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The Direct North Ridge w/ Gendarme

5.9+, Trad, Alpine, 2800 ft, 20 pitches, Grade IV,  Avg: 3.9 from 128 votes
FA: unknown
Washington > Central-E Casca… > Stuart-Enchantm… > Mt Stuart


The Direct North Ridge combines the North Ridge from the notch with an extra 800 feet of fun climbing. Although loose in spots and somewhat lichen covered, the route offers those looking for a longer, harder day than the North Ridge good solid 5.9+ climbing. It will obviously be faster to simulclimb, my partner and I did this and completed the entire route in 6.5 hours, but the belays for each pitch take good gear and have decent stances.

Roughly the first 3 pitches are the hardest. 1: Climb up easy terrain off a big ledge about 150 feet above the base of the toe to a small tree. 2: Continue up through an awkward 5.8 slot (harder with backpacks) to a face and then to a nice ledge. Small crimps inside the slot for the left hand are useful and make sure to step out on the face with your feet. 3: Follow a striking lie back crack on your left for quite a ways. This is 5.9+ and sustained. Once you pull over a small roof there will be another ledge to set up a belay.

From here veer up and right, following the path of least resistance. The rock at times is loose and almost always covered in crumbly black lichen. It is mostly easy 5th class with an occasional 5.6 move. There is, about 5 pitches up, a short slab traverse that takes you even further to the right. Once you do this, the Notch ridge will come into view and once reached it will connect you with the Upper North Ridge. It takes longer than you think, but keep on trucking.

For the Upper North Ridge look at Max Tepfer's description on this page. To add to it though, begin by staying on the left (east) side of the ridge. Then follow an easy ramp up to the ridge. Move up left over a bulge (5.6) and then on to an exposed section on the west side of the ridge. From here follow the ridge to the super cool 5.5 slab split by an amazing crack and then to the Gendarme--about 8 or 9 pitches from the Notch. The Gendarme can be done in two pitches; 1: a 5.8 lie back and 2: a 5.9+ off-width, or you can link the pitches easily with a 60m rope (use runners to prevent rope drag) which is what my partner and I did. The Gendarme is almost always in the shade and can be very cold or even icy.


The route can be approached from icicle creek and Stuart Lake trail head. This is best if you leave stuff at the base/Stuart Glacier or at the cut off from the main trail. Follow the main trail towards Stuart Lake and continue past the Colchuck turn off. Once you see the obvious pyramid hills keep an eye out for a faint trail on the left. Take this and bush whack around the left side of this peak/hill to the base. Another, longer approach can be done by going to Stuart Lake and then around it on a trail. Follow the marshes on the right side and then move up a steep hill via a fairly obvious trail. Once on top go up and over to a talus, down to a gully and back up towards Stuart Glacier. Well before the glacier move towards the base of the ridge over several humps until you reach the toe of the North Ridge. The descent is the trickiest part and if someone has any good info please post it. My partner and I descended Razor Back Ridge on accident, thinking it was the Northwest Ridge. All I know is that you need to go further than you think after descending the west ridge and doing 3-4 rappels.


HELMET, set of nuts, cams (metolious sizes) doubled from 1-6 and singles from 7-10, about 10 sling/draws, extra runners, cordelette. Optional ice axe and crampons for the descent (In Aug. we did not need them). The third pitch took 2-5 mostly, but up higher a 7 was used. The off-width of the Gendarme took a 9 and 10 which can be walked.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Route Overlay Stuart North Ridge
[Hide Photo] Route Overlay Stuart North Ridge
A view of Ranier on the horizon during sunrise on the approach. Credit:
[Hide Photo] A view of Ranier on the horizon during sunrise on the approach. Credit:
Looking down the North Ridge of Stuart, halfway up the ridge or so.
[Hide Photo] Looking down the North Ridge of Stuart, halfway up the ridge or so.
Climber leading Pitch 1 of the Gendarme, with the North Ridge stretching below.
[Hide Photo] Climber leading Pitch 1 of the Gendarme, with the North Ridge stretching below.
Dave staring up at the menacing gendarme. Credit:
[Hide Photo] Dave staring up at the menacing gendarme. Credit:
onward and upward
[Hide Photo] onward and upward
Approach and Descent map for North Ridge of Stuart.
[Hide Photo] Approach and Descent map for North Ridge of Stuart.
5.9 hand crack on Pitch 3 of the lower North Ridge. (and what not to do with the ropes...)
[Hide Photo] 5.9 hand crack on Pitch 3 of the lower North Ridge. (and what not to do with the ropes...)
A pitch above the upper crux.
[Hide Photo] A pitch above the upper crux.
Belay ledge midway up the Gendarme
[Hide Photo] Belay ledge midway up the Gendarme
Route Overlay for The Gendarme.<br>
[Hide Photo] Route Overlay for The Gendarme.
Pitch 2 of the lower North Ridge.
[Hide Photo] Pitch 2 of the lower North Ridge.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

