Mt. Stuart summit via the Complete North Ridge route, one of Roper/Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America and one of my proudest so far. Click the pic above or most pics for a much larger version of Facebook. You can also like my Facebook page if you want to see my photography in your FB feed every now and then.
After a failed attempt on the North Ridge a few weeks ago, Audrey and I decided to give it another try this past weekend. Her friend Jack was in town and decided to join. Jack actually made the thing doable – he’s a really good trad climber and ended up leading the entire route. I generally suck at climbing, Audrey is an amazing sport climber, but doesn’t have as much experience as Jack doing trad. Neither had experience in alpine climbing (correction Audrey had done Der Sportsman on Prusik a couple years ago), but if you can climb a handful of pitches with a shorter approach, you can probably climb 30+ pitches with lots of extra hiking. I’d fill in the gaps around navigation, gear, etc., and how to work the walkie talkies (the “on” button can be hard to find on the pair I have).
I have to say this was the greatest climb I’ve been on. I was mentally high for a couple days after just thinking about it. I was very glad to have these two on the climb. I considered myself mostly along for the ride given my limited trad/rock climbing skills, but they proved just good enough to follow and simul-climb without getting anyone killed. I’d definitely go back and lead the upper with the Gendarme bypass.
I’ll let the pictures/and caption tell most of the story, but here are some high and lowlights:
- We made Goat Pass faster this time, 5h, starting again in the dark to avoid the baking sun. 4h is probably a better, still realistic time.
- Getting from Goat Pass to the base of the Complete North Ridge took way too long, almost 3 hours. We probably didn’t pick the best line and mostly avoided the snow, except for a sketchy section where it took a while to do the whole crampon thing. We also didn’t really know where the route started, but eventually found it. A picture printed out of the base from Steph Abegg’s TR was really helpful.
- We filled up on water under the Stuart Glacier, the same place as our first attempt. I filled up 3 L, Audrey Jack did 2. I still needed more, they needed less.
- There was a section below the Stuart Glacier that seemed to have frequent, dangerous softball-sized rocks coming down. We moved through this section quickly.
- The Ice Cliff Glacier sounded and looked like it was coming down, which was pretty amazing to watch and hear. Massive ice and rock avalanches would pour down it’s lower slopes and the sounds would be deafening. It continued like this all day. Audrey has some video/shots that demonstrate a little bit of this she’ll probably post.
- As I belayed Jack up the second pitch (5.8 slot), I let the rope slack hang and it ended up getting caught in a crazy tree that impressively swallowed the rope in its tangled branches. Audrey had to rap to get it undone. We lost time.
- The 5.8 slot really sucked even after I took the pack off and draped it on my right side. Very awkward for all of us, but we persevered.
- The 5.9 hand/finger crack that follows is the hardest pitch on the whole route, except for maybe the last little face pitch near the summit. I say that because that last face pitch requires hand jamming, something which I haven’t really done. Due to lost time I was just going to prusik up it, but immediately found out that prusiking up slab is slow as hell. I climbed the thing, taking a couple times to rest and clean gear.
- Simul-climbing became more pitched-out, belayed climbing, mostly because I wasn’t yet super comfortable on the exposed low-mid 5th stuff and didn’t want to kill Jack and correspondingly he didn’t want to die. Thank god this changed the following day as we simul-climbed the rest less the 5.7, the Gendarme pitches, and the one 5.8-9 face pitch.
- The original plan was to bivy on the summit, we actually bivied below even where the upper ridge starts due to some slow-downs. (7300’ vs. 8200’). That said we had an awesome view of the Ice Cliff Glacier and the surrounding valley. I ended up kicking off a night time-lapse and had to get up in the middle of the night to change the battery.
- The next morning we got into a groove and simul-climbed up to the 5.7 pitch a bit above the notch pretty quickly. The climbing was super fun and easy and we made pretty good time.
- The knife edge section below the “slab with crack” pitch (pic below on this pitch) was the highlight of the trip for me. There’s a big section of super exposed open space you have to step over and doing so freaked me out and excited me at the same time. Views from this area of the climb are also really breathtaking, and the slab pitch is so fun and easy, but super exposed.
