Story by Kyle Miller, photos by Jason Hummel
The Eastern Crest of the Central Cascades holds quite a few gems, and Mt. Stuart is one of them. It is the second tallest non-volcanic peak in the state and the largest exposed granite in the lower 48. My objective was the Ulrich Couloir, a 4,200-foot vertical, continuous couloir that dramatically drops off the true summit’s east face.
The forecast called for partly cloudy skies, but we skinned through a windstorm that threw us around as ice pelted our faces. We were able to loosely follow a trail as we weaved above the banks of Beverly Creek, making good progress to a low col where we got our first view of our objective.
That night we fell asleep to the constant howl of wind, breaking the silence in a world of stillness.
The next morning, we woke up to sunny skies and made haste towards Stuart via a 2-mile snowboarding traverse. Within an hour, we had made it to the base of the Cascadian Coloiur, which I had ridden two weekends ago. We quickly decided that bootpacking would be the most efficient way to travel, climbing the still-firm crust from overnight dusted by new snow. With every step, the views became more dramatic as we looked among the Central Cascades with Rainier looming overhead. The sun was shining for the first time in weeks, and we were stoked that for once we weren’t in the clouds. The snow started accumulating as we climbed higher, turning into over a foot deep for the last 1,000 feet to the false summit. With ice axe in hand, I climbed the steep headwall carefully, kicking in each step while climbing the face.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached the false summit. The only thing in our way was a 2,000-foot traverse across a steep, rock-covered face. It was exposed and steep, so I decided to pull out a second ice axe and gingerly make each step until reaching the base of the summit headwall, 100 feet above. With two ice axes, I quickly climbed the final face and celebrated with Jason.
From the summit of Mt. Stuart, we could see as far south as Mt. Adams, as far north as Mt. Baker, and all the mountains in-between were covered in white. It’s going to be a long season.
Up top, I was concerned about potential sluffs with the foot of new snow baking in the afternoon sun, but a few quick turns showed that the snow was stable. The snow transitioned to corn once we dropped into the gut, bordered by hundred-foot, massive rock walls. The pitch was consistent for the entirety of the run, and the waterfalls were filled in with a healthy snowpack. After a 4,200-foot run, we were both smiling and celebrated with some water out of Ignallis Creek before heading back to our campsite on the low col.
We skinned back to camp with Mt. Stuart basking in the afternoon alpenglow, the summit scarred with our ski tracks. Once our bags were packed, it was a race to make it back to the car before dark, so we hasitly followed our uphill skin track and arrived at the car as darkness engulfed the mountains.
For three years I had tried and failed to ski the Ulrich Couloir, so there was much excitement that the trip went so flawless.
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