After climbing Mount Adams on Saturday & viewing the solar eclipse on Sunday in eastern Oregon, I stopped at Mount Stuart on the road back to Vancouver, BC. I didn't arrive in the Esmerelda parking lot until after midnight & slept in my vehicle til 8:30am. It was 9:15am when I set off & would be 7:15pm when I returned. Long, exhausting slog up the couloir, then the scrambling really started. Very steep trail all the way & there is the potential for slips on the scrambling section, so be careful. Summit was beautiful, although there was a forest fire to the southwest which unfortunately obscured the view somewhat. On my descent I didn't pay enough attention to my GPS & was descending the wrong gully (on a good trail), before I realised my mistake & traversed across, bushwhacking & having to downclimb one final section (Class 4) to reach the Cascadian Couloir again. The next time I climb this mountain I would like to do the North Ridge, I don't want to do the Cascadian ascent ever again!
*Ascent of the Cascadian Coulior 8/19/17
We left the Esmeralda Basin / Longs Pass Trailhead parking lot promptly at noon on Saturday and had no trouble following the signs to Longs Pass. With me were Erik L. and Doug F. This was my second attempt on Mount Stuart, as I spent 15 hours on an unsuccessful one-day summit bid back in August 2015. Erik was returning to Mount Stuart, having successfully summited a few years back. This was Doug’s first visit to the granite peak.
Longs Pass trail is wide and well maintained, and we were immediately rewarded for our efforts with excellent vistas to the west. We reached the pass (6220 ft) by 1:15 p.m., and were further rewarded with our first vistas of Mount Stuart. Longs Pass is a popular destination for day-hikers, and the maintained trail ends here.
At the pass we worked our way a little to the left and found the path leading down. A little Class III scrambling is required just below Longs Pass, but this quickly gives way to a well-worn, though unmaintained, trail. There's not always just one route on this descent and it's easy to make a wrong turn, but with patience (and occasion backtracking) we found ourselves crossing Ingalls Creek (4840 ft) around 2:30 p.m.
Once across Ingalls Creek we soon found the Ingalls Creek trail and turned right. Three tenths of a mile later we spotted the unmarked boot path on the left that is the beginning of the climbers’ route up the Cascadian Couloir. Here we turned our back on the mountain and retreated into the woods toward Ingalls Creek. This is a popular overnight camping area for the Cascadian Couloir route, and a group of six or seven other climbers were already set up for the night. We set up our base camp in no particular hurry, relaxed, and prepared for an early start. For dinner I grilled chicken quesadillas in the full-size skillet I brought from home. If you’re thinking that a skillet is foolish thing to take backpacking, then you haven’t experienced my chicken quesadillas.
My alarm went off at 5:30 Sunday morning, and by 6:30 our day packs were shouldered and we’d departed camp. Helmets are required gear year round on Mount Stuart due to the ever present rock fall hazard. Our ice axes we left at home. While the Cascadian Couloir route is mixed rock and snow earlier in the season, there is no snow travel required in September. As there’s little to no water available on the south side of Mount Stuart; I carried three liters from base camp. (SPOILER ALERT: I drank every last drop).
It's worth mentioning here that route finding up the Cascadian Couloir, is more than a little problematic. A prominent gully guides you through much of the lower portion of the route, but once you leave the gully you encounter a labyrinth of boot and goat tracks, each seemingly more random than the last. Cairns are plentiful, but provide little comfort, as none of the various choices are an improvement on the last.
The route up the Cascadian Couloir is Class II and Class III scrambling. It took 40 minutes to gain our first 1000 foot of elevation. It took 60 minutes to gain our second. 60 minutes later we'd managed only another 800 feet. Our pace was slowing, and it was not lost on the team.
It was at this point that Erik decided to bow out. Erik is no lightweight, and already two summits of Mount Adams (12,281 feet) under his belt this year. Unfortunately, Erik was still rehabilitating from an old injury, and he feared that the endless scrambling over rough terrain was putting his recovery at risk. We paused to assess our options.
I'd been fortunate in the climbs I'd organized; never before had I faced leaving a climber behind on the route. Erik recommended we continue without him, and he agreed to stay put till we got back. We parted ways, and we promised to be back by 1:00 p.m. (SPOILER ALERT: That was a mistake.)
Doug and I picked up the pace. In the next 45 minutes we'd gained another 1000 feet. Now we found ourselves at the base of the summer snowfield, just below the false summit. Early in the season, a deep covering of snow provides a friendly path to the ridgeline 400 feet above. By September what’s left of this snow is too hard and too icy to safely self-arrest. We scrambled up the rocky slopes to the left of the snowfield (medium to high Class III) and found ourselves reaching the ridge (9000 feet) that leads up to the false summit some 30 minutes later.
