July 22 — Hiked over to east camp to prepare for climbing the BC. We saw Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell hanging out at camp. Alex popped his head out of the tent to see who was walking into camp. When arriving someone on the film crew told us that a helicopter would be landing soon “in 20 minutes or 2 hours” they said. When the helicopter did land, they picked up some gear and dropped off others. That evening we climbed up to the base of the BC to stash the rope and other climbing gear so that the approach would go quicker in the morning. It was very nice to be able to suss out the approach because we would be doing it in the dark. We got quite lost on the way up and it ended up taking a whole hour to get up there. We took a scrambly route instead of a slabby route, which we found on the way down. Amazing lighting on a view of the whole route. We were super surprised at how long the approach from East Creek was and were super happy to have done it the day before. While at camp we had seen another party up on what we thought were the lower pitches of the route, but was just the approach. We ended up not getting back to camp until just after 9 pm or so. I tried to get to sleep right away but, I tossed and turned all night. Not getting much sleep before the 4:30 alarm that awaited.

Looking at the route from the approach

July 23 — Today was the day, I went into the bugaboos with the BC on the cool, but probably not going to-do list, but after just doing 2 climbs, here we were. The alarm rang at 4:30, and I quickly ate a little food and drank a little coffee. We were out of camp at 5:08. The approach went pretty quickly since we had done it the day before and knew where to go. We were at the base and climbing by 6:15 in the morning. We found someone’s sleeping bag and debated whether or not to bring it with us as insurance, we debated for a bit but decided against it as my little pack was already full as is.

The climb begins with 3 easy pitches (5.5, 5.6, 5.7), we simul climbed those pitches and it went smoothly. There was one hand crack that was definitively not 5.5, so I was a bit worried about how the rest of the climb would go, but alas we were off. The next pitch, was the first crux pitch, some crack climbing with a .10a bulge. We were still behind a party, I saw them do it and dispatched the move. That was a big weight off the shoulder as I wouldn’t have to lead the next .10a pitch as Kyle and I were swinging leads and that would be his.

The crazy thing about this climb is all the pitches are quite long, mostly between 50-60m. I am often used to climbing 35-40m pitches on long climbs. I think we belayed a bit early on some of the pitches so some of the landmarks didn’t make sense, but I don’t think we ended up having to do any extra pitches since we were able to make it up on the scree ledge after the amazing corner. It was stellar corner crack climbing for about 60 meters. The pitch was mostly normal to wide hand jams on impeccable granite. I got into one of the best flows I ever had while climbing. The only interruption was the occasional bulge in the corner. As the rope ran out, I found a good ledge and belayed Kyle up as I relished in the glory of that crack. Kyle linked the scree ledge pitch and the next chimney pitch, a good bit of rest from the rest of the climb. Next was a really fun 5.8 pitch with two different crack systems. This was easy to follow from the beta and included a really fun double crack / bear hug system at the end. This brought us to the upper bivy ledge where we ran into Max, Colin, and Red. They were quite the characters. We would continue to run into for the rest of our trip. They had spent the night at that ledge and were just getting started around noon. The leader was gone by the time I got there but we could see that the followers had giant packs and didn’t envy them for that. As they set off, red asked me to double-check his eight knot. This question worried me as we were going to have to follow them for the next 5 pitches to the top of the climb. As they ascended the pitch (the other 10- crux pitch) there was a lot of profanity as they climbed with the giant packs.

The second crux pitch

Kyle cruised through the wide crux and the rest of the pitch, wondering if he had made the belay too early as it didn’t feel like 5.10 to him. As I followed the pitch, I was sure that he had done it, as it felt quite like 5.10 to me. Again we caught up with party three at the base of the 5.9 pitch, which was my first and last 5.9 pitch to lead. Lots of type 2 fun on that pitch It was a wide corner with a bunch of chockstones, probably 4’s or 5’s sizes, but I was able to do a little bit of width climbing. I was able to use the edge a little bit, I screwed up and placed this cam without extending it. That added to a lot of rope drag and I almost had to make a mid-pitch belay, but then I just downclimbed to back-clean the 2 pieces that were causing some rope drag. That pitch was probably the hardest on the climb, just very sustained, very blue-collar climbing, but wasn’t even proper off-width. At the end was a squeeze chimney, but it wasn’t too bad even with a pack.

