American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mt. Stuart, Gorillas in the Mist

Washington

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Blake Herrington
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2010

Mt. Stuart is a Cascades icon, featuring 3,000' climbs on excellent stone or dependable ice. I’d assumed its major faces and ridges had been completed, until I saw photos of an unclimbed 1,000' buttress towering over the glacier, between Stuart Pass and Goat Pass. While winter trip planning, Sol Wertkin and I dubbed this the “West Face Wall.” We dreamed of sunny rock and exchanged e-mails from two parties who’d attempted the climb. Phrases like “giant roof,” “full pitch of thin nailing,” and “all day…at least” brought cautious inspiration. Jens Holsten, who had attempted the wall in 2006, joined us at the last minute. We set off as a trio at 5 a.m. on July 8.

Above treeline we entered a swirling fog that made locating the climb an adventure in itself. Jens had predicted sunny skies, and Sol’s wedding anniversary was the next day, so our gear consisted of wind shirts, climbing equipment, and two daypacks. We started up a splitter crack, just right of looming orange overhangs. Two pitches of corners and arêtes led to a bolted anchor stamped “1993.” We’d later hear from the 1993 climbers, who climbed three-fourths of the wall in big-wall style.

Jens unlocked the key route-finding puzzle on pitch 3, leading the rightward “Monkey Traverse” while pausing, mid-crux, to trundle. We followed flakes and corners for six more foggy pitches until joining the West Ridge route amid decreasing temperature and visibility. While negotiating icy towers, Sol and I got separated from Jens, who’d soloed while we’d simuled. Hours of nervous shouting through howling winds resulted in three sore throats but eventual reunion. Under darkening gloom we settled for a bivy and hardcore cuddling. The coldest night of our lives (but best spooning) ended at 4 a.m. We reached a sunrise summit under clearing conditions, fingers still too numb to manipulate iced-up cams. Gorillas in the Mist (IV+5.11).

The Sherpa Glacier downclimb and hike out went quickly, as we knew friends would be worried. Bouncing down the dirt road, we encountered an all-star rescue squad, hastily assembled by Sol’s nervous wife. She was happy to have her husband back and treated Jens and me to the best homemade sandwiches of our lives. Their marital bliss preserved, we avoided the potential for jealousy and never mentioned the spooning.

Blake Herrington, AAC

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