Sherpa Peak - 8605' - North ridge class 5.8
Long time no post for me on this site but I figure since my summer is winding down, better start getting TR's written.
Jacob and I finally got schedules to work at a time when I was back in WA from whichever other state I find myself in and climbed the north ridge of Sherpa Peak. I knew the smoke was bad but Sherpa was the last peak in the Stuart range I hadn't climbed and the allure of the north ridge drew me to go despite the smoke. After driving to the Colchuck Lake TH late Friday night, we arrived to well over 100 cars with dozens of people crashing for the night waiting to leave early the next morning. We did the same and tried to get some sleep but the smoke made it hard to breathe.
At 5am we started up the trail and made the quick walk to the base of the final hill leading to Stuart Lake and then followed the boot path up Mountaineers Creek. We followed a cairned path through talus on the slope west of the creek a couple hundred feet above the trees, then dropped back down and continued heading south aiming towards the Argonaut/Sherpa Saddle. At 5,800 we started ascending steeply up talus towards the north ridge. We found some water around 7,000 feet and filled up since it would be our last chance for a while.
Since the gully leading up to the prominent notch in the ridge was completely melted out, we decided to reach the ridge earlier and climb the full route. After some scrambling, and one long 5.7 pitch I led, we reached a huge Class 2 ledge just below the crest on the east side, and walked a few rope lengths. Jacob then led a dirty 5.8 pitch up a chimney where we saw an old ice axe deep in a large crack. I then led another 5.8 pitch up some nice cracks, some of which had some loose blocks. After another scramble rope length, we continued up a deep gully and reached the crest of the ridge once again. We decided to bypass well below the tower just before the big notch and descended 60 feet or so before climbing up again to a large ledge shortly before the notch that we ended up bivying on. I excavated a nice flat, sandy spot on the ledge and threw out my sleeping bad for the night, and other than breathing issues from the smoke, I slept well.
The sun rose right on us the next morning and there was amazingly much less smoke. We could actually see the Teanaway to our south...something we couldn't see at all the day before. We quickly got going again by 7am and I led an easy scramble pitch to the base of the final steep climb to the summit, which consisted of two 5.8 pitches and a long scramble pitch. Jacob led both the 5.8 pitches which he described as scary due to all the loose blocks, and he did an excellent job leading them since he chose to avoid touching them. Since I have been on so much loose rock, I didn't think it was too bad. Following those 2 pitches I grabbed onto most of the blocks he avoided on lead. The hand crack at the base of the diving board tower was spectacular though. After passing to the left of said tower, I went on another full rope length of easy 4th class terrain to a point just below the summit, where I saw a couple guys who had just rappelled down and were heading towards the balanced rock.
We scrambled the remaining 25 feet to the summit and saw a couple more pairs of climbers coming up the west ridge, forcing us to wait a while before we could begin descending however since we reached the top so much earlier than predicted, we enjoyed the summit and conversed with the large group, which was a Mountaineers group. Smoke obscured all the views by this point as the wind picked up. It was about 10am when we reached the summit.
For our descent, we made a very short 30 foot rappel down the final pitch of the standard west ridge route from the large anchor just west of the summit. We then began descending class 3 terrain down a gully trending skiers left (southeast) and after a short 20 foot rappel off a slung boulder to get below a couple huge blocks (optional...low 5th to down climb), we reached a large ledge just before it steeply dropped off around 8,000 feet elevation. We cut left and headed east, over a small rib following goat tracks and reached a notch in the east ridge of Sherpa itself with a steep gully heading down the north side. When snowy, this gully is a descent option but when dry it was hard packed dirt over 50 degrees in steepness...not an option!
Instead we descended 800 feet down to the south from this same notch and continued working skiers left crossing below a series of large ribs. Once we reached the 7,000 foot level, we traversed horizontally, and reached the very large, broad gully marking the last gully before the Sherpa/Argonaut saddle. A short 100 foot ascent brought us to the saddle where Jacob was happy the descent was much easier than what previous descriptions had mentioned. It was mostly class 2, and the first 500 feet below the summit sustained class 3 with a couple short raps. What I thought the worst part of the descent was yet to come. Dropping the 1,000 feet off the Sherpa/Argonaut saddle sucked. Lots of loose rocks barely held in by dirt and sand. One bucket sized rock even came tumbling down and almost hit me had I not dove out of the way just in time. Once we managed to get back to treeline, after much boulder hopping, the rest of the hike out was uneventful. Burritos at South's in Leavenworth afterwards was excellent.
Some photos from the trip below: