. We shuffled down the rappels and arrived back at camp to another sip of Captain Morgan and hugs from the boys.
Completing this project was a dream come true and I still feel dazed by the experience. On paper, it all added up, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt trepidation like that before. In the end, it was a perfect project: within reach, but barely. Big thanks to Waldo, Wilson and Adrian for all the help and support with the trip. And to Leo, for believing in the vision and for being such a rock solid partner.
August 29th – Aug 30th 2017
6:54 AM- 6:30 AM
Via Chocolate Fudge Brownie on the Central Howser Tower, 5.12+, 11 pitches
Spicy Red Beans to All Along the Watchtower on the North Howser Tower, 5.12, 34 pitches
Beckey- Chouinard on the South Howser Tower, 5.10, 15 pitches
All free, no falls
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