Up on the ridge we got our first good views of the true summit, now only 1100 feet distant and 400 feet above us. Despite good visibility, we saw no clear route. We took what seemed the most direct traverse, following the boot tracks of many who'd gone before, only to find ourselves cliffed out. After a partial retreat we resigned ourselves to descending further down the slope. Soon we found the real route and bagan our traverse back up toward the summit. You know you're on the right path when you come to a tight squeeze through a cave-like pile of boulders with a clear path on the other side.
Once you begin this final traverse the difficulty increases, as does the exposure. Most of this terrain is high Class III, and some spots Class IV. Route finding also increases in difficulty, as there are now few places where your boot will leave a mark. Fortunately, all of the various tracks are now converging on the summit. We kept an eye open for cairns, and let them guide our way.
The top 400 feet of Mount Stuart took us about an hour to ascend, and at 11:37 a.m. on September 11, 2016 we found ourselves standing on the summit (9,415 feet). The total elevation gain from base camp was 4575 feet, and the total elapsed time was 5:07 hours.
The summit was unusually quiet, varying from light winds to no winds at all. Through partly sunny skies we soaked in the rays and enjoy our vistas of the central Cascades. One other group summited while we hung out, approaching on the classic north route. After 40 minutes of summit relaxation, we shouldered our packs and began our descent.
It took 45 minutes to return to the ridge (9000 feet), and by then it was 1:00 p.m. Erik was now expecting our return, yet he was still 1400 feet below. I now feared that he would start up the mountain in search of us, or down the mountain in search of base camp. I didn’t know which of these would be worse. Clouded by these dark thoughts, we continued our descent to the base of the snowfield.
Soon we were below the snowfield. With the most technical and demanding parts of the climb now behind us, it was tempting to relax. The fall line below the snowfield is wide and easy to follow. Unfortunately, this is a trap. As I learned in August of 2015, and as many climbers learn every year, the fall line from the snowfield does not lead you back to the Cascadian Couloir, but rather to the next major couloir further to the east. Don’t rely upon boot tracks to save you here, as so many people have descended the wrong route that it is now well worn. Instead, keep to the right of the fall line as you descend, and keep your eyes peeled for cairns. With perseverance and a little care you will find the little track that takes you back to the Cascadian.
We covered the distance from the ridge back down to the 7600 feet elevation in a little more than an hour. It was there we hoped to find Erik waiting for our return. We were more than an hour overdue, so it was with great relief that we heard his voice responding to our calls. I resolved to design better plans—and better contingencies—for the next time I needed to split a party on a mountain.
The rest of our descent back to base camp was uneventful. You can ignore the rumors of a treacherous boulder pitching me down the slopes, as well as the stories of me performing self-arrest with the top of my head. As there are no visible injuries to report and as no photographic evidence survives, all such rumors must surrender to plausible deniability.
We arrived back at our base camp at Ingalls Creek shortly at about 4:40 p.m. and broke down camp. By 5:35 p.m. our packs were shouldered and we were on our way to Longs Pass. We reached the pass shortly before sunset, pausing only long enough to snap a few parting photos. The skies to the west were clearing, and the shadowed, northeast flanks of Mount Rainier were visible in the distance.
With breaks and gear changes, the two miles from Longs Pass to the parking lot took about an hour. Even though sunset was at 7:21 p.m., in the deep valley of the Teanaway River it was already quite dark by the time we got back to our cars.
Mount Stuart had its perils, but the drive back to Cle Elum in the dark turned out to have perils of its own. At one point we had to brake sharply to avoid some Black Angus cattle standing in the road, seeming oblivious to all other forms of traffic. (Much of Eastern Washington is open range.) A short distance later we had a similar encounter with a black-tailed deer. In both cases I was fortunate to spot the animals in time to stop; but it is frightening to think how much different our evening would have gone had I been even momentarily distracted behind the wheel.
Our total moving time from trailhead to summit to trailhead was 14:47 hours over two days. Our total round trip distance was 11.8 miles. Some climbers tackle Mount Stuart as a one-day climb, but personally I don’t see the fun in that.
12:00 noon: Depart parking area (4270 feet).
1:15 p.m.: Arrive Longs Pass (6220 feet).
2:40 p.m.: Arrive Ingalls Creek camping area (4840 feet).
7:23 p.m.: Sunset.
6:30 a.m.: Depart base camp (4840 feet).
6:35 a.m.: Sunrise.
7:11 a.m.: Pass 5800 feet elevation.
8:15 a.m.: Pass 6800 feet elevation.
9:15 a.m.: Pass 7600 feet elevation.
