There are 2 common approaches to the North Ridge of Mount Stuart:
1) From the south (via Ingalls Lake and Stuart Pass)
2) From the north (via Mountaineer Creek)
Approaching from the north is most direct, but the easiest descent (down the Cascadia Couloir on the south side of the mountain) leaves you (exhausted) facing a long hike around the mountain to your vehicle at the Mountaineer Creek trailhead. Approaching from the south means that you face the hike around to the north side *first*, but enjoy a shorter stretch of trail (fastest over Longs Pass) once down the Cascadia Couloir. Choosing an approach/retreat is one of the toughest parts of climbing Mt. Stuart's North Ridge!
Elevation vs distance plots for comparing North Ridge routes (click to view higher resolution version).
Our route (approaching from the south via Ingall's Pass and returning via Long's Pass) is highlighted in yellow (about 11 miles round trip). Returning via Ingall's Pass adds another couple/3 miles. The approach from the north is shown in blue. Depending on whether you descend via the Sherpa Glacier or go down the Cascadia Couloir and loop back over (via Stuart and Goat's Passes), the distance can vary a lot (from about 13 miles round trip to almost 21).
Details of the southern approach:
From I-90 near Cle Elum (or 97 N of Ellensburg), proceed on 970 to junction with North Fork Tanaway road. Drive about 23 miles to trailhead at end of road (elevation 4243'). Hike up old mining road 0.25 miles, turn onto trail to Longs Pass/Ingalls Lake, ascend to junction at 5600', go left, and proceed to Ingalls Pass (3 miles, 6500').
After enjoying the first view of Stuart, continue over Ingalls pass, through the beautiful alpine lakeside camp sites, and along the shores of Ingalls lake to an edge overlooking the headwaters of Ingalls creek. (To save time, note that the W shore of the lake is much easier (quicker) to get around than the east (thanks to jrs for this beta). If you are interested in bouldering up and down and over and around go E; if you want to walk easily around the lake, go W.) From the overlook, either traverse around the Ingalls creek headwaters via the ridge or drop ~300' down to meadows, cross the upper basin in open meadows/pines, and ascend ~350' on grassy talus to Stuart pass. Continue up (steep) to shoulder at base of west ridge of Mount Stuart, descend left ~200' on climbers trail, cross 2nd basin full of blocky talus, and climb up scree (steep again) 500' to Goat pass (7650') on NW ridge of Mount Stuart.
Once you've perused the route and seen the gendarme from Goat pass (nice views back to Ingalls lake -- see photo below), drop down to the moraine shelves (below the Stuart glacier) and traverse to a saddle between a spiny horizontal ridge and the Stuart glacier. From there it's a matter of walking down to the route of your choice.
Details of the northern approach:
From U.S. 2 just west of Leavenworth, drive 9.2 miles on Icicle Creek road to Bridge Creek Campground, cross bridge, and continue 3.5 miles on road #7601 to Lake Stuart/Colchuck Lake trail head (trail #1599, 3540') at a sharp turn. Follow Mountaineer Creek via constant grade riverside trail and intermittent switchbacks 2.5 miles to junction with Colchuck Lake trail (4600'). Proceed straight (south) up Mountaineer Creek toward Lake Stuart ~1 mile through swamps and then forest. At switchbacks leading to Lake Stuart, leave trail, cross creek, traverse benches above main branch Mountaineers Creek (still on your left) 0.25 miles. Then drop ~100' to main creek above swamp to find climbers path paralleling creek and proceeding up the valley. About 1.5 miles later, climb up/right/west as valley steepens through talus and forest ~1 mile to good campsites beneath Sherpa and Ice Cliff glaciers (5400'). North ridge is right/west of Ice Cliff glacier and left/east of Stuart glacier.
Alternate approach from SW via Van Epps Pass
An alternate approach to Stuart via the Lake Ingalls area can be made via a route from Van Epps Pass over the notch between Ingalls North/South. This shortens the approach by about a mile and reduces the amount of ascending by about 1000'. The disadvantage is that you will need to climb back over it on the way out, adding maybe 1000' to your climb out of the Ingalls Creek valley.
Drive the Cle Elum drainage to Fortune Creek, about 8 miles past Salmon La Sac. Just past the creek a jeep trail (4W301) leaves on the right. Do NOT take this road, instead drive another 1/4 mi and take two rights on a forest road that parallels the jeep trail up the drainage (this road does not appear on most maps). In a few miles 4W302 veers off left at an old mining claim sign. Drive this rough road (4x4 required, I made it in a stock Ford Ranger .. you'll need low range and some clearance) to Van Epps Pass, park there, or at an old mine a bit up a short spur off 4W303 just to the south.
Hike the County Line Trail south nearly to Lake Ann (20 min). When you emerge from the trees, follow a climbers' path up left along the base of the talus and through meadows to the gully leading to the notch between Ingalls South and North. Descend the other side to Lake Ingalls and then follow the normal southern approach. Another alternative is to traverse around the north side of North Ingalls, but the talus there is much more difficult than simply going up and over.
