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JP Peters

[TR] Mt. Stuart - Mt Stuart via Mt Stuart Glacier Couloir 3/24/2014

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Trip: Mt. Stuart - Mt Stuart via Mt Stuart Glacier Couloir

 

Date: 3/24/2014

 

Trip Report:

March 24, 2014

 

Post climb report

Upper West Ridge of Mt Stuart via Mt Stuart Glacier Couloir

 

This is my personal account. (Originally this write up was for friends and family, but Marlin asked me to post it here.)

Thursday March 20 after my last final exam for winter quarter Marlin and I drove to the 8-mile road gate and camped. We spent Friday for the approach which took us around 6 hours and was straight forward.

 

We rated the route in its current conditions Grade IV, AI 2, M5. We climbed a day-and-half after the spring equinox and the conditions were winter-like.

 

Temperatures in the tent dipped to 14 F at our site at 5400 ft. and the rime ice that covered the west ridge further convinced us that winter still had its icy grip on Mt Stuart.

Marlin and I awoke at 2:40 am Saturday morning and it was COLD. I ate two oatmeal packets with butter and felt great. During the approach to the Stuart Glacier my hands and feet nearly froze, I used OR Alti Mitts over my climbing gloves to remedy the hand problem but my feet had to endure for the next several hours. It was so cold that I had to wriggle each toe on every step. It was like dipping your foot repeatedly in a bucket of ice water. We split the approach into three leads to even the step kicking duty in up-to-knee-deep snow. I led up the moraine from camp, Marlin had a significant second stint up steep snow slopes and I felt guilty until I took the third lead. The last approach lead included a short icy section with good tool placements that encouraged a verbal woo-hoo!

 

As the sun started to break the horizon behind us I navigated across the loosely covered bergschrund. I could see the crevasse line that indicated the schrund and attempted to skirt it to the right by climbing through the snow funnel at the bottom of the Stuart Glacier Couloir (SGC) but it was deep and too steep so it sent me back to the schrund for a mantle-swim to the other side of the problem. I led the SGC up to just below the first constriction. I half assed a stance where we had some quick calories and a drink and then Marlin started off to tackle the first of the real climbing problems, a short section of mixed conditions protected with a cam and a screw for our running belay as we simul-climbed to the second constriction with two pickets as protection. The screamin’ barfies are real, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Marlin continued leading the snow slopes (up to 55 degrees) on consolidated, but thought provoking snow loaded slopes. Marlin noted hollow sounds and adjusted our line further to the left on the upper snow field. A cramp in Marlin’s leg required attention and a hasty platform mid climb as we ascended to the “notch” on the west ridge. I looked behind a few times and fully appreciated the consequences of a mistake…BIG. No falling here!

 

We reached the west ridge notch had a quick break with calories and liquids and built a marginal belay with two pickets I made Marlin tug on them hard to prove they were worthy. I pounded a BD Knifeblade immediately to protect the belay and had a warm and satisfying feeling as I drove that sucker home. The first pitch was supposed to be an easy third class traverse but consisted of rime beating, crampon tip toeing, cussing, more rime beating, pro searching, followed by more beating to a comfy belay in the below zero wind-chill wind. In hindsight the pitch was easy and gentle introduction to the next pitches on what I began calling the Monster in my head. The crux was all mental and overcoming the whoa-factor as I looked up at the upper sections of the west ridge in winter conditions. The west ridge is the meat-and-potatoes of the climb the SGC was just a warm up.

 

The rope drag on the first pitch was ridiculous and pulling the rope through the belay plate was a pain in the arse. The rope just sawed through the rime caked rock. I think Marlin got cold belaying me because he was ready to boogie as soon as he got to the belay stance. I gave him the rest of the rack and he was gone. He ran up the easy 5th class and placed one cam! An awesome lead on easy 5th class, but we both thought the traverse on the 3rd class was more difficult and we should switch the ratings.

 

The first and second pitches should be considered warm ups because the third pitch is AWESOME! I led out on blocky terrain with huge exposure down the North Face of the Monster. I led into a choose-your-own-adventure mid-5th class crux. It was either a slabby friction block in crampons or an airy fist-jam with no feet. I chose the more inspiring airy fist-jam and found a magically appearing fixed pin to protect the crux above the nut that pulled out below me. It was reassuring knowing I was on route choosing the airy and exciting version of the choose-your-own adventure crux. Before committing to the jam I did some pre-calculus involving my ice axes, crampons, and hand jams as my variables x, y, and z and committed to the third dimension with my most exciting lead to date. It was wild! I climbed the remaining easy terrain that protected with a nut, a pin, and a sling around a horn to a comfy belay. I put Marlin on belay and brought him up, I felt the rope slow and knew he was at the crux doing some of his own pre-calc and committing. The rope moved continuously again and I knew we both got what we came for. The Monster was providing what we wanted. Marlin appeared and I smiled, we both knew it was a big move on lead and he shouted up, “Nice lead!” It was certainly a defining moment for me as a climber.

 

From the belay we rapped of a bomber single nut 30 ft. to get to the traversing terrain on the fourth pitch on the south face. The rime formations were inspiring. The formations clearly preserved the prevailing SW winds and were Patagonia-like in character. I thought I was going to freeze to death at the belay as all the hard earned warmth in my toes was disappearing. The belay stance shuffle commenced as Marlin led the mellow traverse to an inspirational M5 line that cut a pitch from the route (and ultimately got us to camp with light to spare), why he chose the direct line up I don’t know but it was in true alpine style and I hold him in high regard for it. It was a great lead up sustained mixed conditions with a well place cam, couple pins, to another marginal belay (you take what you get) with a cam and opposing nuts. When I reached the belay I mumbled something like, “holy crap dude.” He had the same smile I did on the previous pitch. We were getting what we came for and I think we were both in awe of the task we were tackling.

 

The final pitch was mine; the altimeter said 70 ft. to the top. I wasn’t particularly keen on the next pitch. It looked like crap. I had to hump a rock to get out of the belay and had Marlin clip part of the anchor as a redirect. I was 20 feet out before my next piece which was a nut I pasted into a crack with my pick. This one was staying put. The final problem of the ascent and possibly the crux of the route was above me. Another magically appearing piton (thanks piton placing gnomes) was staring me in the eyes. It wriggled so I smacked it back to its happy place and placed a runner. I was protected and ready to battle the rime above. I hooked a tool in the crack and beat rime with my other. Removing the rime dams would release the flood gate of sluff which filled the inside of my glasses and froze my eyelids half shut. I hang dangled off an axe and a skating crampon. I wrestled and won. I finally pulled the last move onto the summit of the Monster built the belay and brought Marlin up. I felt the tug of body weight on the rope like a trout in water and realized Marlin was at the crux, a quick ribbing for the dangle and then a high-five. We were immediately on the descent.

 

Marlin did a great job route finding on the descent which had another BIG consequence fall factor. The day’s weather clues of an approaching weather front came into fruition. The halo around the sun we noticed at the west ridge notch, the lenticular forming over Mt Rainier at the third belay became full on conditions by the descent. We found where Steph Abegg and partner went off the wrong side of the mountain for a 33 hour mini-epic and I realized how easy that mistake could have been made. We reached the top of the Sherpa Glacier drank the last of our water and a quick snack of goo and cheese. We down climbed un-roped the majority of the couloir it was STEEP! Once we reached the bottom of the steep terrain we roped back up which proved to be a great choice because I ended up waist deep in a crevasse as I led us down. We finished the rest of descent tired, hungry, and dehydrated as you would expect. I was wobbling like a drunkard as I broke through the snow crust smelling hamburgers and imagining Blue Herons in the rock formations across the valley.

 

We found two climbers setting up camp and told them of hour day, they listened to our summary of our experience in good nature but I couldn’t tell if they were impressed or just thought we were crazy. I’m not sure how much sense we made I ate around 1,000 calories and drank 1 liter of water it was 7:15 pm when we sat down to brew up and eat dinner.

 

A defining climb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gear Notes:

5 cams,8 nuts, 5 pins, 2 pickets, 8 runners, 8.8 x 60 rope

Edited by JP Peters

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That is one of the greatest spring climbs in the Cascades and usually not as easy as you'd think, esp. with rime on the summit rocks.

 

Excellent work!

 

 

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Awesome! Did you take any pictures??? :)

 

Ah...i see the note about photos! Can't wait to see them! Thank you!

Edited by olyclimber

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It was a great climb and one I will look back on with good memories. Joe did a great write up, so I don't have much to add. But here is a brief itinerary of summit day (for those curious about times).

 

2:40am - Rise and Shine

3:45am - Lead out of camp

8:00am - Enter the bottom of the Stuart Glacier Couloir

10:45am - Reach the notch on the west ridge

4:00pm - Reach the summit

5:30pm - Top of Sherpa Couloir

7:15pm - Back to camp

 

Now on to the pictures!

 

P3210004.jpg

Hiking up 8 mile road on the approach to Stuart.

 

 

P3210018.jpg

The view of Stuart on the approach in through the valley.

 

P3230110.jpg

A close up of the north aspect of Mt. Stuart. Stuart Glacier Couloir can be seen on the far right side. The descent via Sherpa Couloir is on the left leading down to Sherpa Glacier.

 

P3210025.jpg

We had a beautiful view from our tent at 5,400 ft at the base of Mt. Stuart.