mark kerns
denver, co
[Hide Comment] i found that the off width pitch on the gendarme protected very well with stoppers in the back of the crack. big exposure, but protected nicely. not so sure about the "plus" rating. i thought that both gendarme pitches were about the same in difficulty. the first is more aesthetic, but the off width pitch climbs great.

also - after the gendarme pitches, trend left towards the summit. when in doubt head to your left. i have yet to find a 4th class path all the way to the summit, but the last time i did this was very close but still had to stop and anchor in for a short pitch of 5th class. i feel that if i would have trended even more to my left i might have finished the ridge with 4th class as described in the becky book.

regarding the approach....most people climb this from the south, coming over ingalls pass, past ingalls lace, over goat pass and then descending from the pass to the toe of the ridge. i did not use crampons or ice axe for this approach and found it to be easy access.

regarding the descent - if climbing from the south - descend cascadian couloir to the east of the summit, cross ingalls greek and find the trail that leads over stuart pass. this is the fastest way back to the trailhead. this climb can be done in a long day from the trail head.

fantastic climb.

mk Jan 21, 2009
Justin York
Phoenix, AZ
[Hide Comment] I agree with mark - the offwidth pitch wasn't harder than the layback pitch of the gendarme, and the offwidth section was short. Plus, a fixed #4 to boot!

So high on the route, it was tempting to bypass the gendarme, but so glad we didn't. It was one of the highlights.

We approached from the north which was looooong and so much bushwhacking it's not even funny. Though the campsite was superb, I can't recommend that approach. The glacier descent was in bad shape so late in the season so we circumnavigated the mtn (with a bivy...)over goat pass to get back to camp. Sounds like approaching from the South is more straightforward.

Doing the N. ridge direct was the way to go. The bottom pitches were great and the rest up to the notch was on mostly good rock. Took about 11 hrs from base to summit.

Great adventure! Go do it! Nov 9, 2009
Brian Prince
morro bay, ca
[Hide Comment] I'd give it 5.9+ for the second pitch of the bottom of the ridge. After the "5.8 squeeze slot" I climbed the corner described here. This is a very pretty, lichen-free sustained fingerish crack in a corner that can be seen from the base. It was way harder than anything on the gendarme or anywhere else on the route. After this I wasn't sure where the route went, but we belayed one more pitch before we wanted to simul.

Fixed #4 is still in the 2nd gendarme pitch as of 8/12 so no need to bring one. A #3 works just fine until you get to it. It's nothing to be scared about. It's also short, as mentioned.

Anyway, I also recommend approaching from the south via Esmeralda/Ingalls Lake/Longs pass Trailhead (I've heard it referred to as all three names. It's the approach often used for just the upper ridge and is described on that page). This requires no crampons or axe (at least later in the season) and was straightforward, if not looonnngg (and that cascadian descent is so miserable). C2C in a day is definitely doable this way though.

I think Mark (above) meant to say that, on the descent, after you descend the cascadian couloir and cross ingalls creek that you find the trail that heads over longs pass, not stuart pass. Good advice is to look at a trail map. Sweet route up (and over, for us) a big ol' mountain. Aug 23, 2012
[Hide Comment] According to Kearney in "Classic Climbs of the Northwest", the 5.9+ pitch on the lower ridge is avoidable by going right to gain a 40' 4" crack. This makes the lower ridge go at 5.8 according to him. He states that there have been several long falls and one serious injury on the left variation. Jul 17, 2015
Nick Drake
Newcastle, WA
[Hide Comment] My partner led out right by mistake on P2, we ended up missing the 9+ layback. Did not see the reported 4" crack, but ended up on a 7 to 8 finger crack layback instead. It probably would have been fun were it not for a ton of lichen that meant your feet were borderline useless. The other party in our group took the 9+, it looks great, was clean and protects well, I wouldn't bypass it. Aug 3, 2015
[Hide Comment] We followed the standard beta, pitching out the first three pitches and the gendarme pitches. We simul-climbed everything else. We used a 60m single rope folded in half for the pitches we pitched out. The leader tied in at the midpoint and hauled the packs on one strand while belaying the follower on the other strand. This worked great and didn't take much time at all.

I think a #4 C4 (or other large cam) is totally unnecessary for the Gendarme offwidth. You can place a #2 at the base of the offwidth and then a #3 higher up. Then there is a 15-20 feet gap until the fixed cam. The pitch is steep and exposed, so any fall would be pretty clean.

Judging from previous trip reports, that fixed cam has been there for at least 10 years. I didn't look at it too closely, but I think it might be a Friend. It didn't seem to be possible to clip the stem of the cam directly, and there is no way I would trust the sling on that cam after being up there for ten years. I ended up slinging the cam like a chockstone.

Regarding the descent, we inadvertently took the route that the Beckey guide identifies as "Variation No. 1" to the Cascadian couloir, which is the first drainage east of the Cascadian couloir. We were following a well-defined trail/cairns up high. We had GPS waypoints for the Cascadian couloir, so we eventually realized we were not on the main route. But by that point, we didn't feel like leaving the trail. The trail periodically disappeared and re-emerged. There was some third-class downclimbing, but on the whole the route wasn't too bad. I suspect a lot of climbers have descended this way, thinking they were descending the Cascadian couloir. Aug 7, 2015
Nick Drake
Newcastle, WA
[Hide Comment] The fixed cam is a gen 2 camalot, I wouldn't whip on it, but I can attest that it did still hold body weight as of this summer :) Nov 6, 2015
Nick Sweeney
Spokane, WA
[Hide Comment] Southern approach note: From Ingalls lake, follow the ridge extending to the West Ridge of Stuart. You should not lose much elevation from Ingalls Lake. Aug 30, 2016
Seattle, WA
[Hide Comment] Did the Complete North Ridge on Aug 29 via the south approach/Cascadian Descent. A few notes:

1. The "Upper" north ridge is 18 pitches, and adding the "lower" north ridge to make the "Complete" (or the Direct) North Ridge means about 25 pitches of climbing and probably about 2700 feet, not 20 pitches/2000 ft as listed here - at least by my first-hand calculations and review of various guidebooks. Big day, even with 20ish pitches of those 4th-lower 5th.

2. If at all in doubt about your ability to do this in a day, bring bivy gear. Descending the Cascadian Couloir at night is not fun, especially if you've never done it before. There are reasonable sites every 4-5 pitches on the climb and summit.

3. By late Aug (of a moderate snow year), there was no snow of consequence on the entire climb/descent. Sharps were fine left at home.

4. Neither me nor my partner are confident on 5.9 offwidth, and we were happy to have a #4 and a #3 in addition to the stuck #4 up there.

5. The Cascadian Couloir isn't that bad (...or maybe I just like suffering) Beware of false cairns leading you into the first gully. Stay on the ridge until just past the false summit, we saw a nice big bivvy site and 3 big cairns then headed down there. The CC is cairned almost the entire way down now.

