Mt. Stuart - west ridge

September 1 - 2, 2001

Dave Svilar, Darren Rainey, Mark Holcomb, Matt Alford

 

Darren (middle) attempts to point out our route from near Ingall's Lake.  Unlike the lucky visitors to this site Darren didn't have the use of the red line.

I spent the night on a friend's couch in Bellevue and almost made it on time to the park-and-ride at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. to meet Mark and Darren.  Mark pointed his Ford Ranger east on I-90 towards Cle Elum and the Teanaway Valley located on the eastern edge of the Cascades.  As first light appeared in the sky our misgivings about the weather were erased as there were only a few high clouds.  I kept myself awake by reading route descriptions - it appeared that it would be easy to get off route on this climb.  The route is the "west ridge" but actually follows the ridge line quite a ways below the actual ridge.

Leaving Cle Elum we caught our first glimpse of our mountain and its jagged left skyline which we were about to attempt.  For those unfamiliar with Mt. Stuart, I would describe it as the largest mountain out the right hand window of your car as you're driving west from Ellensburg.  Indeed it is large, standing as Washington's sixth highest peak at 9,415 ft.

Matt had just started grad school at the University of Idaho and had driven from Moscow that morning to meet us at the trailhead.  Even though he had cut his long, shaggy, curly hair it was still good to see him.  Since Matt had come back to Snohomish earlier in the year we had spent nearly every weekend together doing some sort of outdoor activity.  We had spent so many nights together in the back of our trucks or in a tent that my mom called Matt my "girlfriend."  While we weren't able to provide each other with the full benefits of a real girlfriend, there was some truth in my mom's statement.

We started up the trail towards Ingalls Lake around 8 a.m.  learning about Matt's first couple of weeks of school.  Now that he was away from me and Snohomish and painting he was in contact with actual females.  I shuddered at his descriptions of the trials and tribulations he was experiencing with the opposite sex.  Matt's stories made the time pass quickly and before long we had passed Ingall's Lake and had loaded up water at the last apparent stream.  The south side of Stuart is completely dry this late in the season, so we were forced to load up all our water for the entire climb.

The brown-red polished rocks, green meadows, and blue tint of Lake Ingalls beckoned for pause, but we pushed forward along the ridge leading to the base of the route.  We knew we were going to have to bivy at some point along the route and hoped we would be done with the technical aspects of the route before nightfall.  Following our route description we entered the second gully over from the ridge and ascended beautiful granite steps to a fork in the gully.  We mistakenly took the left fork, ran into a dead end and corrected ourselves by backtracking to the right gully.

Mark ascending the gully with Ingall's Lake and peaks in the background.

 

Dave in front of one of the many granite spires found on the mountain.  Mt. Rainier on the horizon.

We crossed out of the gully and took a break to orient ourselves.  We were bewildered to see a group in front of us "pitching out" a section of the climb to the left of the John Long Tower.  We ate candy bars and watched as these guys flailed and fell trying to ascend the steep rock.  It looked to us like there was an easier way to the right of where they were climbing, and sure enough we ascended the class 4 terrain without having to dig out our ropes.

We passed behind the tower and followed behind the group in front.  At one point it appeared that there was a dead end.  Luckily I had read my route description and looked down to find a small tunnel that provided a passageway to easier climbing.  We hiked and scrambled for another half hour before reaching the notch in the west ridge.  A short ways above the notch we decided the going would be safer with ropes.  Matt led the first pitch which traversed onto the fearsome north side of the ridge.  The climbing was easy which combined with the safety of a top rope made me relax.  I fell which was more embarrassing than scary, but managed to pull myself together to lead the next pitch.  We dropped down a short distance from Matt's belay and followed a ledge out to where there appeared to be a host of climbing options.  I chose one on the far right side of the ledge climbing a short crack and broken chimney.  Matt had the next pitch and decided to continue up instead of traversing left.  This led to some more mid-5th class climbing finally putting us on the summit.  If we had just scrambled left we could have gone unroped to the summit, but Matt likes to climb straight up.

Me on the first pitch of the north side of the ridge.


 

Matt on the second pitch.

While waiting for Darren and Mark to finish the climb Matt and I enjoyed the views from the summit as the sun sank lower in the sky.  This was Matt's first outing since he took a life threatening fall on Kangaroo Temple near Washington Pass a couple of weeks prior.  I admired him for having the courage to get out and climb again, especially so soon after the fall.  It's hard enough for me to muster up the courage to climb any mountain, let alone doing it immediately after a serious fall.  Darren and Mark finally joined us and we took the time to snap summit photos.

Dave, Matt, Darren, Mark on the summit.

Luckily we had enough light to get down from the summit.  We descended to the false summit and down a long pile of scree to the Cascadian Couloir.  Luckily this route only requires moderate scrambling and no time consuming rappels.  I also had the advantage of having been on the route before, so we were able to make it all the way to Ingall's Creek in the valley before nightfall.

All summer I had aspired to pack as lightly as Darren.  It doesn't matter what we do or where we go, my pack is always twice the size of Darren's yet I usually end up having to borrow something from him.  Needing to pack light since we carried our packs over the summit we had left our sleeping bags behind.  My pack still wasn't as small as Darren's, but I was getting closer.  On the opposite end of the spectrum Mark's pack seemed like a behemoth.  He had luxuries such as candles, and I half-expected him to pull out victory steaks for each member of our group.

The night wasn't nearly as cold in the valley, so we didn't miss our sleeping bags as much as expected.  From camp at the creek we hiked out over Long's Pass under cloudy skies.  We looked back at Stuart, but most of the upper mountain was shrouded in clouds - we had hit the weather window perfectly.

-written November 2002

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