Mt. Stuart - Full North Ridge

August 20-21st, 2005

Chris and I were planning to head to Stuart's North ridge for the weekend, and I checked to see if Micah and Keith were interested in coming with us. They were all over it, and after beers and food at the Elysian Thursday we were all set. All that remained was to put together a rack of candy and buy several pizzas.

We leave Chris' house in full style—plush car camping gear, fresh pizza, pimpin' tapes from the early 90s... and best of all, the stoke! Well made plans were laid, backpacks were throughly squeezed, and a windless starry morning sees us off from the car at the Stuart Lake trailhead around 5am. It is dark, and the trail is empty as we hike along chatting. As any good trip with 3 other guys goes, we are soon farting and laughing hysterically. Ahh, it's good to be climbing.

As there is ample water along the approach, we all carry a single liter while Keith (aka “The Brit”) cleverly also carries a single malt. The trail up Mountaineer creek is soon located and easy to follow all the way up into the basin below the ice cliff glacier where our most succulent objective, that spectacular ribbon of stone, that lascivious finger of of granite comes into view.

Mt. Stuart and its North Ridge rise for another day of being oogled and gropped.

The hike up to the base of the ridge is further than it looks, but soon arrive at the base, roughly four hours from the car. This short and mellow approach is why we are coming in from this side, as opposed to the more usual Ingalls approach. There is ample water near the base, and I drink as much as I can, then fill my two bottles. That's all the water I'll get until someplace on the descent. I hope it is enough!

I'm temporarily distracted in trying to find Mr. Hankie, and in the mean time the guys are off somewhere heading up to the first pitch. I see Chris pop out of a gully, and so I follow around to the far left and up a 4th class gully to join 'em.

The lower ridge and our route up the technical pitctes.

After taking out the rack, putting on the action suit, and stuffing my shoes into my pack, I am quite dismayed that the “empty summit pack” I had imagined appeared to be about the same size and weight as it had been on the approach! No time to stuff my water into Chris' pack as he's just left up the first pitch with Micah belaying. I quickly put the rest of my junk on and get ready to go.

Chris on the 5.7 layback of the first pitch. Slot looms above...

Chris is working it up quickly to the ever narrowing “5.8 slot”. He places gear, but we're oblivious down here, chatting about big cams and theoretically for how many meals one could eat only pizza. As the grunting above rises to a chreshendo I look up, only to see Chris flying through the air, pack first. Whoa! I reel in some rope, but don't really feel the force of the fall. Slot: 1, Guys: 0.

The pack comes off, and is prudently left on a piece of gear. Chris instantly flashes the rest of the pitch, and I wonder how the hell I'm going to get both of our packs through slotty. I soon arrive, and Chris has a plan. He tosses a rope of loop down, and I eagerly clip both packs to it. I send the pig-lets on their way up the wall, and then pull through the easy but claustrophobic moves through the slot. Just to recap, that's Slot:1, Guys: 2. take that beyotch!

I decide to take a variation on the next pitch that avoids any sort of 4” crack. Above the belay I climb to a ledge, and then out left on a thin finger crack leading to a grassy dihedral above. I've heard this is a “5.9 fingers to hands crack.” Sounds killer! The moves are exposed but solid and well protected—in other words, awesome! About half way up the crack shallows and narrows to fingers. I make a couple tentative starts but something just doesn't feel right. A quick conversation with my mangina ensues and I decide that leaving my pack is a fabulous idea. Ditching the pack makes me feel light as a feather, and I throughly enjoy the laybacking and solid jams through the roof above. What a pitch! Generally clean, steep and sustained, and it all ends on a big fat ledge in the sun. I belay Chris up, super satisfied that the hard climbing of the lower ridge is done and now we can cruise.

Micah leading the steep and beautiful 2nd pitch varriation.

Chris comes up quick and again we pack haul with a loop of rope. He then dashes up a quick 5.7 pitch to a tree belay, super psyched to be moving quickly. The next pitch starts with a tricky move up a slab, then traverses right to an enjoyable handcrack in a corner. I make an uncomfortable belay at a small tree with a stuck cam. Chris leads another half pitch and we are done with the technical difficulties of the lower ridge.

Chris heads off on the 3rd pitch of the lower ridge.

