Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Route Profile: North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, 5.7 - 5.9, IV

As one of the climbs featured in "50 Classic Climbs in North America," the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart gains a lot of attention.  But there is a good reason it was chosen for the book.  Cascade great Fred Beckey claims, "without rival as the crown peak in the central Cascades of Washington, Mount Stuart has been pronounced the single greatest mass of exposed granite in the United States."  At 9,415' it is the highest point in the Stuart Range and one of the highest non-volcanic peaks in the Cascades.  The peaks has over 35 different routes, ranging from Class 4 scrambles to 5.11+, Grade V aid climbs to steep alpine ice routes.  There are two main options for the North Ridge:  the Upper North Ridge and the Complete North Ridge.  Although both routes have variations and options, here are their most common routes and approaches

Mt. Stuart from the summit of Dragontail Peak. James Pierson

A closer shot of Mt. Stuart.  The North Ridge route goes from the summit,
across the middle of the photo, and along the buttress to the middle
of the bottom of the photo.  The right skyline is the West Ridge.
Can you see the "face" of Stuart in the photo?  James Pierson

For the Upper North Ridge, you access the mountain from I-90 and approach from the west from Longs Pass Trail and Ingalls Lake, crossing over Goat Pass and the Stuart Glacier.  Most teams cross the glacier, scramble up 4th class rock to reach the bivy sites on the ridge, then continue with the climb the next day.  The descent for this route takes you down the Cascadian Couloir on the southwest side of the mountain and then back to Long's Pass.

Simul-climbing on the 3000' Direct North Ridge of Stuart.
Jeremy Devine

Another option for early season climbing is to approach from Leavenworth and the Mountaineer Creek trailhead on the northeast side of the mountain.  The bonus to this approach is that you can tackle the Complete North Ridge.  With an extra 10 pitches of outstanding climbing added, it is one of the best routes in the range.  The flip side to this approach is that you have a more technical descent down the Sherpa Glacier, which is only viable in the early season.

AAI Guide Andrew Yasso descending Mt. Stuart in August.  Andrew Yasso
Whether you choose to climb the Complete North Ridge, or just the upper half, you still have a big climb ahead of you.  The crux of the climb is the "Great Gendarme" and it's 5.9 short off-width section.  However, if you are not quite feeling up to that, you can do a short rappel and skirt around the base of the Gendarme to finish the climb like Don Gordon and John Rupley did with they first climbed this route back in 1956.  The Complete North Ridge, including the "Great Gendarme," wasn't climbed until 1963 when Fred Beckey and Steve Marts succeeded on the Lower North Ridge West Side.  Seven years later, Mead Hargis and Jay Ossiander developed what has become the standard route when approaching from the north east.

A climber high on the Upper North Ridge of Mt. Stuart.  AAI Collection

A panoramic photo from Dragontail Peak, looking north with Mt. Stuart on the left.
Click to enlarge.  James Pierson

With the snow and glacier crossing, a mid-route bivy and carry-over, the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart has become one of the crown jewels of Cascade alpinism and has found it's way to the tick lists of many climbers.  Mark and Janelle Smiley decided to start working through the list of the "50 Classics in North America" back in 2010.  So far, they have 44 completed.  Below is a video they made of their ascent of the North Ridge last summer.

If you would like to climb Mt. Stuart, via the North Ridge or any of the other routes, give us a call.  We'd love to get you out to experience this Cascade Classic!

-- James Pierson (historical ascent data courtesy "Classic Climbs of the Northwest", Alan Kearney)

1 comment:

Vern Nelson said...

Fred Stanley did the first ascent of the Gendarm not Becky