Peak(s):  Hiamovi Tower - 12220
Date Posted:  09/03/2013
Modified:  09/04/2013
Date Climbed:   09/01/2013
Author:  Dave B
 SE Buttress (5.4)   

Hiamovi Tower - Southeast Buttress (5.4)


How I learned to stop worrying and love the Roaring Fork Trail*

*just kidding, I still hate the Roaring Fork trail.

Beautiful view of the Apache-Lone Eagle cirque from Hiamovi-Irving Hale saddle

The weather in the San Juan's has not been very cooperative this year. Plans to attempt the North Buttress route on Mt. Sneffels have been aborted three times due to a shoddy forecast. Last week, foul-weather caused us to turn back on our attempt on the Grand Teton's Upper Exum ridge so we were a little gun-shy to put in the driving time and miles for another route with a such marginal forecast.

What does this have to do with Hiamovi Tower you ask? Well nothing really, but the two stories are somewhat-tangentially related, I guess.

Rewind 357 days back to early September 2012. My wife and I had backpacked into to Hell Canyon in the IPW to attempt the Southeast Buttress route on Hiamovi Tower. Being somewhat out-of-shape and burdened with excess weight from a summer spent planning and executing a wedding (and the weeks of leftover food and booze that followed), the approach to Hell Canyon via the Roaring Fork trail really kicked our asses. The trail was a grunt. A third of the elevation gained to crest the pass between Hiamovi and Irving Hale is immediately lost upon descending into Hell Canyon. Needless to say, the approach took far longer than we expected. We woke the following morning and, in a lazy way, estimated that climbing the route, descending, packing up camp, hiking out and driving back to Fort Collins could in no way be completed before 5pm (the time we had to be home by to pick up our dog from the kennel). So we just packed up that morning and left.

Now, fast-forward 354 days. There we were in Fort Collins, trying to figure out what to do with our three day weekend. In light of being a bit beat up from the attempt at the Grand Teton the previous week, we were really looking for a relaxing 2-3 day backpacking trip with some nice alpine climbing. The North Buttress on Sneffels was really looking to fit the bill with its short and easy approach into Blaine Basin followed by some nice climbing and scrambling on a remote section of an otherwise busy peak. Unfortunately, the weather seemed to think otherwise so we contemplated other options (see, I told you these two stories were somewhat-tangentially related). Being Labor Day weekend we figured that even unpopular areas would be crowded and we figured the more miserable the approach the better our chances of having a little solitude. Thus, we started looking into the Southeast Buttress route on Hiamovi Tower. The success of another team on this route earlier this year served as some solid stoke and and provided some great beta on the route (see Floyds TR here here). So, we had a plan. We packed up and left early morning on Saturday to make the drive over Trail Ridge Road and to pick up our overnight permits at the Sulphur Ranger District in Granby.

Upon leaving the Roaring Fork TH at around 11am, the forecast for that afternoon called for a 50% chance of storms after noon until around 9pm. Lucky for us, we hiked to the sound of thunder booming in the canyons north and south of us but never felt a drop of rain. The ascent up the unrealistically steep trail surprisingly took us a little less time than anticipated, either-that or I've just gotten better at shutting my brain off during periods of suffering. We reached the saddle between Hiamovi and Irving Hale at around 2:30 to dark skies but great views of Hell Canyon and the Lone Eagle Cirque.

Arriving at the saddle between Hiamovi Mountain and Mt. Irving Hale.

Once you get lower into Hell Canyon the SE Buttress Route is visible in profile

We then descended the 900 feet to Stone Lake, found a camp site and then took a quick hike to Upper Lake. We were hoping to locate landmarks to allow us to find the grass ramp in the dark that Floyd et al used to bypass the first buttress on the tower. While at Upper Lake it began to rain gently. As we made our way back to camp the rain picked up and drizzled for another hour. Around 6pm the rain let up and the skies cleared, we readied our gear for the morning and were asleep before dark.