Next Kyle had his 5.9 pitch, some corner pitches, some corner, kind of some crack, he felt it was pretty chill. He belayed a little bit lower than maybe what was normal, but that was because the party above was kind of there. So I climbed up, they told us to wait because there wasn’t too much room at the pins for the belay, just below the pendulum pitch.

But I had read on Mountain Project that there was a block that you could sling that would make a good belay before the pins, which worked out nicely. Then Kyle led the last pitch and did the pendulum traverse. He seemed to kind of cruise through it, the pendulum was pretty straightforward.

Then there was still a final 5.6 gully to the summit, or to the end of the technical climbing where you had to do a rappel. So we got up there, did the rappel did some simul climbing, that took a little bit of time. Route finding, rope drag, shenanigans as simul-climbing often does, definitely maybe would have considered bringing the walkie-talkies, just for that. The route finding was a little convoluted and windy and I couldn’t quite hear Kyle, but we made it work.

Before long we were at the summit, It was an amazing summit, you could see all the towers and the bugaboos. It was such a sheer summit, and it was nice to be done with the up. While we were setting up our rappels, we saw some folks topping out on the summit and it turns out it was Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, having just completed a linkup of the three Howser towers. They had a drone flying above them, circling the summit. That detracted a little bit from the experience as drones don’t have a place in the wilderness in my opinion.

It was funny to see Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell there. They seemed quite nice and made sure we knew the descent route and had the beta. We let them “play through”, as Alex called it. I don’t want to be stuck behind or in front of Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell. We’d probably want to rappel quickly and make some mistakes, and then it probably wouldn’t be the best move. Having them go before us relieved some of that pressure.

The rappelling was mostly fine, It starts down a ridge. The only issue was on the third rappel, Kyle and I had taken the wrong way around this block, so I ended up having to ascend the rope about 15 meters. I was a little rusty on it and needed to figure out a better way. It worked out sweating a little bit given I was wearing a down jacket for the descent. Eventually, I got up there and was able to get around and get back on rappel. A little scary, but we ended up making it. That was probably the most eventful rappel on there. The rest of them went pretty smoothly.

Rappelling into the Bergschrund

There was one where we thought we might be able to scramble, and there was this ratty old hand line, but we weren’t able to get all the way down to the rappel anchor, so we had to go back up and do it. I eventually set up the rappel and rappelled down to the next anchor, which was fine. It just ate a little bit of time. We were worried about the ropes getting stuck on the blocky easy terrain, this wouldn’t have been too bad to climb back up, so in retrospect, we should’ve just rappelled in the first place. The next couple of rappels were pretty uneventful, maybe just a little hard to spot the anchors. The last rappel was the most “surprising” as Alex put it, you rappel directly into a Bergschrund. Luckily you can just walk right out of it. The scariest part was the hanging ice that was somehow still clinging to the rock. The foreshortening effect on the descent and the glacier made it look more serious than it was, the glacier was not steep, and we didn’t even need crampons at that point. At that point, it was 9:30 pm and still light out and we headed toward the Pigeon-Howser col. Once past the col, the worst part of the descent began. The steepest part of the col back to East Creek Camp began with this very loose recently post-glacial scree and talus, there was no good way through. I wish there had been steep snow. After getting through that we got back onto another glacier, which we had traveled on before. There was some steep snow that was easy to downclimb without crampons and we kind of gambled on walking on the ice without crampons since we had at least done it before. But it had firmed up at night so we needed to put crampons back on and it was a little harrowing. I kind of slipped and had to self-arrest which was maybe one of the first times I had to do that. But eventually, we got crampons on and then getting back to camp was pretty uneventful. From there it was just tiring because we had been out for 18 hours camp to camp.

We got back kind of late and just didn’t even bother eating dinner, ate some snacks and drank some tea but then went to sleep. It was pretty good to sleep in and just kind of rest and feel accomplished with what we had done. After climbing I felt, or before climbing I had felt quite anxious about the route but overall it felt well protected and safe, I felt like the glacier travel was the most dangerous part of that. There were no run-outs, all the anchors were great, mostly not hanging belays, mostly nice ledges to sit on or stand on which made the experience nicer on the climb and less exposure. After climbing I felt pretty good, very accomplished, and I kind of felt like there’s nothing else I need to do. I kind of felt like the pinnacle of climbing and it was a big achievement in terms of my multi-pitch rock climbing and everything. Glacier travel, long pitches, long climbs, lots of rappels, definitely a great day out in the mountains.