Two years ago, I first climbed Mt. Stuart with Carson. It was my first large alpine objective and ended up being a long two days. At the time, I thought the way to go “fast and light”, even for an overnight objective, was to skip the sleeping bag. I paid the price and shivered all night long as Carson slept soundly through the night. As many first timers to Stuart, we brought too little water and got lost on the Cascadian Couloir descent. We eventually made it back to the car, more rocked than I had ever been in my life.
Since that adventure two years ago, its been on my list to go back and do the complete north ridge in a day (Carson and I just did the upper half). Dylan reach out with this in mind, suggesting we do it as a party of four. Jeff and Priti Wright would be the other two in our group, local crushers whose trip reports on CascadeClimbers continue to make me jealous. Despite the fear of large crowds, I was psyched to join the group for an awesome day. Not only was it an opportunity to hang out with three awesome people in the outdoors, but it was offered the opportunity to measure my progression over the last few years as a climber. There were many choices to be made
- What to solo, pitch out, or simul?
- For each of the above, what gear do we want? What rope?
- How much water to bring?
- What to bring for layers?
- Shorts or pants?!
In the end, we didn’t end up setting any speed records, but we had a great day at a casual pace that was easy to sustain. Our success was definitely attributable to Dylan’s memory of the route, great research by Jeff and Priti, and possibly Jeff’s fancy watch, which continued to beep, giving him directions. We return to the car without the need for headlamps, and everyone had lots of smiles. Amazingly, the route was nearly empty. We passed a party on P2, but that is about it!
As a group, we agreed that the Ingalls approach was the way to go. Dylan and I had done this before (he as recently as a few weeks before). We made it to the lake quickly, then continued along the ridge to Stuart Pass and the West Ridge. Before starting the ascent to the base of the west ridge, we cut down off right, in order to avoid (see here in trip topo) to avoid dealing with the steep snow at Goat Pass, which would have been hard earlier in the day without crampons.
After reaching Goat Pass, we descended a short moraine, then contoured skiers right (NE) and down to the base of the North Ridge (standard approach). The last bit of snow offered some nice “skiing” (see second photo below). We arrived at the base just as another party did, and observed a group already on P1 of the route.
We broke up the climb into four sections, either soloing or ascending as two teams of two:
(1) 3 pitches on the lower north ridge – Starting from the ground, we climbed to the top of the top of the “5.9+” layback pitch in three pitches. Dylan and I brought a 40m rope, which allowed us to do all of this without any simul-ing. To go even faster, P1 and P2 could be linked together with just a small bit of simul-ing, but it seemed faster and less complicated to just stop and quickly build belays. We passed the party initially seen on P1 at the top of P2.
(2) Solo to the Great Gendarme – From the top of the 5.9+ lay back pitch (P3 on lower north ridge) we started soloing. The ground was initially a little harder than we expected, and had it continued at the grade, the rope would have come out. It eased up as we continued, however, and we kept it in the backpack.
(3) 2 pitches on the Great Gendarme – Dylan climbed to the top of the first 5.9 crack. With 40m of rope to work with, I then linked the OW pitch into the hand-crack up and left. This put us onto a nice ledge at a small bivvy site. I believe the topo and standard route typically follow right from the top of the OW crack. Priti and Jeff went this way instead. They were forced to build a belay at the top of the OW due to their shorter rope (30m). Dylan and I enjoyed a moment or two to take our shoes off before they arrived and we continued on.
(4) 1 simul block to the top – Instead of making the short rappel, and then switching back to soloing, we did one simul block from the top of the gendarme to the summit. This allowed us to skip the rappel and instead traverse directly right (insecure, reachy 5.7 move for me), and then to tackle the 5.8 hand-crack slightly higher up with a rope on. Though all of the climbing after the the hand-crack is trivial, we already had the rope out, so it was faster to just keep going then to transition again.
We hung out on the summit a bit to say hi to friends (Jeff and Priti knew some folks already on top) and to sign the summit register. We shared some snacks, then headed down. Dylan had descended the Cascadian a few weeks ago, so he was able to guide us right on in. Other than the rescue taking place at the top of the couloir, the descent was relatively uneventful: shoes full of rocks and sand, some scree skiing, and the final ascent up Longs Pass to look forward to. The latter went better than expected; although the switchback trails on the back side of Longs Pass washed out a few years ago, there is a new (less visible) but solid path to follow up the talus. From here, Dylan and I decided to run all the way back to the car (including the 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the road closure where we had parked, in order to preserve just a bit of our sanity. There is something about walking down hill on a trail you’ve covered multiple times that makes it so damn tedious!
- 40m 9.8: Dylan cut up an older rope of his that he was planning on retiring soon. 40m ended up being a nice length as it allowed us to do P1 of the lower ridge without any simul-climbing, and to link P2 and P3 on the gendarme. Climbing on 30m might have been just as fast, which Priti and Jeff did (they had to build one extra belay on the gendarme, and simul on P1 of the lower ridge.). 9.8 is a bit thick – but hey, use what you’ve got!
- BD C4s: .3, .4, .5 , .75, #1, #2, #3 – There is still an old stuck 4″ cam in the OW pitch.
- 6 nuts: DMM offsets + BD #5
- 6 single length slings with 2 carabiners each, 2 with just single biners, 2 double lengths. We just needed slings to climb the 6 pitches.
- 2L of water. I meant to bring just 1.5L, but misunderstood the size of my storage vessels. To go ultralight, it would have been nice to walk up to Ingalls without any water, then to fill up there (and treat it). Given that the rest of the group was planning to hike all their water in, I followed suit (I also forgot to bring purification tablets with me). We found water running off the Stuart glacier when descending to the lower North Ridge, and fill up on that (untreated).
- ~2000 calories: 3 Larabars, 2 cups of trail mix, dried mangos, some chocolate to share with the group
- No crampons or ice axe.
- Dylan and I climbed in shorts and short-sleeves, but I also brought the following:
- OR Hellium II as a light rain shell,
- Ferosi for all day sun protection,
- Ferosi pants and a light down jacket in case we got stuck out.
- Rock to keep the margin of comfort on the rock high, and tennis shoes instead of approach shoes for the weight difference!
Jeff and Priti did a TON of research on the route, which is really awesome! Here are some of the useful trip reports they combed through:
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1149726 (the one and only Steph Abbegg!)
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1141958 (about the lower ridge)
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1141828 (about the lower ridge and approach)
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1141242 (good beta on upper ridge)
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1150306 (more on recent conditions)