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[TR] Mount Stuart - North Ridge Complete 8/2/2015


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Trip: Mount Stuart - North Ridge Complete


Date: 8/2/2015


Trip Report:

Nick, Kirsten, Craig and I climbed the complete North Ridge on Stuart this weekend. An awesome mountain experience, and one of my favorite climbs I've done so far in the Cascades. Highly highly recommend it! This route truly deserves its classic status.


We approached and exited from the South, and split the climb up into two days, knocking out the approach and most of the lower ridge on the 1st day and the upper ridge and descent on the 2nd day. Bivying part way up the North Ridge of Stuart like this with with our view overlooking the Ice Cliff Glacier was magical.


Here was roughly our approach. For anyone wondering, going around Ingalls Lake on the left is way better than on the right. Also, avoid dropping down into the basin north of Stuart Pass too early, you'll just end up dropping and regaining more elevation on boulder field.




We took an alpine nap at Goat Pass, where we saw this cloud of smoke spring up, presumably from a new forest fire:




From Goat Pass, you can easily drop down to the base of the North Ridge without setting foot on snow. Definitely no mountaineering boots, axes, or crampons necessary for this trip. Follow the lateral morraine down for a bit from the pass to the terminal morraine, then traverse east on that, dropping to the base of the route:




We arrived at the route around 1:30pm, 7 hours after leaving the trailhead (time included two water refill stops and an alpne nap). Water is available right near the base of the route, melting from the Stuart Glacier.


Nick started up pitch 1, the 5.7 cracks leading up to the 5.8 awkward squeeze slot. It really is very awkward, especially with a pack on. Pitch 1, the squeeze slot just above where Nick is at:




I led the next 3 pitches, avoiding the burly 5.9+ open book by going right. The only beta I'd seen for the right variation was that there is a 5.8 40' 4" crack somewhere out right. Going right at the top of pitch 2, I found a different variation, which had some thinner finger-hand crack and some lieback. It was a fun section of climbing, that I would say probably went at 5.7-5.8 as well. At the top of this, you traverse back left past a bush and end up right at the top of the 5.9+ corner pitch. From there, you quickly finish up pitch 4, the easiest of the lower 4 pitches.


From there, it's generally less sustained terrain up the rest of the lower ridge, but it is frequently strewn with short steps probably up to 5.6 or so in difficulty. Shortly into the easier terrain, my partner Nick accidentally slipped on lead and tumbled a bit down some moderate angle rock, fortunately only getting some scrapes and bruises. His confidence a bit shaken, I ended up leading from that point onward.


We had great views of the Ice Cliff Glacier as we kept climbing higher on the lower ridge. The glacier was letting loose giant chunks of snow/ice every few minutes, making for some background music for our climb.




We continued climbing, reaching a set of 3 nice bivy sites (one of them with room for 2) around 8pm. These sites were about 2 pitches below where the upper ridge route starts:




Bivying up high on a rock route like this was awesome. I'd done many climbs with bivies at the base of a route, or after a descent, but this was my first bivy in the middle of a technical route, and it was super fun. Enjoying the bivy:


Nick4.jpg photo credit: Nick Drake


The next morning we started up climbing again at around 5:30 am. More cool views of the Ice Cliff Glacier popped up all the time, this one showing the upper part. I'd climbed the Ice Cliff Glacier last year, and was amazed to see virtually no snow at all in the ICG couloir. It also looks really steep, with snow in it the angle couldn't have been much more than 50 degrees, but here the couloir looks closer to 70 degrees.




The upper ridge was characterized by clean solid rock, right on or near the ridge crest:




Nick having a good time on the cheval section:




Lots of beautiful exposed easy ridge climbing:




Here's me on a random chunk of 5.7ish climbing on the upper ridge:


Nick11.jpg photo credit: Nick Drake


More beautiful ridge:




As you climb the ridge crest, you suddenly pop out onto a pinnacle from which you need to downclimb a bit (there's also a slung rappel anchor for those that don't like downclimbing). From this pinnacle, you get a view across at the much-photographed "slab with crack" and the Great Gendarme. Soon as we popped up onto this pinnacle, I saw 6 people piled up at the base of the 1st pitch of the Gendarme, and knew right then that we'd be hiking out in the dark.




