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North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Range, Mt. Stuart, Complete North Ridge, First Winter Ascent

Mt. Stuart, Complete North Ridge, first winter ascent. Four bluebird days and stellar conditions in February 2005 allowed Colin Haley (20) and me (42) to finally climb Mt. Stuart’s Complete North Ridge in winter. It was my 7th attempt in 17 years and Colin’s 2nd in a month and a half. Five previous attempts over the years with Don Preiss had ended in true Cascade fashion with thigh-deep snow, high winds, rain, and/or sickness.

On the first day we parked one mile up the Eightmile Road and followed tracks to the bivy boulder at the base of the route. In December the route was plastered in snow, but this time the rock was dry and the snow had been replaced by nevé. The next day we aided two clean pitches and fixed our two ropes. On day 3 we slept through the alarm and started jugging at 6 a.m. We tossed one rope to the ground and continued on up some of the funnest climbing either of us has ever found in the Cascades. Mostly dry rock, nevé, and even the occasional thunker alpine ice took us to the North Ridge Notch just at sunset. None of the soul-destroying deep snow and wind of December.

After sleeping through the alarm, again, we climbed more alpine fun to the base of the Gendarme. I got the first pitch: steep, all aid with a few moves off the tools, but straightforward and the cracks mostly ice-free. Colin got the definite crux of the route: a 4" to 5" ice-choked crack, followed by insecure free moves, mixed with more aid. He stretched out our 47m rope to a comfy belay just as it became dark.

In brilliant moonlight we climbed for four more hours on easy ground, mixed with harder steps and one section of aid, until we topped out 100 horizontal feet from the summit. A short stroll to the top and we hit the watch at 11:15 p.m. It was so bright we could even see Rainier as we followed tracks down to the head of the Sherpa Glacier Couloir. We then downclimbed perfect nevé, descended the glacier, and set up the tent below the moraine. I got the cush job of melting snow, while Colin hoofed it back up to the bivy boulder to collect his ski poles, sleeping bag, and the rope we tossed. After a good sleep and leisurely brew we had a pleasant walk out.

Mark Bunker, AAC