Will Stanhope Climbing in the Canadian Bugaboos
A story by Will Stanhope
In late July of 2009, Matt Segal, Jason Kruk and I headed into the Bugaboos, a patch of exceptional granite towers in the interior of BC. Our aim was to go in there with an open mind, and free whatever routes looked the best. Invariably, new routing often leads to attempting lines that others have also attempted. Building on previous attempts of our friends, we managed to free two lines. Alpine free climbing, to me, is less about individual success and more about collaboration- stepping on the shoulders of those who came first.
We started off our trip by hiking over to the west faces of the Howsers, home to the wildest walls in the Bugs. Beyond these walls lies the East Creek Basin, a giant expanse of wilderness without a road to be seen, just mountains and forest as far as the eye can see. We aimed to make the first free ascent of the central Howser, the last unfreed Howser tower. Friends Colin Moorhead and Chris Brazeau had first tried to free the mountain a couple years ago via a route called Chocolate Fudge Brownie, established by Sean Isaac and Brian Webster.
On our second attempt we found ourselves at a seemingly blank slab, 4 pitches up, with a line of unclimbed splitters taunting us approximately 10 metres to our right. Time and again, Matt and I tried to traverse across the slab, only to body slam the belay after a jarring pendulum. Jason sent the slab at 5.12+ on his second try in a very proud effort. Excited to be still in the game, I onsighted virgin 5.12- splitters on the headwall, hopscotching between finger pods, in a weird sort of rhythmic haze of movement. When the splitter tapered into knife-blade territory, a series of shadowy crimpers led back into the original corner of Chocolate Fudge Brownie. From there, Jason grunted up a wet-offwidth. We topped out the Central Howser at dusk, punched up the final snow-cone in rock shoes, and admired the view: mountains rimming the horizon, ignited orange by a stunning sunset.
Next up was the east face of Snowpatch to attempt a route put up by Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau. Walsh and Brazeau are my alpine climbing heroes, equally at home on ice and rock. Their "free, in a push" philosophy is the gold standard to which I aspire to. From the rockies to Patagonia, those guys throw down like few others. Brazeau and I had attempted to free their route, Sendero Norte, last year but came up short on the crux pitch. This year I endeavored to finish off the project.
After adding British trad master Hazel Findlay to the team, we started up Sendero Norte under clear skies. This time I sent the crux 5.12+ on my second try, barely managing this tenuous pitch. Sweeping stem corners, burly face climbing and intricate corner-hopping pitches complete this classic line. At the top of Snowpatch spire, surrounded by a lifetime’s supply of projects, and three great friends, I couldn’t help but feel extremely lucky to be part of the process.
Photo 1: Our line on the Central Howser: Chocolate Fudge Brownie with North Van/ Miami Variation 5.12+ V (Jason Kruk photo)
Photo 2: Jason Kruk on the crux of Sendero Norte, East Face of Snowpatch Spire 5.12+ V (Will Stanhope photo)
Photo 3: Jason Kruk engaging a horrible squeeze chimney on pitch 2 of the Central Howser tower (Will Stanhope photo)
Photo 4: Atop Snowpatch Spire after freeing Sendero Norte (Jason Kruk photo)