Climbing Mount Stuart via the Upper North Ridge

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Classic–one of the select routes chosen for inclusion in the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, one of just six in the Pacific Northwest. The Upper North Ride of Mount Stuart (9,415′, Grade IV, 5.9) is widely considered to be one of the premiere alpine rock routes in Washington State.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3I1jkztA2M

Full Value–longer approach, glacier crossing, open air bivvies, 18 or so pitches climbing with lots of simul-cimbing, two 5.9 pitches at the Great Gendarme with a thousand feet of exposure, the second highest non-volcanic summit in Washington, and a huge 5,000 foot descent–the bulk of which is down a terrible scree couloir.

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This is one of the biggest routes I’ve done, for sure. An amazing, memorable climb, not only for the quality of the route, but also for the terribly wet and rainy bivvy on night two. It was no fun being stuck in the rain with not much more than a garbage bag each. But we survived, we got some sleep, and we climbed on.

Ryder of the Itinerant Climbers Collective put together another awesome video of our climb, which gives a great sense of the route and what the trip was like… Great footage of the route, an idea of what our terrible bivvy was like, and the most amazing sunset I have EVER seen in the mountains. Plus you can see me dance to Macklemore on the summit, and also play the ice axe air guitar! What a treat! Be sure to check it out above (or watch on Youtube).

Check out the climb details, approach considerations, our time milestones, conditions, photos, gear thoughts, and full gear list–all below!

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Mount Stuart via the Upper North Ridge

My buddy Ryder (who I climbed the East Buttress of Whitney with in June) decided to take a few weeks off from work to fly up to the Cascades for some more alpine fun. We would be doing lots of cragging and some smaller climbs, but we wanted to be sure to get in one major alpine objective, so we set our sights on the North Ridge of Mount Stuart.

We actually set out for Stuart quickly after Ryder landed, targeting the Complete North Ridge, which basically doubles the length of the route to a total of 37 or so pitches. But… when we arrived at Goat Pass and saw the entirety of just the Upper North Ridge, we decided it would be best to dial back our ambitions. That would mean crossing the Stuart Glacier though–and all I brought along were Yaktrax for the Complete North Ridge (which bypasses the majority of the glaciers). The next morning trying to follow across the glacier in Yaktrax was virtually impossible. I felt so insecure, the snow was too firm to kick steps, and I had no traction on even moderate slopes. We had to turn back. All that hiking for naught. Fail.

We cragged more around Leavenworth and then returned to Stuart a week later. This time with slightly more realistic ambitions of just the Upper North Ridge, and this time knowing what to expect–at least up until the glacier.

Approach Considerations

There are two primary approaches to the North Ridge of Stuart: either the north side out of Leavenworth (Stuart Lakes Trail) or the south side near Teanaway. Either way contains pretty lengthy hiking either before or after your climb. The northern approach is shorter on the way in, but unless you descend the Sherpa Glacier (early season) or one of the more complicated ridges, you face a long hike back around to your vehicle. The southern approach is a long hike around to the base of the route over three passes, but then a more direct descent down Cascadian Couloir, back up Long Pass, and to the Esmerelda Peaks Trailhead.

All of our research indicated that the southern approach was the better way to go in late summer, so that was what we did both times.

The nature of the approach and the carryover climb necessitates a light and small pack, for sure.

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Mount Stuart North Ridge Timeline

For those who might find it helpful, here’s some details on how long various sections took us (during an August 14-16, 2013 climb).

Approach (Day 1): We left the Esmerelda BasinTrailhead 5:15am, we got a late start our first attempt, we wanted to start as early as possible this time. We crested the first pass, Ingalls, at 7am. Shortly thereafter there is a backcountry toilet (last facilities). We fully resupplied on water at Lake Ingalls, which we believed was our last running water source (turns out there was an accessible snow melt drip past Goat Pass). We crested Goat Pass at 11am, were on the Stuart Glacier by noon, and made it to the Notch Camp at around 2pm–just under 9 hours from Esmerelda to the North Ridge Notch Camp. This is where we hung out and bivvied for the first night, we wanted to be fresh.

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Climbing (Day 2): We were up at 6am and climbing by 7am. No point in climbing by headlamp we figured. We simul-climbed much of it, and pitched out a couple sections. We climbed until around noon (five hours) before we reached the famous slab pitch below the Great Gendarme, but everything was socked in by the clouds. We weren’t sure we wanted to climb further into the mist, and we weren’t sure what the bivy site situation was above the Gendarme… We saw a nice litte bivy site on the West side of the ridge and one of the only accessible snowfields we’d seen on the ridge. We decided to at least stop and melt snow and refill our water supplies, but ultimately ended up staying there all night (through the clouds and rain). Our initial plan was two nights on route, one at the notch, the second on or just below the summit.