The alarm went off at 5am. We wanted to be moving by 5:30 in hopes of getting to the base of the first pitch near sunrise. Given the forecast for that day (50% chance of storms after noon) we were happy to bypass the first two technical pitches, especially since they were supposed to be easy climbing in the 4-easy5th range. We also figured this bypass would save us at least an hour which would likely be beneficial closer to noon when we'd probably be racing the afternoon storms back to camp. The ramp ended up providing a simple and easy access the base of the second buttress (albeit a little slick given the steepness and previous night's rain). We were at the base of the second buttress by 6:45. As we geared up, we watched the sky light up with sunrise and color the low hanging clouds with shades of red and orange; this is probably my favorite part of being in the alpine.

In the spirit of saving time, we had also planned to link the first two pitches (what Roach describes as pitches 3 and 4). The first pitch was an incredibly fun and well protected slab/dihedral/ramp that went at (I'd say) 5.4. At the top of the ramp the climbing subsides to 3rd and 4th class before a short (~15 ft) easy 5th-class head-wall to access the large tree covered ledge in the middle of the second buttress. Linking these two pitches resulted in some world-class character-building rope drag, I don't really recommend it, but I also don't recommend pitching out 50 feet of 3rd and 4th class scrambling either.

Sunrise and cool clouds hanging to the Continental Divide above Upper Lake

Looking up the first pitch

Looking down the first pitch

On the tree covered ledge, Roach describes the next 5.4 pitch with the adjectives "steep," "obvious" and "delightful". I saw steep and I saw obvious, but nothing looked "delightful." More importantly, reports on Mountain Project indicate that the "obvious" crack turns into an overhanging 5.8-5.9 nightmare further up. Not really in the mood for an epic pitch, we walked quite a ways to the right until we found what looked like an easier pathway to access the next ledge. I don't think this is what Roach or anyone had in mind, but our second pitch went at ~5.5R. I got one solid nut in about 15 feet up and then one more (incredibly) marginal cam placement about 60 ft up. Our second pitch ended on another ledge below and to the east (right) of the two overhangs as described by Roach. Our third pitch was class 4-5.2 climbing but wandered a good deal and resulted in more character building rope drag. The third pitch ended at the base of the junky gully for Roach's seventh pitch. This fourth pitch followed an awkward leaning-ramp (5.2) to access the easy fourth class chimney and topped out at the summit of the second buttress. The rock in this chimney is loose, be mindful of your belayer! An optional 5.7 finger-hand crack took off on the wall to the right, but was outside of the range for what my stones allow in the alpine.

Headed up our 5.5 variation of Roach's route

The wife making her way up the easy fifth class on our third pitch

From the summit of the second buttress you have a great view of the final pitch on the third buttress. Roach describes this pitch as a "delightful" 5.5 crack or an optional 5.3 chimney around the back. The "delightful" crack looked hand-fist width and about 50 ft in length. On my rack I had a single #2 C4 and nothing larger. This, and the fact that hand-fist cracks are akin to kryptonite for me, we decided to take the chimney instead as our fifth and last pitch. Unfortunately the rain from the previous night and/or weeks had channeled a good amount of mud down the chimney. On a pitch where every bit of friction helps, wet and muddy platforms between slabs made for slippery rock shoe rubber and some interesting slab and stemming moves up the two crux steps. Offset nuts would have been wonderful to have for this pitch as I was only able to get two pro placements in 150 feet of 5.3 climbing. After finishing the chimney I found a good seat and hip-belayed my wife up, she continued to the summit and brought me up. We summited at 10:30 for a total climb time of 3.5 hours.

Summit block of Hiamovi Tower with the obvious 5.5 crack left of center. The 5.3 chimney is around the corner behind the crack.

Hip belay

The wife coiling rope near the summit

The top o' the tower

We hung out on the summit for a bit. Storm development by this point was marginal so concern about the descent permeated our thoughts; it seems it was going to be easy to get cliffed out. After about 20 minutes we left the summit and descended the first gully on the left. About 200 feet of third class down-climbing later we reached an overhanging cliff. I started looking around for a good horn to sling for a rappel before my wife noticed a cairn indicating a potential climb up and traverse to the north. We followed the cairn and found our way into another gully that led to some more third class and a short 5.0 corner down-climb to reach the grassy bench due west of the tower.

Looking down on the 5.0 corner downclimb

The 5.0 corner from below

Looking back at the descent gully from below. Our path started in the gully lookers-left of the summit (center highpoint) and traversed to the farthest left gully about halfway down.

