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Mt. Stuart


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Route: Full North Ridge

Time: 19 hours car-to-car

Date: August 23, 2000

Team: Marshall Balick, Dan Aylward

The full North Ridge of Mt. Stuart is a classic, grade IV alpine rock route on a huge and impressive granite peak in the Cascades. It's not too technically difficult; it has a couple pitches of 5.8 lower down and a couple 5.9's higher up on the Gendarme, but otherwise it's low class 5 and class 4. It has become quite popular due to the mountain it's on, and that it's one of the fifty classic climbs in North America. The most popular variation (described in Nelson & Potterfield's "Selected Climbs in the Cascades", vol I) is to cut up to the ridge crest from the west side via a prominent gully. This shortens the route and makes it quite feasable as an early (though probably not beginner's) alpine rock climb. The preferrable way, IMHO, is to descend all the way to the base of the ridge and start from the bottom. There are several very fun pitches in the lower half of the ridge that you miss if you do the half ridge.

Marshall and I both managed to get off work on this particular Wednesday. Having done the route several years before in a day, we felt obliged to re-live the experience and hopefully better our time, so we took off from Seattle on Tuesday evening and made our way to the Esmaralda Basin/Ingalls' Pass trailhead. The various route descriptions are fairly accurate in describing the approach to Goat Pass... Start out going about 1/4 mile up from the trailhead. At that point you will reach an intersection, where you turn right onto Ingall's Way trail (instead of continuing up Esmaralda Basin). Wind up switchbacks for a mile and a half to another intersection with a trail to Long's Pass. Keep left at this intersection; you want to go to Ingall's Pass. Follow the trail over Intall's Pass, around the basin, and up to Ingall's Lake. Having left the car at 3:30, we got to the lake just as it was getting light at about 6:00. Go around the left side of the lake (involves some scrambling, the trail is invisible in places) under Ingall's Peak. A ridge joins Ingall's Peak and the West Ridge of Mt. Stuart, halfway along this ridge is Stuart Pass. Follow this ridge; we dropped down a little on the right (south) side of the ridge, following one of a number of social trails. The trails converge and regain the ridge as it begins to rise up to meet the west ridge of Stuart. The trail is clearly visible as it winds up the increasingly-scree slope. Well before you reach the toe of the west ridge, you must drop down to the left (north) from a sort of bench in the scree. Dropping down is very loose and dirty, and has snow in places until late in the season. Traverse around the basin as the loose dirt turns to large granite boulders. Follow the terrain and work your way up to Goat Pass, where amazinly enough we found goats and our first rays of sunshine! From Goat Pass, it's almost all downhill to the base of the N. Ridge. Marshall was wearing his Technica Alta TCY's and I was wearing my light Montrails. Marshall was certainly better off on the hard snow. We both had lightweight ice axes. I had to use the backwards-digger-walk technique to get down the steeper snowfields (basically in self-arrest position, I just walk down backwards, using my ice axe as a brake). From Goat Pass, you head down the first snowfield, go up over an exposed-in-late-season morraine, traverse under the Stuart Glacier (little objective hazard), and keep traversing as far right (east) as the terrain allows. It took us longer than we expected. I'd advise lightweight crampons for this section. We reached the base of the N. Ridge at about 8:00, took a rest, filled our water bags, and prepared for the first pitch. We brought a large rack, (doubles in the small pieces, single #2 and #3 camalot, nothing bigger), to allow us to simul-climb as long as possible. There are several variations to get started on the ridge. I recommend staying in the sun (meaning the left or east side of the ridge). We scrambled our way up the benches at the toe of the buttress and gradually worked our way left. The first 5.8 pitch hits you there. Look for a right-facing flaring chimney flake thing. Climb good cracks up to it. The first time we did the route, Marshall led this pitch. He could not climb it with his pack. We lost a lot of time fiddling around clipping the pack to a piece, him going up to a belay, lowering part of the rope to haul my pack, me climbing and retrieving his pack, worming my way through the unpleasant chimney, and finally getting up to him. This time, however, I led the pitch and found a way to avoid the chimney by climbing face holds off to the right. It was a little delicate and exposed-feeling, but it went easily and we didn't have to haul our packs. After the chimney, look for a large indentation (a good belay spot). From the indentation, don't be persuaded to move right, around the ridge crest. We did that the first time and ended up wasting another hour climbing some sketchy stuff to regain the route. The best line goes off to the left, beautiful hand cracks. to a ledge with trees. We began simul-climbing after the first pitch and made it halfway up the route (a notch where the half-route variation comes in, there are bivy sites here) by noon. We switched gear, but Marshall wanted me to keep leading, so I did one more pitch to the base of the gendarme by 3:00. These two middle pitches are very long, very fun, very clean, relatively easy with occasional cruxes. It is possible to bypass the gendarme by rapelling from the copius slings at it's base, down into a gully, then climbing up easy but loose slabs to the summit. But the gendarme is the best pitch! It looks intimidating, but it's not so bad. The first half of it is a wavy dihedral, with rests on top of each wave. The crack in the corner eats smallish cams. It's a dramatic clean lieback, a little strenuous, but if you place gear at the rests then blast through the rest it goes without problems. Many people split the gendarme into two pitches. We found the best way was to make it into one (possible with a 60m rope). After I led the first half, there is a good stance a the top of the pillar (top of the dihedral). I put in some pro, let down a loop of rope to Marshall to which he clipped the packs, and I hauled 'em up and left them there. I then continued to lead, climbing up and across to the right, putting a couple pieces in as directionals, and met up with the infamous offwidth. It's not so bad. I used the #3 camalot and slid it up the thing as I went, reducing rope drag from my traverse the higher I got. There are good footholds, and the crack takes fist jams. At the top of the offwidth, travers back left to a cove. Go for the upper cove, not the lower one... it's much more comfortable. Belay from the cove. Haul packs again when your partner gets to the top of the pillar. We simul-climbed to the summit from there, a short jaunt. We were on the summit by 5:00. The summit of Stuart is incredible; you're so high above everything!

