Mount Stuart Ice Cliff Glacier Ascent and Sherpa Glacier Descent

Sergio and I left North Bend at about 7:00pm for the drive to Leavenworth where we would spend the night at the trailhead. By 5:15 the next morning we were hiking the Stuart Lake Trail. In a little over an hour we left the trail at a switchback about a mile past the junction with the trail to Colchuck Lake (leave the trail at the first switchback beyond the marshy area). We found our way across Mountaineer Creek and eventually stumbled onto the path along the creek. It is best to ignore the cairns that lead into the boulder slopes that can be taken to the 5400 foot basin northeast of Stuart. The path is hard to follow and not necessarily pleasant, but it is the better way. We reached the basin in about 2 1/2 hours.

Mount Stuart's Ice Cliff Glacier

After fighting our way through clouds of mosquitos, we reached the moraine below the Ice Cliff Glacier and weighed our options. Most reports suggest following the moraine to the base of the N. Ridge then making a quick dash under the ice cliff to easier climbing on the left side. As we weighed our options a large chunk of the ice cliff broke away and shattered on the ledge below. Only one piece made its way into the gully on the left side. Hmmmm... We decide to rope up and move up the left side of the gully as quickly as possible. The ice cliff remained quiet while we climbed the gully and started up past the cliff. The snow was largely soft and not too steep until about a pitch below the top of the cliff where it became steeper and had some patches of exposed ice. As we began up the final pitch the ice cliff began crumbling. Two large rumbles left us feeling more than a little lucky. Sergio led a final 50-55 degree step with a large hole just below (one ice screw) then put me on belay (dead man with a picket and one of Sergio's ice tools).

Sergio climbing an ice pitch to gain the top of the ice cliff

I took the lead and postholed up the easy slope toward the obvious couloir. After dodging a few crevasses we reached the bergshrund and decided to pass it on the left. It was hard not to notice the sunbathing cornices at the top of the couloir.

Below the bergshrund, Sergio takes a look at what is to come

Sergio at the bergshrund crossing

Once across the bergshrund (used one cam for protection) we started up the couloir which maintains about a 50 degree angle for about 800 feet. The cornice was intimidating but the couloir looked short, initially. An hour later it seemed like I had gotten nowhere in the soft snow. We kept left as much as possible then crossed the couloir to the right branch.

Me approaching the cornice

I climbed to the right side of the cornice then made a short traverse on steep snow to reach some exposed rock. I placed one nut and one cam before turning the final corner. The snow was thin, there were no protection opportunites and the rope dragging around the corner was killing me. A small chunk of cornice was not strong enough to weight so I hacked it into small piece before making the last few moves. I stemmed off the rock but, apparently, Sergio climbed the snow directly. I set up a belay and brought Sergio up. It was now 1:45pm. We decided not to continue to the summit estimating it would take two hours round trip from the top of the couloir. We took a long break and watched a goat and her kid. They came within 50 feet of us before deciding we were too wierd then continued toward the false summit where they kicked off a small sluff.

A scruffy goat and her kid at the top of the couloir

Sherpa Peak from the top of the Sherpa Glacier

We headed east to the top of the Sherpa Glacier where we would begin nearly 1000 feet of face in down climbing in the 40-45 degree couloir. The snow conditions allowed a fairly rapid descent to the bergshrund where thing mellowed out. Not knowing what the Sherpa Glacier had in store for us we stay roped up until about 5800'.

Sergio crosses the Sherpa Glacier shrund

We began the race against the mosquitos. Who would make it to the trailhead first? There was no winning for us. We reached the trailhead at 8:30pm. Even on the longest day of the year this is a long route.

Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 1, 2nd Edition; Fred Beckey; Pages 280, 286
Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume 1; Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield; Pages 55-59