Judge Howay is a relatively inaccessible peak close to Vancouver which has fascinated me for some time. The peak and the surrounding area is very rugged and seldom visited. A few years ago I was able to make an ascent of the North Peak with my friends Andy and Muriel Pacheco. This is a short account of the a new route on the South Peak by the same team. We propose to name the climb the Kindl Buttress after our friend Enrico Kindl who was killed by an avalanche on the Kain Face of Robson after a successful ascent of that mountain's North Face.
The beauty and ruggedness of the area is guarded by the unusual "quality" of the approach . A handful of methods to get near the two summits have been used by various parties over the years, none of them proving to be easy. We chose our approach with convenient access to the South Face of the South Peak in mind, but I have no idea whether it is the most efficient way in. The start of most Howay trips involves traveling across Stave Lake, which we did in a canoe. Leaving the boat at the North entrance to Clearwater Bay, we then proceeded to get on with the next part of any Howay trip, namely the bushwhacking. The end of the day found us at the col between the two 3900 foot bumps north from our starting point.
The next day we followed the ridge running North-West to the base of Mt. Kranrod (Kranrod is an short non-technical ascent from this point). This ridge walk features great views of the awesome North face of Mt. Robbie Reid, the lovely Kunzleman lake, and more of the two peaks of Howay being revealed around every bend. As a further bonus we were treated to a bear siting - a mother and her cub. The next part of the journey is traversing around Mt. Kranrod heading east. The route is tricky at one point, the easiest way involves 60 feet of minor third class - take care with those "Howay Packs", especially if conditions aren't optimal. The final elevation gain required to get around Mt. Kranrod is rewarded by the first good look at the whole expanse of the two summits. Our route appeared terrifying from afar, but we managed to keep most of our thoughts along the lines of "What the hell am I doing here" to ourselves. At this point we descended and traversed to a lake at 3000 feet below the south face. At the west end of this lake we camped. The lake shore had the appearance of a recent visit from a scout troop, due to numerous (and diverse) animal tracks. We revelled in the knowledge that probably no one had been to this lake since our visit four years ago, and that perhaps we were the only people to have ever walked its shores. That night we were awakened by loud sniffing just outside the tent. It turned out to be a disoreinted bear who had no idea of what to make of the spaceship that had appeared in the middle of his personal trail.
The following day we went for our route. A ninety minute hike to the base of the South Face was followed by an hour of intricate route-finding and enjoyable scrambling up a shoulder leading to the buttress on the west side of the south face. Finally we were at the base of our route and roped up. The route still looked tough, but I headed up anyway, and discovered relatively easy going, starting 50 feet to the left of the buttress crest. The first seven pitches were mostly class 4, reaching a maximum difficulty of perhaps 5.3. This section was standard alpine hunk, with some loose rock and less than ideal protection, but enjoyable nonetheless. After overcoming this bottom section, the character of the route changed from above average to outstanding. For the rest of the climb we would find nothing but fun climbing on incredible rock with good protection. The rock was sound, and so rough and full of features that even on near vertical terrain, the climbing was easy. We went straight up the buttress for 3 pitches (some 5.8) to a point where we crossed a gully onto even better rock - beautifully red colored with the texture of rough sandpaper, and totally solid! 3 pitches later we joined the gully again at its top. Next, a headwall, slightly to the right, was climbed for three more pitches. This section, led by Muriel, contained the crux of the climb - a few moves of 5.9. However, in keeping with the character of the route, the climbing was mostly enjoyable 5.6. The last pitch of the day brought us to the top of a prominent Gendarme, visible from far away, and as far as it is known, unclimbed. The top of the tower was the home of many unstable blocks, some on which had to be booted off to ensure a safe rappel off the backside. After the rappel, it was time to bivi. Andy and I wanted to be far from the tower and its loose blocks, but Muriel found much flatter ground at its base. And it was here that we slept, in full view of the summit, 500 feet above us.
The following morning we knocked of the rest of the route in about an hour, and spent a good portion of the rest of the morning relaxing on the summit. We were sure glad to be there, and proud of ourselves for having done such an aesthetic first ascent. The views from the top were great. We could see the entire Chehalis group, and much of Garabaldi park. At the other extreme, we studied the nearby 1200 foot South Buttress of the North Peak.
The descent of a technical peak by a route other that the one used to climb it can be a pain and this would be the case here. We had 800 feet of steep rock to go, and wanted to minimize the number of rappels. We eventually were able to do 700 feet of roped down-climbing before making a single rappel to the snow, but one of these sections was close to vertical on loose looking blocks - not much fun by my books. The straight forward descent of the snow gully was interrupted by a rumble. We thought "Oh shit, an avalanche" followed by "Oh, I see, its nothing to worry about, its just a bunch of rocks" followed by "Oh shit, its a bunch of rocks headed straight for us!" I spoke everybody's synopsis of the situation "Under that boulder" as we scrambled into the only safe place for many yards, which luckily was just behind us. Half a second after collecting in our place of safety many rocks the size of day packs zinged over our heads.
After the gully we traversed southward and climbed onto the ridge dividing the south and west parts of the South Peak. The descent from the ridge down to camp was a route that we had done before on an earlier trip, and is exceptionally rugged bush. The whole area is full of bluffs, and there are severe penalties for wandering either to much to the left or the right. Our view from the ridge led us immediately astray, and valuable time was lost making the correction. It may be significant that when we finally got the descent working smoothly, we were on the exact route that we had used four years earlier - there may not be any equally appealing methods. We got back to camp in the fading light, but we had forgotten that the VOC tent that we had was due back that day. If you don't return those tents on time, they self-destruct, and due to the disintegration of the fiberglass poles, our dome was now a teepee.
The pack out the next day was delayed by general exhaustion and a desire to stay at our precious camping ground as long as possible. Once we got going, we managed to make it to Stave Lake in one big push during summer's hottest day, stopping at every stream to pour water over our heads. The next morning we finished our canoe trip, and made our way to where we had left our car in isolation earlier in the week. But it was now the weekend, and time for the masses to enjoy the wilderness, V-8 style. Culture shock it was, with our car now company to at least 25 others, as well as tents, a dining canopy, ghetto-blasters, and a hundred beer guzzling nature lovers. Let them have their wilderness. We got ours!