The climb of Sherpa Peak via the West Ridge would come to signify several milestones. One, this would break my personal record for longest active day (19 hours on Sunday). Two, this is the longest mileage alpine rock climb I’ve ever done (20 miles). And finally, three, this is the first alpine rock climb that I’ve done since the accident that resulted in the death Eric, my then husband. I haven’t really been avoiding alpine rock. The accident happened at the end of climbing season. Then it just so happened that last year was so hotttttttttttttt that climbing on rock that felt more like a frying pan just didn’t sound appealing… and then another year slipped by and its been almost two years since I touched alpine rock.

Not too many folks do Sherpa, probably because is the intimidating approach. It is normally 9 miles long and includes going up Longs Pass, then almost all the way back down the other side to the next valley… and then back up again to through thick brush and talus to the camp… then of course on the way back you have to go back up and over Longs Pass. Of course, the possibility of all such a sufferfest is what caused this climb to be so appealing to us. Some folks even do Sherpa in three days to deal with the approach, but we would go to a two day climb.

We encountered a small issue before we even got to the TH when we discovered that the road was closed at Iron Mountain TH and did not proceed to the Esmeralda Basin Trailheads. This was luckily not a huge deal since it only added 1.13 miles each way. But still, it added mileage. Turns out that the road is washed out in places.

The Longs Pass Trail turnoff is to the right about 1/3 of a mile from the TH. There is no sign, but someone marked the turn with a sharpie written on a fallen tree. Its a bit washed out so keep an eye out! The trail ascends in easy switchback up from 4400ft to 6200 at the top of Longs Pass. where were were greeted by a goat and some misty views of the Stuart Range. From here we descended down a steep snow slope (trail was covered) by both plunge steps and glissading about 400 ft to the trees. The trail here is not on maps, but is is called the Tape Worm Trail and it leads down to Ingalls Creek. Since we were coming out of a snow field we ended up just following on of the many creek drainage steeply down until about 5400 ft when we stumbled upon some folks camping. They pointed us in the direct of the true Tapeworm Trail which is pretty much a straight plunge down with a few switchbacks. The rocky parts are marked by visible cairns to help with navigation. We found ourselves at Ingalls Creek about an hour after leaving Longs Pass where there is a convenient log to cross (Waypoint coordinates N47°27.3767’W120°54.6599’).

After a break in the shade of the trees by the creek we followed the trail several yards to its junction with Ingalls Creek Trail and turned right. There is conflicting beta regarding when to turn off this trail and start heading up Sherpa. We followed a trip report using waypoint N47°.45402’W120°.89633′. The turnoff is in the second meadow you pass about .6 miles from the junction. There is a narrow climbers trail to the left going up into the meadows near a big rock. We did not hit the Beverly Turnpike Trail Junction as some guides suggest. The climbs trail going up through pleasantly green, fragrant meadows toward a hump or ridge above and veering to the right. At about 5000-5100 ft the trail begins to slowly peter out and is completely gone after it crosses over the stream. Make sure you are on the trail here to avoid cutting through thick overgrowth. From here with bushwhacked up about 100 ft through the trees before reemerging into the meadow. We tried to follow the beta here, but kind of found our own way in the end. I think its kind of a “choose your ow adventure” kind of thing. We followed the creek along a steep bank on the right side for about 200 ft, before crossing over to the left (N47°27.5447’W120°53.6687′)and climbing up the left steep bank which was more appealing since it had less brush. I should mention these areas were a combination of dust and small rocks. So it was kind of a case of 1 step forward 1/2 step back a lot. At 5800 feet we crossed back to the other side of the creek (N47°275447’W120°53.6687′ and then clawed our way up the steep embankment to the top of the hump we had seen earlier from below reaching 6100ft. From here we then descended to me dismay down to a talus field at 5900ft. There was some water running here which was great news in the heat of the day.

From here we basically stayed in this huge gully and went straight up toward the visible summit of Sherpa. We crossed over talus, snow patches, thin forest, mazes of drainage trails, pretty much anything and everything mountain slopes can offer. At 6200 ft there are supposed to be camps int he basin near the waterfall. We saw a few flattish rocks, but not many. We continued up to the right of the waterfall and up more talus and a final 300 ft of heather, grass and small tree benches to the upper basin and the location fo the famous Table Rock Camp at 7400ft.

Table Rock is the only suitable flat place to camp in the basin. It is exactly what it sounds like, a huge flat rock. You could probably squeeze ten climbers comfortably in bivys, but we had it all to ourselves! we used a small tent instead of a bivy, using large rocks which worked rather well. I cannot put into words how beautiful this camp was. A huge rock just beneath Stuart and Sherpa overlooking the surrounding mountains including Rainier and Adams. A purely magical  alpine setting. we savored every moment of the early evening overlooking the mountains as we filtered water and had a marvelous freeze dried dinner. We turned in before sunset, but it never actually got dark since the stars and moon were so bring. We slept with the tent fly off and the brightness kept me fro getting into a deep sleep, but it was worth it!

