Birthday Ascent of Mt Stuart's Direct North Ridge

I'm not great at planning for my birthday and it usually comes down to the day or two before where I'm like "I should really do something fun and take the day off of work" but by then its too late to nail down a partner for an epic mission. The prior year I soloed the West Ridge of Mt Stuart which I really enjoyed so I decided I would do the more challenging Direct North Ridge (DNR) this year. I had done the route once previously and recalled there being some tricky sections and was on the fence about soloing but decided in the end to bring a rope and a small amount of gear which would allow me to lead solo. This would add more weight and time to the trip but I was comfortable lead soloing and it would give me the peace of mind that I'd be able to get up the route safely.

In this post I'll share some comments and pictures from the epic day. In total I covered about 13.3 miles which included ~10,500ft of total ascent and total descent. Car to car it took me about 14.5 hours, it was an exhausting but very rewarding and absolutely gorgeous day out in the mountains.

Approaching from Inagalls/Esmeralda Trailhead

The North Ridge presents a bit of a challenge because the easiest and safest descent is on the opposite side meaning you either have to shuttle cars or hike all the way around the mountain. I decided to approach the same way I did the West Ridge the prior summer and hike up to Ingalls Lake, traverse the Stuart Pass ridge, wrap around the left of Mt Stuart taking Goat Pass over to the North side and then dropping down and traversing below Stuart Glacier to the base of the Direct North Ridge. If it sounds like a lot it is because it is.

Beautiful morning on the approach with great views of Mt Rainier on the way to Lake Ingalls.
Crossing the ridge from Lake Ingalls to the West Ridge of Mt Stuart.
Looking at the traverse from the base of Mt Stuart's West Ridge to pass over Goat Pass (Left) and looking back down at Lake Ingalls from a few hundred feet below Goat Pass (Right)
More excellent views of Mt Rainier from Goat Pass.

I'm writing this well after the fact but if I recall correctly the approach took me roughly 4-5 hours at a decent pace with a couple short breaks and a break to refill water and have a snack at Ingalls Lake.

Climbing the Direct North Ridge

I began up the scrambly start of the DNR and reached the first tricky bit where you have to do some insecure moves to get through a chimney section. I decided to rope up, built an anchor just below the chimney and belayed myself all the way to the top of the next 5.9 corner pitch from here. I packed the rope up and began the epic scramble up easy but engaging ridge which was a mix of 5th class often up to 5.6ish.

Great view of the Ice Cliff glacier begin around the top of the splitter 5.9 corner 3rd pitch.
Had a great time climbing and climbing and climbing... all through excellent rock
Reaching the Gendarme high on the route (a bit over 3/4ths of the way) and looking back down at Mountaineers Creek which is the standard approach if starting on the North side.
Looking down at the amazing first pitch of the Gendarme. Because I was lead soloing and without rope drag I linked the whole Gendarme p1 and 2 with just barely enough rope at the top to build an anchor on the ledge.
Welcomed to the summit by a mountain goat which is almost to be expected for any climb in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
A wicked sunny summit
My summit log entry for 2022 when I did the West Ridge and now for 2023 as well!
Views about as good as they come!

A long but beautiful walk back to the trailhead...

Hiking down the Cascadian Couloir takes forever, it feels like forever as you hop down 4,200 ft of boulders that require full attention or risk easily twisting or spraining an ankle. After descending all this you need to ascend another 1200 feet up over Longs Pass and back down to the trailhead. Longs Pass is a breeze compared to the Cascadian as it follows a good packed dirt trail and it goes by quick.

Alpine sunset on the South side of Mt Stuart.
The sun set as I made my way down the final stretch down Longs Pass only needing my headlamp for the last 10 minutes before arriving at my car.

All in all it took me about 14.5 hours to do. The route is super good and I hope to do it every year, maybe not on my birthday as I want to do new adventures as well but I have a goal now of doing this outing in under 10 hours which I think I can do either rope solo again or simuling with a friend.

The Route

The Direct North Ridge should be on any climbers bucket list. It's not too be underestimated. It is very long and remains technical the entire way but the rock quality is simply the best and the climb itself might be too. Below is the mapped track of the route I took, GPX file can be downloaded here.

Mapped track of the route to climb the Direct North Ridge from Ingalls Lake/Esmeralda Trailhead.