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[TR] Sherpa Peak- North Ridge 6/11/2005

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Climb: Sherpa Peak-North Ridge


Date of Climb: 6/11/2005


Trip Report:

July 11-12, 2005


Sherpa Peak, North Ridge


The following is a trip report of Jeremy Ryan’s and my failed attempt at Sherpa Peak’s North ridge on the weekend of July 11. I wanted to post this report earlier but work and more work have kept me busy since we returned.


Jeremy and I both wanted to try something challenging but within the confines of a normal weekend. Having climbed Serpentine several weeks earlier I was confident enough with my rock skills to cast my eyes towards places I’d never been. Jeremy, having just begun to lead trad this year, wanted to try a moderately technical alpine climb. We were also keen on trying something neither of us had ever done before: an open bivouac somewhere high on a route. The North Ridge of Sherpa Peak singled itself out as we looked thru the guide books.


Jeremy and I had only ever climbed together once before, at a crag, so I was concerned about how we would work together. But not too concerned- based upon what little information I could find, Sherpa’s north ridge felt well within my abilities. And I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about Jeremy; he’s climbed Stuart’s West Ridge and completed an adventure race last year in 27 hours, non-stop.


We started hiking from the Stuart Lake trailhead around 12:30 pm and set off at decent pace. We passed the fork to Colchuck Lake (3 mile) in an hour and were heading left at the first switchback to Stuart Lake (a la Nelson’s description) 45 minutes later.


With some map reading, cairn following, and common sense we eventually found a faint trail alongside Mountaineer creek on the valley floor. It made for a pleasant hike. We followed the trail until it died, and then crossed over to the east side as Nelson suggests. From there it was pretty straight forward with only minor bushwhacking. At the head of the valley (approx. 4700’) we had a spectacular view of Argonaut Peak. We could also make out the rest of the approach to Sherpa, up and to the right. My mind was at ease.


Jeremy and I talked a bit about the weather. Clouds stirred overhead but without ever becoming threatening. It was one of those days where the weather constantly vies for attention without ever becoming a focal point.


We got to the base of the north ridge around 7:00 pm. We stood on snow, a little over a hundred vertical feet beneath the 7200’ notch that Nelson describes as the beginning of the technical climbing. From our vantage, however, the technical climbing was to begin right were we were. There was an obvious gully system leading to the notch with what looked like a straight forward chimney/off width as its crux. There was also a system of ledges a little to the climbers left that looked possible. There were other possibilities, but most of what we saw looked wet and too challenging. I was getting tired and wanted only to gain the ridge and find a place to bivy.


At this point the weather began to take a turn for the worse. The clouds looked more serious. It started to snow lightly, and the wind began to increase. I looked beneath us and to the right at a small plateau with several trees that we had passed on the way up. The thought of calling it a day and finding shelter amidst the trees crossed my mind. I wanted to try something new, however, and looked upwards towards the ridge above.


I offered Jeremy the first lead since he’d kicked all our steps, and he eagerly accepted. By the time he’d got the rack together and I’d flaked the rope, I’d pulled from my pack every piece of clothing I had and was stomping continually to regain feeling in my wet toes. Jeremy set off to the sounds of my chattering teeth.


He set up a belay about forty feet up on a nice ledge, with the chimney option up and to our right. He climbed a short pitch because the route above wasn’t as easy as it appeared and I was beginning to get REALLY cold. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably so I asked to take over so that I could warm up.


I switched to rock shoes and climbed the slab quickly. When I got to his belay ledge I felt confident and warm(er). I stuffed my insulating jacket into my pack but decided to continue climbing with my gloves on. Jeremy had bare hands and was fighting to keep them warm. To be honest, I thought I would cruise the pitch and so started up with much vigor. About 10 feet up and to the right I placed my first piece, a small alien. It was marginal but I figured I’d have better opportunities just ahead. From here the chimney was about 20 feet up and to the right. I couldn’t see any places for protection between me and it. The rock felt slick. I thought about moving left and checking out a crack we’d seen from below. I pulled up even with my pro and began to traverse around a bulge to my left (almost directly above Jeremy’s belay ledge) As I leaned off a side pull with my right hand and reached around the bulge with my left hand and foot, the hold I clung too broke loose. I barn-doored. My right hand, which had been supporting most of my weight, swung out from the rock and my chest started to follow suite. I stopped my momentum by back-stepping with my right foot and pushing off the bulge with my left hand. It was the sort of movement where every muscle in use comes desperately close to failure and balance is regained just at the onset of cramps.


