Thursday, August 6, 2009

North Ridge of Mt. Stuart!

So this trip report is almost a year overdue, but while cleaning up files on my computer I stumbled across this TR. After reading it over I decided to post it with some pictures.

“Just let me know if you feel uncomfortable at all” Alright I responded ,“you have to promise to do the same”. It had been 7 hours since we started hiking and finally we were on rock. Any sort of fatigue we had felt on the approach disappeared while gazing up at the remaining 1500 foot ridge of perfect granite. We started climbing still in awe of the brilliant view and exposure life had bestowed upon us.

At 5 p.m. after work on Friday night we left Moscow, Idaho and drove to the Esmerelda Basin trailhead located outside of Cle Elum, Washington. After arriving at 9 pm we quickly packed the last of our things, drank a pbr pounder, a must for these sorts of adventures, and talked about last minute route details. After a delicious dinner of homemade burritos it was bedtime. I stayed awake for hours with the anticipation of the route.

3am came all too soon the following morning and we started eating and drinking to load our bellies for a long day. By 4 am we where headed up the trail following never ending switchbacks on the 5 mile hike to Ingalls lake. We arrived at the lake just in time to stop and watch the gorgeous sunrise. At this point we decided to hang a bag of food and extra gear that we would retrieve later that evening. This decision would afford us to carry less weight, but would also mean if we didn’t finish the route in one day we’d be in for a long miserable night. I kept my sleeping bag and Earl took his bivy sack. After eating some chocolate, and treating some water with Aqua Mire (one of my favorite things to do!) our next task was going over Stuart Pass, all the way down, and then back up goat pass. Along the way we passed many parties slowly rising out of their tents, fumbling for their stoves, and brewing hot drink. It took us about 3 hours to climb and descend the two passes and covered only 4 miles. While coming down the pass I had my closest near miss of the trip. In the process of descending the mixture of scree and sand my movement unlodged a tv sized boulder that begin tumbling directly towards my femur. It landed less than an inch away and bounced teasingly over. Another mile brought us to the foot of Stuart Glacier. This heavily blue and deeply crevassed ice river guarded the base of our route. We stopped at the foot of the glacier and graciously refilled our water with the fresh ice melt coming out of the bottom. For those that haven‘t ever drank water straight from this source, I highly recommend it.

After a short break and overview of the conditions I was glad to have brought crampons and an ice axe. After much deliberation on the rapidly changing weather we continued. The glacier wasn’t technical, but it was very broken up and an unarrested fall would have probably been bad. We decided to traverse the glacier high aiming for the 4th class notch that would put us onto a popular bivy site on the ridge where we planned to have lunch with a view. The snow was hard and wearing approach shoes with the crampons made it hard to front point. But later on in the day we were grateful to not have the extra weight of mountaineering boots. Around 11 am we had made it up the notch, in awe of how amazing of a spot this would have been to bivy. To our dismay clouds and a thick fog began to surround the peak at one point entirely hiding our route from view. Just when we where ready to call it a day and head back the long way, there was a break. After waiting for another 30 minutes of clear weather we decided to go for it.

The rock was bullet hard and the friction was great. I was very amazed with how solid and perfect the rock was for being an alpine route. Pitch after pitch went by, each unique and amazing. Some compromised of laser cut flakes, while others followed weaved their way on and off of the ridge. Finally, others, and my favorites, where airy traverses providing thousands of feet of exposure between me and the glacier. We both got in the zone and were just enjoying being on the rock. After going up another sweet hand crack I looked up and saw the Gendarme crux of the route. Without realizing it we had soloed the first 11 pitches of the route. We set up a belay at the base of the gendarme and had a quick snack. A fog bank began to surround us blocking out the enchanting view of valleys, peaks, and alpine lakes. It got so thick at one point we could only see about 50 feet in any given direction, it lent a somewhat mystical feeling. It had only taken us 40 minutes to climb the first 1,000 feet of the route! Earl had wanted to lead the first pitch of the gendarme so after finally roping up he took off on lead. The pitch was a breathtaking crack that varied from hands to perfect fingers and lie backing. He easily surmounted the pitch placing just the right amount of gear. At this point we met the first real challenge of the route hauling our packs past the two harder pitches. I hooked the pack up and Earl began to pull upwards. To our dismay the ice axe got stuck in one of the pieces of gear and wouldn’t budge. Finally after much finicking it came loose and was pulled up, but now the rope was stuck in the finger crack. I offered to climb with my pack on, and to climb up to where the rope was stuck and get it unstuck. I was getting colder by the minute and I was anxious to start moving again. Climbing up to the stuck rope was sketchy because it meant I wouldn’t be on belay until I flicked the rope lose. I managed that but then became tired with my heavy pack pulling me back down. I finished the rest of the pitch excited for my upcoming lead. The second pitch of the Gendarme started with a beautifully exposed finger traverse out for about 20 feet and then headed up into a flared fist/cupped hand crack. Other trip reports had warned us that this pitch was off width it wasn’t and I was disappointed. But how disappointed can one really be climbing a 5.9 hand crack with thousands of feet of exposure and beautiful scenery. This crack system then transferred to an even better hand crack, and then up great fingers to the top. Following this pitch we were both grateful that the sun came out again. We unroped and continued up the final 8 pitches or so of the route.

Finally we arrived at the summit at 3 pm after only 4 hours of climbing. There was another party on the summit with a guy who had been up Stuart 17 times. We took a few summit shots, ate, and started the descent down the Cascadian Couloirs. This took us two hours of walking down hill in loose dirt and rocks. For me this as the most challenging part of the day.

From there we had a chance to refill water before starting the long walk back to our car. At this point he the hiking and climbing of the day was adding up and we essentially became walking zombies. Every step carefully planed to avoid injury, every step bringing me closer to my sleeping pad and bag. At 9 pm just as it got really dark we arrived at our camp and where excited to see our friends Elise and Ali had also made it back from Ingalls Peak and where waiting for us there. After eating three of the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’ve ever had and drinking two liters of water I was happy! I was so mentally tired and excited that it was hard to sleep. The whole experience seemed surreal because of how beautiful the area was and smoothly our climbing went.

I would recommend this climb to anyone who has good endurance and can lead 5.9 in the mountains!

Below is a bunch of pictures with explainations.

Summit Shot!

Climbing the final easy 5.4 pitches to the summit.

Picture of the Enchantments from the N. Ridge

Me crossing one of the awesome knife edge traverses.

The uncertain weather closing in on us while climbing.

The view of the glacier we crossed to get to the climb.

Crossing the glacier to the notch where the upper N. Ridge starts

Treating some water and deciding if we would continue.
The N. Ridge is completely covered by clouds.

Looking up at some of the crags in goat pass.

Looking down goat pass.

Most of the photos were taken by Earl McCallister.