Ascent to Sherpa Peak-North Ridge Gendarme on 2017-09-02

Climber: Connor McEntee

Date:Saturday, September 2, 2017
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Sherpa Peak - North Ridge Gendarme
    Elevation:8094 ft / 2467 m
    Remaining Elevation:511 ft / 155 m (10% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

I wanted to go climb something over Labor Day weekend, and I got talked into going after Sherpa via the north ridge. There wasn't much beta on it, but my partner indicated that he heard great things about it. In the end, it's a beautiful location and we had this high basin on the Mountaineers Creek all to ourselves. However, route finding on the ridge is not straightforward at all.

We went in Friday afternoon. Fortunately, we were early enough to score a parking spot close to the trailhead. We did not have an Enchantment permit. However, our intended bivy destination was outside of the permit zone. The ranger instructed me to fill out separate day use permits for each day of our trip.

The approach is straightforward all the way to the meadow where the bushwhack begins. From there it is a matter of finding a use trail that goes up the drainage. I had read that you should start at the first switchback from the trail going up to Stuart Lake. My partner, who had been up the drainage 4 or so times, believed it was the second switchback. So, I deferred to him. It's clear people go that way, but I remain unconvinced that it is the path of least resistance. We did a traversing bushwhack through fairly open forest before we had to down climb a stretch to get closer to the creek. On the west side of the creek is a well-established use trail. Blowdown and brush obscure it in some places, but looking carefully we were pretty much always able to pick it up again.

This goes on until the creek forks, with one arm coming down from Stuart and the Sherpa Glacier. The use trail appeared to head up that fork, presumably to access more popular north side routes on Stuart. No matter which way you go, the following section sucks. We traversed high after going up the use trail a bit. Eventually, this puts back in next to the Mountaineers Creek. There is a really faint use trail, but it's hard to follow. We cross the creek and found the route marginally better on the east side. At the end of the basin, there is a talus field that is first accessible on the east. We veered toward that and boulder hopped pretty much all the way up to the upper basin. We threw down our gear and bivied on a huge boulder. We would discover the next morning that there are additional places to camp just a quarter mile further up on soft sand.

We woke to smoke and ash. Through the night, the smoke had obscured the peaks, but fortunately cleared some. We did not get quite as early a start as we should have, since we both assume the route was going to be no more than 6 pitches. From our boulder, it was all talus hopping up to Sherpa's north ridge. This late in the season there are two obvious ways to attain the ridge. The first is a notch in the ride due west from the approach, which is what we took. The second is a gully that bypasses most of the ridge putting out just between the big gendarme and the summit proper.

To get into the notch, it is low class 5 friction climbing up to one of two rap stations. One is on climbers left around a small tree, and the other is deeper in the gulley going to the notch. We ended up going left doing a pitch of off-width crack climbing, which I led. It was big enough that none of my cams (up to #3) would fit, and I had to use a chock stone. The next pitch past this was even more off-width, and after a couple attempts we gave up as there was no way to protect it. So, we ended up rapping back down and going up toward the notch instead.

I led another pitch of 5.6/5.7 before topping out in some trees, past which we were able to simul-climb on a traverse for quite a ways. This is where I suspect we made a serious route finding error. Rather than stay low and possibly rappel one pitch to keep traversing, we decided to climb up to the ridge itself. It took us several pitches to do this. It ended with me leading a hand crack that at the top become a finger crack, where after failing to get a piece in I just had to top out. Unfortunately, on top of the airy ridge, there was nothing to anchor on, not even a horn. So, I had to climb unprotected over to a rap station 15 feet away. We did some more of this on the ridge, sometimes pitching things out and sometime simul-climbing until we reached the gendarme.

Here we continued two more pitches staying pretty close to the ridge until we reached a wall that was unprotectable. We debated rapping down to try and bypass it, but my partner discovered that there was a ledge system on the west side, which up to this point had been pretty sheer. We went off that way, but it quickly kind of ran out. It was still doable as far as the eye could see, but I was uncertain that it would go all the way past the gendarme. It did, however, allow us to climb back up to the ridge. However, it was getting quite late in the day and the sun was beginning to set. I did not have anything to bivy with outside of my softshell jacket, and we were still quite a ways from the summit. So, we agreed to bail and head back to camp in the dark. The fires also contributed to our decision. The Jack Fire was just a ridge or two away and appeared to be growing rapidly.

It took us two rappels to get down to a dirty gully. It turns out that this gulley went directly up to the notch south of the gendarme. If we had stayed a couple hundred feet lower than the ridge, we could have bypassed all of the circuitous climbing that we timed out on. The gulley is loose, but is very much 3rd/4th class almost the entire way. It would be even easier early in the season when filled with snow.

We made it back to the rock a little before midnight and crashed. It rained ash on us through the night, and we scrapped plans for climbing Argonaut. We left early to beat the fire out. The sun was obscured by all of the smoke, and after we got down we discovered that the rangers were closing trails and roads.

Overall, the north ridge was quite good with solid rock. Route finding is not obvious, and the ridge is not good for making quick time. After a pitch or two to get on the ridge, I would recommend staying low and traversing more than climbing until the gendarme is bypassed. From there I understand that it is a couple of straightforward pitches to the summit.

(My GPS track is not complete. I had to turn it off for multiple stretches to save battery. However, it should provide a decent reference for navigating the bushwhack up the lower portion of Mountaineers Creek.)
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4738 ft / 1444 m
    Round-Trip Distance:15.8 mi / 25.4 km
    Route:North Ridge
    Trailhead:Stuart Lake TH  3356 ft / 1022 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Ski Poles, Bivouac
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Overcast
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Connor McEntee
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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