The rest of the descent basically involved a series of branching gullies. At the apex of each branch we had to choose a direction and mostly trended to skiers-left and luckily linked together a series of steep grassy and rocky steps finished with a couple hundred feet of boulder hopping to arrive back at the trail below Stone Lake.

One of the grassy ramps on the descent

We got back to camp at 12:30 making a total tent-to-tent climb/descent time of 7 hours. We'd planned to spend another night at Stone Lake and have a relaxing hike out in the morning. Unfortunately the call of greasy food, cold beer and a soft bed was too strong so we packed up and made our miserable way back up the 900 feet to the pass, down the miserable knee-exploding 1500 feet to the junction for Watanga lake and the further couple of miles back to the car and back home. We managed to somehow miss holiday traffic on our return trip via Trail Ridge Road and were further treated to some amazing views and great lighting of the beautiful RMNP alpine.

General Thoughts

This is really a great route and one that can be made (almost) as hard or as easy as you'd like. With that said the approach and deproach via Hell Canyon is, well, hell. While it would be a looooong day, I really think an early start and blitz of the tower, followed by a traverse to Hiamovi Mountain and descent to the Hiamovi/Irving Hale pass via the West Ridge of Hiamovi is the way to do this. Otherwise you end up climbing everything twice. With that said, Hell Canyon is gorgeous and Upper Lake has some amazing views and fantastic camp sites.


First, major thanks to lordhelmut and Chicago Transplant for some quality beta during the planning phase. As mentioned above this route can be done almost as hard or as easy as you'd like. We skipped the first two pitches that Roach describes and linked the third and the fourth for a total of 5 roped pitches.

Pitch 1: (5.4 - 200 ft) from the base of the second buttress we followed the right leaning ramp/dihedral to its end and then finished the class4-5.2 head wall to the large ledge. Linking these two pitches resulted in substantial rope drag.

Pitch 2: (5.5R - 100 ft) on the large tree covered ledge, hike to the east (lookers-right) about 100 yards (this includes a brief rock climb to get over some trees growing near the wall). At an obvious weakness, directly under the right of the two overhangs, head up a series of broken ledges and right facing corners.

Pitch 3: (5.2 - 120 feet) work up weakness in the wall aiming for the area between the two obvious overhangs. Belay at a ledge just below the left leaning chimney and below the obvious 5.7 finger crack variation, or when you get sick of the rope drag.

Pitch 4: (5.2 - 50 feet) use a ramp on the right wall to access the chimney (5.2) then follow the easy (class four) chimney to the top of the second buttress. This chimney is filled with loose rock, keep your belayer in mind while climbing.

Pitch 5: (5.3 - 150 feet) scramble around and to the right of the obvious 5.5 crack in the summit block and follow a chimney up to the summit. The crux of this pitch are two chimney sections which required some fun stemming to get past.


Opportunities to place gear were somewhat minimal on most pitches (except the first which eats gear). This was OK considering the vast majority of the climbing was easy. I think I only placed 9 pieces total on the last 4 pitches, most of which were nuts. Nevertheless, my rack consisted of master cams 3 & 4, BD C4's .5-2, a set of BD nuts 5-11, 7 shoulder-length alpine draws and one double-length draw. Several more double length draws would have been awesome in linking (Roach's) P3 and P4 and for our third pitch to reduce the horrific rope drag. Also, because many of the cracks were flared and/or smaller, a set of offset nuts would have opened up the protection possibilities, I think I'll order a set of those. For the final 5.5 crack a couple of #2's and #3's would provide more than ample protection but take that from me, a giant chicken who prefers to sew-up cracks. Not sure what would work for the 5.7 variation - probably medium sized cams.

Comments or Questions

Awesome Route
09/04/2013 19:35
5.4 pitch with the adjectives ”steep,” ”obvious” and ”delightful”.

We didn't think it looked too delightful either. The cave crawl on the bypass is a hoot though. Excellent report!

Chicago Transplant

Nice Job
09/09/2013 16:32
Nice climb Dave! Glad I was able to provide you some useful information. Nice to see what some of the pitches we skipped look like. Looks fun! Given our weather coming off the peak, I am still glad we skipped them though.


08/22/2016 23:05
I think the photo links might be caput

   Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.