For the previous week Jeff and I had been full with excitement preparing to climb the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Unfortunately, Jeff began feeling sick late in the evening and woke up in the morning with what we presumed to be food poisoning. Jeff was just as excited to climb as I was and, despite his illness, he did not need to be coaxed into coming. We packed our gear into my ’87 4runner and I made the 4 hour drive while Jeff laid horizontal in the back. We arrived at the Lake Ingalls trailhead late and spread out our sleeping pads, preparing for an early start the following morning.
We began hiking at first light and set a good pace to Lake Ingalls. Jeff was dehydrated from the start and was unable to drink water in large volumes due to stomach pain. The lake provided us with much-needed water and not-so-desired mosquitoes. We covered our skin as we filled our water containers and managed to find some rest among the goats and mosquitoes.
The remainder of the hiking to the North Ridge is largely off-trail through rougher alpine terrain. As we ascended toward Goat Pass Jeff began to feel fatigued and dehydrated.
Despite a bloodied knee and nausea Jeff kept on pushing and soon we found ourselves at the base of the complete North Ridge with 2000’ of rock above our heads.
I took the first lead. The climbing was more challenging than I had expected, although the difficulty of pitch one had much more to do with my backpack in the squeeze chimney than the difficulty of the climbing itself. It was on the first pitch when I got my first taste of what climbing next to the Ice Cliff Glacier is all about. I was leading up a left-leaning crack when I heard the roar of ice-fall echoing off the shear walls around us. "Forget it, move on."
Jeff linked up pitch 2 and 3, cleanly climbing through the 5.9+ lieback crack with an incredibly bloody knee. Above pitch 3 the terrain mellowed and we simul-climbed and belayed our way to the large bivy half-way up the ridge, arriving just as the sun set behind the mountains. It didn’t take long before we were in our sleeping bags under the stars, a light breeze fending off the mosquitoes. No stove in our packs meant we would be limited on water so we both went to sleep thirsty.
We awoke with the sun and wasted little time tying into the rope. The climbing was mostly enjoyable with fun exposed zones and straight-forward route finding. All day we listened to the magnificent sound of glaciers calving and avalanches pounding.
The next obstacle to surmount was the Great Gendarme consisting of two steep and solid pitches that go at 5.8 and 5.9+. We chose to haul our packs here instead of fight them while climbing, allowing for a more enjoyable and sporty feel through this section. Jeff lead the lieback 5.8 corner, pictured below, and I took the off-width 5.9+ after him. The second pitch began with a traverse out right, off of the nice belay ledge, to a horrendously exposed off-width crack. We did not bring gear large enough to protect this short section however we knew from parties-past that a fixed cam was lodged about 3/4's of the way up. My arms were elbow-deep in the crack as I looked down past my feet, now jamming in the rock, to the smooth granite slabs leading onto the Stuart Glacier hundreds of feet below. I felt free, immersed in nothing but the present. It is these moments that I would trade for nothing else in the world.
The climbing above the Gendarme became a bit more broken and loose. The only new challenge with this change was dealing with our fatigue and dehydration. We stopped to discuss our attitudes and determined that we were feeling tired, not frustrated with one another, and that we should continue carefully simul-climbing to the top.
We arrived at the summit around 3 in the afternoon and after a short break began the journey to the Cascadian Couloir. Having ran out of water before summitting I was feeling the urge to find a source so I put some distance between my partner and I and found a small trickle to surprise Jeff with when he arrived. We skidded and skated our way down the Cascadian with our eyes locked on the river below.
With full water bottles we came upon two climbers planning to climb the Cascadian the following day. They showed us the log crossing and trail leading up to Long’s Pass and ultimately the car. They warned that the trail was hard to follow but we found our way and made it back to the 4runner under cover of night. We chose to sleep at the trail head and hit the road early and rested.
We had breakfast in Cle Elum and Jeff was still unable to eat a full meal. Thanks for toughing that one out Buddy!