We began walking up the final approach at about 5am the next morning. The snow was like Styrofoam and perfect for crampons. We ascended the snow field until into end. Then we crossed over some talus on to the rightmost snow steep snow finger aiming for the rightmost notch leading up to the saddle just before Sherpa. We left our crampons and poles at the top of the snow-finger and climbed the final class 3 moves to the saddle and base of the climb. By the time we were geared up it was about 6am. There are 6 pitches on the climb. The first pitches are mostly class 4 and low class 5. Rope drag is often an issues due to the weaving nature of the route especially before the sandy bench area. Therefore, we decided shorten the rope with a kiwi coil (which I, the follow held) making the rope about 35 Meters. Like this with with simul-climb as much as possible with belays as needed to reduce and drag and make better time over the easier terrain. This also meant that we split up the pitches non-traditionally. But it worked out rather well. The best way to describe the climb is that it followed a series of weakness in the rock. Mostly in the form of ramps. There are plenty of great belay spots and horns to sling. We used a small to medium size wrack of nuts, cams, offset cam and one yellow hex. The rock took gear very well and for the most part was pretty sound except for one loose area I had to inconveniently mantle up on. There are lots of variations of the route too to makes things harder or easier. For example, at one point Damien took a low angle fun crack, and the group behind us took a dirty gully around the left (I would take the crack).

After what is considered the third Pitch we reached the sandy bench area which is pretty level. We didn’t both unroping, but lots of people do here to get the the base of the next section and final two pitches. The pitch off the benches is the crux of the climb. And it is the lead that Damien offered me. I admit that I was 100% terrified. I’ve led lots of rock since the accident, but the alpine setting made things different. Still though, I’m not one to just back down. I accepted the lead and we swapped gear. Around this time two young men showed up. They were doing a traverse of Stuart, Sherpa, Argonaut and Colchuck in a Day. They only had a 30 meter rope and were soloing most of the climb. They chose to take a 5.7 crack variation (they reported it as a pretty stout 5.7). The stayed the the right and ascended a more blocky, but pretty steep face.

I froze up here on the lower part of the pitch. I wanted to turn around I didn’t want to lead. Memories flashed through my mind of my last alpine climb and the turmoil that followed in its wake. Here I was again on the rock and in the wilderness. Could I do this? Self doubt was smothering me and I turned and looked at Damien telling me I didn’t know if I could do it. But he kept telling me to try again. And I tried and tried… until finally I forced myself to make the high step move that had stopped me… and suddenly it all fell back into place. The rocks were no longer a symbol of fear, but a simple puzzle that needed to be solved. It all happened so quickly… the feel of the rock, the cold air brushing, against my ankles, the mystery of the pitch in front of me; it went from menacing to addicting in a matter of seconds after i did the high step. And I moved up the way, probably more cautiously than i once did, but fluidly.

Fluidly until I reached the cave. I let the other team by (wearing approach shoes, wow). This was the crux move which combined a bear hug on twin cracks, and friction moves to a high shelf. That’s how i would describe it anyway. I french freed it since my height seemed limiting and I was on lead. From there was going with pretty easy through an open book to the next rap station/anchor. We decided to save time by not moving the anchor. Instead Damien belayed me to the summit which is an exposed friction slab traverse with two airy step-overs. I placed no pro. Then i climbed back to the anchor and belayed Damien up and past em to the summit. We then rapped back down to the next anchor right above the crux and let a team of two pass us.

We did 3 rappels to slung horns. Two get the best rap station on the third rap you have to kind of aim climbers right halfway down the rap and scramble up a to a ledge. A bit dicey. From there it is a clean double rope rappel (we joined ropes with the team behind us) to the bottom. I highly doubt you can do two single rope rappel here without creating your own new anchor. Damien measured the distance to the intermediate anchor as he rapped down with our bi-weave and it didn’t reach.

We packed up our gear at the saddle and headed back down to camp through the talus and a short glissade. We wished more than anything that we could stay at Table Rock and enjoy the rest of the day, but it was Sunday and time to head out. As we were packing up camp Everett SAR Helicopter flew above us slowly and circle Mt Stuart several times before hovering near the top of Sherpa Glacier on the saddle. We watched a rescuer get lowered from the hoist and then lifted several minutes later. Be careful out there.

We began the horrendous never ending climb down. Since we did not want to climb up and over the hump again we just went straight down beneath it and slightly skiers right. I’m not sure if this was any better. The bush whacking was atrocious! Dense brush, branches that reach out and grab you… EKKKK! But we slowly made our way down. The funny thing was that ascending Longs Pass  which was the part we were really dreading ended up being super straightforward and easy since we managed to stay on the trail the entire time (waypoint where Tapeworm trail reaches snowfield is N47°27.0563’W120°55.4098’).

The goat was waiting for us at the top of the pass, but we didn’t linger. It was 8:30. And by the time we had climbed down the pass, through the valley and down the road to the car it was 11:00pm…this breaks my personal record of longer alpine day (previously 17 hours with Mt Maud). Sherpa was 19 hours (4am-11pm)! And an electrifyingly awesome 19 hours at that!

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