A few minutes later, looking back down the slab as I belay Nick up:




We arrived at the party ledge at the base of the Great Gendarme and hung out with the other climbers. Here we're watching Laurel lead the 5.9 lieback pitch:


Nick2.jpg photo credit: Nick


While we waited at the base of the Gendarme, Craig rappelled from the bolts down 80m on the Stuart Glacier side to melt some snow he saw and refill our water. With 3 parties on route ahead of us, we were waiting over 2 hours at the base of the Gendarme, and refilling water here was a good use of time. Craig climbed back up the unexplored 5.10+ rock with a pack full of water, saying he found some fun finger cracks on the way back up.


With the other parties headed up, I started up leading the 5.9 lieback right below Dafna:


Kirsten2.jpg photo credit: Kirsten Gardner


This was a super fun pitch, and only my 4th ever 5.9 trad lead. I had amazing hand jams most of the way up when I wanted them (I alternated between liebacking and jamming technique). This pitch protects really well and is a great one to push your grade on. The two wavy segments that comprise the lower part of the pitch are really easy, and the crux is the final section just before the top out. The crux section can be protected really well and would have a really clean fall. I was super stoked to have led this pitch fairly quickly and efficiently, and felt mentally re-energized.


Nick and I had forgotten our #3 cam in the car, and so I was really worried about the 2nd pitch, which is an offwidth. There's a fixed #4 in the wider part (I think it's actually a #5, the lobes are purple, but everyone calls it the fixed 4), but below that the crack protects with a #3, which I didn't have. We decided Craig and Kirsten would head up that section first. They left an extra double sling clipped to the fixed #4 for me. With that, I was able to lead the offwidth. Craig cruising up up the initial traversy part to the offwidth section:


Nick3.jpg photo credit: Nick Drake


Me on lead on the offwidth:

Kirsten1.jpg photo credit: Kirsten Gardner


Once you finish the offwidth section and get to a little grassy pod, traverse right on a hand and foot rail. Depending on how exactly you traverse right, you may see an old piton. Out right this way is a big sandy ledge with a fixed orange cam, and this can be used as your belay area to bring your follower up the offwidth pitch. From here, follow blocky terrain upward, staying above the big gully to your right until you reach a big boulder/headwall which cannot be easily passed. There is a set of rappel slings here, which you can use to rappel about 10m down into the gully, and then easily scramble up loose rock about 20m to a notch at the top of the gully. This notch is where the final short section of 5.8 climbing is. Here's the 5.8 crack, which had some more bomber hand jams. There's a fixed #3 in the crack.




From the top of this, you follow mostly easier terrain to the summit. There is one spot with a spicy step across from one block to another, while being awkwardly confined beneath an overhanging headwall. There are slings on one of the blocks, which you can use for pro for making the step, or to rappel down a bit and avoid the step. After this step, you soon reach a sandy ledge. There's a rock there with a white arrow drawn on it pointing at a little concavity, which you go up to gain the summit ridge. From here, the summit is a short walk away to the west, while the descent starts directly from where you top out, following easy terrain eastward down the east ridge, copiously marked with cairns.




We summitted around 8:30pm and spent minimal time up there. We followed cairns east near the ridge crest until they dropped down a bit, where eventually the path crosses the buttress leading down from the false summit. After this, cairns lead you down towards the Cascadian couloir. There is still a considerable amount of snow here, and we found places with flowing water from the melting snowfield to refill a bit.


