Ade and Jim Go Climbing

by Jim Lawyer

Ade and I climbed the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart last weekend -- a classic long ridge in the North Cascades. The ridge presents an interesting dilemma -- to bivy or not to bivy. To access the ridge, one must cross the Stuart Glacier, and therefore boots, crampons, and axe are necessary. Of course, one cannot climb the ridge with such tools, so these must be carried, along with water, food, and bivy gear for two days. Needless to say, logistics are a popular conversation item when talking about this route.

We made good time the first day, ascending over two passes, crossing the glacier, through a berschrund (that seemed to block another climbing party for the entire morning) and up the 4th class gully to access the North Ridge. We originally planned to bivy here, but we made such good time, we decided to climb to a higher bivy. Further, it was cold, and we decided that moving was better than sitting around. So we continued up for 11 pitches...the climbing was clean granite with numerous towers, traverses, downclimbs, and incredible exposure. The rock was soooo much better than Slesse, but much easier too.

At 6:00 PM, we spotted the bivy ledges 2 pitches below the Great Gendarme, the largest tower on the ridge. With only one pitch to the shady bivy ledges, we found a sunny spot on the ridge and had a relaxing dinner, trying to stay warm for as long as possible.

We arrived at the bivy ledges a few hours before dark. I slept in the upper ledge and, 25 feet below me, Ade slept in the other. The ledges were small and exposed, requiring us to tie for fear of rolling off during the night. Despite the cold, we stayed warm during the night; I used a sleeping bag while Ade slept in all our clothes (two down jackets, two sets of gortex, etc).

The next morning, we packed up our gear and headed up the few pitches to the base of the Great Gendarme, the crux of the route. I led the first pitch on the tower which went at 5.9 and consisted of laybacking up perfect finger and hand cracks. Due to the difficulty of the climbing, we hauled packs up this pitch. For the second pitch, I traversed right 10 feet on a steep face, then climbed an off width 5.9 crack for 60 feet. Due to the traverse, we decided to haul one pack while Ade climbed with the other. This pitch was the crux of the trip for us, as we were near hypothermic, the haul pack kept getting caught, and Ade had to climb 5.9 offwidth with a 25 pound pack. No fun.

Once on top of the Gendarme, we rappelled a short pitch, then swung leads up the remaining pitches to the summit. Ade definitely got the good leads here...a number of 5.8 pitches -- layback corners, traverses, steep cracks; awesome stuff. The top few pitches degraded in quality, but we were rewarded with a real alpine summit...exposure and all. We ended up doing 22 pitches of climbing using 1.5 liters of water per person per day.

Like my other experiences in the Cascades, the descent was an adventure in itself. Our first incident was a near mishap when Ade lost his footing on a 40 degree snow slope and self arrested. Our second mishap was losing the trail and having to bushwack 3000 feet of elevation drop. Once we reached the valley floor, we quickly located the trail and headed out. Unfortunately, "out" meant hiking over another pass, then down many thousands of feet to the parking area. Yup, we were tired.

Just another day out climbing.