- After taking pictures of Jack on the “slab with crack” pitch with my big, bulky DSLR, I dropped it in a crack and my heart almost stopped beating. There were large cracks everywhere that seemed to empty into thousands of feet of exposure. Thank god it was wedged near the top of the crack and I immediately clipped it into a foot prusik for the rest of the climb. That would’ve been a $4500 mistake plus the loss of pictures already taken on the trip.
- We were at the Gendarme in good time, and I followed Audrey and Jack up the first pitch w/o too much trouble, except near the very top where my arms got fairly tired.
- An Asian party that we had passed took the Gendarme bypass route. We watched as small-medium sized rocks came down from above more than once very close to them. Some of these rocks would’ve certainly killed them immediately if they impacted, so I count this party as very lucky. If I ever take the bypass route I’m going to cruise through that section as fast as possible.
- The offwidth pitch was super awkward – I can’t imagine leading it. Jack did an awesome job. The lower part wasn’t as bad I thought, but I got stuck in the middle of the pitch and had to take.
- We opted to rap down shortly after that rather than traverse the V3ish moves, after this Jack lead the last more technical pitch up a face which required hand jams. We were losing time so I just pulled on gear and got up this thing as quickly as possible, Audrey climbed it clean behind me.
- The rest of the climbing to the summit was fun, and the summit was visually striking. Audrey and Jack shared some Scotch while I snapped a few pics.
- Getting down the Cascadian was so much nicer than I was expecting after reading a half-dozen TRs. It’s scree, sure, but it’s a pretty noticeable trail of mini switchbacks. With some little hiking gaiters the scree actually softens the blow to your knees. Too bad my hiking gaiters didn’t close up in the back so my feet filled up with rocks.
- You don’t need crampons/axe for the descent, you can go around the snow.
- We took a wrong turn on the Cascadian, but it still went. See the map below, looks like there’s a slightly more direct line to Longs Pass, maybe that’s easier (Update: My friend Cecil just did the pink line below descending from the West Ridge and he said it sucked).
- Having rationed water, by the time we reached Ingalls creek I was done. A fever/headache and general dehydration slowed me more and more as we descended the Cascadian. Jack helped fill up my water, then electrolyte-mixed water, peppered salami, and wheat thins brought me back to life.
- We cruised from Ingalls creek back to the car in the moonlight. At one point we saw large areas lit up on the hillside below Longs, and it looked like snow. It turned out to be slick boulders in a Talus field, but it looked a bit surreal in the moonlight and the blueish-glow of the surrounding landscape.
What an unforgettable experience.
We reach bivy sites above Stuart pass in about 3.5 hours as the moon sets. Mt. Rainier is on the left, Ingalls Peak is on the right. Click for a larger version.
Goat Pass in the morning. Stuart Glacier is on the right. Click for a larger version.
Filling up on water below Stuart Glacier. Rockfall increased as we traverse down to the base of the North Ridge, which took longer than expected. We heard what sounded like a large jet liner coming out from behind the north ridge base for 10-15 seconds as we descended before seeing a massive avalanche on the Ice Cliff Glacier. These would become more powerful as we made our way up the ridge, providing an eerie soundtrack to some already tough pitches. Click for a larger version.
Jack and Audrey at the base of the ridge. I guess we’re finally really going to climb this thing…that is if the Ice Cliff Glacier doesn’t completely collapse and kill us, which it sounded like it would about every 15 minutes.
The lower ridge is harder than the upper ridge IMO. Pay close attention to the route we followed at the very bottom here, some pretty critical maneuvering is required.
Me turning the corner past our hanging belay on the 5.7 first lieback pitch. Around the corner is the 5.8 slot, which is the most awkward pitch I’ve been involved with in my short climbing history. Per Jack I took my pack off halfway, then I can’t remember, but it wasn’t fun. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
The moon disappears above the Ice Cliff glacier. Colossal ice calving had been sending a flood of seracs, snow, and large boulders down the glacier all day. Click for a larger version.
