MOUNT STUART, WEST RIDGE (III, 5.4-5.6)
Stuart Range, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
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Clouds were zooming past the West Ridge
Mount Stuart is the highest summit of the Stuart Range, and is one of
the dominant landmarks of the Cascade Range, visible from nearly every
high ridge and summit in the northeast and central Cascades. At 9,415
feet elevation, it is the seventh highest mountain in Washington State,
and the second highest non-volcanic peak next to 9,511-foot Bonanza Peak.
The most popular route up Mount Stuart, the Cascadian Couloir, is the
easiest, a long snow and talus gully on the SE flank of the mountain,
which has been described by some as a wonderful climb and by others as
an ugly, dirty gully. It's a little of both. There are several other
popular routes up Mount Stuart, though, including the mega-classic
North Ridge, and a lesser-classic, the long but moderate West Ridge.
The West Ridge route consists mostly of Class 2 and 3 scrambling with
only a few brief but spectacularly exposed Class 4 and 5 pitches near
the top, making it a very accessible big mountain climb.
Clean granite rock, leading to the summit
The route is commonly approached via Lake Ingalls Trail, with a camp at
the lake or bivouac just below the route. From the lake, a climbers'
path leads across a ridge to the base of the NW shoulder of Mount Stuart.
From there you walk under the south face to the base of the second large
gully. Scramble up this gully, via enjoyable Class 2 and 3 scrambling on
exquisite granite. At the top of the chimney at the head of the gully, a
rightward traverse leads to the next gully, from where the route continues
up the right side of that gully and behind Long John Tower. Some parties
have trouble finding the easy route here and have reported Class 5
climbing. From the notch behind the tower, traverse another gully and
climb up left of and behind a dark flake, then make a rising traverse
along Class 3 ledges to gain the west ridge notch. Here, too, some parties
miss the easier route and get on Class 5 rock. At one point on the
traverse, an exposed step around a corner seems necessary, but a tunnel
underfoot gives access to easier ledges. If you feel the need to rope up
anywhere below the notch, you are probably off route.
View from the summit on the West Ridge
From the notch, the route continues up the ridge briefly, then crosses
onto the north side and traverses a small, exposed ledge, then climbs
up to regain the ridge crest and continues to a broad ledge at the base
of the summit block. A rightward traverse on this ledge leads to the crux
of the climb. There are many variations reported here, varying in difficulty
from 5.4 to 5.9.
Mt. Stuart shadow from the summit
The standard route begins from the ledge and follows steep,
narrow Class 3 ledges first left, then right to below a short dihedral
with a fixed pin (5.4). A popular variation climbs a short layback crack (5.6)
at the far right end of the ledge. Both options lead to blocky Class 5
climbing trending rightward to the south rib or more directly up to the
summit. According to some reports, a lower Class 3 scrambling route can be
followed to the south rib and up to the summit, but details are lacking. The
descent is via the Cascadian Couloir route back to Ingalls Creek Trail, then
out over Longs Pass.
For strong parties moving light and fast, the route is feasible in a long
day from a trailhead bivouac. Climbers hoping to make the complete ascent
in a day should start very early. Many parties underestimate their time
and end up bivouacking on the route, which isn't such a bad thing if the
weather is good and you come prepared. The route is dry by late summer, so
bring plenty of water or be prepared to suffer.
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