Stuart Glacier Couloir on Mount Stuart

A few weeks ago, Goran and I climbed the Ice Cliff Glacier on Mount Stuart. Upon arriving at camp on the night before our climb, we ran into two climbers coming down to their tent after successfully climbing the Stuart Glacier Couloir. They spoke of rime, pin-banging, steep snow, and an epic adventure. At that point, it was clear to me that I'd climb SGC sometime soon.

Moving through the constriction

With a solid forecast and low avalanche danger, Goran and I formulated a plan. We knew the road would still be closed, but that at least half of it would be melted out by this point, so we were prepared with trail runners and micro spikes. We went in light and fast, bringing only 4 cams, 6 nuts, 6 pins, 2 ice screws, 2 pickets, and a 30 meter rope for the climb. We brought one sleeping bag and one pad for the two of us in addition to a stove and a shovel. Beyond that, we only brought some warm clothes, a bunch of food, and water.

The result was a speedy approach and fresh legs for the climb. We slept in the car for a few hours on Friday night, woke at 1am, and made it from the gate on the road to the flat area below the North Ridge in about 4.5 hours. The sun rose as we removed our trail runners and put on our boots. We left our shoes and back-up dinners there and headed up the glacier, taking about 2 hours to get to the base of the couloir.

We quickly encountered the constriction, which was a mix of verglas, solid ice, and dense snow. We simul-climbed through it and I placed one screw in each step. Above the constriction, the couloir stayed steep and was pretty exhausting, due to the snow being a bit softer. We took short pulls on the front until reaching the West Ridge notch just shy of 9:30am. We took the opportunity to rest a bit, sitting on the ridge rest I'd brought and huddling under Goran's sleeping bag. It was magical.

Moving through mixed terrain on the West Ridge

The first pitch or two of the West Ridge was pretty easy and straightforward traversing and down-climbing on rime-covered ledges. From there, we headed up to the left of a large block onto the North Face and then back to a small notch on the ridge. Our 30m rope was a little short for the first bit, so we simul-climbed the finish, but the rest of the pitches worked out pretty well with that rope length. From there, we went up a steeper crack system at M4/5, did another pitch of M4/5, and gained the ridge crest again. We gingerly down-climbed with a rappel back-up on the nut left by our friends a few weeks earlier, traversed a bit, and climbed two more short pitches of M4/5 and bare rock to gain the summit just shy of 3pm.

It was perfectly calm and sunny at the top and we'd been on the move for about 14.5 hours, so it was nap time. We laid out the ridge rest, melted some water, had a nap, and made ourselves a little coffee. So good. Just as we were finishing the nap, a few skiers came up and explained their plan to ski Ullrich's Couloir. It looked steeper than I'd ski!

The descent was without incident, but was exceptionally long. We punctuated it with rests, but there was enough post-holing and slipping around that things were pretty painful. The last 4 miles out on the road were especially bad. My knees were smoked and my feet were hurting pretty badly, but we finished up after a total of 21.5 hours to a very comfortable-looking Honda Fit with cookies in it. Booyah!