By Nicole Hennessy
Clinging to the sharp spires of the Bugaboos jutting out of the August landscape, monochrome except for the blue sky and glimpses of green brush and trees and blue lakes, Ed Kowalski kept his mind as clear as possible and moved fast. Fearful of getting stuck on the mountains overnight instead of finding what comfort he and his climbing partner, Joe Delsignore, could at the base camp, and keeping the possibility of bad weather in mind, Kowalski said when climbing mountains, it’s best to just keep moving.
For 35 years Kowalski’s been climbing. His childhood photographs show him in cowboy hats and boots, or looking out over Yosemite, toward the mountains in the distance.
When he and Delsignore headed to British Columbia to climb the Bugaboos this past August, they intended to climb Howser Tower, a route along the highest spire in the Bugaboos.
The two men had recently lost an old friend and climbing companion to a heart attack, and Kowalski thought the climb could be in his honor.
They started off slowly, warming up with moderate day climbs most people would find almost impossible. Using nothing more than crampons and an ice axe, each spire takes eight to 16 hours to complete. From a distance, the rock doesn’t look like it may crumble at any minute or that some passages may be so skinny they are difficult to traverse at all. The men squeezed themselves through cracks known as “chimneys” and repelled off sections to move on to the next.
With the temperature never above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and often lingering near 30, Kowalski and Delsignore didn’t wear thick winter gear, but light, long-sleeved shirts.
Kowalski said he was constantly on edge up there, as is the case with any climb. He worries about all the things that can go wrong. At one point a loose boulder almost took out a friend they made on one of the spires, and Delsignore almost attached a safety to a snapped rope. But no nights were spent on the spires, and no injuries were sustained.
Recurring in the background, in his mind and in conversations with other climbers, was Howser Tower. It stood up straight, above everything else at more than 11,000 feet, almost taunting him.
The two continued tacking “easier climbs,” Kowalski said, looking out over a view only summits can provide.
As the days passed, Howser Tower remained unclimbed, until Kowalski and Delsignore decided to save it for another trip.
“I just love hanging out in the mountains,” said Kowalski. “The icing on the cake is to get to the top.”
SIDE BAR: This story came from a lecture Kowalski gave at the Rocky River Nature Center. It is a part of a series called Friday Nights With Nature, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. each Friday in January and February.