We arrived at the Long's Pass trailhead and car-camped on Friday night. We were moving by 6:30 the next morning, climbed up to Ingall's lake, over Stuart pass and to Goat pass. We reached Goat pass in under 6 hours. There was still quite a bit of snow in Ingall's basin, around the lake, and on the rock slide on the W shoulder of the mountain, which made the going pretty fast. We met a couple of guys at Goat pass who were headed back to the cars. Poor weather had kept them from ever getting onto the route. They gave us some of their extra water, which turned out to be a great help.
Things got ugly when we got onto the glacier. I'd brought a short (45cm) ice hammer instead of a proper axe, and this made the going somewhat awkward. Worse, there was quite a bit of fresh, wet snow on the glacier, which caused our crampons to ball up. I stopped halfway across to remove mine. We crossed the second part of the glacier and it was steeper than I remembered it from the previous trip. I'm guessing this is because we were on some seasonal snow which had accumulated high on the glacier from the slides off of the N side. The traverse into the gully was scary. I led across an exposed, steep slope to try to gain the edge of the moat at the side of the glacier. Not having my crampons on at this point was a mistake as the snow under the first couple inches was still very hard. Standing at the edge of the moat gave me a chance to put crampons back on. Kari continued the lead to get into the gully and she eventually reached the rocks on the left edge of the gully, where she could belay from horns. This was another scary pitch, as it was a long way down the Stuart glacier. From here began my first "mixed" climb: we generally stuck to the left edge of the gully alternating between the rock on the left and the crappy snow of the gully. The conditions varied from knee deep wet snow to talus held together by hard snow/ice covered by 2-3 inches of slush. There wasn't much good step-kicking stuff. It had been at least a few days (week) since the last people had been up, so there were no good tracks to follow. In all, getting into, and up the gully took about 5 short (120 foot) pitches. We had no screws or pickets. Getting around the chockstone at the top of the gully was a pain: poor rock on the left, a small frozen trickle on the right side. We arrived at the bivy sites exhausted. My fingers were frost-nipped, and the pain as they came back was tremendous. It had taken over 3 hours to cross the glacier and get up the gully. Last time, it had taken a little over half as long... Our plan had been to reach the bivy notch, take a good break and then climb the first 5 pitches to sites higher up on the climb. However, the promised weather clearing had not occurred, so we decided to bed down for the night. We prayed for good weather, as neither of us wanted to descend the gully.
After a long sleep, interrupted only by periodic pika attacks, we arose at 5 to perfect weather. We were moving by 6, and made the cunning traverse on 3rd class ledges on the left (east) side to skip the ugly first 2 pitches. We reached the ridge and were climbing by 6:30. We swung leads for 8-9 pitches to reach the gendarme by 11:30. Mostly the climbing was wonderful. We were incredibly high at this point. We took a half hour break, uncoiled the haul line, and Kari led the first short gendarme pitch, which is lay-backing, or if you can climb cracks like Kari can, its straightforward jamming. She hauled the packs and I followed, powering up it with poor layback technique. Next came another short pitch, with a short offwidth section. She again climbed this in fine style, and hauled her pack. In the interest of speed, I tried to climb it with my pack on, and grovelled terribly, resorting to prussiking up the offwidth part. From the little alcove, only a short stretch of "exposed" mid-5th climbing remained. I think Nelson recommends a way to skip this by traversing out of it, but we must have missed it, because the climbing was licheny. At this point, we were still very up, we'd passed the difficult climbing. Kari decided to climb out of the alcove with her pack on. She stood on a platform right next to the alcove and tried to swing over onto a flake just above the alcove. I stood below, pondering the soundness of this flake. She made an awkward looking move, backed off and tried it again. As she swung onto the flake, her foot popped off the licheny rock, her hands popped off the flake, she bounced off of the platform and my head and I watched her tumble out into the space below. I clutched the rope and partially caught her impact, but got pulled off of my stance (I was standing in snow). When everything stopped I was half sitting, half lying on a tangle of ropes, Kari was lying sideways, just over the lip, facing me. We'd just experienced a direct fall onto the belay (and onto the belayer). I was terrified and can only imagine how Kari felt. She has a tremendous spirit, though, and she got up, took off her pack, and led the pitch. I took ages getting the stuck nuts out of the belay, and setting up the line for K's pack. I climbed w/ my pack on, got to the top and hauled her pack. I felt utterly worthless, low, incompetent, and frightened at this point. This was the second time the mountain had almost reduced me to tears. We were through the worst of the climbing, but at least 6 pitches remained to the top. I led a long, scrambling pitch on crappy rock to the base of the final hard section. Again, Kari led the hard pitch (she's a far superior rock climber), and hauled the packs. I followed, exhausted from the effort and the scare. From the top of the steep section, another 3 1/2 pitches of climbing on crappy rock followed. These last 6 pitches above the Gendarme felt as if they took forever. We reached the top at 6:30, after just about 12 hours of climbing.
