Mt. Stuart - North Ridge

Who: Ryan Allen and I
When: 8/24-8/26

Mt. Stuart from Long's Pass. Photo: Ryan Allen

Ryan and I were planning on tackling the complete North Ridge of Stuart when we left the car at 7:30 pm Friday night. We hiked in to ingalls lake in a quick hour and a half, and after fumbling around trying to traverse the lake on the right, we decided to bivi earlier than expected. We laid out our bivi sacs and crawled in with our meager bivi clothes on. I brought a down jacket and long underwear, Ryan had extra fleece and a special wool hat. We froze our freaking butts off that night. After the alarm went off at 5:00 am, I checked my watch's temperature reading: 39 degrees. (and it had gotten warmer out) We had both slept awfully, with at most 2 hours of sleep.

Soon we were hiking around the proper side of the lake (West), just 100 yards behind a party that had passed through our bivi the night before. At the edge of the lake we filled our water bottles, 3 Liters for me, and headed off on a traverse towards Stuart Pass. For this trip I had reluctantly brought my platypus"water-bag". The stupid hose kept leaking on me, and Ryan took many opportunities to tell me how much he didn't like em. He was laughing then, oh yes, until he ran out!

There are climbers paths leading to Stuart pass, and we were soon at a trail junction on what is roughly the pass. Looking up on the North side of Stuart pass you see steep craggy slopes. We figured that this trail leading off the other side must be the path to Goat Pass. It's really well worn, isn't it?? After about 5 minutes we notice that the trail seems to be leading us waaaayy in the wrong direction, and that there are horse prints all around. Ug. Back up to the pass. From here we just stayed on the ridge crest, scrambling at times, until we were at the base of the West Ridge. The party we'd seen earlier in the morning was now starting up the West Ridge (My friend Greg's party, incidentally). From here the trail to Goat Pass was obvious, so we scrambled down and over boulderfields until reaching the sandy trails back up to the pass.

True to form, there was a herd of goats at the pass. At first they ran away at the sight of these sleep deprived mountain men. Then they warmed up when Ryan and I pee'd on a rock. Soon there was an all out territory war for exclusive pee -licking-rights! There was even a short head-butting, horns-stabbing battle where the older juvenile kicked some butt. I have a lot of pictures of these goats too, because they kept doing cooler and cooler things. At first it is like, "ahh, looks at those goat far away in the picture." Then, "Hey, they're silhouetting themselves in front of the North Ridge!" and so on... If we hadn't gotten out of there, I think they would have started saying cheeeeeeeeezzzze.

The goats looking picturesque.

We both had brought ice axes, but only Ryan had brought crampons. His aluminum crampon/montrail running shoe combination worked out really well. Me, alone in my Garmot hightop sticky weekends choose to walk down to the flats to cross the first half of the glacier. Once we reached a rib dividing the glacier, it became a prudent time to rope up. We traversed the bench above the crevasses without too much difficulty, but I was seriously on edge when things got hard and icy. This would not be the last time in the weekend that we would put our footwear to the test!

Ryan in the gully.

After our Friday night's bivi, we had decided the ditch the lower ridge variation in favor of not spending another night out. Completing the upper ridge on Saturday was quite probable so we decided to head up the steep loose gully leading to a notch in the North Ridge. The gully turned 5th class near the top, and we stayed left (may be harder than a traverse above the chockstone) in a V shaped feature. With a little running belay we were at the notch and admiring the nicely dug out bivis.

Looking up the North Ridge from the notch. Photo: Ryan Allen

We were finally in the sun, and after checking out the ridge and fueling up with food and water, we set off on the ridge at 11:30 am. This was 2.5 hours later than we wanted, but we figured that with 6-7 hours on route, we should just have enough time to descend to the Cascadian and continue down that in the dark. I lead off right out of the notch and soon veered left on ledges to the base of a nice crack. We climbed this awesome granite Fist-to-Hand crack for 30 ft. or so, and then I stopped our running belay to bring Ryan up to the top of what I now realized was a small tower. Welcome to ridge climbing! We continued to running belay for a while until we reached another notch after a big slab. Here the ridge became steep again, so I handed the lead over to Ryan.

Ryan follows a steep crack down low.

We decided to stay on the crest of the ridge, so Ryan lead up over a small overhanging traverse to a nice hand crack in an open book. This was probably 5.8, but there was solid pro all the way. We started fixing pitches here on our shortened rope, hoping to soon be cruising on running belay again. But that's the thing about this route, you think you'll just fly, then you hit an overhang, or a nasty exposed downclimb, or a big runout traverse...

Ryan leads a nice overhang. Mighty big pack there, eh?

Ryan continued on the next lead, leaving me sitting nicely in the sun on an awesome ledge. I soon followed and continued up a wierd crest-to-layback crack pitch. The routefinding had become straitforeward at this point and we relaxed a little to enjoy the rock and our surroundings. We continued to fix pitches, partly through poor communication when one would leave the belay, and partly because of more difficult sections on the ridge. This slowed us down considerably, and I didn't even want to look at the watch to see how our scheduled 6 hour pace was going.

We covered this moderately easy ground quickly by placing little pro. Photo: Ryan Allen

There is a really cool looking slab pitch a few ropelengths below the gendarme. It looks hard, but is just solid fun.

Dave belaying on the slab pitch. Photo: Ryan Allen

Ryan leads off on nice granite cracks.