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Climbing (Day 3): We got a pretty terrible night of sleep with the rain so we slept in until 6am, left camp at 7am. We started the Great Gendarme at 9am. Hit the summit at 1:30pm.

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Descent (Day 3): We spent 30 minutes on top, and began descending at 2pm. Most of it was pretty straightforward, though we did descend below the false summit too far, missing the crossover to the Cascadian Couloir, be vigilant there. The descent down Cascadian is long, loose, and miserable. We arrived back to flat ground in the valley by 7pm, resupplied a little water, and made it to Long Pass at 8:30, ultimately arriving back to the vehicle at 9:45-just under eight hours from the summit.

Conditions

During mid-August of 2013: we encountered no snow until after Goat Pass. We dropped down the moraine to avoid the steepest section of snow, crossed the first snowfield without crampons. The Stuart Glacier is a little steeper along the traverse and necessitates crampons (Yaktrax did NOT work here for me on the first attempt). The moat to cross over into the Notch couloir was not problematic. There was no snow in the couloir.

There was no snow in the notch camp area, and very little snow accessible near the route. There were large patches of snow past the summit along with some running streams that one could get to (though we did not).

Mount Stuart Photos

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Gear Thoughts

As mentioned earlier, Yaktrax on the first attempt did not work for the Stuart Glacier (we were planning for the Complete North Ridge initially). Microspikes would probably be doable.

I bought brand new La Sportiva Boulder X Approach Shoes just weeks before this, and they failed miserably on this trip… I had identical holes/tears across the leather on the inside of my foot on BOTH shoes. Not good, but must be a defective model, Ryder had the same shoes from years back with no problems. I had to improvise with duct tape to get me through.

Grivel G12 Hybrid Crampons with Approach Shoes — for the first time I used my hybrid (heel lever and toe strap) crampons on shoes definitely not made to accommodate them. I didn’t want to buy another pair of crampons, and I didn’t want to do the approach in boots. I also used the straps from my CiloGear 40B pack to add extra security. Surprisingly it all worked out, at least for a relatively short glacier crossing, they felt secure enough, didn’t slip around, even with a couple front pointing moves.

National Geographic Waterproof Maps — I’ve always loved the NatGeo maps, mostly for their great overview perspective, their durability and waterproofness. But with our rainy bivvy I also discovered they can provide an awesome emergency rain shelter for two. Seriously.

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Gear List for Upper North Ridge of Mount Stuart

I was carrying 32 lbs of pack weight which includes 3 days of food (3.5 lbs), 2 liters water (4.4 lbs), and one half rope (6 lbs). That total does not include harness and and misc personal climbing gear (5 lbs), which I wore on the approach.

Big Items:

Misc. Items:

  • Ipod nano
  • Sea to summit waterproof pouch
  • Spot GPS messenger
  • Potable Aqua tablets
  • Climbing tape
  • Compass
  • Altice Eclipse Glacier Glasses
  • NatGeo Alpine Lakes Wilderness map – waterproof map makes for an EXCELLENT emergency rain cover.
  • Sea to Summit bug headnet
  • Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp
  • Mountain Laurel Designs Lightsnow eVent gaiters – used for scree

  • Black Diamond Harness and misc. personal climbing gear
  • Black Diamond Crag Gloves – finally starting to develop holes after 1 yr of use

  • Chalk Bag
  • Small toiletry kit

  • Small First aid / emergency repair kit
  • 2x wag bags

  • One small garbage bag – should have brought two (always)
  • GoPro Hero2 Camera

  • Point and shoot camera

Clothing Layers:

Kitchen:

  • 1/2 Liter gatorade with hang cord
  • 32 oz Gatorage Bottle with Hang cord
  • 32oz Hunnersdorf Bottle
  • 2 liter platypus reservoir (without hose)
  • Jetboil Sol TI shared w/ one small fuel bottle
  • Sea to Summit titanium spoon

Other Resources

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Climbing Mount Stuart via the Upper North Ridge

Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out living in his pickup truck to road trip across the American West. Since then he backpacked through Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America -- support the adventures by visiting the D2D Shop. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

Comments 3

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      Author

      Thanks Chris! Yeah, I remember that feeling… Reading about people doing awesome stuff as I sat there some Monday morning. But at least it was always inspiring to make me want to get out there and get after it! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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