Two years ago I sat at the top of pitch three drinking an undeserved summit San Peligrino. I looked out and took in the stunning views, feeling mostly relieved that we opted to bail on the rest of the climb. The third pitch goes at 5.9+ and took nearly everything I had on top rope. The North Ridge of Stuart was just too big and too hard for me at the time, but I was so awed and inspired by it that I knew I had to come back.
Over the last two years I’ve gotten stronger and I’ve gotten better at leading trad, but I still only wanted to climb a route that big and that hard with someone who was at or above my climbing level, but also someone who I would enjoy hanging out with for 18 pitches. That didn’t leave me with very many partners. With Mark in a different state and Sky out in Hawaii I wasn’t sure Stuart was going to happen this season. But when Sky returned from Hawaii he was as inspired to climb the North Ridge as I was.
We broke the climb up into 3 day: Drive and hike to base camp on Monday, climb and hike back to camp on Tuesday, Hike out and drive home on Wednesday. At least that was the plan.
After setting up camp on Monday we remarked that it was a real possibility we would have to bivvy somewhere on the mountain. “Its so warm that won’t even be an issue though” Sky said. We made sure to pack warm layers, but left our sleeping gear back at camp.
Sky took the first pitch and half. That left me with the second half of pitch two leading into the 5.9+. I was definitely anxious for the pitch that had worked me two years earlier on top rope. But I kept telling myself “You are a better climber today than you were 2 years ago.” I tied my shoes and chalked up. I took one more deep breath! “You are a better climber than you were 2 years ago.” I stepped over the belay and started moving. My foot work felt great and the moves felt good. And before I knew it I was at the bottom of the 5.9 crack. I plugged in a cam. “You are better climber than you were two years ago” I pulled past my cam and just kept moving. I reached the top of the pitch and thought “You really are a better climber than you were two years ago.” When Sky reached the top of the pitch. We switched to simul climbing and cruised through hundreds of feet of climbing. We swapped leads and cruised through hundreds more feet. After an epic section of exposed ridge we came to the gendarme. The final two hard pitches. 5.9 fallowed by 5.9. Sky took the first pitch and climbed it beautifully. I took the second pitch and struggled through it. Reaching the top of that pitch left me spent, but Sky gathered up the gear and lead the final simul block to the summit.
With only about an hour until sunset it was clear we wouldn’t be making it back to camp that night. We cruised for a couple hours until we found an excellent bivvy site to crash for the night. Neither of us got much sleep. Sky only got an hour and a half, but when the sun began to rise we stood up and started moving. We traversed around Sherpa Peak and back to the ridge-line. We went up and over a fin and started down a gully. After sometime moving down the gully we came to a drop off. We had gone down the wrong gully. We had to climb back up to the ridge. Traverse around another fin. Climb up and over another fin. Drop down and go around another ridge-line and finally we made to the notch where we could descend. This time the gully went all the way down. Exhausted from the climb and the lack of sleep we considered crashing at camp for one more night, but after a quick meal and some chocolate covered espresso beans we mustered up the energy to hike out. The appeal of warm food and cold beer drew us into Leavenworth.
The North Ridge of Stuart is easily the toughest alpine climb I have done, but it was exactly what I needed. It was on my 30 before 30 list so here is the updated list: