Mt. Stuart North Ridge
August 14-16, 2022
Talk about a...
... long-time to-do list climb! Many climbers in the PNW agree that the North Ridge of Stuart is a prized climb and a superb challenge. Dan and I set out to do this climb in two days (ended up taking three, as Stu often adds a day to your climb whether you want it or not), and set off from the Esmerelda trailhead.
We got off work on Friday and drove up to the trailhead. We ended up leaving the car at 5pm and aimed to get as far as we could before it gets dark. We climbed up to Lake Ingalls, skirted around it, and ended up bivying right below the start of the W Ridge.
We could hear the wind ripping up the North aspect of the mountain all night, but with us safely tucked on the South aspect, it luckily was only an audible annoyance not a physical disturbance.
Looking over at Ingalls form our campsite
Looking down on the Stuart Glacier from the route
Waking up in the morning, we stuffed up our wet sleeping bag (the dew was stronger than we were anticipating with an open bivy!) and made our way over to the notch since we were cutting up above the lower section of the climb. Our first crux of the climb happened to be on the Stuart Glacier getting over the notch. Long story short - STAY HIGH on the glacier. Unless you want to squiggle around a bunch of crevasses and do ice steps in leopard crampons and running shoes... just do the slightly awkward side hilling, and stay high.
Going up the notch was loose and chossy, but nothing out of the ordinary and we got to the route quite soon. After scouting the bivy spots on the ridge (stunning!) we took on up the route. The route itself is, as the lore says, stunningly exposed, well protected, and the views are out of this world. We made our way up, crossing many an au cheval until we hit the gendarme.
Once at the stunning structure with awesome looking climbing, we saw that we were sitting solidly 3rd in line for the routes. With the sun setting, we decided that we would risk the re-route to get around to the top instead of waiting. This ended up being our hiccup number two.
The re-route around the gendarme is a bolted rappel to the west of the route, with a Becky gulley to get yourself back up to the standard route. Very commiting, as you can't easily get back up the rappel you've just done. We got down the rap and found that the Becky gully was filled with snow and was quite wet. We tried to ascend it but found it was too sketchy for our liking. We debated our options, and decided to quest up and to the right to get around the gulley and hopefully link up to the route above.
Now this probably goes without saying - questing into the unknown is risky business. Don't take it lightly. For most climbers (and with us today) this should be a last resort. After going up and around, thinking we were close to the W ridge for a bit (lol), and after admittedly a couple of stress tears on my part, we finally heard the voices of the teams ahead of us just above the gully we were ascending. Success! Somehow, we had met up with the other teams on-route.
We got to a belay station and with the sun setting, Dan took a breath and climbed up. About 5 minutes later, I heard him yell "At the summit!" and this time, I had tears of joy running down my face. We got to the summit, waved at a beautiful sunset, and started down the Cascadian couloir. With the sun setting late, and the Cascadian being a sneaky long descent, we ended up getting to the base at 1am. In the warm valley with plenty of water, we decided to sleep a bit until 6am and climb up to Longs pass with fresher legs.
Quite the rollercoaster this Stu is, and I think many people find it this way. With all the stress and fear, comes immense joy on the other side.
We quested up this way from the bottom of the Becky gulley. It went! But it is by no means an obvious route.
Looking up at the Gendarme from below
Our feelings about the climb
A common casualty of the Cascadian Couloir
Total mileage of the trip - Around 15 miles
Total elevation gain - 7,500ft
Type of climbing and time spent on wall - Mostly 5.6, dihedral would have been 5.9, but our climb-around was no more than 5.7ish
GPS via Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/7639088713
Song that was stuck in my head all day - "Pink and Yellow" by Frank Ocean