10:04 a.m.: Arrive base of snowfield (8600 feet).
10:35 p.m.: Arrive ridge of false summit (9000).
11:37 a.m.: Arrive summit (9415 feet).
12:15 p.m.: Depart summit (9415 feet).
1:00 p.m.: Return ridge of false summit (9000).
2:12 p.m.: Return 7600 feet elevation.
4:40 p.m.: Return Ingalls Creek camping area (4840 feet).
5:35 p.m.: Depart Ingalls Creek camping area (4840 feet).
7:00 p.m.: Arrive Longs Pass (6220 feet).
7:21 p.m.: Sunset.
8:10 p.m.: Return parking area (4270 feet).
Hiked to base camp Saturday afternoon after a quick stop at Lake Ingalls. Bagged the peak Sunday morning in a cloud; lots of scrambling, but nothing worse than class 3. There is one steep snowfield between 8500' and 9000' where an ice axe and crampons are necessary.
Long difficult climb. Snowing up top with low visibility. Will try again on a sunny day.
2nd time for me, but 40 years ago. Had a few mix ups on west ridge this time, had to bivy on the way down, but we did it. Big Rock...
This is nice full day trip with good elevation gain, some scrambling and opportunity to practice in route finding ;) Route was totally snow free. Total time was about 9h and we lost probably an hour by descending into wrong couloir. Helmet is the only gear we need (optional, but really nice to have).
Caught this in a brief interlude from all the smoke plaguing Washington right now. We missed the turn at the false summit and went around it on the north side, which seemed easier than the standard route that we used for descent. Either way, not too much difference. Did this over the course of two days with a camp at Ingalls Creek.
Route finding was tricky near the top and the couloir itself was a slog, but it was all worth it.
had some route-finding issues. 17 hours car-to-car. fun route
splattski and I had a grand time in the Cascadian couloir. Being a very low snow year, we ended up lugging our crampons and axes for naught. Glad to break the trip in to two days. You can pretty much avoid walking on any snow at all right now. The creek crossing is also trivial now. A little marine layer came in and obscured a lot of views but pretty awesome looking down onto the north face. As far as ultra prominence peaks go, this is a tough one.
Took our time up the Cascadian Couloir. Last storm took out the trail in the lower half, as well as the zigzaggy trail from Longs pass to Ingalls Creek. Pretty straight forward, long scree slog.
2 day trip - camped along Ingalls trail. Bad weather - basically rain and drizzle all day. No lightning thankfully. Summit traverse above the snow was fun. Due to bad visibility and following a climbers trail I also descended the wrong chute. Some sketchy downclimbing in a stream bed/waterfall. Eventually I picked up a decent if overgrown trail which took me down to the Ingalls ~0.5 miles east of camp.
Car to Car via the Cascade Couloir in a day. The couloir itself was a lot easier than I thought. There wasn't nearly as much loose rock and scree as I was expecting, although a helmet would be recommended still. Still snow above 8,500' to the false summit, but didn't need to go on any snow from the false summit to the true summit. Went too far east on our descent and ended up in the wrong gully (followed a climber's trail down, beware!) Could have been done in hiking/trail running shoes with some microspikes with an ice axe. Great day!
Left car at ~3:30 AM, back to car at ~8:00 PM. Fought off a mtn. goat with my ice ax. Took left scramble around false summit and then up. Came back down standard route off false summit. Glissaded down from false summit. River running high.
One Day Climb. Camped at the trailhead and Started at 7am. Hiked up and over and finished the hike at 6pm. Very tough hike about 13 miles RT by my GPS.
After crossing Ingalls Cre
ek on the way up we went Right (SE) along the Ingalls Creek Trail for about .25 miles to a cairn leading up the colour. The brush was a bit rough at first but it worked. On the way down we bypassed that by finding some other route. Couldn't explain it if I tried. It fizzled out and we walked straight through the brush downhill to the trail. Ending up just about 100 feet from the intersection of the trail going back. I don't think I would pick to try the more direct route up even if I could find it. It was a bit steep and the slopes were vegetated.
Complete North Ridge w/ Gendarme (V 5.9 28 pitches). Cloud cover resulting in low vis and some rain and snow on route led to unplanned bivy on ledge above Gendarme. A great route, long with a mix of wandery low 5th and sustained 5.8/9 climbing.
2016-08-14 via Complete North Ridge with Gendarme. Soloed entire upper ridge except Gendarme pitches with Sam
08/27/13 via Complete North Ridge with Gendarme bypass because to started raining just before getting to it.
Two night camp on Ingalls Creek. Wonderful mountain with good weather.
My first of hopefully many major Cascade peaks.