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On Friday, April 16th, Louie and I made a last minute decision to chase early spring corn. We headed out to ski Mt. Stuart — a gorgeous peak that is the second highest non-volcano in the Cascade Range (9,416 feet), located in the area known as the Enchantments. There are various popular rock climbing and scrambling routes on it during the summer, with some of those transforming into beautiful couloirs in the winter.
Friday evening, we passed through the town of Cle Elum and we headed towards Ingalls Creek Trailhead where we found the road was still snowed in for about 6.5 miles. We, as you may have guessed, with the theme of our recent trip reports, had brought our sleds to ease the road approach. We snowmobiled just past the summer trailhead, and set up camp for the night.
The forecast was calling for major warming, high freezing levels and scorching sun. The North West Avalanche Center had also issued an advisory warning of wet-slide danger. The safest way to mitigate heat is to start early; we awoke at 1:30 a.m. and were skinning by 2 a.m. The snow surface seemed to have frozen overnight, which gave us hope for good conditions.
We climbed over Long pass, descended towards Stuart, immediately found a very straightforward creek crossing and shortly after started making our way up the Cascadian couloir. This is the common descent route in the summer, and one of the easier (although some may argue) less fun ascent scramble routes. I’ve heard many refer to it as “the giant choss pile”. When covered in snow though, it is a straightforward boot through the narrow portion towards the bottom, opening up around 7500 feet. (It is a fun ski too!)
The snow in the couloir was firm, almost too firm as we reached 8000 feet at about 8:30 a.m. We slowed our pace and enjoyed the views. Walking with crampons on for close to 4000 feet sure is tiring. We booted the final pitch to the false summit, reaching it about ~9:30am and opted to wait for things to soften, since everything around us was still firm and had only seen the sun for about an hour. There was a slight breeze that helped to keep the warming under control.
Another group of our friends was right ahead of us, scoping the final traverse and ascent to the summit. Louie and I chose to continue to lounge. Yet another group of friends (it was a party!) who had heard us skin past their tents at 2 a.m. had caught up to us, making it to us closer to 10:30 a.m. They joked that the whole time that they were worried they’d decided to sleep in too much, having left camp around 4 a.m.
As we watched the group ahead make the final boot up to the summit and get past the first section of the descent, we made our way up. The traverse and final push to the top sure looked intimidating after I’d been staring at it for almost over an hour, but in the good conditions we had I felt calm and steady through this section. The snow was finally warming up. However, we could hear icy noises coming from the gut as skiers below us were navigating it. That part of the couloir had not yet been touched by the sun. We decided to spend another 30 minutes or so on the summit before finally skiing down around ~12:30 p.m. The views from the top sure are nice, so I can’t really complain — some may even say they’re swoon worthy!
Dropping into Ulrichs from the top of Stuart was an amazing feeling — the top portion felt to be the steepest but also fairly open. We ended up skiing down with the group of our friends that had caught up to us at the false summit. We were glad to have Aaron show us the exact line down Ulrichs, avoiding the waterfall feature to link perfect corn all the way down to the valley.
Louie and I sure spent lots of time evaluating conditions, terrain, weather and discussing our decision making. I had my doubts about conditions given the forecast when we were packing for this trip but I was psyched that the stars aligned. What a day!