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dmdebruin

[TR] Stuart Range - Stuart Traverse 6/2/2015

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Trip: Stuart Range - Stuart Traverse

 

Date: 6/2/2015

 

Trip Report:

When I've got some time, I'll probably write this up in a more compelling manner, but for now, I just want to recount the major details of our climb:

 

From June 2 to 4 of this year, Josh Whitmore, Ron Funderburke, and I completed a traverse of Mount Stuart, Sherpa Peak, Argonaut Peak, Colchuck Peak, and Dragontail Peak.

 

This project started last year with the intention to climb in mixed conditions via the Stuart Glacier Couloir on Mount Stuart and then through presumably mixed terrain from there. Our attempt last year was in May before we retreated because we ran out of fuel.

 

However, due to the timing of schedules this year (we put Ron on a plane less 12 hours after finishing), we were forced all the way into June. This late timing and the weak Cascades snowpack in general this year meant that this was hardly a mixed climb. Instead, there was lots of rock climbing with annoyingly large amounts of snow climbing. As a result, we couldn't take a really light summer strategy and just use approach shoes, but we also couldn't leave the ice axes and crampons at home.

 

From Mountaineer's Creek, we headed south to the base of the North Face of Mount Stuart. The Stuart Glacier Couloir was out by the time of our climb, leaving Sherpa Glacier and the North Ridge as the only real options (Ice Cliff was not looking friendly either). Our tight schedule also meant we had to climb in whatever conditions were happening at the time. Since we started our little adventure in the rain and didn't bring rock shoes, a rainy, wet North Ridge ascent in our boots did not seem exceptionally desirable. Instead, we climbed the Sherpa Glacier to the summit of Stuart. We bivied at a small saddle atop the Sherpa Glacier.

 

From our bivy, we scampered up the West Ridge of Sherpa Peak and began descending the southeastern gully. Once we were off Sherpa, we met the crux of the route--getting from Sherpa to Argonaut.

 

The terrain between Sherpa and Argonaut is about 2 miles of mostly 3rd, 4th, and 5th class over buttresses, across couloirs, and over or around gendarmes. The terrain is fairly continuous, route finding is not obvious, and we always seemed to be choosing between soloing into 5th class terrain, grueling bushwacking/fourth classing, or heading down a couloir a bit to cross a buttress and then come back up the next couloir. The struggle seemed never ending.

 

This ultimately took us over the West Ridge of Argonaut where we then wrapped around to the base of the West (main) Summit. We bivied below the South Face of Argonaut.

 

At sunrise we climbed the South Face of Argonaut. The face looked pretty awesome. We could easily spot a number of lines up the solid rock. It would be awesome to repeat that bivy just to go climb the number of short multipitch crack systems that face holds.

 

We descended the NE Couloir of Argonaut for a bit then crossed a buttress over to the East Gully. Some lunch down on lower, more-level ground fueled us for a scoot over Colchuck. We descended the Colchuck Glacier Route/East Route to the Colchuck Col and then finished up Dragontail via the West Route. We descended the East Slopes Standard Route toward Aasgard Pass and then hiked to Colchuck Lake via talus and scree for what seemed like an eternity.

 

A dogged hike around Colchuck Lake ultimately led us back to the car at Mountaineer's Creek. The whole affair took us about 56 hours car-to-car.

 

If anyone is interested, this route could use a true "mixed" or "winter" first ascent. I'd be happy to provide as many details as possible to those seeking beta on a truly awesome link-up of 5 pretty outstanding peaks in a gorgeous wilderness.

 

Traverse21.jpg

A snapshot of the terrain between Sherpa Peak and Argonaut Peak

 

ArgonautWestRidge_1_1024x595_.jpg

The West Ridge of Argonaut Peak as seen from the pass.

 

ArgonautSummit.jpg

The inspiring South Face of Argonaut Peak.

 

Gear Notes:

Because we were onsighting and didn't really know what to expect for conditions, we had a little more rack than we needed. If I was going to do the whole affair as a mixed climb (based on what I saw and my experience on Stuart Glacier Couloir last year), I'd bring singles BD 0.4 to #3, set of nuts, maybe a smaller cam or two, 4-6 13cm screws, and 6 or 8 slings.

 

For the bare rock we encountered, just the cams, nuts, and 6 slings would be more than adequate. If we had rock shoes or even approach shoes, we probably wouldn't have placed pro at all.

 

A 40m or 50m rope would've worked, or the skinniest 60m you can find.

 

There's not much in the way of running water on route, so an MSR Reactor helped us make drinking water. For a summer climb, carry as little water as you think you need, hope there's running water coming off glacier somewhere along the way, and go fast.

 

Open bivy options abound, but would be weather dependent. We used a BD First Light the first night (and got blasted by wind, pelted with some rain/sleet). The second night the weather looked a bit better and we were all tired so we just laid out our pads and slept open. Good bivies can be had atop Sherpa Glacier, at the pass between Sherpa and Argonaut, at the Argonaut-Colchuck pass, and the Colchuck Col.

 

Beyond that, boots, crampons, and ice axe were still nice to have given the amount of snow we encountered. Two tools would make sense in truly mixed conditions.

 

Approach Notes:

Approached via Mountaineer's Creek. The turn-off for the climber's trail was never obvious to me either time I've done the hike, and even when you're clearly in the right drainage, there's a fair bit of cross-country travel to be had to get to the base of the north face of Stuart.

 

The descent from Dragontail and the hike out from Colchuck Lake is very straightforward.

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I can't say for sure the precise conditions on Cascadian since we came in from the north and it was a couple weeks ago. However, when I scoped the range from the south side at the I-90 overlook, things were quite dry, and that was the last day of May. At this point, I'm 95% confident you won't need crampons (unless there's a hard freeze or something) but you'd still probably want an ice axe as there's gotta be some snow left, I just don't know how much.

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Yes, I too wished the South face of Argonaut was a lot closer to a road. Sweet wall for sure.

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At the time the Sherpa Glacier crevasses were pretty obvious. The schrund was cracking in spots but was largely bridged. The upper steep terrain was still all snow climbing.

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Cool trip! A friend and I actually tried a very similar line on June 17-18th. I scoured the internet for beta on the WR of Argonaut without any success. We bailed after the WR of Stuart and WR of Sherpa. Argonaut looked tedious from the west and looked like it would likely prevent us from reaching our arranged car shuttle in time. Thanks for the info. It's good to hear that the ridge will go. It's also good to hear that we probably made the right call for our trip. The Sherpa-Argonaut col to Argonaut was the only part of the traverse that I hadn't done yet and it certainly looked like the crux.

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