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Ascent of Mount Stuart on 2014-06-29

Climber: Andrew Fabian

Date:Sunday, June 29, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Stuart
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:9415 ft / 2869 m

Ascent Trip Report

ICC Alpine II Via the West Ridge.

We had the same weather forecast as everyone else and interpreted it as marginally crappy on Saturday and marginally acceptable on Sunday, with your usual variations in timing and accuracy. The students scoured the overload of beta and worked out a beautiful plan for the climb including a reasonable timeline and several decision points, complete with contingency plans and bail options.

We made quick work of the approach and got to the base of the route ahead of our nominal timeline. Similar to the June 2013 ICC W Ridge team, we were cheated out of the beautiful granite "god's staircase" and instead found a mostly snow filled gully. It was enough to make you cry (tears of disappointment).

I think it's safe to say this is not a June route and should be deferred until late-July or August for future ICC classes.

On our way to the top of the gully we had several discussions about bailing, but decided to push on given the current weather and our optimistic expectations for the next day. This may or may not have been a good decision. Visibility was terrible, but the team did an excellent job of finding their way through steep snow and wet rock. We roped up at Long John's Tower and made some exciting moves in boots on the wet rock, finding a lovely bivy spot just beyond the tower. We were still ahead of our schedule, though, so we pressed on towards the West Ridge Notch. We couldn't see much of anything, but managed to find a good bivy spot just before the notch around 5:45pm.

After a miserable night "sleeping" in a cloud at 9,000 feet we awoke to frigid temps and a thorough coat of rime ice and snow. Doubts and fears of epic'ing entered the instructors' minds. We were better positioned to "bail up" rather than "bail down" so we pressed on. Not a dry sleeping bag in the house after our cloud nap, so we were especially motivated to avoid an extra night out.

With little to no visual cues, we navigated to the notch and roped up short (~30m, Kiwi Coils) to pitch out the rest of the route. This worked well, as it helped mitigate the rope drag and aided communication. Both teams proceeded steadily and safely, climbing icy rock in crampons and gloves. There was a "french free" or two. We did the Chicken Dance to stay warm.

For the final pitch, Andrew lead up the chimney (climber's right, 5.6) to twin cracks (climber's right, 5.8? in crampons). We deployed some aid techniques and eventually realized this was not the best route. Sarah and Theresa benefitted from this realization and lead a wandery, but simpler, path to the top (climber's far left after the chimney) . Last climber summited around 1:45pm. We high fived, re-energized with chocolate, and began our descent in the mist. We made a minor navigational error and nearly descended too early into the wrong couloir (Ulrich's?). We quickly corrected it through topo-consultation and cairn-hunting. I have no idea why anyone would ever choose to go UP and then back down the Cascadian Couloir.

We slogged down the hill, broke below the clouds, and then back up the hill over Long's Pass, reaching the parking lot in daylight around 8:45pm.

This trip should be in the back of their minds during future considerations to roll the dice in marginal weather. Our plans to keep going relied heavily on a better Sunday weather (per forecast), which didn't happen. The students got to experience quite a bit of steep snow, climbing wet rock in boots, climbing icy rock in crampons/gloves, and route finding with limited visibility. This was a mentally challenging climb and I'm impressed with the team's perseverance.
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