Jack belaying Audrey up some mid-5th pitches around 7300ft on the lower ridge. Fresh Ice Cliff glacier avy runout is seen over a thousand feet below, the moonlight over Stuart is reflected on the left, lower slopes. Click for a larger version.
Jack before a bivy on the lower North Ridge. The Ice Cliff Glacier and Sherpa Peak are in the background. Click for a larger version.
Jack in the morning before continuing up the ridge, connecting with the upper ridge after a handful of 5th class pitches. The Ice Cliff Glacier is missing a large section of its lower shelf due to an avy Audrey witnessed the previous day. Click for a larger version.
Getting my shoes all sandy before doing some exposed slab climbing. This is just before a 5.7 slab pitch above the notch (maybe 8300’). Upper Ice Cliff and Sherpa glaciers are in the shade. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
Jack making his way up one of the most enjoyable pitches on a slab with crack. Just before this slab you climb a knife edge ridge with high exposure on either side. A large, exposed gap in the ridge can be stepped over with a large step and lean of faith, one of the highlights of the climb for me. This section of the route represents some of the most enjoyable alpine rock climbing I’ve ever experienced. Click for a larger version.
Another party making their way up the mid-5th class pitches behind us. Stuart Lake can be seen several thousand feet below. Click for a larger version.
Audrey coming up towards the Gendarme.
A climber from the party we passed took a few pictures of the Gendarme with us on it and got in touch with me after on cascadeclimbers.com. I overlaid some annotations. Photo by Jason Shin.
Gendarme bypass with rockfall hazard. You can’t really see them well, but there are people in the center of this photo. Click for a larger version.
Me following Jack on the upper part of the the first 5.9 Gendarme lieback pitch. This pitch was much easier than the lower 5.8 or 5.9 pitches, but as I reached the top I was running out of energy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
All three of us on the little belay ledge on the Gendarme. Photo by Jason Shin.
I clip a jesus piece for Jack’s lead on the second Gendarme pitch, an awkward 5.9 offwidth with a lot of exposure. Belay ledge here is small, exposed, and has great views of the Gendarme bypass route where we watched the other party nearly get killed from some of the fastest travelling small-medium sized rocks I’ve ever seen. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
Jack leading the 5.9 offwidth, didn’t look easy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
I’m in the blue coat, Audrey is the short one beside me :), Jack is leading the offwidth pitch. Photo by Jason Shin.
Showing a bit of the upper section of the second pitch. A large belay ledge is on the right that precedes a rap down to avoid some hard moves. Photo by Jason Shin.
Me reaching the top of the offwidth pitch, very happy to have made it up. I had to take halfway through as I couldn’t figure out how to get over these weird middle section. I’m sure I was missing something obvious. For the lower part of the pitch I used the lieback technique vs. hand jamming and it wasn’t too bad. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
Jack on the summit with another party coming up from the West. Click for a larger version.
Audrey passing me to join Jack on the summit. Mt. Rainier can be seen in the far distance. Click for a larger version.
Audrey and Jack share celebratory scotch on the summit. The sun begins to set. We soon are hiking down the Cascadian Couloir, then up and over Long’s Pass by moonlight. Click for a larger version.
Summit shot just before descending. I’m shy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
Just enough damage to make the first couple showers sting a bit. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.
The original plan was to spend the second night on the summit so I could take a time-lapse and we could explore a bit more night climbing photography, but we lost too much time getting to the CNR base and on the lower, more difficult pitches. We also took what I believe is a slightly longer route down the Cascadian. The pink line shows what appears to be the more efficient route. (Update: My friend Cecil just did the pink line descending from the West Ridge and he said it sucked).
Goat pass is on the right where we bivied after hiking 5 hours at night. Our second bivy was still on the lower ridge vs. the original plan of the summit. The pink line shows the traverse line across Stuart to start the climb ~2,000 feet higher on the upper ridge. My GPS freaked out on the lower ridge hence the schizo path.
I have some interesting Go Pro video from the first attempt I’ll try and share as well at some point. It includes the Go Pro punching through a hidden crevasse on the Stuart Glacier and seeing what was underneath. Also some footage in Ingalls lake.