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!
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.
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!”
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.