As the HBC prepared to challenge the position of the North West Company in the Rocky Mountains, Howse joined Bird at Edmonton House (Edmonton) in 1809 and remained there until 1811. The itinerary of the HBC's first foray into the Rocky Mountains is, ironically, documented only in the journals of David Thompson of the NWC.
Starting from their neighbouring posts of Edmonton House and Fort Augustus, the two explorers both set off on 18 July 1809. The HBC party consisted of Howse and three others, and its goal was obvious: in Thompson's words, Howse "went off for the Mountains to examine the Country &c&c." When Thompson and his party, preparing to winter in the mountains and thus encumbered with supplies and trading goods, reached Rocky Mountain House (Alta) on 26 July, Howse appeared to be several days ahead. The two parties did not meet until 9 August at the head of navigation, at the forks of the North Saskatchewan River, "when Mr Howse & the Indian with him "were already on their way back from the pass. Thompson gave Howse a letter for James Hughes at Fort Augustus, a clear indication that Howse intended no further exploration at this time. At next report, on 23 September, he was back on the Prairies.
Signed Photo of Joseph Howse
A novice at exploration, Howse had crossed the continental divide without delay. That he had also explored a portion of the Columbia River is suggested by a final remark from Thompson's journal: on 19 August his advance party reported seeing "the Tracks of 2 Horsemen" where it had camped just below the present Lake Windermere (B.C.). Official recognition is expressed in the York Factory account-book for 1810 against the entry for Howse's current wages of £65: "hopes your Honors will allow him 80£ the readiness wth which this Gentn undertook, the expedition across the Rocky Mountain, merits some attention."
When Howse returned to the Rocky Mountains in 1810-11, he stayed a full year. On 19 June 1810 Alexander Henry the younger, NWC partner at New White Earth House (Alta), recorded the departure from the adjacent HBC post of "two canoes for the Columbia, with nine men. . . . They embarked four rolls of tobacco, two kegs of high wine, powder, several bags of balls, a bag of shot, pemmican, etc." Howse himself began his journey "by land "; as Henry noted on 20 June, Howse had left "with four Cree guides and hunters . . . the whole H.B.Co. Columbia expedition consists of 17 persons." This time, evidently, there was to be trade as well as exploration. The NWC took the challenge seriously; on 9 July James McMillan "set off for the Columbia to watch the motions of the H.B. in that quarter."