Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stuart Range Fun

Last year, I finally introduced myself to winter climbing in the Cascades. Guess what? I found it hard, unforgiving, and oh, so fun. I figured I slogged more than 80 miles that winter trying to get up something, anything in the mountains. I failed on every effort because of avalanche conditions and unconsolidated snow each time. Incredibly, this year has featured radically different conditions, and in the last few weeks I have stood on top of four peaks. Cole Allan and I spent January 13-16 at Colchuck Lake.
We found wonderful cramponing everywhere we went and climbed the North Buttress Coulior on Colchuck and a fun gully on Enchantment Peak that had difficulties up to WI3 and 5.7.
We also ran around the Enchantment Plateau in a virtual fairy land. Easy travel led us to the top of Little Annapurna where we soaked in more great views.
At each summit I looked towards Mt. Stuart and it's jaw dropping North Ridge clad in a winter coat of rock, snow, and ice. So far, conditions had been great...just what I was hoping for. The easy routes we had completed had given us a great idea of conditions in the region and allowed
us to study the main event in detail.
We left Colchuck Lake on the 16th of January and returned home to Peshastin to work and rest for a few days. During this time we decided we would indeed try the second winter ascent of the Complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Colin Haley and Mark Bunker had succeeded on this much sought after objective a few years ago and I had been inspired to do the same ever since.
Cole and I formulated a game plan while we rested and decided on an all out light and fast style. One rope, a little food, a pocket rocket, one sleeping bag, one pad, tools, crampons, a rack, and some clothing was all we would take. Since I have intricate knowledge of the area and the ridge, I would lead the whole route with Cole following. We knew the weather was steady and that we were fit.
We hit the trail at 7:30 pm (I was working all day) on January 19 and made it to the bivy boulder at the base of the route by 3:00 am. Here we melted water, tried to sleep a bit, and prepared our minds. Soon the sky was ablaze with an incredible sun rise and we were off and running.
I led steep snow and neve to wear it ended in vertical rock. I set a belay, took off my boots, put my tools away, put my numb toes in a pair of beat up mythos and started charging up dry, cold rock. I led through several beautiful 5.7-5.9 pitches quickly. On the hardest pitches Cole (aka The Hass) jugged with both packs. The climbing became more mixed as we moved up the lower part of the North Ridge, but I kept the rock shoes on, even when climbing ice and snow. I pounded my gloved fists into the snow instead of getting the tools out, while connecting patches of icy rock. This full on monkey style had us at the notch at a reasonable hour that afternoon. We watched the sun sink in the west and cuddled together in our ghetto gear as long as we could stand it, which was quite a while actually. At 3am we left our bivy with tools in hand and boots on our feet. I led pitch after pitch of mixed fun, all of which was in great condition. I was leading across a snowfield towards the base of the Great Gendarme when the sun came up. The colors left us awe struck and we felt blessed to be where we were. Although the Gendarme pitches were a bit icier than the lower part of the route, I still donned the rock shoes. I made quick work of the pitches and The Hass jugged like an animal with both packs. Once on top of the gendarme we climbed more mixed ground to the summit. The route had taken us about 30 hours and had been one of the best in recent memory. Every foot of climbing had been classic, the positions unbeatable, and the views...oh, the views.
From the summit we descended quickly down the Sherpa Glacier Coulior and after a few hours were hiking out of the valley. We stopped every few feet to look back at the amazing ridge, but finally got on our way, arriving in Peshastin at 9 pm that evening.
The Complete North Ridge in winter has been a goal of mine for a few years and to succeed on my first try was a true blessing. Cole had a great attitude. We share a true love for climbing and refuse to to give up. This passion got us up the ridge. I can only wonder...what's next?


Jim said...

wow, must have been a great trip especially the sunrise on the upper ridge. Time for a handful espresso beans. Cheers, Jim Nelson

John said...

Nice work! Very impressive!

Ade Miller said...

Nice job!

We met you on your Colchuck Lake trip right before we climbed the backbone. Thanks for the warning about rockfall in the TCs.



Pelangi said...

>>>I figured I slogged more than 80 miles that winter trying to get up something, anything in the mountains. I failed on every effort because of avalanche conditions and unconsolidated snow each time.

[pelangi] Oh, I feel so much better that I wasn't the only not who have to turnaround quite a fair bit ;-)

mountianbluebird said...

hi Jens! found your blog! wow. beautiful story here, beautiful too how you live your life how you believe. you let your love of mountains take you up the mountains. Always Upwards, I really like that. you. are. amazing. and I know its because the mountains are amazing?!!! Jens your writing conveys the mountains with the beauty that they deserve. :) colorful story, SunriseSunsetSunrise, thank you for the story Jens, thank you, for sharing, and 4 being you *carla