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[TR] Mt. Stuart: (winter ascent)- Complete North Ridge 12/24/2004


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Climb: Mt. Stuart: (winter ascent)-Complete North Ridge


Date of Climb: 12/24/2004


Trip Report:

Mt. Stuart: Attempted Winter ascent of the complete North Ridge.


Wayne called me 2 weeks before Christmas and said we had a good weather window coming up the few days before Christmas. So on Tuesday, December 21, the official start of winter, we made the drive over to Leavenworth and bivied in the parking lot at the Ranger’s station.


We arose early and organized our gear under the lights in the McDonalds parking lot and then headed up Icicle Creek. We crossed our fingers that the gate at Eight Mile Creek would be open. It was, but within ¾ of a mile the difficulties began. As the road became steeper it became apparent my 4-runner was not going to make it up the pure ice road. We came to a stop, tires spinning and it was all we could do to keep from sliding backwards. Wayne got out to help push against the side of the car to keep it from sliding over the edge and down into the abyss and immediately fell down. We nursed the 4-runner down to a dry patch on the side of a switchback and then proceeded to give it another shot by trying to keep two tires in the slightly softer crunchy snow on the inside shoulder. We didn’t make it past the original high point and had to nurse the car back down to the dry spot, Wayne donned crampons for better traction the second time. The only way we were going to get up this road was to put crampons on the tires, so back to Leavenworth we went.



$175 and an hour later we were back at the road and this time we had no problems with 4 new chains on the tires. It was probably close to 11:00 by the time we finally started the hike on the Stuart Lake trail and up Mountaineers Creek. We carried snowshoes, but ditched them on the knoll right after crossing the creek on a log. We were following a fairly fresh set of boot tracks on top of an older set of snowshoe tracks for a while, but when they headed off in the “wrong” direction, we abandoned them.



We made camp behind a large boulder just past the small bench and proceeded to decorate a small tree with our cams, picket and ropes. We wanted to have some sense of a Christmas spirit in this desolate, moonlike landscape.



Laying in the tent that night, it almost seemed like day. The almost full moon was so bright I could have read a book outside. I have a difficult time falling asleep before 11:00 so while Wayne snored, the demons danced in my mind. Looming above us in plain view was the complete north ridge and so far nobody had been successful in making a winter ascent of the lower portion. The upper section had been done in winter. We hoped to connect the entire route. But who was I to think I was up to this task. I felt significantly small and unqualified. I had never even been on the lower ridge in summer and it was 1986 when I did the upper. It was also 1986 the last time I jumarred and Wayne said I would be doing quite a bit.



We waited until daylight to make breakfast and gear up for the day. We hiked up onto the moraine below the Ice Cliff glacier and followed its sweeping curve around to the base of the North Ridge. Sheltered from the wind behind a large boulder, we donned harnesses and racked up and Wayne started up some 4th class rock which proved more difficult then it looked. Not wanting to place gear yet, we searched further left for a better access and found a steep snow gully which brought us to the base of the first pitch. Our plan was to fix two rope lengths and return to camp for the night.





Wayne actually aid climbs quite fast, and after some difficulty with a squeeze slot where he had to take off his pack, he tied off the rope. I jugged and off Wayne went for pitch 2. This section is steep and surmounts a small overhang. I worked out the bugs of jumarring, and joined Wayne at a stance by a small tree. Above loomed a long thin crack, not vertical, but steep.


The going was slower here because there was ice in the crack. Wayne informed me he actually used his breath to melt some ice for a few placements. He watched cams shift on ice. When a loop of rope hanging down caught on something, I had to untie my end and drop it down in an attempt to free it. It barely gave Wayne enough rope to reach the top where he made an anchor of one pin, one ice screw and 2 cams. He then rapped and cleaned while I pulled out our second rope and readied it for the rap to the ground. It was extremely windy, but we got down with out any issues and descended back to camp. We chose an easier route than going back down the moraine by following a snow gully and skirting the lower boulder field on the far side. This set us up for an easier ascent in the morning. It was about 4:00 by the time we got back. Fixing 3 pitches had taken o lot longer than we thought.


The moon and demons were in full effect that night. I knew tomorrow would be a big day and we had no idea what conditions would be like on the ridge. I questioned myself why I did this. I knew once on the ridge, retreat would be difficult until we reached the notch where the regular route joined. Thank god for sleeping pills.


We awoke at 2:30 and were off by 3:45. We carried no bivy gear. We geared up at the large boulder. It was my first time jumarring by headlamp, but by the time we were up the second rope, it was just beginning to dawn. Above we could see the summit shrouded in clouds, and it was extremely windy. Weather was moving in. We debated going down, but talked ourselves out of it.


The ridge looked incredibly steep and exposed. The demons came back and I pushed them away as Wayne headed up the next pitch in the early morning light. He was aiding again, but informed me it was only a short section and I should just aid myself and not mess with the ascenders. Once I began climbing again, things calmed down for me. My focus was only at each small task or move at hand and my concentration kept the elements at bay. For the first time since leaving Seattle, I actually felt settled. It was just me and the mountain and my focus on climbing. Nothing else penetrated to mess with my head.



I don’t remember each pitch, just different sections. As we moved up, dry rock became more iced with verglass. We each had one regular ice tool and a small Grivel third tool. I carried etriers and the jumars bundled on my gear loops on my left side. Wayne lead all the pitches for speed. The ice runnel pitch should have been my lead, but Wayne was cold and wanted to move again. It was a fabulous pitch of thin ice that snaked up through the rocks. “Super Alpine” I called it and I secretly imagined myself climbing in Chamonix.



