I hope that you find this info useful. The scant beta that I found online during the summer of 2008 was poor. My aim here is to provide some useful information about this obscure but fun route. By OR/WA standards Sherpa North Ridge is an excellent alpine rock route. Not surprisingly, since the Wenache Range has some of the best rock in our region. In my opinion this route is more interesting than other, more popular alpine rock climbs in the region, e.g. Dragontail Serpentine Ridge, Mt. Stuart Upper N. Ridge, Prusik W. Ridge, Forbidden W. Ridge, or Triumph N.E. Ridge. The rock is solid, the setting and exposure are interesting and most importantly the ratio of actual climbing to hiking is high. If you do a lot of alpine climbing in the Cascades, then you know what I’m referring to.
The peak and the bivi lie just outside the Alpine Lakes permit zones. Contrary to other reports - it is not necessary to visit der F.S. station in Leavenworth. That permit can be a disincentive for routes inside the permit zones. Self issued day permits are needed for your entry and exit dates. But, you can self issue these at the trailhead 24/7.
The approach is long but total elevation gain is reasonable. More than half of the approach is off-trail and unmarked which adds to the character of the route (Nelson/Petterfield III+). It’s easy to loose visual references on the forested approach. Random cairns lead toward other routes on Mt. Stuart, etc. When in doubt – err toward the east. There is a good climber’s trail along Mountaineer’s Creek. Beyond that, there are a lot of downed trees, and extensive talus hopping. Aim for the double “V” - Sherpa-Argonuat Col. The bivi is at the top of a talus field, just inside the lower V. If possible, scout the approach before you commit your precious vacation time. After several attempts we managed to hike from the Stuart T.H. to the bivi in under four hours. It’s another 1.5 to 2 hours of talus hopping from the bivi to the toe of the N. ridge. Plan on one and a half to twice as much time on your first attempt.
We climbed the entire N. Ridge. The ridge has three sections. The lower ridge is easy 4th/5th class. We tied in, but didn’t place gear and climbed in our approach shoes. The first section ends with a 25m rap to a notch from slings. The second section is steeper and has many options. We climbed several good 5.7 to 5.8 pitches just left/east of the ridge. We passed several, fun looking 5.8 to 5.9 variations. The objective is the top of the large tower which sits two-thirds of the way up the N. ridge. From that tower – walk down, then rap 25m from slings to a second notch and the “knife edge ridge” mentioned by Nelson. This is more like a knife edge bridge (3rd/4th class). The final section has two short, but steep 5.8 pitches followed by several blocky steps. Some steps are 5.8+ but are short, and bouldery. The “marginal rock” mentioned by Nelson is actually quite good and only marginal relative to the rest of the rock which is very good. It’s not possible to give the total number of pitches because we simul-climbed some, some pitches were short to reduce rope drag, and there are variations. We spent about 10 hours on the route. You could probably bypass the first section, and it may be possible to bypass the second section as well. In that case I wouldn’t bother climbing this peak.
Now the not-so-good news. The descent sucks. In our haste we failed to scout the descent. I had read: “make two short raps to the S.W., then traverse toward the east…” We saw slings and started down. After a short rap, then a long one. We scrambled down a dirty gully then rapped again. Crossing to the east soon seemed improbably if not impossible. So, we continued down. Long story here… I can tell you that a low traverse to the Sherpa-Argonuat Col would be extremely difficult due to dense alder. In retrospect we should have scouted the descent from the summit. It would help if someone were to post some good photos and a description of the Nelson/Potterfield descent. I feel that it may be possible to rap from the summit toward the SE. That might bypass several of the gullies and get you closer to the col. Crampons/ice axe are not needed to descend from the col in late season (mid September).
I used one each cams: .5 to 3.5, the red and yellow Aliens, a couple of stoppers and 6 shoulder length slings. Anchors were rocks or trees on the lower two sections. A single 50m rope was sufficient. A TR that had I read said that it’s “do-able car to car in a day.” Given the length of the route, the complicated approach and descent, and the lack of beta - I recommend three days minimum. If you do the math you can see this is a very long adventure. Besides, you might as well savor this one. In 2008, again a high/late snow year, there was lots of water on the north side, but there was none on the route and none above tree line on the south side. Returning via Sherpa Col to a bivi near tree line is probably the best plan. There are plenty places at the base of the route to bivi if you attempt to carry over. Rap’ing straight down the upper section and second gully is conceivable, but it would probably require leaving gear.
Sounds like a good adventure. Plus, as you point out a big perk is the lack of permit control for that side of the peak.
I'm surprised that you report all of the snow and ice gone from the North side of Sherpa Pass, that is some fast-acting climate change as there was black ice in August 2007.
I'm curious where the third rap on your descent deposited you, were you still considerably above treeline? I found that it took a considerable amount of planning in each successive gully to choose an effective point to cross into the next one. Crossing too high invariably meant getting cliffed out below, especially as the largest gendarmes seemed to be higher on the mountain. At every ridge separating the gullies careful scouting was needed to pick out a line, and the occasional lazy tendency to just follow cairns led to shenanigans like crawling through tunnels and long backtracks. Following our noses seemed to work best in finding an appropriate descent path.
Even so, and this being our one and only time back there, the trip took us about 30 hours car to car with a lot of down time at a high camp, so a one-day trip seems very feasible.