Have fun, climb fast! Aug 31, 2016
David Bruneau
St. John
[Hide Comment] First alpine climb. Tried to do this car-to-car in a day, in a party of 3 with a 3:30AM start. Summit at 5:50PM from the south approach, then f***ed up the descent by descending the wrong couloir (not too bad) then taking the wrong trail in the dark afterwards (added 15 km to the hike, turned the day into an epic). An absolutely exhausting day - probably best to plan to bivy if you're unsure that you can do the climb and hike quickly enough to do the descent in the light. Or bring a GPS and a proper map...

The climb itself was great, with fairly straightforward routefinding on the ridge. The highlight for me was the upper 3rd of the first simul section, with amazing exposure and perfect easy rock. The lower thin hand crack was the best hard pitch and seemed like the only true 5.9 on the route - a hard 5.9 at that. Gendarme "offwidth" is mostly fists for the average male hand and would be graded easier at many other american crags. I did not feel the need for a #4 (clean fall, #3 just below my feet when I was at the fixed cam). On September 9th the ledges on the Gendarme and much of the flatter terrain above was snow covered, unpleasant but not too bad. We also trundled a huge flake out of the crack on the 1st pitch after ensuring no-one else was below. Sep 15, 2016
Nick AW Brown
St. John's
[Hide Comment] We attempted to climb the entire North Ridge in a single day from the Ingalls Creek parking lot. We ended up having a 27 hour epic after losing our way in the dark. Read our account of the adventure for photos, and pertinent info to help avoid making the mistake we did on the descent, or at least for an interesting read...… Oct 2, 2016
Kevin MP
Redmond, OR
[Hide Comment] Casual as a two-day mission with a bivy on the route, and quite spectacular all-around. Would be a huge one-day push but doable for a fast party after knowing the approach and general routefinding. As for water on a late-summer ascent, to avoid carrying unnecessary weight, bring just enough to make it the first 4 miles up to Ingalls Lake. At the lake you can grab water, just enough to get you over Stuart Pass, up over Goat Pass, then down and across the bottom of Stuart Glacier. There is a large stream running from the glacier all summer and you will cross it, last chance to fill up before you continue onto the route. From the summit you can access small snow patches, then there are nice fresh streams when you make it to the bottom of the Cascadian Couloir. Oct 9, 2016
[Hide Comment] Check out this Trip report for doing the DNR with Gendarme Approaching from Lake Ingalls trail head and descending Cascadian couloir. I laid out the pro's and cons for the many approach/descent and route choice options which I hope will be helpful. I also listed at the bottom of the blog post some other blogs that were especially helpful including Steph Abegg's, Eric and Lucy and John Plotz.… Jun 21, 2017
Hans Bauck
Squamish, BC
Calvin Landrus
Bend, OR
[Hide Comment] Climbed the DNR on 7/31 with my 22 year son (I'm 56) on 7/30. We had two cars so we approached via Mountaineers Creek for a bivi at base of the route in the afternoon of 7/29, climbed the route in 8.5 hours, descended Cascadian Couloir and then up and over Longs Pass. Everyone's beta was pretty accurate. The Gendarme pitches are really, really good!

BETA COMMENT: Not sure how long this has been in place but the road for the south approach, the Esmeralda/Ingalls Lake/Longs pass Trailhead, is blocked off about 1.5 miles before reaching the trailhead proper (as of 7/30/17). Not a big deal but must factor in at least a 1.5 mile longer hike.

Does anyone know why this closer is in effect? There was no obvious road damage to cause this. Please update this if you find the closure is no longer in effect. Aug 1, 2017
Portland, OR
[Hide Comment] The Esmeralda Trailhead parking (South Approach) is no longer blocked as of this last weekend when I attempted to climb Stuart. The washout in the road has been repaired.

Also, If approaching from the south you will encounter moderately steep snow field crossings to gain the base of the Direct North Ridge. My partner and I were not prepared to have to cross snow and it lead to a lengthy, tiring 6 hour circumnavigation across talus/scree that was the primary reason we didn't successfully climb Stuart. Plan to bring an ice axe to safely traverse the two 50 foot sections of snow if approaching from the south.

