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[TR] Mt Stuart - West Ridge - Apocalyptic Photo As


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Climb: Mt Stuart -West Ridge - Apocalyptic Photo Assault


Date of Climb: 5/28-30/2005


Trip Report:

As spring rolled by, Scott [HappyCamper], Mark [AlpineDreamer] and myself had been unsuccessfully conspiring with one another to put together one final alpine outing before I had to leave for Boston to start a three year tour-of-duty on the East Coast. Something moderate, something classic - something like the North Ridge of Baker. However, all of the usual somethings seemed to put the almighty kibosh on every attempt to cobble together an outing - something going on at work, something happening with the family, something wrong with the weather. March and April rolled by, and the alpine outing failed to materialize. Thankfully, Scott and I were able to -almost literally - drown our sorrows in our kayaks and keep the outdoor jonesing down a bit while we waited for the right constellation of time and weather to appear.


Thankfully - Memorial Day weekend was looking good for at least two of us, and seeing as I was looking at just over a month before the big move, we decided that Mark and I would have to strike out without the third amigo, or give up on the plan all together. The weather was still looking a bit iffy on the west side when we finalized arrangments, so we jettisoned the original plan for the North Ridge and set our sights on plan B - Stuart's West Ridge.


Mark rolled over to my place about 2:30 Saturday afternoon, after which we bemoaned the foolishness that led us to plan on a grocery stop in Dante's 8th level of hell/the-Cle-Elum-Safeway-on-Memorial-day-weekend, and set off for Teanaway river valley. I had scoffed at the thought of bringing a map or directions to the trailhead along on this outing, as from what I could recall from the trip up the North Ridge three years earlier - all you had to do was turn left on Teanaway river road and it took you right to the trailhead. That memory turned out to be false, but something in the pre-trudge brews must have sharpened the homing instinct, as we ended up winning the forest-service-road version of Plinko by choosing the correct turn at something like 7 consecutive forks - and found ourselves at the trailhead at about 6:00.


Thankfully, by this time the day's heat was abating a bit, and we enjoyed a somewhat less than sweltering march to the ridgeline and stopped to do a bit of preliminary gawking at Mt. Stuart.






After enduring about a quarter mile of karmic punishment for years making fun of people with excess gaiterage (postholing with no gaiters) we headed for the ridgeline once again, stopped about 1 hour short of the base of the route about 9:45, took care of the usual stuff, and set the alarm for 4:00AM at about 11:30 or so. The plan was to be up at 4, moving by 5, and on the route by 6:00, as the Beckey Guide said the route would take about 6 hours from the base, and we thought that 9 hours would be a more realistic timeline given the conditions, and summiting at 3:00 would give us plenty of time to make the descent in the daylight.


We were suprisingly close to the mark on the starting time, and were on the route and moving at 6:15 AM.



Both the climbing and the routefinding were fairly straightforward there, and after climbing at a constant but casual pace we managed to negotiate our way between the major gulley systems leading to Lohn John Tower by 9:30 or so, with lose slush over ice being the main obstacle we encountered along the way.




We stopped to hydrate and ponder the route leading to the notch a bit. In his TR - Tim Matsui said the normal chimney looked totally doable if not downright casual - which, for him, I supect it would have been. I guess that's what actually being a solid climber does to one's perspective.


Mark and I - on the other hand - took one look at the slushfunnel on the left and agreed that ascending that feature would be both time consuming, and not unlike crawling upwards through through the abominable snowman's giant colon. After finalizing this assesment, we decided to ascend the snow finger to the right, and cross above the slush canal - at which point a section of frozen kitty litteresque rock induced us to break out the rope.




Once atop the notch, we looked up at the ridge and were postitively startled to witness the"Scissors-like-formation" that Beckey mentioned in his book, as we had both invisioned looking at an infinity of notches along the serrated ridgeline, choosing one of them at random to designate as the "scissors like formation," and pretending that we had actually pulled off yet another route-finding coup - but there it was.


So after stopping to refuel and rehydrate a bit, we set off for the ridgeline, traverersed below the scissors, and kept the running belay going to the notch - mostly because we were too lazy to stop and recoil the rope - and we figured it would be faster than busting it out again if we found ourselves in a situation where we wanted it.



I think we were at the notch at about 12:30 or so. Hardly a screaming pace, but good enough to get us off the mountain long before the thunder cloudlets building to the west had a chance to coagulate into anything menacing - or so we thought.


After leaving the notch Mark headed straight up, ran into the obvious headwall, and headed left to take a look at the normal route. "Well - if you want to deal with lot's of fourth class terrain covered by a shitload of unconsolidated slop we can do it..." I didn't want to deal with a shitload of unconsolidated slop covering exposed slop, so we decided that we'd follow the dry rock, head right, and finish via the south side bypass.



We headed right over moderately exposed 4th/5th ledges, and pitched things out - as neither of us were feeling especially spry with wet mountaineering boots on our feet and the packs on our backs. Things seemed to imperceptibly slow down with each of the two or three or four successive traverse pitches, but it was only when we turned the corner and glimpsed at the first of two possible exit crack systems that I even began to think about the time.


