BOB AND I HAD A BLAST CLIMBING THIS CLASSIC ROUTE...
The North Ridge Route on Mt Stuart
Bob celebrating our success in climbing Mt Stuart's North Ridge.
In mid August of 1998, Bob Pasko and I figured we had enough tough routes under our belts to be ready for the classic North Ridge of Mt Stuart route. We were, and had a blast but we were a bit slower than we should have been. We hiked in past Ingalls Lake where we filled two 1-gal containers with water and set up camp further along the ridge - close to the start of the west ridge route. We packed our summit packs to save time in the morning because we knew it was going to be a long day and we wanted to be down the other side before dark.
In the morning we were on our way at first light dropping off our ridge to go up the snowfield to the small saddle just west of Stuart. This pass should be named "Mosquito Pass" because the little varmints were vicious and persistent. A nice breeze through the pass finally gave us some relief. We took a short break and then turned the corner and headed east across the small north glacier called Stuart Glacier. Looking up the steep ribs and gullies of the north face impressed on us the seriousness of our intention.
We aimed our steps across the glacier toward the obvious slot that angled up onto the north ridge and when we arrived at it's base we decided to wait until we got on the ridge before roping up. The slot was loose and dirty... no place to drag a rope anyway. The ridge has the reputation of being clean and solid so we were not too worried by all the nasty loose stuff in the gully.
Bob lead off and we then alternated leads knowing that it was going to take a lot of leads to gain the approximately 2000' we needed to get to the summit. The rock on the ridge was solid but at one point we got off the ridge to the right and had to be careful as we encountered some loose rock.
Time passed quickly and we made good progress toward the Great Gendarme looming above us where we expected to find the crux of the climb - not a climb of the gendarme, that was beyond our skill level, but in the rappel, from the base of the gendarme, off into the steep, narrow gully alongside it. If the bottom of the gully is iced up it is extremely difficult to climb up out of it.
We had hoped to be on the summit for lunch but that was not going to happen and we found ourselves still a lead below the Great Gendarme at lunchtime. I made the 75-foot rappel into the v-gully and snapped a couple of pictures of Bob as he followed. It is a bit
of an act of faith when you pull the rope down following the rappels but the rock was dry and allowed for good friction moves to clear the gully. Then it was a matter of route finding to complete the last few hundred feet and by 2 pm we had surmounted the last obstacle. As I retrieved and coiled the rope, Bob scrambled the last 50 feet to the summit. There he found three young fellows (late teens or early twenties) just completing the west ridge route. They inquired about his age.
They were amazed at his response, "I'm 45...", but then incredulous as he continued, "the guy down there coiling the rope is 64." Needless to say I was greeted warmly by the young fellows and received the compliment, "I hope I can still do that when I'm 64!"
We signed the register and then began our descent via the Cascadian Couloir realizing that time (and daylight) was slipping away fast. As we got down off the steep snow of the false summit fog and darkness started to overtake us.
It was difficult to tell just what route to take down the steep snow slopes but we ran across the tracks made by someone doing a standing glissade and were able to follow rhese tracks for several hundred feet of desent until we lost them. The snow was starting to peter out and we were worried about punching through to the rushing water below so we exited the snow to the right and downclimbed a rocky rib for another hundred feet or so.
Our headlamps were not too effective in the fog and routefinding was difficult so we decided to bivy. Bob was prepared for a bivy with a small bag to crawl into but I had only my coat, cap and gloves to ward off the cold so I looked around for wood and was able to start a small fire. This not only gave some warmth but made the dark night slightly less intimidating. With my pack to provide some insulation from the cold ground on my back and the fire to give some warmth from the front I was actually able to drop off for short periods of sleep.
At daybreak we continued down the rib to the right and soon came to a steep, grassy gully that led us down to the main trail and our route back to our camp.
Even with the unplanned bivy making for an 'interesting' and essentially sleepless night we had made a succcessful climb of the North Ridge of Mt Stuart, a classic Cascades route.