Howse of Cards 1100M, VI, WI6X, M7-. Will Gadd, Scott Semple, Kevin Mahoney, Dec 5-6 2002.

Rack: Eight short screws and a V-thread screw, 12 blades/angles, small cams, #9 hex, full set of wires, 70M ropes. “NO BOLTS, NO AID, NO JUMARS.”

Route Description:

The imposing yet compelling east face of Howse Peak has several wild ice smears. Howse of Cards takes the steepest ice smear out of the large snow patch in the middle of the face and into the central gully before finishing directly on the steep face below the “south summit.”  A short walk north takes you to the slightly higher but proper summit of Howse Peak.  I'd driven by this face probably a hundred times, but never had the guts to try it. Scott and Kevin made it a reality, definitely one of the finest outings of my life with a good team. Howse of Cards shares the first two pitches with M 16 (1000M, VI, A2, WI7+, Backes, House,  Blanchard, 1999, see page 284 of Joe Josephson’s Waterfall Ice) and two pitches in the prominent gully in the middle of the face. We believe this is likely the first complete and certainly free ascent of the East Face of Howse Peak as M16 reportedly stopped below the ridge. The name Howse of Cards  refers to the ice and mixed climbing experience on the crux pitches and the climbing mystique of the face. Our first attempt lasted three days and took us to the top of the hard climbing on the night of day two, but we were out of time and retreated on day three. Aid or jumaring might have speeded things up, but we like to climb free as a team. We went home and re-stocked then climbed the route in two days (we did bring more food/fuel but were happy not to use it). One day to climb all the crux pitches and fix two, then one very long and dark day to climb (not jumar, we used T-Blocks to self-belay) the upper crux pitches and climb to the summit and descend. The short days complicated things, we burned a lot of batteries, but cold temperatures kept the face reasonably stable. There are many impressive mushrooms on the face, our rope cut one large one loose.

Approach from Waterfowl Lakes and skate across Chephren Lake, up easy snow under the face to the first rock band. Two hours to the glacier and four to the first pitch if travel conditions are good.

P1. WI6R/M7-. 60M Climb the right-hand ice/mixed option for 10M of overhanging dry tooling then 30M of detached ice to a snow step and a rock belay. This was a pure ice pitch until I kicked it while rappelling after our first effort and it fell down. It then surprisingly went as steep but well-protected dry tooling onto the usual detached ice on our next trip.

Traverse up and right on the major snow ledge for 200M, fourth class.

P2. WI6X. 70M Climb the right-hand smear. Good pins at the base then 30M with no good gear on detached, steep ice one to three inches thick. Belay at good screws at the base of the snow slope.

Third-class straight up for 100M on steep snow. Bivy cave on left.

P3 WI6X. 65M Climb vertical smears with psychological  gear to a hanging rock belay under a roof.

P4  M6+X , WI6 R). 70M. Step onto the hanging curtain and move around the roof, continue up steep and as usual poor ice until it ends, then dry tool into an over-hanging groove (commitment crux, possible 60+ foot fall). Rock belay at base of snow patch. Possible to break this pitch into two 35M pitches.

 P5. 5.7. 80M. Up the small snow patch, then steep snow to a short dry tooling/rock section and more steep snow grovelling to a large ledge, rock belay.

P6. 100M Traverse right on steep snow (rap straight down in the left-middle of this traverse).

P7-11. Up easy gully in 70+M pitches. Follow the gully right when it splits after pitch 9.

P12. WI4+ At an icy step in the gully break left toward a beautiful, thin smear in a corner. 70M. Rock belay.

P13. WI5+. Follow the smear for 70M up the corner to a rock belay on right. Stubbies.

P14. 5.7 Step back left and climb faceted snow and good rock up an aesthetic corner/groove, punch through an unlikely hole in the cornice to the south summit. 70M

Traverse easy ground on the west side of the peak for 200M to the North summit.

Descent: Rap into the main gully and on down with a mixture of V-threads and pins, 15 70M raps plus down-climbing to the glacier.

Note: Conditions and grades of alpine faces are subject to interpretation based on a wide variety of factors, some obvious and some more “mystical.” I reserve the grades of WI7 and WI8 for the serious free-hanging icicles I’ve climbed on mixed routes, and genuinely overhanging ice in competitions and on seracs. I have yet to climb any “pure” waterfall or alpine ice I felt was WI7; the ice on this route may be WI7 for those who believe WI6 with bad gear equals WI7; we rated it WI6 R or X. Modern Rockies ice grades are increasingly  influenced by mixed climbing; this route would not be a free route without modern dry tooling skills. The fact that this route is in the middle of a large alpine face does not change the technical grade of the climbing in our opinion, but it definitely does add some excitement!

-Will Gadd  

Semple and Mahoney skating across Chephren Lake. There were questions about the solidity of the ice on all pitches including this one, grin.

8:00 in the morning, Semple gears up. This face is just an amazing place to wake up on.

Mahoney leading P2 on the first attempt. Note the broken ice at the bottom; Kevin touched it and it fell off. All of this pitch could fall down, in fact most of it did during our second trip up the route.

Looking 70M down P3 and then another couple of thousand feet to the glacier; none of this ice will hold a respectable stubby, it's that thin and mostly air. Scott led it on our second go, thanks, I wanted no part of it a second time so I dug the snow cave while he and Kevin led the upper crux pitches. Kevin led the very run-out pitch above this one, I still hadn't recovered from the experience a few days earlier. One of the benefits of going up on something like this with a strong team is that everybody is capable of leading all pitches; we all led different pitches on our first and second efforts, they were all wild on TR or lead!

Just after topping out, walking across the back side of Howse to the summit. It was a very cool contrast to bust out of a cold, steep, giant face through a cornice and into the sun above the clouds.

Summit smiles. Very cold and happy.