The first series of cracks looked relatively easy, and would have been were they not submerged beneath a 3/4" sheet of running water. They also came nicely equiped with someone elses pre-set bail gear - which looked to be of recent vintage. Mark led to the base of the aquaduct, I followed, and we pondered the options that somehow managed to confound us for god knows how long that afternoon. Up? Over? or Back? Back and up?


This where the chronology starts to get a bit hazy. I can recall that it was me who led around the corner to look at the next set of cracks. This set was drier, but steeper, liberally festooned with bail gear and completely impossible for either of us in mountaineering boots. After surveying option B I think I climbed back down to the belay, looked at some less-inviting-but-drier cracks a few feet to the left of the wet corner, tried a few moves on those, gave up, and headed back to the hard-but-dry cracks and set up a belay with the intent of giving them a go in rock shoes. Crack one - shut down. Crack two - advance a bit higher - shut down. Retreat to the belay - start to put the boots back on- reconsider, try the layback approach on the original crack - shut down again.


By this point, the much-dreaded thunder had commenced, and I think that both of our epic-meters were going off of the charts. What to do. Set-up sketchy rap anchors and descend the unknown and potentially cliffed out couloir below us? Traverse back to the West Ridge Notch and descend the West Ridge Couloir? We were both operating in a hypoglycemic haze at this point, but we reached the general conclusion that descending - "yeah...we should descend...maybe we can...rappell over there"- was the wisest move, all things considered. So Mark reversed the lead to a ledge about 20 feet to the left of the drenched corner system, I follow, downclimbing with much trepidation and less grace, and start to move towards the ledge. Then I take another look at the crack system and start to mull things over a bit more...the summit is right-fucking-there.


After concluding the desultory mullage I tell Mark that I think I can make it, but neither one of us is feeling too confident about my chances after I had been shut down so badly on the other cracks. In the end I headed up, and alternated between hope, confidence, despair, and remorse from one move to the next. I am sure that my performance induced mostly negative emotions when witnessed below, as it was an ugly, profanitly-and-Elvis-legged-french-free-laden thrutchfest for sure. When the rope was nearly out I managed to sink a solid green camalot, sling a green chockstone, and set a belay later supplemented by a marginal number six nut. Mark followed with the thunder picking up, took the rack, and headed out on what I can best describe as a "seriously fucking clutch" lead up the rest of the wet crack system on onto easier ground. By now it was getting late, it was alternately raining and snowing, the rocks were humming, the sky was getting even darker, and we were exhausted as all hell - but things were looking up.


I moved the rope up a pitch through blocky terrain, and Mark led through some scary unconsolidated glop to the final corner system.



I thrutched my way up the final corner/crack, abandoning any pretence of style and/or dignity using aid on multiple pieces, in addition to load testing an ancient rusty piton a couple of times. All tactics offically sanctioned by the"fuck-it" school of alpine climbing. We made it to the summit just before the last of the light faded.




From there it was a downclimbing/cairn scavenger hunt down through the snow and the rocks until we found ourselves at the top of the Cascadian couloir, then it was bivy time again. I think it was about 11:00PM by this point. Melting water, arranging rocks to make the bivy suck less, and consuming the meager rations occupied us until midnight, then another sleepless few hours brought us to dawn.


During the interval I learned that there is, in fact, a practical limit to "dry it out by putting it into the sleeping bag with you" technique. After pouring the water out of my boots, and wringing out my socks, I hoped to dry them by putting them on top of my chest inside the half-bag I brought along on the route. I wasn't able to dry them worth a damn, but I did succeed in making myself considerably colder for the duration of the night.





The arrival of the morning brought us death-crust-over slush postholing, gulley hell, and eventually the trail leading up and over Long's pass and back to the car 1/2 hour before the designated "If you haven't heard from me by now it's time to get worried point," burgers, beers, and Mark's heroic drive home.




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Good story and photos.


Find time to go climb on Cannon cliff in Franconia notch. There are some fun routes. I used your brand of alpine aid on the last pitch of Moby Grape when the entire thing was running water as the light was fading. The in-the-dark, top-out crawl into the shrubbery and belay from a cluster of twigs was classic!

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Thanks for posting the TR, Jay. Unfortunately there aren't any pics that capture the 4-5 hours during which things unraveled for us - the rain, snow, billowing dark clouds, water engulfed cracks, and failed attempts to climb cracks that (at a crag) would've been moderate but crushed us in our packed-booted-dehydrated-sketched state. Next time I'm gonna try to be more consistent w/ the photography yelrotflmao.gif

Mercifully the storm blew over, so at least we didn't get soaked during our bivy below the false summit . . .


I'm bummed Jay's moving - he's been an awesome climbing partner. rockband.gifthumbs_up.gif

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I'm bummed Jay's moving - he's been an awesome climbing partner. rockband.gifthumbs_up.gif


Ditto that Mark, Hate to lose a great partner/guy to the dreaded east coast!! OK anyone want to chime in what he will be like when he returns???


But great trip report Jay and check your PM's with some info etc...

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