Gorillas In the Mist

Mt. Stuart is one of the Cascades' most iconic and complex peaks, appropriately gracing the cover of Climbing Magazine's 'Epics' Issue a couple years ago. With such prominence, fame, and extensive development, one might think that all significant new routes have been climbed. This certainly may be the case, but excellent routes at least remain obscure. Inspired by the pictures from an attempt, as well as a desire to climb or unearth a new hard route on the region's premiere peak, my good friend Sol Wertkin and I were excited to give the West Stuart Wall a go.

One of the things I really appreciate about Sol is his balance of climbing/outdoor excitement, with his work, personal, and family commitments. As we approached the planned climbing day, Sol realized that the second day of our trip would be his 2 year wedding anniversary!

I contacted Jens Holsten to see if he wanted to head up to the peak with me on day one, in order to fix the first few pitches and have Sol meet us on day 2 to cllimb the remaining part of the mountain. Jens was stoked to join the burgenoning team, but insisted we could go alpine style. Of course Jens also insisted it would be 90 degrees on the summit and we didn't need to bring backpacks. Caveat Emptor when getting beta from Mr. Holsten. NOAA was predicting breezy and cool conditions, so we all brought along windshirts. It's summer right? I couldn't wait to be back in the Northwest climbing mountains.

We left the trailhead at 5am after a brief powwow with our friend Mikey Schaefer who was was headed for Der Sportsman on Prusik Peak. After a few hours of trail, moderate schwacking, and easy snow, we hit Goat Pass in a fog. The West Stuart Wall rises up maybe 900' from the snow... but where the hell was it?

The face had seen various activity in the past, and we found 2 bolted anchors (stamped '1993') as well as runners low on the route. Perhaps it was a rappel route, perhaps it was someone's unfinished (or aided) project, or perhaps it had already been sent in its entirety. We didn't know and didn't really care. The First Ascent experience, whether genuine or perceived, would be ours. Roping up at the base, we knew we'd have some solid, memorable, and steep climbing.

Jens led off pitch one, following the OBVIOUS clean hand crack, mantle, and chimney to a belay on the right. This pitch was the technical crux of the route at 5.11- and would see nearly constant traffic if it were located at a crag in the icicle. Steep, with solid rock and great gear, it set the perfect tone for the wall.

Me on Pitch #1

The next pitch headed up and left across 2 bottomless corners and hanging aretes, 5.9 with positions to keep the adrenaline going.

Jens' final lead was the mental crux for us, but shouldn't deter future parties. He headed up and left from the belay, past a 4" crack, and shouted "Watch me" as he launched into the unknown.
Sol and I, unable to see the traverse, witnessed a large block get ripped from the wall, and witnessed the simian sounds of grunting and vomiting as Jens styled the 'Monkey Traverse'.

Did you throw up?

No way man... just a little dry heaving

Jens would go on to finish the pitch in style.

The followers both cleaned out the hand traverse crack, and future parties should find no shortage of solid gear all along this pitch. 5.10+

Sol about to 'go ape'

Finishing the Monkey Traverse

Did you see that big block come flying off?

...uhh yeah, we thought it was you

From here Sol took over, finding a yosemite v-slot, and an immaculate finger crack and stem box to another perfectly flat ledge. 5.10-

Pitch #5 headed up and right, with a bouldery 5.10 crux move, belaying at the first significant ledge system on the wall.

We continued across the 'skywalk traverse' to the right and set off again.

I took the lead for a 30m pitch of 5.8 (but mostly easier) on what we thought would lead up to the West Ridge, but we hadn't finished the wall yet.

From a belay in the clean V-slot/groove, I followed up a long immaculate right-facing corner, with hand and fist cracks through a small roof, and finger cracks up a slab to the hanging belay, our first belay spot that was not a comfortably flat ledge. This is maybe the best pitch of its grade I have climbed in the mountains, and infinitely enjoyable.

Jens ending the 55m of 5.8 crack climbing. From the hanging belay, a short and steep hand crack lead straight up to the West Ridge, and I mantled over the top with a 'whoop' and monkey shout.

We started up the West Ridge in a fog, with winds steadily increasing. Winding around towers and hidden pinnacles, the rock was more and more covered in ice. Soon our rope and cams were iced up as well.

The wandering terrain, whiteout conditions and numerous gendarmes kept us guessing, and as darkness fell, we knew it was time to quit fighting the conditions.

The three of us settled in for a memorable bivy of uncontrolled shivering, made more so by the presence of 0 sleeping bags, no stove, no puffy jackets, and two 30liter packs in which to stuff our six wet feet. I don't know the temperature, but Jens' water bottle froze. We joked about getting lost on a mountain which we had all climbed before, but kept our spirits high thinking about the quality terrain we'd covered. In the past few years 3 of the Enchantments' 4 biggest peaks had seen new or 're-discovered' hard, excellent rock climbs. Solid Gold and Der Sportsman (both 5.11 gems) had been unearthed on Prusik Peak, Dragons of Eden was re-climbed on Dragontail (but still awaits a FFA at ~5.12a,) and The Tempest Wall established on Colchuck Balanced Rock, which will be the technically hardest of the group. With a climb of the West Stuart Wall, the 4th peak had fallen into place and Stuart's modern rock climb established.

Our platonic spooning subsided at 4AM, and Jens started things off right by breaking out the breakfast of champions, in the form of one "Worthers Original" for each of us.

No longer climbing inside a cloud provided a significant morale boost, and Sol thawed out our semi-functional cams with his mouth, once again establishing the value in being full of hot air. After a quick summit stop to revel in the sun, we headed to the Sherpa Glacier where soft snow allowed us to descend a few thousand feet back to the valley bottom in no time.

With today being Sol's anniversary, he knew his wife would be especially nervous about our delayed return (and extra jealous of all the spooning enjoyed by Jens and myself). We hustled back to the car and enjoyed our true breakfast, the creek-stashed beers we'd left 30 hours before.


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