Dave Hampson, Gwen Pentecost, Jason Merrick, Jeremy Mauck, and I all met at the parking lot as planned. Mark McNabb and Sylvie Cloutier were planning to leave Pullman a bit later and meet us at the parking lot. The weather forecast for the weekend was excellent and we saw no sign of it being incorrect as we headed west towards the Cascades. It was one of the clearest evenings I have seen around Eastern Washington, with Mt. Rainier visible not too far out of Washtucna.
We arrived to a trailhead parking lot full of cars (or so I thought) at about 10pm. As we set up our stuff to spend the night, more vehicles continued to arrive (including Mark and Sylvie). It was chilly as we prepared for bed, but not super cold. I had just laid out my sleeping bag in the back of my truck and Dave had laid his out on the ground. As the night wore on into morning (and I was periodically awakened by arriving cars or climbers getting an early start) it got pretty cold. Dave and I both had sleeping bags covered in frost, while Mark and Sylvie had moved into their car to try and get a little warmer. Needless to say, I was a little reluctant to remove myself from the relative warmth of my sleeping bag before the air was something other than frigid. However, others in the group were getting their stuff together and I eventually had to forsake the warmth of my bag and venture out into the cruel cold world.
At this point I should probably mention that I really don't like to pack. Since I was not exactly sure what gear I would need to take up the hill, I had not bothered to pack carefully before we left Pullman. I figured I would get a bunch of stuff together toss it in and then sort it out at the trailhead. Whatever stuff I didn't need, I would leave in my pickup. What this "plan" failed to consider was how cold it would be at the trailhead and how much less fun it is to pack under those circumstances. After completing the Herculean task of stuffing my cold sleeping bag into its sack (with my very cold hands), I had little energy to devote to a careful packing of the rest of the things I would be taking. Not only that, but everyone else had already begun to get their things packed up while I was trying to put off the cold air experience. Have I mentioned that I hate packing? I just tossed everything into my bag that would fit and then draped whatever else I thought I should take on various loops, straps, and appendages of my backpack and body. It was severely lacking in elegance and comfort, but I figured I could probably handle most anything for the 4-5 mile hike to camp.
Because of the cold morning everyone was pretty bundled up as we headed north out of the parking lot on the trail to Ingalls Pass. With over 2000 vertical feet between the parking lot and the pass, the trail has a lot of hill under it. This being the case, it didn't take long to warm up and find it necessary to stop and shed a layer or two. From this point we continued on up the trail, gradually spreading out into a couple of groups as those who had more energy and/or motivation moved up faster than the rest of us.
The trail goes through a series of switchbacks before skirting the side of the ridge for a distance and then finally going into another series of switchbacks up to Ingalls Pass. About the time I got through the first set of switchbacks, I also was high enough to be in the sun. The sun did feel pretty good, but it got a bit warm. I found it necessary to shed some clothes. After the stellar packing job I had done earlier it was a snap to drape the clothes over everything else that was already hanging from the outside of my pack. Let's just say that I was not carrying the most well balanced load the backcountry has ever seen.
When I got to Ingalls Pass, I found the others waiting. After a group photo I took a pictures of Mt. Stuart and Mt. Rainier while the others went down to start setting up camp. By the time I reached camp, it was about 10:45 in the morning. At this point Mark McNabb was the only person with us who would be leading the climb and we had six people who were interested in going up. Fortunately at around noon, Steve Smith and Tony Thaler showed up with lots energy and ready to lead us to the top. Steve and Tony were only planning to make it a day trip, so they wanted to head out right away.
We knew that there were at least two or three other sizable groups who were headed up the South Ridge and with 9 of us, it seemed prudent to not all go up that way. Mark, Sylvie and Dave formed one party and they went for the South Ridge. Steve, Tony, Gwen, Jason, Jeremy, and I all went together to try the East Ridge Route. The East Ridge Route is actually rated 5.7, but that is only one move near the summit. The rest of it is mostly class 4 and easy class 5. Upon reaching the top of the scree slope below the start of the route, we divided up into two parties. Since the route was relatively easy and it was getting fairly late in the day, we all decided that it would be best to have the leader go and then trail both ropes so that the two followers could climb up simultaneously. I had always climbed in a serial fashion previously so this way was new to me, however it was not difficult to manage and I think it did save quite a bit of time (not that it mattered, in the end). Steve started off with Jason and Jeremy following. Tony went up right behind them with Gwen and I last in line.
Despite the cold morning, it was a beautiful day for climbing. There was little or no wind and the sun had warmed both the air and the rock. Well, that's true for the rock which was actually bathed in sunlight. Much of the East Ridge Route goes along the north side of the ridge and on this side, the rocks were in shadow. It had apparently snowed earlier in the week since there was fairly fresh (and cold) snow and ice on the rock. Fortunately other than forcing us to be careful about hand and foot placement, the snow caused no real problems. We were up on the ridge top often enough to stay warm, and the more difficult sections were snow free.
We seemed to be making steady progress up the route without much trouble. Before long we were at the summit. It took us around 2.5 hours to get up the route and we were fairly enthusiastic about the climb. Our enthusiasm diminished somewhat when we made our way over to the highest rappel station (at the top of the South Ridge Route) and saw the line up. It would not have been so bad except for the fact that the people in front of us seemed to be unaware that it was getting late and there was a long line of people behind them. It's important to take your time and be safe, but they seemed to be taking their time to tell stories and chat as well. Not even the appearance of the Alpine Avenger (bringer of Alpine Justice) served to speed things up. After spending two and a half hours to get up, we spent three and a half hours getting down (with about two hours of that just waiting around at the top).
I was not too keen on hiking back to camp in the dark and I saw an opportunity for a nice picture of alpine glow on Mt. Stuart, so I took off as soon as I got down to the base of the South Ridge. Unfortunately I was not able to get down fast enough to catch a reflection in Ingalls Lake, but I did get a decent picture of Mt. Stuart in the fading light. From that point I moved quickly and managed to make it to camp in the last of the twilight. Jim Crosslin was at camp and after I pointed out the headlights of the rest of the Alpine Club still not far from the base of the climb, he headed out to help them find their way back to camp along the trail. While I was hanging around camp waiting for the others to get back, I happened to notice lights quite high on Mt. Stuart. I assume that a party of climbers got caught up fairly high when the sun set and had to make their way down in the dark. I certainly did not envy them.
Early the next morning we were all awakened to the sound of an early rising group of boy scouts who had set up camp near us. They quite enthusiastic in their conversation and this had a somewhat detrimental effect on the attitudes of some members of our group who were still trying to sleep. Finally Mark said, "Will you please be quiet!" and (to Gwen's everlasting thankfulness) they did. When we finally did all get up an hour or two later, we discussed what to do for the day. Mark and Sylvie wanted to get back to Pullman and Jim wanted to climb the peak. Jim could take at most two with him so the rest of the people who stayed would have to pass the time hiking around and/or relaxing. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that Jason and I would accompany Jim up the South Ridge Route.
We made it to the base of the climb just as a party of four was finishing up the last first pitch. Since we had a lot of miles to cover after the climb, we decided to go with the leader and simultaneous followers approach which had worked so well the previous day.