Lower Ridge -- direct start, East variation (about 15 pitches to the abbreviated start):
Get yourself to the base of the North Ridge and clamber up until you are
looking up at the first pitch
. We carried Beckey's notes, but basically you just need to find a way up staying near or on the ridge crest while vigilantly
avoiding rope drag.
Upper Ridge -- abbreviated start (15-17 pitches to the summit):
You basically want to attain the North Ridge (8200') from the upper Stuart Glacier (7800') via a prominent gulley and then climb 10-11 pitches to the gendarme. The 2 gendarme pitches are rated 5.9 and require a few special pieces. For detailed route map and description we liked "Selected Climbs in the Cascades" by Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield (The Mountaineers, 1993) and carried pages 63-64 of first edition).
1) A diverse, but light rack. A full range of nuts/stoppers, small cams, and a couple big things (we enjoyed having two #1 cams, two #2, and one #3).
2) Water, including enough for the descent. Iodine for refills at Ingalls Creek.
3) Bivy gear. Best bivy spots are at the top of the direct in a major Col (where the abbreviated start joins the direct). Bivy spots are not great the rest of the way up.
4) You may need ice axe and/or crampons if you plan to do only the upper ridge.
5) Hard hats definitely recommended, especially if you traverse at the Gendarme!
6) Specifics gear for the Great Gendarme variation (thx2 rpc
-- Very few nuts (small, medium, large - 1 each)
-- Aliens from green to red (0.5 to 1 inch; one set probably sufficient; doubles are nice)
-- Camalots from #.75 to #3 (doubles)
-- Camalot #3.5 (single)
-- C4 #4 (single)
The redundancy in the #3 to #3.5 Camalot size range is nice as the belay atop lower Gendarme pitch ideally (yes, you could finagle other stuff in there) takes two #3's or a #3 and a #3.5 AND you want to have one #3 (as well as one larger unit) left over for the OW on upper Gendarme pitch.
Descent routesDescent via the Cascadia Couloir:
Don't be lured into going down Ulrich's couloir or any other way! (Ulrich's goes straight down from the summit.) If you're facing south towards Rainier, the Cascadia is left of Ulrich's. Just remember: the Cascadia couloir cannot be seen from the summit.
Indeed, to drop into the Cascadia Couloir, you must traverse high around the prominent ridge that is visible from the summit and cloaks the upper Cascadia Couloir. Begin the descent heading NE, staying close to the ridge (peek over to marvel at the North Ridge from above). Follow cairns and pass many bivy sites as you parallel the ridge crest, traversing eastward on its south side.
Stay relatively high as you approach the ridge that points south and blocks your view of the Cascadia couloir. Cross that ridge about 200' below the ridge crest; much lower and your traverse will be blocked by impressive cliffs on the E side and may have to climb back up. Traverse NE/E into a steep, very loose gully/scree slope that is often covered with a snow field. Glissade or crumble down (southeast) and then continue on less loose and larger talus down and right (southward).
As you approach low pines, find many climbers tracks and bear right (due south) into the Cascadia couloir. It is a long, dry, often sun-baked descent with many loose blocks and opportunities to stumble. Ingall's creek will beckon from afar... Don't forget that lots of Mt Stuart accidents happen on the descent, despite the fact that hazards are few.
Descent options if departing to the north
(thx2 Martin Cash
1. Sherpa Glacier - In early season, this descent should be easy and is the best way to get off the mountain back to the north side.
2. Northwest Buttress - After the Sherpa Glacier descent melts out, this is your preferred descent to get back to the north side. The descent involves scrambling down class 3/4 rock and with several rappels (fixed).
Example trip times, approaching from the south
With the direct start and the Gendarme, plan on two very long days.
Without the direct start but with the Gendarme, two easy days.
4:00 am depart Ingall's pass parking lot
4:30 am reach junction of trails to Ingalls and Longs passes
5:30 am crest Ingalls pass
6:00 am reach Ingalls Lake (refill water)
7:00 am reach Stuart Pass (or just above and ENE of it)
8:00 am attain Goat Pass
9:00 am reach base of lower North Ridge (E variation) (fill water)
3:00 pm lunch somewhere near the beginning of the upper North Ridge
9:00 pm bivy on knob 3 pitches below Gendarme
5:00 am wake up dehydrated and hungry
6:00 am down climb and begin 5.7 pitch, fueled photosynthetically
7:30 am arrive at base of Gendarme
8:00 am complete rap from ledges below Gendarme
9:00 am finally out of the damp couloir and wet ledges
10:30 am summit
11:00 am start descent
noon cross above cliffs to steep snow field
1:00 pm drop into Cascadia Couloir
4:00 pm drop dead by the creek
5:00 pm start up the Longs Pass trail
6:30 pm crest Longs Pass
7:30 pm merge with the Ingalls Pass trail
8:00 pm drive away
Bivy beta from Jerm
There are 4 or 5 nice bivy sites (as big, if not as numerous, as those at the base of the upper ridge) about one pitch beyond the intersection with the lower west variation (joins at a prominant 50 foot of knife edged section of ridge). These are about 7 or 8 pitches above the base of the route.
Thanks to J. Yelverton for beta, some of which is embedded here.