Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Week On The Big Guy: Three Amazing Routes On Mt. Stuart

Hanging out under Mt. Stuart's incredible north side

Last week, Shaun Johnson and I had plans for an alpine extravaganza on Mt. Shuksan. Our plan was to race around the mountain and complete several classic routes over the course of two days. Packing my kit for the mission, I checked the weather for the Stuart Range on my I-phone. I wanted to make sure I wasn't about to leave the area if the right weather arrived to make a solo attempt on Mt. Stuart's Girth Pillar. This was a goal I had been thinking about for months. I needed to prioritze it. Sure enough, cold night time temps throughout the week had me cancelling plans to leave Leavenworth. I asked Shaun if he would like to take a run up Stuart's Upper North Ridge to check conditions on the Ice Cliff Glacier, the tongue of broken snow and ice that leads to the rock portion of TGP.
Scoping the upper Ice Cliff in preparation for a solo attempt on Mt. Stuart's Girth Pillar

Two weeks ago I made a solo ascent of Dragons of Eden on Dragontail Peak, a more difficult and sustained line than the Girth Pillar, but also devoid of the glacier travel and the objective hazards that make the Girth a much more ballsy outing. As Shaun and I cruised the North Ridge I took photos of the glacier and the ice cliff that gaurds it. I could see that the route went, but not as easily or safely as it would have a month or two earlier. I was sure I could race up the ice cliff, but would be doing so on rotten, boulder studded ice. Having climbed the ice cliff more than once over the years, I knew it could be in much better condition. When I set out on a hard solo, I want everything to be perfect and in line. Conditions, weather, psyche, and fitness need to work harmoniously to produce a satisfying and safe experiance. I felt everything was in place besides the conditions. If I had not been in the Alaska Range or working so much early in the summer I would have tried it then, when the ice cliff was an easy romp up a low angled groove. Now, in late August, it seemed my best chance at a safe solo would be to access the climb via the rock pitches of the lower North Ridge. This start is much more difficult, especially to solo. Many people think the ice cliff approach makes the route harder. Not the case. When in condition I would be able to solo the ice cliff and make it to the base of the pillar in 45 minutes. It would take me several hours to get myself to the same spot via the lower North Ridge.

Shaun and I topped out the North Ridge and descended the Sherpa Glacier Coulior. I went home to Leavenworth and meditated on what I should do. After careful consideration, I pulled the plug on this year's attempt. I want to solo the route via the ice cliff and I want it to be as safe as possible. I decided I would wait to tackle this goal until next year in the early season.

Feeling a bit bad about jerking Shaun around and not engaging our awesome objectives on Shuksan, I figured we should go back and get some serious adventure out of Mt. Stuart. I had a bit of gear below the mountain for my solo that I needed to retrieve anyway.

Only days after our Upper North Ridge climb, we were back under the The Big Guy (Stuart!!). Over the next two days we went on to climb the Girth Pillar via the lower North Ridge, descend the Sherpa Glacier Coulior, make the first one day ascent of Gorrilas in the Mist to the summit, and descend the entire West Ridge. It was quite a tour for Shaun who prior to our week's adventures had not even been to Stuart's north side. Nice work Shaun!!

Even though I had to let the solo mission go, I had an awesome time on a great mountain with an amped partner. Shaun reminds me of myself in that he wants to be in the mountains constantly. It just feels so wonderful up high!

Shaun posted a great trip report here:

Back at camp after climbing The Girth Pillar...psyched and ready for more!!

1 comment:

JW said...

Rope Solo or free solo?

John Plotz