I highly, highly recommend the two car approach (enter from North via mountaineers trail, summit, descend via Cascadian Couloir/Longs Pass/Esmeralda Trail. Aug 8, 2017
Jen Wiebracht
Lakewood, CO
[Hide Comment] Myself and three partners did the Direct North Ridge June 21-23rd, 2017. We approached from Stuart Lake via Mountaineer's Creek. We included the Gendarme pitches and took the Sherpa Glacier Descent.

Here is the link to our trip report. Aug 13, 2017
[Hide Comment] I wish I hadn't brought a #4! I tried to place it, and almost got it stuck. The crack is just too small for a #4, probably why there's a fixed one there. A 3.5-inch cam would be ideal (what my old guidebook recommends). A somewhat tipped-out #3 worked just fine and felt secure. Also, there are multiple good nut and small-cam placements next to the fixed #4. Even without the fixed 4, a single #3 plus small gear would sew this up decently well.

By the way, the crack didn't feel off-width at all to me. I have small-ish hands and always had very secure fist jams.

A doubled 60m rope is too short for the 5.9 pitch near the bottom of the ridge (the first hard pitch on the lower ridge). If a recently-deceased tree at the top of the pitch had been alive, 30m would have been fine. But I had to go slightly farther to reach a good anchor - we had to simul-climb a bit. Aug 17, 2017
Marlin Thorman
Spokane, WA
[Hide Comment] Climbed this via the Mountaineers Creek approach. I honestly thought the lower half of the route wasn't really that great. The first couple pitches were cool but then the 500m of simul-climbing is mostly easy 5th or 4th class gullies/corners with some walking here and there as well. However the upper North Ridge above the notch was fantastic. The climbing was still easy for a long ways up to the Gendarme but the position was way better out on the ridge crest, and the rock was much cleaner. Not nearly as many loose blocks either. The gendarme pitches are really good. I felt like the layback pitch was harder than the OW (which really isn't an offwidth). I have fairly small hands and got good fist jams the entire way. The rest of the route to the summit is more like the bottom.....loose, chossy, and less than inspiring. If I did it again I would probably just climb the upper ridge. We were 7hrs from base to summit including a 30 min thunder/lightning timeout and some water searching shenanigans. Jul 9, 2018
Jiri Pliska
Jablonec nad Nisou
[Hide Comment] Superb route. First 5.9 pitch (on lower face) feels hard for the grade and is harder than anything else on the route. Number 4" is useless, in offwidth part on gendarme and is easily protected with number 3" and then it is easy and shortly goes another protection. I climb it with my girlfriend with not a lot of simulclimbing in a day from camp under the Ignalls lake. Jul 16, 2018

[Hide Comment] a few (hopefully) helpful tips for folks contemplating this beast of a route.

1) it is easy to look at it as 3000' of climbing and think it will be like 1.5 times the size of a route on the chief or goat wall, etc. in reality, the ridge is about a mile long and you are either climbing or scrambline pretty much the whole time. it would be a better strategy to view this as a 5000' or 6000' route in terms of training, food/water, etc. it is key to simulclimb as much as possible. if you were to pitch it all out, it would probably be something like 50 pitches or something crazy like that. it just keeps going, and going, and going...

2) everything in the cascades takes longer than you think it will. in particular, the approach and descent for this thing are quite time consuming. this plays into part 3...

3) bring a bit more food than you think you will need, and don't pass up chances to top off your water. i made a serious fuck up in not topping my water off at the bottom of the route. the approach took longer than we thought, the day was much hotter than we anticipated, and the smoky air made me really thirsty. it wasn't far up the route and i was trying my best to ration my water, which was not optimal. luckily there was a bit of snow just down and right of the beginning of the "slab with a crack" pitch, not too far below the gendarme.

4) on the way down from the summit, maybe a few hundred feet, there is usually a good water drip. keep your eyes and ears open for this, as it is very helpful. also bring a few tablets so you can get water again down at ingall's creek.

5) the cascades rock book recommends a doubled 60m skinny rope. we used a doubled 70m skinny rope and it seemed like it was just long enough to work well for the hard pitches, a 60m seemed like it might be a bit short.

awesome route for sure, definitely an unforgettable experience. Aug 16, 2018