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Intermediate Alpine Climb - Mount Stuart/North Ridge

One day ascent of the Upper North Ridge of Mount Stuart including the Great Gendarme.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The route is dry - no snow except at the notch and at the summit.

    Crossing the Stuart Glacier was uneventful. There are crevasses, but we crossed high where it's flat and rock sticks out through the snow. We did use crampons.

    The main hazard is the couloir to the notch to access the upper ridge. There was a snow finger leading up into the couloir but it won't be passable much longer. The runout below the couloir is not survivable due to gaping crevasses. We kicked steps (with crampons) and applied our axes. Pickets might have made the passage safer but the extra weight would have been hardly justifiable for the 30 feet or so where we would have used them. 

    The snow field on the descent was still pretty large, and we used crampons, ice ax and descended face in. Not difficult, but an unarrested fall here almost certainly would be fatal.

Left the Ingalls Lake TH at 2am and reached the end of the lake by 4:30. Filtered water here - 2-3 liters per person. There is no running water beyond this point. Reached Goat Pass  at 6:30 and took a short rest here. From here, it took us another 2.5 hours to get to the notch (9am). Ascending the couloir that leads up to the notch was definitely the crux of the route with steep snow and exposed 4th class scrambling above a gaping crevasse. From the notch we simul-climbed to the Great Gendarme which we reached around noon. Here we took another short break for lunch. We pitched out  the two 5.9 pitches on the Great Gendarme and hauled packs - this took  a very long time. Hauling packs also adds another pitch above the Gendarme (including some non-trivial down climbing) as one has to exit left in order to be able to haul, while the original route exits to the right. All in all, we pitched out another two pitches to the bottom of the 5.8 crack which we also pitched out. Above the crack, the terrain eases and we switched back to simul-climbing, however, route finding is not obvious here and progress was slow. All in all, it took us 5 hours to get from the  bottom of the Great Gendarme to the summit which we reached at 5pm.  We had brought a stove so we would be able to melt snow on the summit but we were able to manage by redistributing whatever combined water we had left. With not quite a liter per person left we started the descent into the Cascadian Couloir. The snow field that one encounters after passing the false summit was still pretty large, but the snow was soft and not icy. However, we still put on crampons, got our axes out and descended face in. The rest of the descent (and ascent to Longs Pass was painful, but otherwise boring and uneventful. We were back at the cars around 11:30.

Ways we could have saved time:

  • I was slower than the three guys both on the approach as well as on the descent. I should have swallowed my pride and asked to redistribute some of the weight in order to move faster as a team.
  • My co-leader and I had done the complete North Ridge before and almost certainly would have had fewer route finding issues. Instead, we had the two "students" (students of the Alpine Rock Course) do all the route finding. This made for a better experience for the students, but cost us some time.
  • The simul-climbing was not always as effective as it could have been. The two students placed gear relatively frequently and therefore had to build anchors sooner rather than later (because they ran out of gear). While it's important to have two pieces in between the climbers at all times, it's also important to not have much more than that or one might as well pitch it out. 
  • We could have saved a lot of time by not hauling packs. However, leading the 5.9 pitches with a 18 lbs pack is not necessarily possible for everybody and while we contemplated the option, we decided against it because we were doubtful of our own ability to do so.

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Sherrie Trecker
Sherrie Trecker says:
Jul 19, 2018 12:22 PM

Congrats, Stef! I am sure that your students appreciated your mentorship and willingness to let them lead.

Amrit Panda
Amrit Panda says:
Nov 05, 2020 03:31 PM

Nice TR with great time-saving tips. Thanks!