Stuart had been on my wish-list for a LONG time. I had stared lustfully at its impressive granite massif from almost every summit in the central cascades, but had yet to actually stand on it. I work full time in the summer for the Forest Service (can’t complain—I get paid to hike:) so multi-day climbing trips are few and far between. There was finally a window of good weather coincident with my days off, so I started plotting my climb of Stuart. My sister’s boyfriend Adam had the same two days off, but had previously arranged a rock-climbing date with said sister for the first day. I attempted many times to convince Adam that Stuart is more attractive than my sister, but either he isn’t convinced, or my sister is really just that evil and manipulative (I’m going with the latter). Long story short: we decided to try Stuart in one day…
We woke up at 2:30 AM and left Snoqualmie by 3:15. There must have been some strange cult activity among the animals that morning, as they were consistently suicidal! By the time we arrived in Cle Elum we had narrowly missed hitting two raccoons, two deer and several birds. Adam’s quick reflexes (and stealthy 60's Beetle) got us to the trailhead unscathed, and after some gawking at Esmeralda we started hiking at 5:30.
We found snow after about a half mile, and it was patchy all the way up to Longs Pass. Gaining the pass, we were both shocked to see what a big boy Stuart is. The closest I have been to him before is Dragontail, and from there he isn’t nearly so prominent. We were both a little intimidated by how steep the Cascadian Couloir looks from that vantage, but quickly forgot as we enjoyed the glissade down the north side of Longs Pass. We met two other Stuart-bound climbers who had camped on the pass.
Dropping down into the trees, we crossed several smaller creeks before finding a narrow, slanted log on which to cross Ingalls Creek. After about 100 meters of bushwhacking, we found the Ingalls Creek trail and followed it down about a half mile to a clearing. We met some campers there who had climbed Stuart the previous day and they confirmed for us that we were at the bottom of the Cascadian Couloir.
The bottom of the couloir is brushy, but it opens up to a pleasant, alpine gully before too long. Adam and I had both had some questionable Chinese food the previous day, and were pretty flatulent as we started climbing again. There was much more incentive to lead at this point, as the person behind had to deal with the leader’s odor. At first I would warn Adam before letting fly, but my soft-shell pants had an unexpected timed-release feature (a patent is in the works), making smells difficult to predict… sorry Adam:) At about 7000’ we went to the left into a gully that had some steep, icy snow in it. Adam carefully booted across, and I opted to down-climb to the main gully, noting the unpleasant run-out. I met up with Adam again and we continued up to the top of the couloir without encountering much snow.
We took a break on the shoulder below the false summit, kicking back to views of Rainier and the Stuart Range. The snow slope to the false summit wasn’t yet as soft as we would have liked (we were there at about noon). It was also very steep, sloping to 55 degrees in places. We didn’t use crampons, but it was slow going kicking steps and self-belaying. From the top of the snowfield we contoured around the south side of the false summit, enjoying the absolute best in alpine scrambling. Our route took us close to the top of the ridge and over a few unnecessary (but fun!) moves of class four scrambling, but there were plenty of third class options available all the way to the summit.
The views from the summit were absolutely superlative! There were low-level clouds on the west side of the cascade crest, and they were spilling through the fingers of Lemah and Chimney rock as they evaporated; what a treat! We were extremely fortunate with weather on the east side! There was hardly a breeze on the summit! It was even kind of warm up there! The register was put there by the Mazamas, but all of the papers inside were soaked! (I’m using exclamations and short sentences here to add to the exciting tone…call it artistic license?) We lingered at the summit for well over an hour, eventually being joined by the twosome that we had seen at Longs Pass 6:30 that morning! We chatted with them for a while before begrudgingly starting our trek down…
By the time we got back the snow had softened considerably. I was uneasy about glissading down though, given the angle. Adam stepped off the rock and immediately fell, doing a quick self-arrest. The snow was so soft and steep that plunge-stepping was difficult, and would usually end you up in a sitting glissade position with some initial velocity:) Adam glissaded the rest of the way down without incident (it actually looked so fun that I gave in and joined him). I was using a shorter ice axe than I am used to, and made a proper fool of myself on the first part of the glissade (stopping in plenty of time on an arrest, but looking pretty funny while doing it:)
We had previously decided to descend the broad couloir immediately west of Cascadian (Beckey’s Variation number one), as it still had plenty of snow. We were able to glissade down 2000’ and it was an absolute blast! Once the snow ended, we found our way to the bottom of the gully by climbing down a dry waterfall. Probably not the best route, but it worked. The gully terminates in a broad meadow and we quickly found the Ingalls creek trail.
We had some luck route-finding on the way back toward Longs Pass, finding all of the right creek-crossings and taking an easy, direct route through the snow. We arrived (exhausted) at the car at 8:00, totaling fourteen and a half hours for the climb, with just over 8200’ of elevation gain for the day. I was so tired that I fell asleep on the Teanaway road, allegedly sleeping through several pretty loud head-thumps against the window. We stopped to gorge ourselves at El Caporal in Cle Elum before proceeding to our warm beds.
Stuart really offers some of the best alpine scrambling I have ever encountered, and it is definitely my favorite trip to date!