An easier snow slope brought us up into an alcove with only one way out, a traverse across polished slab. Wayne tensioned and then climbed with his tools in verglass and boots on slab, then up over a small roof.



Above the terrain became more blocky with much more ice filling the voids and the climbing became true mixed. We donned crampons and climbed with both tools. Many moves consisted of moving across a bulge of rock onto thin ice. Unconsolidated snow filled the cracks and crevasses and needed clearing. At one point we abandoned the true ridge and climbed on the face to the right for 4 or 5 pitches before we could regain it.



Finally, I lead a short section of rotten snow that required much clearing to regain the ridge. It was steep and there was about an inch crust and underneath, loose granular snow. The crust would break in large slabs and slide down, and the 18 inches of snow underneath was not bonded to the rock and wouldn’t accept any weight. I was afraid of the whole thing sliding. I excavated to rock for the last few moves and flopped onto the ridge. It was 4:00. One more tricky traverse brought us to the notch and there was no question as to which way to go. We were out of time and the entire upper ridge, although bathed in moonlight, would be another full day.


We rigged a rap and headed down. The gully was much steeper and longer than I remembered and we ended up making 4 rappels combined with steep down climbing. The Stuart Glacier was awash in moonlight. We packed the ropes and gear and began our long walk back to camp.



I don’t think I’ll have a more memorable Christmas Eve. This high alpine environment was almost surreal in the bright moonlight. I was warm and content with what we had done. We hadn’t made the summit, but had climbed the often attempted lower section. We never stopped the whole time and we got to the tent by 8:15. Wayne immediately crawled in, while I made hot drinks. We were too tired to eat, but I lingered outside for another hour enjoying the view. The demons were gone and I was content. Later, I would have the uncanny feeling that it was someone else who did the climb.


The next day, Christmas, we hiked out in deteriorating weather. The drive over Stevens Pass was in a full snowstorm. At least for a while, we had a white Christmas.



Gear Notes:

full rack, one ice screw, ascenders, 2 ropes


Approach Notes:

Chains required for Eight Mile road if still open. We did not need snowshoes for Mountaineer Creek approach, but maybe neccessary now.

Edited by David_Parker
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Awsome climb, well written TR, nice job and all that, but I just wonder; does "Complete North Ridge" sound quite appropriate? Not to belittle anyone's efforts, or suggest that I've got the huevos to pull this off myself, but it sounds more like a lower North Ridge climb to me.


OK, let the pummeling begin, I can take it.

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proud attempt, dave & wayne! that's definately one of the Last Great Problems of the cascades... are the rumors true that wayne has an entire rack stashed in there?


one question, were you hoping that the lower part would go fast enough to send the whole thing in one day? or were you hoping that it would be good enough conditions to just do a multi-day single push type ascent? it sounds like you didn't have bivy gear.

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We really were hoping to send in one day. If we made it to the gendarme with enough light to climb it, we would climb through the night. It would be a tough route to carry bivy gear on. And no Bug, if I was a hard man, I guess we would have suffered through the night and kept going. But damn, 15 hour long nights are hard to take for me!


Wayne did not have any gear stashed up there. Rumor has it someone else we know does. The idea of carrying bivy gear around to the notch where the upper ridge starts has been brought up, but Wayne and I think it's cheating.


At least now the lower section has been done in winter and hopefully provides inspiration to others. The upper section was done a while ago. Someday someone will connect the whole thing.


I'd just like to say I was glad to be with Wayne on that route. That guy is truly a great all round climber and he deserves most of the credit for getting us up.

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And no Bug, if I was a hard man, I guess we would have suffered through the night and kept going. But damn, 15 hour long nights are hard to take for me!

That ridge is a damn cold place. My sorry ass has never been there in the winter. But now you have me wondering..... Some of those upper ridge sections would be low angle snow. But a solid push? I would hate to burn out and have to curl up next to a frozen granite block for the night. That is beyond my "fun" limit. Bivy gear would get my vote.

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Mark and I bailed early this morning from our high point 3 pitches above the notch, due to bad (and particularly cold) weather and really bad conditions.


Our itinerary:

day 1 - hike in

day 2 - fix the first 3 pitches

day 3 - sit in the tent while it dumps snow

day 4 - head up with 5 days of food and bivy gear, and make it to the snowfield right above david's "super alpine" ice pitch.

day 5 - climb the remaining pitches to the notch in nasty weather and pouring spindrift

day 6 - sit in the tent at the notch while it is really windy and snowy

day 7 - leave the notch at 2:30, climb three pitches and then bail and hike out


It is a really cool goal indeed. I agree with Wayne and David, that pre-stashing bivy gear at the notch is cheating. That's interesting about your friend, Layton, because I have frostnip on both of my thumbs now.


Oh, and a gear note: A tent made of epic fabric does not work for full-on winter conditions, in fact it was totally miserable.

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NOLSe wrote:

What about Razorback Ridge, Blue Moon in June and NE face? All haven't seen winter ascents... and that's just Stuart...


NOLSe, of course i meant that in the european "Last Great Problem" sense of a classic line that has seen lots of energy and attention over the years, with enough failure by strong parties to get a reputation. There is always a next last great problem. Try to keep up, would ya?


BTW, nice going colin & mark.

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