Sherpa Peak

Sherpa Peak true summit (left) and balanced rock (right).

Sherpa Peak (8,605 ft)

Eric and Katie

August 20, 2017

I’d just gotten back from my northwest territories expedition, and after a few days rest we decided to climb a technical peak in the Cascades. Sherpa Peak is one of the Washington 100 highest mountains I’m working on, and there is some discrepancy over the location of the true summit. The west peak involves a few  pitches of low 5th class climbing, but next to it along the ridge across a notch is a precariously-balanced boulder that is much harder to climb and looks just about as tall.

Crossing Longs Pass

The boulder usually requires an exposed shoulder stand and aiding off a 50-year-old rusty bolt to get to the top, and the few people who’ve climbed it say it is definitely the true summit. However, people who climb the easier, west peak say that is definitely the true summit. It’s not clear which one is actually taller, since there has apparently never been a careful measurement to determine this. Katie and I set  out to determine once and for all which one was the true summit.

We brought a small surveyor’s sight level, which you look through to determine the angle of elevation to another object. Our plan was to climb the west peak, look through the sight level toward the balanced rock, and measure if it was higher or lower. It didn’t really matter how much higher or lower – we just wanted to find the true highest point of Sherpa Peak and report it to the mountaineering community.

On Saturday night we drove to the Ingall’s Creek trailhead and started hiking the next morning at

Katie belaying near the summit

5:45am. We hiked up and over Long’s Pass, down to Ingall’s Creek, then started looking for a climber’s trail. We passed two that appeared to go up towards Mt Stuart, then started hiking up the third one. It turns out we should have taken the second one, since our trail petered out soon and we had to do a little bushwhacking to meet up with the standard route.

We eventually got into the drainage just below the peak, and scrambled up to the west ridge at the Stuart-Sherpa col. We roped up here and I led two pitches of low 5th class rock on the left (north) side of the ridge, then crossed over to a big ledge on the right (south) side. Two ropelengths along the ledge led us to the southwest face, where I climbed up to a small cave, then through an awkward crack to the summit ridge. (The crack is given the comically-sandbagged rating of 5.4).

Looking across at the balanced rock from the true summit, with surveyors level

The summit ridge was supposedly a “scramble” according to our route description, but was actually exposed 5th class climbing. Katie belayed me over to the summit, and I carefully took out the sight level and pointed it towards the balanced rocks. I measured that the balanced rocks were slightly shorter. This was sort of a relief, since it meant we didn’t have to go over there and climb them and could instead start heading back to the car.

There were enough anchors for single-length rappels back to the notch, which we reached just before sunset. It was slow going through the talus in the dark, and we eventually made it back to the car at 3:30am.

Under normal circumstances that would have been an excellent time to go to sleep, but we’d planned to meet friends in Oregon for the eclipse that morning, and totality would start in less than 7 hours. The drive was around 6 hours, so it looked like we had a chance of making it.

I quickly scarfed down some food and started driving south. We were on schedule to make it for the eclipse until 6:30am when we got a flat tire on the interstate south of Yakima. Of course it was on the left side of the car, which made changing the tire pretty scary as semi trucks sped by feet away. Luckily a policeman stopped behind the car and put his lights on to make cars give me some room.

We found a Walmart nearby and got the tire patched 2 hours later (for only $10!), but by then it was too late to make the eclipse totality. We instead started heading north for our next trip on Lake Chelan.

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