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Mount Stuart, Cascadian Couloir

In 2004, Craig Faiman, Greg Huld and I got to within 800' of the summit of Mt Stuart via Cascadian Couloir but were sidelined when we came across an injured climber at the bottom of the summit snow field. After 5 hours of first aiding and waiting for the medivac chopper, we turned around and went home.

So Craig and I, joined by my daughter Dana, and Fritz Capell, gave it another shot last weekend, July 20-22. Cascadian Couloir is the easiest way up Mt Stuart, but that doesn't make it easy. It's a heck of a slog, with over 4,600 vertical feet of Class 3 rock scrambling, and more difficult yet, the same 4,600' of descending. In an effort to make this a leisurely climb, we decided to do it over three days. We made the 6 hour drive from Bend and Portland Friday morning and met at the Esmeralda trailhead. It was cloudy and misty at the cars and several folks there told us that "the weather was really ugly up there." But after all that driving we were not to be deterred. So we hiked in the 5 miles to a pleasant base camp in the trees on Ingalls Creek. This is a good warm-up hike since from the cars you immediately climb 2,000' up to Long's Pass, then down about 1,500' on an obscure climbers trail to Ingalls Creek.

Saturday morning found the weather looking promising (translation - it wasn't raining), so we were up and out of camp by 5:00 am. We argued briefly over which climber trail to take to get into the correct couloir - there seemed to be trails sprouting off Ingall's Creek trail about every 100 yards. Craig, armed with his wrist-mounted GPS, won the navigating argument as usual. Craig has posted our GPS trail on the SAC web site for future reference.

Once into the Couloir, its hard to get lost - especially since somebody has spent a lot of time building cairns and tying tape markers all the way up.

By 9:30 we were at the base of the snow field and the location of the accident three years ago. We had crampons and ice axes but half way up the snow field, as it approached 45 degrees, we began to think we might have been well served to have a rope. Snow conditions were just soft enough to kick steps, but a little too hard to set the axe for a good ice axe belay. After what seemed an interminable amount of step kicking we arrived at the false summit.

As clouds swirled past, it was tempting to say "this is the top, there ain't no more". But way down deep, we knew that the true summit was some distance to the west.

As we scrambled along the summit ridge, the clouds briefly parted and created a vision of Mordor's Mt Doom without the fire - incredibly steep snow slopes and granite slabs reaching indefinitely up into the sky. We had left our crampons at the false summit and had no ropes.

Hope of reaching the true summit was fading fast until we remembered Becky called the summit block a class 3 scramble. So we forged on through the mist and sure enough, there was always a way to progress.

The summit was gained without undue threat to life and limb. The vision of Mt Doom was just that - an illusion created by mist and imagination.

After congratulations and the requisite summit photos (mostly of the inside of clouds), we climbed back to our gear at the false summit and inched our way back down the snow slope, ever mindful of the climber that fell on this very spot three years ago during his descent. Fritz demonstrated his ice axe belay technique after a step slushed out - good job Fritz!

From the bottom of the snow field it was a slow and painful (old knees) four hour trip back to camp. While Dana, Fritz and I collapsed for the evening, Craig quickly packed his gear and headed out on the 5 mile trip back to the cars - he had to be back in Portland Sunday morning to watch his son test for a black belt in Tai Kwon Do. Latter he told us that he lost the climber trail to Long's Pass in the dark and rain and spent over an hour wandering through the scree looking for it. I guess GPSs don't work for every occasion.

Sunday morning the rest of us hiked out to the car and headed back to Oregon. Within a few miles of the trail head we were greeted by clear skies and by the time we got to Biggs Junction on the Columbia it was 100 degrees.

Stuart is a great climb, one that surprisingly few Oregon climbers make. While the South side routes like Cascadian and Ulrich Couloirs are Class 3-4 scrambles, most of the West and North side routes are classic technical alpine ascents on superb granite. We now have our sights on the West Ridge, hopefully in better weather.

Rich Margosian


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