Time to shorten the rope and move! I put 100 feet between me and mr. 'did I eat mexican last night?' and start traversing a ledge system. After by-passing several 5th class corners on the ledge, I enter a wide easy gully. From here we continue a long way up to the ridge crest on class 3-4 rock. Once on the crest the route narrows between steeper walls, and we swap gear. Chris takes us on up, traversing on ledges to the right (Stuart Glacier side) just before the notch.

Scrambling towards the crest with the ice cliff glacier behind.

It is now 4pm and I'm starting to bonk. Chris says to eat something, and then re racks and takes off! I find that I can almost eat a full piece of pizza given 100 feet of rope. A few sips of water and I'm off, feeling much better.

The upper ridge from the notch.

I tell Chris to take this running belay as far as he can and boy does he ever! We climb and climb, all the way to the base of the slab pitch. Another quick drink of water and I lead us up to the gendarme. We arrive and rerack around about two hours after leaving the notch—so much faster than the last time I was here. It really is amazing how well you can move with a shortened rope.

The upper ridge is all clean and classic on the crest.

The Gendarme looms above in the evening sun.

The first gendarme pitch looks beautiful, and I ask Chris if I can take this one. I rerack the few pieces I'll need onto my harness and drop my pack for the haul. Chris slaps a 2x caffeine Gu into my hand, and quickly I'm jittering my way up the pitch.

Layback #1 on the Gendarme's first pitch. Great pitch!

The climbing is fabulous! Three sections of full on laybacking with rests shoots me up the pillar. The top comes too soon, and I pull onto the pedestel and into the evening sun. Chris is on it, and soon heads off on the next pitch.

Chris being "so mellow" as he cruises the fist crack on the Gendarme's 2nd pitch.

The exposure lends a classic feel to the second gendarme pitch. A quick traverse leads to a short wide-hand to fist crack. The bottom moves are protected by a #3 camalot, and about 8 feet higher there is a solidly fixed #4 camalot. We also had a #10 Metolious cam which Chris placed between the two. The crux is short and soon there are features in the crack and easier moves. Chris bypasses the “belay alcove” and climbs face cracks and a small corner off right to a sweet ledge belay. The sun is dipping lower and lower into the sky, so we quickly hand haul our pack up, and do a short pitch over to a rappel station. This leads down into a notch before the final difficulties of the route.

The summit feels close, but we still have a ways to go!

Chris has the rack so he takes off on another massive running belay. It's getting dark now, so we both don the headlamps, intent on the summit. There are probably about three or four rope lengths to the summit from here, but the climbing is just great. Starts out with parallel 5.6 hand cracks and continues up easier ground with a few steep or exposed moves here and there. I pass a stout little crack and find Chris sitting right there on the crest. Yee-haw!

It's dark and very windy, so we head up looking for a place to bivy. After downclimbing the usual chimneys below the summit, we find a nice sheltered place just big enough for the two of us. We plop down and I pull out two slices of pizza: dinner for kings! Now where's that scotch? Crap, turns out it's bivied somewhere on the upper ridge with Micah and Keith. Scotch or no, we enjoy the evening, knowing that the technical work is done.

I worked on flaking the rope back and forth around my pack's 8”x12” pad—my effort to reduce bulk and go light. In the mean time, Chris is making a critical decision: which side of my other bivi pad to sleep on, the man or the woman.

The sleep is okay, but I seem to wake up every hour. The sunrise is awe inspiring, and we take the rising of the day slowly. Around 8am we start the descent. We plan to get back down into Mountaineer creek... somehow. Our plan is to climb below Sherpa's buttresses in Sherpa basin and then climb up to the Sherpa-Argonaught col. All goes as planned, but it takes much longer than expected—4 hours! Going down the cascadian and then cutting over would be a better way to go. Keep on a rising traverse after that as the col is way over there. From the col, it's some serious scree and boulder hopping all the way down into the valley below. There boulders give way to brushy forest and a network of small streams. Route finding is tricky, and we repeatedly think that we are somewhere else. Eventually the trail is found and we cruise back to the car, arriving around 4:30.

Down and around. You can see where Sherpa ends and Argonaught begins in the background.

Looking down from the col. Ugh...

Looking back towards Stuart (back right) and the obvious col. Ahh, trails are so nice.

While our choice of descent kind of sucked (a car shuttle to Teeanaway would be better), the approach and full ridge proper make for one fantastic outing on beautiful rock with fun and varied climbing. Good times, thanks again Chris!

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