I saw that the slack I had generated from beginning my traverse would have led to a short fall. Nothing life-threatening, but I could have hurt myself had I come off. There were ledges and sharp rock beneath me, and the alien I’d placed wasn’t bomber. On the other hand, had I come off I might have had nothing more serious than a slight pendulum. Regardless of what could have happened, what did happen was that my attention shifted immediately to Jeremy’s and my situation.


It was 7:45 at night. We had at most an hour and a half of daylight remaining. Cold weather, and possibly a storm, looked to be moving in. We were a good 6 hours from the trail head, assuming we could find our trail thru the brush at night. We had no tent. Now was not the moment to push thru one’s fear of falling. The level of risk was too high.


The incident taught me something. Up until then I’d been enjoying the hike, thinking about the weather, wondering about our bivy, talking—pretty much everything but preparing myself mentally for climbing rock. Some people can do that. I can’t. I learned that to climb well I need to be focused and aware, almost to the point of being uncomfortable.


I spent the next 45 minutes inching my way up awkward, sometimes wet, sometimes friable, rock. Was the pitch hard? Probably not- 5.6 or 5.7. I don’t remember struggling, but I do remember climbing with great effort. I also remember enjoying myself.


I mantled over the last difficulty and scampered up a short gully of steep and loose rock to set up belay at a small tree, about 15 feet beneath the notch. I yelled to Jeremy that he was on belay. He must have been freezing. As I brought him up and looked across the gully, I saw a small ledge tucked up beneath a slight overhanging bulge. There was also a tree standing at the edge of the ledge. I could hear the wind howling on the other (west) side of the ridge. The ledge looked to be sloping away from the rock, but with imagination I could see two people lying in some configuration. When Jeremy reached me I pointed and said “bivy”. “Good,” he said, “my hands are freezing.”


We strung a rope up across the outer edge of the ledge and organized our gear. We clipped our packs and ourselves to the line, and hung my small tarp overhead for some wind-shelter. We melted snow and ate a hot meal. Then we rock scissored papered for where we would sleep. I won and chose the more exposed but more level spot; Jeremy was tucked further into the rock, but had a worse slope to deal with. We both slept with our harnesses on. I loosely tied into our hand line; Jeremy placed a #2 Camelot in the crack by his head and tied in tightly to prevent his sack from sliding down and over the edge. The last thing we did before crawling into our bags was to fill our water bottles with hot water. It was after 11:00 when our fidgeting and adjusting ceased. I was in a 40 degree bag wearing everything I had.


It took over an hour for sleep to come, and I spent the night awakening every ½ hour or so. At some point during the night the storm rolled in. We were lucky in that the wind continued to blow from the west. My tarp nevertheless billowed and whipped continuously. Light came around 4:45. Snow was falling, wind was howling, and visibility was poor. I spoke to Jeremy and suggested we stay in our bags. He agreed. We had the same conversation in the same conditions at 6:00 and at 8:00. We decided to rise and head down. The thermometer on Jeremy’s pack read 28 degrees.


Two rappels put our feet on the snow field beneath, around 10:00. By that time the weather was beginning to break. We hung out for a bit, enjoying the scenery along with the better weather. By 10:30 the day was beautiful. I looked back at the route. It looked spectacular.



Gear Notes:

Full rack to 4". Crampons. Ice Axe. Crampons weren't necessary.

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Thanks alot for the photo eric. How did your trip turn out? I was amazed at how fast you guys covered the approach. Made me and Jeremy feel like turtles.

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Everything was great, we went up the couloir, climbed the east ridge. See MCash & Co TR Sherpa TR

Then it went all down hill after that. Here we are, standing on the summit and its 6pm. I forgot my headlamp; John's batteries are dead in his. We both knew we are going have to spend a night without a sleeping bag or any kind of shelter. I just wanted to get down low, in the trees, before dark. We rapped and down climbed the East Ridge and scrambled down South towards Ingalls Creek. We found a cave in the boulder field, filled the floor with pine tree branches and crawled in. The night consisted of, brief periods of sleep, interrupted by violent shivering. First light, we crawled out and hiked toward Sherpa Pass and out.


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Wow- sounds like you had quite the adventure! Glad everything worked out for you guys.

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