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[TR] Mount Stuart - North Ridge 6/3/2016


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Trip: Mount Stuart - North Ridge


Date: 6/3/2016


Trip Report:

Well, as far as we could tell, we were the first people on the N. Ridge this year, so hopefully I can provide some useful info for others.


I'll start by repeating what I've read and heard so often. This is a very committing route on a very big mountain. Be prepared for it to take longer than you think.


This was a plan "B" trip due to the weather on the West side of the crest and, as such, we didn't have as much time as we might otherwise have to gather beta on the route, the approach, and descent.


J and I started on June 3rd from the Stuart lake trailhead at about 0815 intending to go up Mountaineer creek to the toe of the Ice Cliff and Stuart glaciers and ascend the Stuart to the traditional direct approach.


Our first blunder was to leave the Stuart lake trail too early. I remembered reading about leaving the trail at the second marshy spot (and didn't remember reading that we should wait until the switchbacks started). Anyway, we left the trail, crossed Mountaineer creek and made our way upstream. A couple more stream crossings, one trail crossing (that's called a clue) and eventually we had to admit that we had gotten off track when we looked back (and down) to see what could only be Stuart lake. No big deal. We'll just drop to the lake and follow the trail around the West side to access Stuart Glacier from there. A minor error, but certainly not a new experience for us. This is me trying to see if there might be a huge lake on the map that we hadn't noticed.


Accessing Stuart Glacier from the lake was easy and straightforward.Photo_Jun_03_13_15_19.jpg The traverse over to the access gulley was also uneventful.



The angled gulley itself was not bad. We were able to simul climb on the pleasant rock on the left hand side for most of it with brief sections back in the snow.

At the top of the gulley, we went straight up because it looked like reasonably easy climbing and there was no way of telling where the route was due to the amount of snow. 20160603_193143.jpg

This caused us to completely bypass or miss the "numerous bivy sites" at the junction with the N ridge proper. I assume that they were mostly under snow, but we later looked down and saw a couple of bivy sites over the East side of the ridge.

Once we gained the ridge proper, we were treated to wonderful climbing on solid rock. 20160603_2050312.jpg We happened upon this tiny bivy spot just after taking out our headlamps and decided it would be prudent to make it home for the night. 20160604_063733.jpg And it's a good thing too, because we didn't see any more for a long time the next day. If you look closely, you can see the tiny spot in the sunlight. First time for me sleeping with a 600' drop inches away from my nose!

20160604_092720.jpg The next day we enjoyed several pitches of uncomplicated, wonderfully exposed climbing and an opportunity to refill our water from snowmelt.Photo_Jun_04_10_58_58.jpg The first real complication on the actual ridge came at the low angle slab below the Gendarme.20160604_114719.jpgWell crap! After some recon, we determined that going ahead and climbing it was less dangerous than trying to find a way around, so off I went. It turned out to actually be pretty easy (though time consuming). I was able to place a good cam right at the bottom of the snow patch. And after much probing with my ice ax, and a lot of digging (it's much deeper snow than it looks like) I exposed the crack about halfway up the snow patch for a solid tri-cam placement.

At the Gendarme (which looked to have pretty wet cracks) we decided the rappel into the gulley was a better option. This turned out to be a huge mistake. We should have just done the Gendarme and resorted to aid if (when) it came to that. I probably spent an hour (or more) attempting different approaches to cross the "friction slab." On the exposed rock, it was a sheet of running water, and the cracks which looked like they would offer protection from our vantage point below the Gendarme turned out to be insufficient. Above the exposed rock,was snow which was reasonable to cross, but hard to protect and I couldn't cross the last 8 feet which was an inch of hard water ice over rock - not even enough to chop steps. Eventually, I made my way up to the overhanging section of rock and was able to make my way across directly under it, with some rock protection. To make matters worse, J was stuck in a miserable semi-hanging belay with water running over his feet and dripping on him. This was the most miserable section of climbing I've ever dealt with (except maybe coming down the Colchuck glacier in early October). We have no pictures of this section because we were too busy not dying.

From there it was a pretty easy pitch to easier scrambling, to gain the shoulder. At this point, we expected an easy class 3-4 scramble to the summit, but found a lot of loose rock, loosely held together by loose snow (it was late in the day), but we slowly made our way back up to rejoin the North ridge proper - mostly simu climbing. About 100' below the summit, J pulled a torso-sized boulder loose and it landed on his lower leg. The injury was clearly serious, but he was able to bear weight and we made it to the summit shortly thereafter, where we could assess it a little more closely. By this time it was 8PM and we had expected to at least be back in cell range by now, so I tried at least a dozen times to send a message. Photo_Jun_04_20_06_09.jpgSomehow, miraculously, one of them went through, which was the only thing that kept our wives from sending a search party (we are apparently getting a Delorme device now). We found the summit register half melted out with the last entry from October and moved it to a more prominent (and less snow-prone location).Photo_Jun_04_20_14_181.jpgBy this time the knee was swelling up pretty bad and there was a legitimate concern about even being able to walk on it tomorrow, so we head off toward the Stuart Sherpa Col. - very slowly Photo_Jun_05_06_14_56.jpg

We found good bivy spots just around the rib of the false summit and decided to stay there since it was getting dark and route finding was about to get challenging, and it had been a hell of a long, hard day. We still had some hope of getting back to Anacortes in time for J's 530pm shift, so a 0430 wake up came quickly and we made our way East, finding the steep upper coulouir to access Sherpa glacier without any fuss. We saw a party coming up the Cascadian Couloir - the first people seen since we left the trail. Since it was still early (we were on the snow from about 0700-0830), we decided to take as close as we could to a fall line descent all the way to the bottom, so that I could belay J as he glissaded, allowing him to better protect his leg. Photo_Jun_05_07_59_43.jpg

We saw another party ascending the glacier on the far East side and they later crossed to our route at the couloir. Their route would be far safer than ours any later in the day. We saw a sizable slide come directly over the lower portion of our path a couple hours after we had been there.Photo_Jun_05_09_33_28.jpg We located the "trail" back out via Mountaineer's creek and made our way out. The trip wouldn't have been complete without one more wrong turn, so we threw that in for good measure as well (thankfully, we realized our mistake quickly and corrected it). Following the creek, we eventually came to what appeared to be the Y and we crossed it here thinking that this was the Y going up to Stuart lake. Well it wasn't. It was just a sharp bend, so we got a couple of extra creek crossings as icing on the cake. We finally made it back to the car at 1430 and headed off straightaway - first to find cell coverage and let people know we were alive - and second to go get that burger and milkshake at the 59er diner we'd been craving ever since leaving the summit. Well, it turns out that the diner burned to the ground while we were on the mountain, so a Prospector burger was the next best thing.Photo_Jun_05_17_18_43.jpg


Lessons learned:

1. Sometimes the "harder" option is really the easier and safer one - depending on conditions. In this case the Gendarme. I locked my thinking into believing it was too hard for us to do and didn't seriously consider it as an option to the horrible condition of the "easier route." We had the tools and the knowledge to make that a viable option even if we couldn't climb it "cleanly."

2. Use the map and compass more often. Seems like I "learn" this one on every trip.

3. Leave an extra day in the schedule for climbs without recent beta on conditions, especially ones that I haven't done before.

3. Bring a blue shit bag.


This was a fantastic and memorable trip with the only person I know who can make a descent like that with a Tibial Plateau fracture (later confirmed by MRI) and not bitch about it. We saw amazing scenery, climbed some beautiful, warm, exposed Granite. We worked through a lot of really challenging conditions. I will certainly never forget it.


Gear Notes:

Here's the rack that I took.2016-06-06_21_24_55.jpg I could have done without the 2 biggest hexes and maybe a third of the assorted nuts. The tri-cam was super helpful on 2 or 3 occasions and I used all of the other cams. I had 6 single and 3 double slings, which was about right. Maybe a couple more doubles would have been good for slinging the larger horns. I could have used maybe 4 more biners just to extend the duration of simul climbing before having to re-stock.

Edited by Qben
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Sounds like Stewy put you through the ringer. Nice work getting it done anyway. I have wondered about approaching the N Ridge via Stuart Lake. Sounds like a reasonable way to do it. Mountaineer Crk has never been painless for me, up or down. Thanks for posting.

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I've said it many times before and I'll say it again, an ascent of Mt Stuart should never be underestimated!


Nice work getting out of there with your partners bum knee!


RIP 59er Diner (it will be rebuilt)


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Yeah, going from Stuart lake is way more straightforward and I really don't think it's much further. Certainly not when you factor in creek crossings and time spent constantly relocating the creek trail. Here's our track.IMG_65991.png

MRI tonight. Fingers crossed.

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Way to pull through. Even mid summer with no snow, why anyone would rapp into that loose gully to avoid the Gendarme and some of the best alpine crack climbing you will ever do juat astounds me. Especially when you can stand there and assess both options in plain sight.

Edited by telemarker
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Thanks for the TR of a great route on a big mountain where approaches/descents often take on a life of their own. I did it in a big snow year early in July years ago and the slab below the Gendarme was completely covered with snow. We were the first ones up that year as well.


I wholeheartedly agree with Gendarme preference. While harder and more exposed than the rest of the ridge, it is great climbing. The gully is crappy climbing and conditions are variable and certain to be challenging in early season. Not the way to finish up such a fine route.

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I alway thought those big tri-cams were heavier than a comparable cam. I'm curious why you guys took one instead of the recommend #4?


Great story by the way, glad your buddy didn't get hurt worse. Pulling off a torso sized block would be terrifying. We've all had some "so this is how it ends" moments over the years. Nobody needs that. :mistat:


Also interesting how much snow you guys encountered, I would've thought it would be gone with the heat this spring.

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I just weighed them. The #4 Camelot is 344g. The Tricam is 184g.

Besides being just over half the weight. I think tricams are a more versatile tool. Though admittedly not as easy or quick to place. For those reasons, I like them a lot for alpine climbing where I'm not doing leads at or near the limit of my technical rock climbing abilities. We would've taken the #4 if planning to climb the Gendarme as I'm not keen on futzing with a tricam with one hand on wet rock while trying not to fall.

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It's definitely an older Camelot. Hmmm.... Maybe I should buy some newer/lighter gear!!! #4 camelot covers 66-114mm. #6 tricam is 63-105mm. Camelot wins that one, but definitely doesn't cover 2 tricam sizes.

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