 

P3220038.jpg

Sunrise over the enchantments. This was taken from somewhere up on the Stuart Glacier.

 

P3220049.jpg

Joe leading into the start of the actual Stuart Glacier Couloir.

 

P3220063.jpg

Looking down the route from about 8,700 ft on the upper snowfield in the couloir. Joe is coming up the in the bottom left of the photo.

 

P3220064.jpg

Joe racking up at the notch on the West Ridge of Mt. Stuart.

 

P3220067.jpg

Typical conditions to what we found on the west ridge. Lots of snow and ice covered rock.

 

P3220071.jpg

Looking farther up the west ridge. Our pitch 2 went up this and around to the left side of the ridge.

 

P3220085.jpg

Joe rappelling a short section between pitches 3 and 4.

 

P3220089.jpg

Descending the east ridge trying to get out of the clouds and wind.

 

P3220093.jpg

Finally below cloud level. This is taken looking down the Sherpa Couloir (our descent) with Sherpa Peak in the background.

 

P3220096.jpg

Joe descending Sherpa Couloir.

 

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radical! such a beautiful, varied and fun climb, especially in winter conditions. that whole north side of stuart is so fucking wild.

 

your photos have inspired me to go climb this one again.

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That is one of the greatest spring climbs in the Cascades and usually not as easy as you'd think, esp. with rime on the summit rocks.

 

Excellent work!

 

Didn't I climb that with you, John Sharp, and Kurt Hicks? Out of the eight or so different routes I've done on Stuart, SGC stands out as the most interesting and 'alpine'.

 

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That's right Dan, I have fond memories of that trip. Unfortunately, I've not tied in with either you or Kurt in the years since....We need to rectify that!

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Nice! I have fond memories of a spring season years ago climbing the SGC one week then the ICG the next.

 

Can't really tell from your pic, did you find any powder snow in the sherpa?

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Massive congrats, and sick effort!

 

We found two climbers setting up camp and told them of hour day, they listened to our summary of our experience in good nature but I couldn’t tell if they were impressed or just thought we were crazy. I’m not sure how much sense we made I ate around 1,000 calories and drank 1 liter of water it was 7:15 pm when we sat down to brew up and eat dinner.

 

We thought your day sounded pretty hardcore, and you convinced us that attempting SGC and making it all the way to the car in a single day was not a good plan.

 

Put mildly, with fewer expletives than I used swimming up unconsolidated snow, the Ice Cliff Glacier was extremely physical. Progress up to and over the ice cliff was reasonably efficient and not terribly technical, with only 1-2 pitches of WI 2-3 that we simuled. Above that the wallow began, as the bit of rain/sleet that fell at 5300 feet (camp) fell as a significant amount of light snow (12+ inches, in many places) in the ICG and all the way to the summit.

The occasional shin-depth step was a relief from more typical knee-to-hip deep swimming.

 

We owe you beers for taking the routefinding stress on the upper mountain away with traces of your descent path. With your steps leading to the Sherpa Glacier, we made it back to camp quickly and reached the car before dark. Thanks for stopping by our tent on the tail end of a brutal day, and, again, congrats on the send!

 

 

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Nice! I have fond memories of a spring season years ago climbing the SGC one week then the ICG the next.

 

Can't really tell from your pic, did you find any powder snow in the sherpa?

 

On Sunday, Sherpa was consistently firm/chalky for the top ~800 feet, but below that, it was knee-deep, light powder.

Edited by goran

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That's right Dan, I have fond memories of that trip. Unfortunately, I've not tied in with either you or Kurt in the years since....We need to rectify that!

I remember our feet hurt, but at least it was a long walk.

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On Sunday, Sherpa was consistently firm/chalky for the top ~800 feet, but below that, it was knee-deep, light powder.

 

On Saturday the conditions on the Sherpa Glacier/couloir were pretty similar. There were a few areas of wind loading powder (8-12") in the upper coulior but we just avoided those areas to the left or right. Great job on getting the ICG route the next day. We wondered how much new snow dropped that night on the upper mountain. Glad you were able to use our tracks, and that they weren't filled in! Did you guys go all the way up to the summit of Stuart or just descent from the top of the Ice Cliff Glacier route?

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I pulled over the would-be cornice on top of the ICG and the bootpack you left was less than 10 feet away! We followed it to the summit and back down; while it didn't offer much physical help as the previous night's snow had totally filled in the steps, there was enough trace of passage on the otherwise smooth snow slopes that we didn't have much (any) routefinding. Which was glorious.

 

Regarding avies, the ICG didn't show signs of instability, but fresh snow on the S side of Stuart seemed to be forming more of a slab in the sun. We didn't see shooting cracks or anything really terrifying, but did see the recent snow beginning to adhere to itself and move as a unit. Getting into the wintery Sherpa was a relief.

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