This is more a resource for my buddies heading up that way next week than an actual trip report, but judging from the 2500+ hits on the Stuart West Ridge Beta Request thread I figure there are some lurkers out there craving route beta. Prepare to be overwhelmed…
Anyway - here's the scoop from our trip over Labor Day weekend 2006.
4:30 am - left camp in Headlight Basin
6:15 am - started up couloir
10:30 am - reached W Ridge Notch
1:30 pm - summit
5:00 pm - arrived at Ingalls Creek trail via Cascadian couloir
8:00 pm - back in camp
We printed & followed the Smoot route description which proved very helpful. I’ll refer to features mentioned in this description so read it before you read my novel here. Note that Smoot’s description differs somewhat from Becky’s description between Long John Tower and the West Ridge notch. Becky’s route goes up to the West Ridge Horn and then follows the ridge crest somewhat to the notch. Smoot’s route traverses below the ridge crest from LJT to the West Ridge notch. I’m not saying Smoot’s is better, it’s just the one we chose to follow.
Here's what we learned:
Passing Ingalls lake via the right side is more difficult (3rd class scrambling) but seems quicker if you know the secret way. Alternatively, you could walk around via the left shoreline and lose a few minutes. In either case, find the trail at the NE end of the lake and follow it toward the saddle. After a few minutes, the trail turns and dives down toward the valley. Not wanting to lose that much elevation, we traversed left from the trail and immediately spotted cairns and shortly thereafter a climbers trail emerged. We followed that just right of the ridge crest all the way up to the point where the North ridge trail drops down toward Goat Pass. Here we followed the trail up a short ways before splitting off left through some scrub brush to the large talus field. I'm not sure exactly where the trail continues to, but it started getting thinner and I suspect it continued up the ridge crest. Traverse upward across the talus field and crest a very small ridge to the base of the next gulley. This is the start of the route.
The path from Ingalls Lake to the base of the gulley is not technical but can be a bit difficult to follow and would definitely be slower in the dark. You may want to time it so you have at least a little useable light to find your way.
Up the gulley:
Scramble excellent 3rd class granite straight up this gulley all the way to the top. There are some minor branches & forks but just stay in the main gulley or take whichever branch looks like it will go further. Several times we were tempted to exit the gully right but we stuck to the route description and kept climbing to the headwall at the very top of the gulley. We passed many bivy sites which confirmed we were on route.
You’ll know you’re at the very top of the gulley because the white granite ends in a darker headwall. Left appears to lead to the ridge crest and to your right you’ll see a steep chimney. Climb up this chimney (4th class) to easy ground from where you can see the next gully and Long John Tower.
Getting past Long John Tower:
LJT looks very imposing from here but it’s much easier than it looks. The route finding is a little difficult here so it’s worth taking the time to do it right. We chose a line up the center of the gulley along a large, dark, left facing flake. This turned out to be a little harder than we expected and we broke the rope out for two 30-meter pitches which wasted about a half hour. We should have gone further right which turned out to be a much easier (and quicker) 4th class scramble. In either case, the goal is to go through the saddle BETWEEN LJT and the main ridge.
This picture shows both route options:
LJT to West Ridge Notch:
From the saddle between LJT and the main ridge, follow a sandy path across and down a gulley for about 100 feet and then traverse left on a ledge around a rock buttress. Scramble back up the next gulley about 75 feet and look for the “dark flake” mentioned in Smoot’s description on your right.
Traversing left around the rock buttress:
The dark flake is actually a fairly large feature (50 feet or so) separating the gulley you’re currently in from the next. You’ll know you’re in the right place because the way to go behind this dark flake is through the “tunnel underfoot” also mentioned in Smoot’s description. Again, it’s worth taking the time to find this tunnel as it’s the key to unlocking the next section.
The tunnel leads to an obvious trail on a ledge. Follow this ledge past a narrow, downward sloping slab (butt scootching may be required) and up an easier-than-it-looks chimney to another ridge crest.
At this point you’re really close to the west ridge notch. Look up toward the West Ridge notch and find a crazy balanced boulder on top of a tower dubbed ‘God’s Cairn’ on this website. From here, traverse slightly downward across another gulley or two passing below God’s Cairn. Then turn left and walk up an obvious gulley that leads to the West Ridge notch.
West Ridge Notch to Summit:
Don’t bother roping up at the notch. Instead, scramble right of the ridge crest about a rope-length to a flat spot where the traverse over to the north side begins. Here is a good spot to rope up.
Traverse out onto the North side of the ridge for about 30 feet on easy but exposed 4th class ledges and then take the first obvious path back up to the ridge crest. This pitch is almost exactly 30 meters.
Starting out onto the north side of the ridge:
Scramble a bit right and then up blocky 3rd/4th class for about another rope length or maybe a little more until you regain the ridge crest at a very sharp feature. From here, you can see a large, sandy ledge below and to your right. Climb along the knife-edge ridge and then down a ramp to the ledge.
Knife-edge ridge and ramp:
From here you’re only about 2 or 3 pitches below the summit but there are a million variations. (BTW, we were climbing 3 people on a 60-meter rope, so a “pitch” for us was 30 meters) The general idea here is to climb up and right toward the SW rib and then scramble up the rib to the summit.
If you go all the way to the right on the large, sandy ledge I think you’ll find the 5.6 layback crack variation. However, we followed the first blocky stuff we found up and right (3rd class) to a smaller but equally flat sandy ledge directly above the first. From here, we took a short ~5.5 chimney at the far right end of the ledge that involved thutching, grunting, and bear-hugging a large chalkstone that we felt would certainly dislodge and kill us all but thankfully didn’t. Above the chimney we scrambled about 30 meters up blocky ground directly toward the summit. The last pitch for us went up a steep and fairly burly dihedral with a fixed pin half way up which deposited us atop the SW rib a short scramble from the summit.
To descend, find and follow a well-cairned path just below the ridge crest from the summit down across the basin (top of Ulrich’s couloir) and around the right side of the false summit. Don’t get suckered down the basin. You need to traverse all the way across the basin (staying as high as you can), continue up over the ridge, and then descend into the basin on the south side of the false summit. Getting from the ridge down into the basin involves some aggravating sandy 4th class scrambling. It’s tedious, but not overly exposed.
Once in the basin, stick to the right side just under the headwall and descend about 1000 feet due south. At about 8000 feet, a broad ridge materializes and splits the basin into 2 gulleys. We found a highway down the left gulley, but talked to some folks who reported the right gulley was just as easy and quite a bit faster.
Highway in lower part of left gulley:
In either case, you’re in for a little jungle-thrashing but will inevitably wander out onto the Ingalls Creek trail exhausted and thirsty. The good news is you now have about 4 miles of trail and 1500 feet of elevation gain back to camp.
There you have it. Now I don’t want to hear any more whining about off-route overnight epics.