Descending the upper part of the Cascadian was a lot better than I remembered from last year, when I'd climbed the West Ridge. It was actually fairly enjoyable choss surfing. I have to give a shout out to my new Arc'teryx approach shoes (this was their inaugural trip)... despite 2000 ft of choss surfing, not a single pebble got lodged annoyingly in my shoes, as has happened with every other pair of shoes I've ever hiked on choss with. As the choss petered out and more vegetation became prevalent, we found a fairly well defined trail heading down the Cascadian. At one point, the trail splits, one going right, and one going left into the flow line of the couloir. We took the left, following right along where the creek would be flowing earlier in the season. This option is very easy to follow, as you just stick to the bottom of the couloir. There are some steeper sections, but they are all easily passed by hugging the left wall of the couloir. Another party followed the trail to the right, and we saw them having to backtrack and hike a fair ways back up, then drop down into the couloir and take our route down (they reached Seattle at 9am Monday morning).


Descending the couloir does not inspire confidence as you constantly see what looks like cliff drop offs ahead of you, but they are all not actually very steep, and easily passed on the left side. The couloir becomes more vegetated as you descend, and near a flat spot with a small cairn at about 5900-6200 ft (sorry, didn't check my altimeter right there), we cut off right onto beautiful trail through forest and meadows that led us down to the Ingalls Creek Trail.


Here, we made a silly mistake as Nick stopped to filter water at the first available little stream while the rest of us headed over to the Longs Pass trail cutoff and waited at the Ingalls Creek log crossing. Nick had trouble finding us as it turned out he had used a different crossing when hiking in this area before, and what could have been a 5 minute water filter break if we had all stopped turned into a 1 hour session of searching for each other in woods at midnight. A reminder to everyone to always stick together, even if you're on trail. After a long climb in the dark, things can go wrong and it's just not worth it to split up. Fortunately, we were all re-united and stuck close together as we started up the trail towards Longs Pass.


As we headed up the trail to Longs Pass, we glanced back over at Mt Stuart and noticed a climber flashing their headlamp at us. This was at around 12:15 am Monday morning. Their flashing looked like a distress signal, and Craig flashed a morse code SOS at them with his headlamp, to which it looked like they responded with their own SOS. They continued periodically flashing at us as we headed up to Longs Pass. This party's location looked like it was at about 7000 ft elevation, near the Cascadian Couloir, perhaps a bit skier's left of the couloir itself. We briefly discussed the possibility of heading back up to aid this party, but quickly decided that was a bad idea, as we were tired enough that this was only likely to place more people in danger. Instead, we reported the information to SAR after reaching cell reception around 3am. I haven't heard anything more about this party, hopefully they are alright!




Approach Notes:

Whole trip can be done without setting foot on snow. No need for boots/crampons/axes at all.

Edited by ilias
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No water at all on the route itself.


There is still a small snowfield remaining at the top of the Cascadian, where you can refill after you summit. There is a trickle of running water there, or you could melt snow.


If you are planning a bivy at the notch where the upper ridge starts, it is possible to descend 400 ft down the class 4 gully to the Stuart glacier and melt some snow. But this would obviously be too time consuming unless you are planning to bivy there anyway.

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Yep, definitely no need for axe/crampons in the couloir. There is a small snowfield at the top from which you can get water, but it is off the path where you walk. You should not have to step a single foot on snow the whole time.

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If you are still around, quick question: I'm from the northeast and looking to get out in the mountains (solo unfortunately, don't really know anyone in the area). What do you think of Fernow vs Stuart? Looking for scrambling, snow slopes if possible, 1 or 2 days is fine.. trying to avoid glacier travel of course. Thanks!

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I'd say Fernow is a more serious scrambling outing than Stuart. For one, it's more remote and you're much less likely to run into people there, whereas the Cascadian is both a very popular route in itself and the descent route for everyone climbing the West and North ridges. Second, the Cascadian is almost entirely class 2 terrain, just a lot of elevation and a lot of choss, and falls almost anywhere on it just mean you end up sitting on the ground. The scramble up Fernow, in contrast, has a lot of class 3-4 terrain and is steep enough in places for falls to be dangerous.


Other scrambles that I've enjoyed that would be reasonable to solo are Dragontail, Colchuck, and Sahale. Colchuck and Sahale involve crossing small glaciers but these are traveled unroped more often than not.

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