Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Bugs!

The Bugs!!!!

When Sol Wertkin suggested we fit a quick trip to the Bugaboos into our busy summer schedules, a full force "Yes!" was my answer. The Bugs are an incredible venue. Easily accessed by a few miles of steep trail (and mellow glacier travel if climbing on the Howser Towers), these iconic formations rocket into the British Columbian sky with steep and unrelenting force. For the alpine rock jock, they present a dream canvas of never ending splitters and laser cut corners.

Sol and I left Leavenworth around dinner time and drove a few hours to Metaline Falls, a relic of a mining town tucked up in Washington's quiet northeast corner. We awoke with the sun, eager to arrive at the trailhead as soon as we could. As we pulled up to the border, a sign came into view. They were closed until 8 AM! Figuring we should do something productive with our time, we began packing our bags in front of the gate. The puzzled look as the border guards arrived for their shift was priceless.
Sol putting kit together at the border crossing
By mid afternoon we were humping our load towards Applebee, the main camping zone in the Bugaboos. After ten minutes of hiking, the dark clouds above unleashed their fury. We pushed on, through the stream that used to be the trail. Waterfalls appeared out of nowhere and the spires above lost themselves in a dense mist.
The next morning, we used a bit of sun to dry out our gear on the rock slabs around Applebee before heading for a route on Bugaboo Spire's east face called Divine Intervention. We climbed four pitches of incredible corners before rain sent us rapping. 
Approaching Bugaboo Spire
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Sol follows pitch one
Following pitch four with a touch of sun before the rain
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Our second day also featured shifty weather, so we choose another moderate adventure close to camp. We settled on the Edwards-Nuefeld, a semi-obscure line of cracks up The Donkey Ears. The climbing, although not as high quality as other objectives in the area, was still wild enough to keep us excited. We hit the cumbre and scrambled back down to camp, where the newly posted weather forecast called for a few sunny days. It was time to get serious.
 Sol cranks a nice 5.10 splitter on the Edwards-Nuefeld
 Sol follows more good 5.10 on the Edwards-Nuefeld
Following high on the Ewards-Nuefeld in worsening weather
Photo by Sol Wertkin
The next morning we packed our kit and booted over the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col. Before long we were dropping into East Creek Basin, the jumping off point for routes on the west side of the Howser Towers. Tents dotted the camping area. My previous two trips to the basin felt remote and lonely. This time the place was packed with people. Fortunately, almost everyone there was a friend of ours!
Lots of tents in East Creek Basin = Lots of friends! Super fun times!
Sol and I had thrown around a variety of main objectives for our short stint in the Bugs. We knew we wanted to climb the North Howser Tower's west face, but there were many great routes to choose from. I had climbed the most popular route on the face, All Along the Watchtower, with Max Hasson years ago, so I was keen for something new. The locals suggested that Spicy Red Beans and Rice was the line to do, but the absence of a mid-face snowpatch denied the possibility for water (unless we carried it, which sucks) on a route that would surely take us two days without jumars. By the end of the evening we had decided to tackle a link-up dubbed Under Fire. Under Fire journey's across and through several routes and goes free at mid-5.11. It sounded like a good objective for going light and getting to the summit in a reasonable day. I hadn't been doing much rock climbing either, so the moderate grade was appealing.
Scoping out the upper part of Under Fire (upper pitches seen on the far left)
Sol Wertkin photo
We left camp around 4 am and made the approach with some friends who were on they way to crush The Watchtower. Once at the base of the west face, we parted ways and got down to it.
Alpine start!
Sol took the first block, climbing the giant corner system of the Shooting Gallery route. It was an incredible place to be, although it's named the Shooting Gallery for a reason. I tried to enjoy the views, but spent most of the time with my head down, tucked under whatever protection existed around the belays. Although fairly loose, the climbing in this section was spectacular, especially considering the setting.
 Following cold granite low on Under Fire
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Sol crushing away
Good climbing, but a bit loose
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Sol cranks into the sun
Soon, we were out of the Shooting Gallery and climbing a wild (and scary!!) flake system to join The Seventh Rifle for a few pitches.
 A pitch of wild flakes leads into The Seventh Rifle
Photo by Sol Wertkin
More action on the wild flakes
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Sol continued to crank away, finishing his long lead block around 2:00 PM. We had each planned to lead half the route. Now it was my turn to get the rope up.
 Sol transitioning out of The Seventh Rifle
Sol on a low-angle, but fun wide crack about midway up Under Fire
I took the rack and gave Sol the pack. All of the sudden, our description of the route seemed difficult to follow. Giant gendarmes and gullies created complex terrain. I tried to follow the suggested path, but after a while just started climbing to the top via any way that looked doable. I lead a few nice pitches, the best one a nice crack in a corner ending with an exciting traverse to a belay in the Southwest Face gully.
 Getting started on my lead block
Photo by Sol Wertkin

We continued up the gully on nice rock with good 5.9 climbing, but before long it fizzled into chossville. I cursed myself as we climbed the rubbly slot. Sol was a new dad and this was no terrain for a man in his shoes. Despite the ugly nature of this section, it deposited us right on the summit.

Good climbing in The Southwest Face gully
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Shitty climbing in The Southwest Face gully
Photo by Sol Wertkin
The top of the North Howser Tower is an incredible spot. The highpoint of the Bugaboo Spires, the 360 degree view cannot be beat. Mountains, almost all unknown to me, stretched into blue skies and the sun felt soft and warm.
Sol feeling the stoke after a one day free ascent of the West Face of the North Howser Tower
We enjoyed the cumbre for a few minutes and then funked around trying to find the raps down the northeast side. I really need to start writing these details down as I had no clue where to go despite having done the descent before!

Photo by Sol Wertkin
We were back in camp around 10:30 PM, making for a civilized day on a big face. The following morning we hit the trail back to our car and then made the long drive home. Our 4.5 days in the Bugs had been productive and fun. Furthermore, it was the first time Sol and I had climbed outside of the Cascades together. To stand on such an awesome summit with a such a great friend was the best part of the whole trip for me.

1 comment:

GH said...

love it guys great work!