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jameschiang

[TR] Mount Stuart - West Ridge 6/8/2013

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Trip: Mount Stuart - West Ridge

 

Date: 6/8/2013

 

Trip Report:

 

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The route was the result of a bargain, though it gave both of us much more than we bargained for. Rafael likes "crags by the freeway," as he calls them; I, in turn, go to the mountains to get away from the freeway and closer to where the earth meets the clouds. And although I sleep better on a ledge in the clear sky than at home in the teeming city, Rafael, like most people, knows that a rock is not a bed. So our plan for the weekend was a mix of our interests: we would climb Mt. Stuart by the west ridge, but we would do it car-to-car. Sunday, then, would be free for craging in Leavenworth.

 

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When I look back on the climb, I see only a few images. Had I slept better I would have remembered more, but the ones I do remember, I remember with absolute clarity. I remember, with absolute clarity, asking Rafael for the third time if he was sure we would not need to bivy. I remember holding my beautiful, warm, one-pound sleeping bag in my hand for a long moment before trusting Rafael's long experience and tossing it into the trunk. If he's not bringing one, I shouldn't have one, I reasoned. But of course we could have shared it. I can't get the image out of my head.

 

We climbed.

 

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I also remember the menacing clatter from above, the darkness of the crook of my arm as I tucked my head into it, the massive concussion of the rock through my pack and the lesser one of my body as it was thrown against the chimney that had trapped me, immobile below a tired and rushed, and therefore careless partner on the loose rock above, and finally the explosive clatter far below. A buzzing of fear as I checked myself, a wave of relief to find everything intact, gratitude for the inanimate pack that had saved me. I screamed, first abuse at my partner, and then apologia, and finally just noise, a kettle dissipating steam. But the summit was near, and so was the end of the light, so there was no time to dwell on it.

 

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Later, when he showed me with his hands how large he thought the blocks he had dislodged were, I had to suppress a wave of nausea.

 

And I remember the sunset. It was a red tidal wave of cloud, and only the summit was spared inundation. The wind was swift and steady. Just for a moment, my mind was quiet. Then the color faded. It was time to descend.

 

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Sometime around 1am, we knew we were not in the right couloir, and that our progress on the icy slope without crampons was too slow. Rather than risk a sleepy mistake, we resigned ourselves to the inevitable, found a flat saddle, and curled up.

 

 

 

I remember looking at the stars, absolute clear, but blurred uncontrollably from my shivering. I remember the joy in the sunrise that brought hope but no warmth. In my mind, that sunrise was worth the cold, exhausting night. But I could've brought a sleeping bag.

 

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Down to the valley, with water and beautiful, beautiful green. Pikas, flowers, anthills, a single snake. To descend is to return to life.

 

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We should have done so many things differently. Yet in the course of our conversations on the drive back, we came to the inevitable conclusion that it was all worth it, whatever "it" was.

 

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Gear Notes:

Crampons and an ice ax are mandatory; we had only axes and suffered.

 

Some exposed rock moves are iced over near the summit, so consider protecting more conservatively than you would in late-season. My partner has soloed the route several times in the past, but the stream of Russian profanities that reached my stance over the roar of the wind told me that he was not glad, and he was glad to have a rope.

(We had a 30m half-rope , 6 medium-large nuts and a few slings, which was sufficient)

 

Approach Notes:

Consolidated snow above 6000'; snowshoes are not required. Running water is available as high as 8000' on the route, with plenty of snow at all elevations. There are several sets of steps leading from the summit to the Cascadian Couloir, the Sherpa Glacier, and other minor couloirs on the south side of the mountain, so follow them with care.

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These experiences lead to more experiences. Plan a 2 day trip (its been done in one many times but its a big trip) to do the N. Ridge, one of the 50 Classic Climbs. If you have done W. Ridge you can do N. Ridge minus the gendarme. Check a guidebook. It will blow your mind. One day trips require fitness and logistics and maybe hiking at night, preferably on the front end. Sleeping bags and additional crap adds weight. And be on the same wavelength as your partner about goals or you will have to learn some stuff the hard way. But the N. Ridge involves some glacier travel so be prepared. Many on this site have done it but I have the microphone at present. :)

Edited by matt_warfield

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Nice TR, beautiful photos and prose. FWIW, an unplanned bivi on the WR of Stuart is de rigueur, usually due to route finding issues. It is kind of like a small orange drink, nobody likes it, but it is part of the full meal deal.

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Glad you made it through that alive and in one piece. I have spent an unexpected night out in an emergency bivi sack...and am convinced it kept a cold uncomfortable night from becoming a body retrieval. I always have one in my pack now. It's always a balance between keeping weight down so you can move more efficiently and the safety margin. Thanks for sharing the experience. I've wanted to do that route for a while.

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a pulp porn mag's lighter still and oughta keep any red-blooded man warm through a frosty night :)

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This route is so much fun when the snow is melted out of that gully you start up - the best 3rd class scrambling anywhere. I highly recommend waiting until July-Aug for this one...

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This route is so much fun when the snow is melted out of that gully you start up - the best 3rd class scrambling anywhere. I highly recommend waiting until July-Aug for this one...

 

Ditto. That water scoured initial gulley was cool. Another option in early season is to climb the West Ridge Couloir, a moderately steep and pretty fun gulley directly below the West Ridge notch.

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Hey Dan, that brought back some memories. Glad we didn't have to bivy. I do remember taking some "naps" before getting back to camp.

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This is the sort of TR that drew me to CC.com when I first discovered the place. Thank you James, I'm inspired for sure. Great pics and good story. These are the sorts of adventures we all love to take: there was a little drama, but you persevered, and had some memories that will be etched in you as long as you live. Who could ask for more.

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Hey Dan, that brought back some memories. Glad we didn't have to bivy. I do remember taking some "naps" before getting back to camp.

 

I lucked out running into you. No way would I have nailed the route finding on my own.

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I have spent an unexpected night out in an emergency bivi sack...and am convinced it kept a cold uncomfortable night from becoming a body retrieval.

 

We did the West Ridge route and wound up doing an unexpected bivy on the decent too. It was well below freezing and we had an emergency blanket that saved our butts...barely. I always carry an emergency bag now.

 

Yeah, that green valley sure is nice after something like that :)

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