The First One-Day Link-Up of the Howser Towers – Leo Houlding and Will Stanhope

British climber Leo Houlding has teamed up with Canadian Will Stanhope to complete a historic one-day link-up of the Howser Towers in British Columbia, Canada.

In late August, Stanhope and Houlding climbed all three west faces in a sustained push that was completed in 23.5 hours, the first time all of the iconic summits have been reached via their demanding west faces by the same team during one day.

West faces of North, Central and South Howser Towers, Bugaboos, BC, Canada (photo – Marc Piche)

At a glance:

  • The two climbers linked the west faces of the three towers in the Bugaboos in 23.5 hours
  • The link-up consisted of 2,000m of climbing – 58 guidebook pitches – up to 5.12+ (E6) with over 700m of 5.11+ (E4) climbing, and all the associated complications of an alpine environment

Leo approaching the summit of South Tower during a warm up ascent. credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective

Leo with eyes fixed on the summit of South Tower during a warm up ascent in the smoky haze from wild fires raging across British Columbia. Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

The Bugaboos has long been a location for big link-ups and among the small but dedicated crew of local hardcore climbers, the idea of linking the three tallest, most impressive features has been a coveted prize for years. Will Stanhope had been contemplating it since 2009, after completing the first free ascent of the west face of the central tower. He invited Leo Houlding to join him and the pair (accompanied by Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth and Adrian Samara) helicoptered into the East Creek base camp with 20 days of supplies in early August.

Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth, Leo Houlding and Will Stanhope below the uber-classic, 600m, Becky / Chouinard on South Tower. The team shot a VR-film on the line described by Leo as “a mind-blowing way to share the experience of one the best 5.10’s (E2’s) in the world. I can’t wait to show my Mum!” Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

Stanhope and Houlding began shortly after dawn at 7:00am on 29 August on Central Tower. Via the 500m route Chocolate Fudge Brownie 5.12+ (E6), they simul-climbed the sustained first half of the tower, which is steeper and more difficult in nature than the others, before pitching out the crux boulder problem slab and hard upper finger cracks that followed. Reaching the summit after four hours and twenty minutes, a quick descent was made down the fixed lines that they had been using to work the route.

Will Stanhope, Wilson Cutbirth, Waldo Etherington and Leo Houlding on the top of South Tower. Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

Access to North Tower requires descending 250m into a gully, greatly increasing the commitment of climbing on that feature. Fixed lines were also in place for this, decreasing the commitment and increasing the speed, although crossing the dangerous ‘bowling alley’ gully in the midday sun is not to be recommended. North Tower is the highest point of the Bugaboos (3,412m), forming a true alpine summit and the west face soars for 1,000m over the vast, uninhabited wilderness of British Columbia.

The glacial descent on the north side of the towers. Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

At 2:00pm, the two climbers started up Spicy Red Beans and Rice which provides a better, more direct start to the classic All Along the Watch Tower, 5.12+ (E5/6), the upper corners of which are regarded as one of the most classic test pieces in Canada. A 250m long corner system with a sustained and strenuous finger crack in the back, is split near the top by a crux boulder problem traverse. On completion of the hard climbing there follows a long, complex and dramatic ridge that often leads parties to be benighted. However, armed with the knowledge of a previous ascent a week earlier, Stanhope and Houlding dispatched the ridge in an hour, reaching the summit at 10:00pm.

Leo on the incredible 250m crux corner of ‘All along the Watch Tower” on North Tower. The 1000m long climb is a major one-day objective in itself. (photo – Waldo Etherington)

“Looks like a long way?” Leo, Waldo, Will and Wilson observe the challenge in the magnificent smoky sunset the night before the BIG day. Credit Adrian Samara

Will belays Leo across the hardest pitch of the link-up. A delicate 5.12+ (E6) slab traverse linking the starkly contrasting brutal cracks of the steep, 500m Central tower. Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective

A rapid descent down the alpine north face of the peak culminated in a giant bergschrund, requiring a snow bollard rappel. Then the pair were able to cross the glacier quickly and descend back into camp in the East Creek. A quick caffeine hit and they were off to climb the uber-classic Becky/Chouinard route on South Tower. Without question one of the finest 5.10s (E2s) on the planet, they simul-climbed the whole 600m route in three blocks, reaching the third and final summit with just 30 minutes to spare at 6:30am on 30 August.

Leo Houlding sporting the ‘Alpine’ hipster look. Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

Leo Houlding comments:

“Climbing like that over such distance with a partner like Will was a joy. Although it was a serious challenge with its fair share of hardship, it was nothing but fun. He’s super solid, safe, speedy and one of the best crack climbers in the world.

“It was a bit stressful in the run up to the ascent as I thought we may have set the bar just a bit too far beyond our reach. However, as it turned out and in no small part thanks to Will’s incredible crack talent, we pulled it off. It was the ultimate challenge, so hard we nearly didn’t we do it, but on the last day of the trip we managed with just minutes to spare!”

13. Will and Leo sharing one of the trip’s countless laughs during VR filming on the Becky / Chouinard. Fast, free and FUN! Credit Adrian Samara, Coldhouse Collective.

During the trip, the team, which included Adrian Samara of Coldhouse Collective, shot a virtual reality film on the Becky/Chouinard route on South Tower, as well as a short regular film about the link-up while training and practicing on the climbs. Both films are in post-production.

Leo Houlding is now preparing for his next major expedition.

In a trip sponsored by Berghaus, Houlding will lead a three-man international team on an ambitious 70-day, 2000km trans-continental journey to climb the spectacular 750m south buttress of a peak called the Spectre in the Gothic Mountains, Antarctica, arguably the most remote mountain on Earth. The team will leave the UK in early November – full details of their plans will be released in the near future. Watch this space!

Leo on the incredible 250m crux corner of ‘All along the Watch Tower” on N Tower. The 1000m long climb is a major one-day objective in itself. (photo – Waldo Etherington, Berghaus)