As I came around a tower on the ridge, I heard Ryan call out, "You're really not oging to like to looks of this!" He was talking about the classic hands-on-the-crest traverse pitch below the Gendarme. The hitch was that there was no pro in the 50 feet or so that seperated us. Luckily it was only tricky to get down onto the belay!

Dave on a really nice traverse. Photo: Ryan Allen

We stuck to the crest for the rest of the climb up to the Gendarme. I didn't see any "4th class ledges" below the crest, but who would want to bypass the clean solid granite of the crest anyhow?? After many leads, and some airy down climbing, we had reached the base of the Gendarme. The watch confirmed our fears about time, it was already 5pm. With darkness coming in just over 3 hours, we decided to save the Gendarme for another trip because we figured it would take longer than the 4th class bypass (too bad we carried that freakin' #4 camalot all this way). 4th class indeed!

Icy hell. Photo: Ryan Allen

We made the committing off-the-ridge rappell onto the icy and snowy North Face. Things were looking improbable. Ice covered slabby rock, snow on ledges and no clear way to cross this 55 degree gully (as per Beckey) except at its head. Ryan lead off on a sketchy runout pitch to a bad belay under an overhang near the top of the gully. He was through at this point, and was really eager for me to lead the next section! His belay consisted of a cam and a sling coming out of no-where. He was also hunched foreword by the overhang and looked pretty uncomfortable. We quickly traded the rack and I began looking at the bleak traverse onto a 1" thick ice-covered buldge. With a move of direct aid off a tcu, I was able to reach around and grab a fist jam in a solid crack. Soon I was stepping over and grabbing the icy sloper to pull myself up onto the ledge. Whew! I walked down a snowy ledge, and then climbed back up a corner system with an old fixed pin. I had to run it out about 35 feet here because the cracks were all sealed. With water, this section was probably mid-5th.

Ryan Traversed out across an ice ledge and climbed up a dripping wet slab. After this it was one more pitch to the crest of the NW buttress. As Ryan was following this pitch I watched him literally bonk pulling an easy move up a dihedral. His caloreic intake for the day thus far: 800, calories expended: 3-4000? He was crashing hard, and our time was running thin. Nonetheless, he took over the lead up a nasty dirty gully, and we running belayed for several pitches of 3/4th class.

All of a sudden Ryan yells out that he has dislodged a huge flake that is only pinned on to the mountain by his leg. I'm thinking, okay, I'm under an overhang, so I tell him to let it rip. He says that it'll surely chop the rope and pull him off at the same time. Damn! While trying to set a belay for himself he was able to "set" the rock a little and get the hell out of there. At this point the sun is seriously setting. He has one sling and a couple chocks. I ask him to bring me up so I can lead a harder but more solid looking route up to the summit ridge. We were looking really close, but it had started to get dark. The final pitch to the ridge was dubed the "triple overhang pitch," for it consisted of three pumpy, juggy overhangs, but was still only about 5.7. Finally, we were on easy ground.

After handing Ryan the rack, he says, "Do you want to go to the summit, or just bail?" After reminding him that there was only 10 minutes of light left, he resigned himself back to reality. :)

Ryan decides to head for the summit.

Ryan scrambled along towards the summit, and I followed. He had been up the West Ridge on a prior trip, so he knew of bivi sites just below the summit. Sure enough, we found a 4x6' ledge just 10 feet below the top. Ryan and I quickly settled into our bivi bags and got ready for the night ahead. Ryan mentioned that he was too tired to chew his Cliff Bar, and seeing as we only had 3/4 a quart of water, we didn't cook dinner. The night actually went off quite well because the freezing level had rose and Ryan and I were becoming bivi experts!

The next morning we had a late start and watched the sun rise over the enchantments. We packed up our meager things and headed off towards the false summit around 8 am. We descended along the crest of the ridge until we saw a sandy ledge system about 100 feet below the crest. An easy and often traveled 4th class scramble lean down to the ledge system. From here the cairns pick up and we followed these, along with the ledges towards a low angled breech in a spur coming down from the false summit. The cairns seemed to lead up a steep juggy cleft, so we followed, not wanting to lose the trail. Best thing we ever did, as you can see in this picture:

Ahh, nectar of the gods!

This pool of water from the recent snowfall was pure gold. We hydrated up, filled our bottles, and then crossed over into the Cascadian Couloir. We bypasses a small snow patch on nasty loose dirt and rocks, and continued on down to a bench. Here it is best to go right, down the low angled scree. We picked up a dirt trail pretty soon, and started to make good time down. Eventually we approached another ridge, this one with trees and goats. We talked with some people on the way up that had ascended this variation descent, and they said it was steeper but more direct. True enough, the sandy trail was just more of the usual, however it put us on the ingalls cr. trail about a mile farther up-valley than the standard descent.

The hike back up to Long's pass was grueling, hot, sweaty... eventually we made the pass and began the long tromp down switchbacks to the cars. As we came in, we found a fancy little federal ticket on our car for no trail park pass. A guy in a Ranger-looking truck pulled up right next to me, and some people asked if he was a ranger. "No, I'm not, but do you think they'll be coming up here to check permits today?" He asked me. "No, no, it's pretty late on a Sunday. They probably won't come all the way up here." Ryan and I hadn't pulled out of the lot before about 7 mint-green Forest Service SUVs had pulled in. Well, guess I lied. Overall an exhausting weekend, but a classic rock climb that was well worth it.

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