We lazed about for a few minutes. We both took craps. We signed the summit register. I couldn't find any entries of successful climbs of the N ridge in the last 2 weeks. We hugged. My happiness was very empty. I didn't feel any pride. We roped up and scrambled down the E ridge towards the false summit, and then unroped for the long, steep snowfield, which we took very slowly. From there, patches of snow and rock led to the Cascadian, where we found dirty trails to the bottom. We reached bottom at 9:30 and started looking for the Long's pass trail. Walking west, it is the obvious junction (at a little over 5000 feet). The junction takes you towards Ingall's creek. At this point it was dark, and we weren't sure where the hell we were and didn't believe this was the junction. We thought this was the wrong spot, so we continued West along the trail to Stuart pass. Eventually, I wanted to head up to the pass, but the trail was deteriorating seriously. K, rightly, wanted to just crash and figure it out in the morning. I was freaking out because I didn't think we'd make it back to Seattle in time for me to teach on Monday. Her judgment was the right one, but I was too stubborn to accept. Eventually, after a good blow out, we decided to stay at the place we'd originally thought was the junction. We got up early, and a little exploration showed the way across the river, and the path on the other side. In a scant 2 hours, we were at the car. We made it back to Seattle by 10:30, in time for me to teach at 1 pm.
What did I learn? Snow conditions that can make getting to the mountain efficient, can make the access gully terrifying. There's a huge difference between following steps and blazing a new trail up a snowclimb. The gully would have been much easier in the morning, while the surface snow was still crunchy. However, this would make it harder to top out and get off the mountain before dark. I think the ideal time to climb the mountain is September: the days are shorter, but the glacier crossing and the gully access are much more straightforward. The real difficulties with Stuart come at the top, when you're tired. The exit gully is a lot harder (this time it was full of horrible ice, snow, and water) than it seems. The gendarme is hard (for me), but clean. After the second gendarme pitch (the offwidth), look for an exit to the right of the belay alcove, rather than climbing directly above it. I have to assume that most people go a different way, based on the amount of lichen on the direct route we took. I made two poor judgment calls. The first is that I should have been comfortable leading the hard pitches. We went up agreeing that Kari would lead the hard pitches, but it's probably not such a good idea being dependent like that. The other call (not so serious, I think) was when we got off the climb: finding the Long's pass trail is worth the effort, even if it means spending an extra night out (which we eventually did). Getting good beta on a detail like this is important. The trail up to Stuart pass, and then Ingall's pass would have taken much longer.
* One 10.5mm rope * One 6mm haul/rap line. * Medium Rack One and a half set of stoppers (one set would be ok) .5, .75, 1, 2, 3 Camelot (an extra big cam would have been good) 20-25 biners 6 double slings 10+ single slings (less would be ok: the hard sections are short) * Ice axe, crampons * Rock shoes * Bivy sacks and light sleeping bags * Not enough food * Not enough water