Stuart's Direct North Ridge with Great Gendarme had been on my list since my very first summer in Seattle when I heard about pitch after pitch of glorious alpine granite from a friend. With Dale coming into town and splitter weather in the cards, there was no way I was going to let it wait for another year.
After reading up on trip reports while Dale flew from Mammoth Lakes, the decision was made that an alpine start on Saturday was not necessary. We left town around 8:30am, stopped for provisions in Cle Elum, and didn't leave the car until after noon. The approach went quickly with little route finding thanks to some solid topos and beta online. We were at the base in about 4.5 hours with another group. Since they arrived first, we let them get a head start. Our initial plan had been to bivy at the base, but there was plenty of daylight left at ~5pm, so we decided to head up and find a ledge to sleep on.
The first pitch squeeze chimney was pretty memorable. With a pack and ice axe strapped on, I didn't fit through and ended up face climbing to the right, which was spicy, but fun. It felt like 5.11 slab for a move. After that, we passed the other group, burned through the quick face, and got to the base of the 5.9+? crack. Dale hit it in true tradmaster form. I laybacked it. Typical.
From there, we simul-climbed a long ways until the sun was getting dangerously close to the horizon. Just as things were getting a bit dark to climb, I finished a simul-block and was greeted by a perfect bivy ledge. High-fives, dinner, and whiskey ensued. We had a great spot above the Ice Cliff Glacier and could hear it calving quite a bit.
Since we'd already ticked off most of the lower North Ridge on Saturday, we got a leisurely start on Sunday morning. Dale put on a little Beethoven as we geared up. The other group of two came up at that time and revealed that they had spent the night roped in on a relatively uncomfortable ledge. Bummer.
We simul-climbed up to the notch pretty quickly, continued up to the more exposed knife-edge, and arrived at the base of the Great Gendarme at about 10:30am. I took the first layback pitch up onto the block and then Dale took the offwidth. It was a perfect split. He crushed it and we then simul-climbed to the summit by about 1:30pm. A trio of paragliders were zipping around the summit at the time and whooped and hollered to us as we finished the climb. It was awesome. So was the view of Rainier.
The descent was less than awesome. We traversed over the false summit and headed down the top of the Cascadian Couloir. There was some snow which looked pretty easy to get down, so we hit it up. Dale was a little overly confident and ended up losing grip on his ice axe, which didn't have a leash on it. He tried to self-arrest with his poles, but they weren't terribly effective. He slid into some rocks at the base of the snow at speed and cut up his wrist and shin. Thankfully things stopped bleeding after a little bit and we continued down. Unfortunately, we went a little too far East when looking for water and ended up doing some pretty epic bushwhacking to get to the trail.
The last climb and descent over Long's Pass is a bit of a kick when you're down, but it wasn't terrible. Things were smoothed over a bit by the rest of the whiskey in my pack. What an epic adventure!