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Mount Stuart North Ridge in the Cascades with Mountain Madness

Strategies and pack rats on Mount Stuart and other Cascade Classic Alpine Rock Climbs

Alert! Pack rat thiev­ery dur­ing bivi on Mount Stu­art. Eye-glass­es stolen on sum­mit after ascent of clas­sic north ridge.

By Mark Gunlogson

You nev­er know where you will end up for the night on some of the Cascade’s long alpine rock routes and who you’ll be sleep­ing with, which may include the clever pack rat. It’s all about strat­e­gy on these climbs. How do you avoid spend­ing the night on the sum­mit, or do you plan to do just that? Do it in a day, bivi enroute, or let it all unfold as it will; whether you have bivi gear or not, there’s plen­ty of sto­ries of being benight­ed. What to do?

While it was over 25 years ago when my glass­es were dis­ap­peared on our sum­mit bivi on Stu­art, the glass­es now passed on as a fam­i­ly heir­loom for the sum­mit pack rat fam­i­ly, the sto­ry speaks to the com­pli­cat­ed strate­gies still need­ed to com­plete these long Cas­cade alpine rock routes. We planned to sleep on the sum­mit, so all good there, but it was much debat­ed how to best plan the climb.

Con­sid­er­a­tions were pack weight, start times, amount of food tak­en, car­ry over or do it in a day- lots of tac­ti­cal deci­sions to be made. At the end of the day we were guid­ed by an old adage from Yvon Chouinard that says, if you take bivi gear along, you will bivi.” The next chal­lenge then became what to take and how to go as light, but safe­ly as pos­si­ble- and to con­sid­er where to stash your valu­ables if you do bivi!

Mount Stuart and the north ridge with Mountain Madness

Things these days are the same decades ago, the same ques­tions asked. MM guide Alan Rousseau and guest Scot B. come up with their own strat­e­gy recent­ly for a train­ing climb on Mount Stu­art for a future ascent of Mount Kenya. Here’s Alan’s sum­ma­ry of their recent adventure:

It had been a few years since I climbed with Scot in the Alps. We had a cou­ple very pro­duc­tive trips in Europe climb­ing Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Mat­ter­horn and a few oth­er alps clas­sics. When he expressed an inter­est in climb­ing Mount Kenya in sum­mer of 2022, I sug­gest­ed we do a lit­mus test’ climb of Mount Stu­art. The north ridge of Stu­art has a very sim­i­lar length and dif­fi­cul­ty to our planned route on Mount Kenya. Per usu­al Scot was game and made the trip up to Washington.

Stu­art is the crown jew­el of the cen­tral Cas­cades and has a few excep­tion­al routes on immac­u­late gran­ite. Over three days Scot and I climbed the North ridge of the moun­tain which entails over 20 pitch­es of rock up to 5.9 dif­fi­cul­ty. The first day was spent climb­ing into our bivi on the North ridge notch. With some com­fort­able bivi sites and nice expo­sure we went to sleep just below the first pitch of the ridge proper.

Stu DSC00268
Stuimage 6487327

After an ear­ly wake up we got climb­ing and pitch by pitch fell below us as we pro­gressed up the route. Mov­ing fast and effi­cient­ly up a long alpine route is always a great feel­ing. By mid-morn­ing we were over half-way thru the pitch­es and into the hard­er climb­ing. I hauled packs thru the 5.9 gen­darme pitch­es, to make the tougher move­ment more enjoy­able. Once those pitch­es are com­plet­ed you know the route is in the bag, as only a hand­ful of eas­i­er pitch­es lead to the summit.

We relaxed on the sum­mit for a bit in per­fect calm weath­er before start­ing the long descent down to Ingalls Creek. It was great to com­plete anoth­er big route with Scot and the trip increased both of our con­fi­dence lev­els regard­ing a future climb of Mount Kenya, one of the world’s most clas­sic alpine rock routes at over 17,00-feet!”

Gendarme pitches on Mount Stuart North Ridge

Alpine rock climbs like this com­bine it all; endurance, tech­ni­cal skills required, and a sense of adven­ture need­ed on the longer routes. But, options exist for first-timers look­ing to put their rock skills to use in the moun­tains, or those like Scot that are push­ing for­ward to big­ger goals like Mount Kenya or just get­ting com­fort­able on com­plex ter­rain and apply­ing that to climbs like Ama Dablam. Below are some pho­tos and links to some of the clas­sic routes to do in the alpine.”

Oh, if you see a pack rat with eye­glass­es on the sum­mit of Stu­art, it’s all good, I need a pair of read­ing glass­es now, so they can pass along my glass­es to the gen­er­a­tions ahead.

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