The descent is straighforward. Look for cairns and traverse east along the summit ridge (or just below it) and bypass the first several gullies (you want Cascadian Couloir, not Ulrich's Couloir!). If you watch for the cairns, you can't go wrong. Late in the season, there's still a snowfield at the top of Cascadian Couloir. It's good to have light crampons for this too, depending on conditions. I had to do my digger walk thing again. Marshall stayed on the boulders, which took him longer but it was fine. After that, it's just a LONG way down! As the couloir starts to curve east, cross over the mellow ridge to the right into the next gully. You can walk the whole way, but it's steep scree and sand and dust. Gradually the scree turns to meadows, then you hit Ingall's Creek and it's accompanying trail. Go up the valley for no more than 1/2 mile to where people are usually camping, then cross the creek on a large old dry log. It's pretty obvious if it's still light out. This takes you to the Long's Pass trail, which is not a particularly well-traveled trail. It seems to have several variations; some washed out, others overgrown, we were never sure which one we were supposed to take. But they all lead uphill. It was beginning to get dark at this time. Eventually, the trail starts getting steeper and switchbacking as it comes out of the trees, and the last couple hundred vertical before Long's pass is pretty steep, but you're at the pass before you know it. After that, it's just a long way down the easy, dusty, switchbacking trail to the intersection with Ingall's Way trail, then with Esmaralda Basin trail, then to the parking lot. We were at the car by 10:30, where we sacked out, as beat as we'd intended!

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BTW, if you think 19 hours is fast, keep in mind that Pat Timson and partner did the same thing in a whopping *8* hours! That would require a full-on run on all the approach and descent, basically simul-solo the route (I think they placed 1 or 2 pieces on the whole thing) with no belays... That's about 15 miles and over 8000 feet of elevation gain and loss in 8 hours. I'm amazed.

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Here are a couple questions I got:

> A couple of questions:


> 1. How much water did you carry? and would you carry more or

> less based

> on that experience?

We each had 1-gallon MSR water bags, and we began the approach with them half full. At the base of the route, we filled them halfway again. We were out of water at the top of the route and had to do Cascadian dry, but we were far from dehydrated. Then at Ingall's Creek (after the climb) we filled one last time. I'd say you could get by with less, especially if you're faster. Depends on your body too. But I feel we did it about right for us; two quarts wasn't too burdensome on the route, and we certainly drank it all.

> 2. I've been over most of the territory except Ingalls Lake

> to Goat Pass

> - is the spot where you leave lower west ridge to enter the

> scree pretty

> obvious? About how long did it take you to get for Ingalls Lk

> to the top

> of Goat Pass?

From Ingall's Lake to Goat Pass was about an hour and a half maybe? I can't remember exactly, but somewhere in that range. The place you decend off the north side of the lower west ridge is pretty obvious. The trail is steep and full of switchbacks up the lower portion, but then you gain a large bench that is almost flat. You descend off the north side of this bench. You should see footprints going that way. There's hardly a trail; it's kind of steep and sandy going down, but it isnt' too hard. You can easily see where goat pass is from there & scope out your line ahead of time.


> 3. We haven't been able to decide whether to commit to one day or bivy

> at the base of the route. Sounds like you were very satisfied with the

> one day approach. Any comments on bivying?

Yes, we were very satisfied with doing it in one day. The thought of carrying bivy gear over is not appealing to me. It would be a beautiful place to camp, and many people do it, but there are plenty of other beautiful places to camp where I won't have to lug my stuff up 4000' of class 5 granite! I think if it's conceivably possible to do a route in a day, stick your neck out and do it. You'll go faster, have more fun, and be more satisfied when you get back to the car! Just my opinion. smile.gif

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