OverviewSherpa Peak is a satellite summit of Mt. Stuart that is tidally locked with its much more dominant neighbor. However, Sherpa has enough of its own character and prominence (405 feet to be exact, a mote compared to Stuart's 5,335 ft of prominence) to be considered a separate mountain. One might say it is Charon to Pluto or Sirius A to Sirius B or T-Rex to Godzilla. Aye, but Stuart lacks one special feature that makes Sherpa perhaps one of the most unique mountains in all of the Cascades: the balanced rock at the summit. This balanced rock--an obelisk some twenty feet tall and about 100 yards from the main summit--is quite a sight to behold. Moreover, some would say it is actually higher than the main summit. I myself make no judgment on the matter but will say that the two high points are measurable to within feet of each other. Surely as you sit on one your head will be higher than the other.
As a whole, Sherpa is a lot like all the other summits that line the north side of Ingalls Creek. This south side is characterized by deep cut ravines between rock buttresses. The lower slopes are brushy and forested, the middle slopes open and semi-forested, and the upper slopes alpine. The mountain rises over 4,000 ft from the creek in one-and-a-half horizontal miles. That corresponds to an average slope angle of 27 degrees. And then, like its neighbors to the west and east, the north side of the peak is distinctly different from the south. The north side is deeply sculpted by glaciers and snow nivation. One might say it's a whole new planet, maybe a binary planet.
Balanced Rock Info and PicturesAccording to Beckey, Dave Mahre with Gene & Bill Prater made the first ascent of the rock in 1955. From the base of the obelisk, Beckey describes the climb as follows: "Shoulder stand or rope throw over pedestal point gains E side pedestal, then with bolt protection, frictioning gains the top. Class 5.7; rappel bolt atop."
His reference: CASCADIAN, 1956, pp. 24-26; 1962, pp. 19-21.
Dave Mahre (1927-) is the father of the famous Olympic twins Phil and Steve Mahre of Yakima, who won gold and silver medals in the 1980 and 1984 winter games.
Quoting Fred: "Moni & I are both short and the shoulder stand option looked a bit scary - esp. with a party of only two."
This trip report describes a climb of the balanced rock (you have to scroll down to about halfway through the report).
Getting ThereThis peak is climbed from the south or the north side. The south side routes start from Ingalls Creek Trail. The north side routes come in via the Stuart Lake Trail. There are two south side routes most often used (the West Ridge and the East Ridge). If you want to combine a climb of the balanced rock with the main summit, then you might want to take the East Ridge, as the route goes right past it. Or, if you so dare, you could go up one ridge and down another. If you want more technical climbing over all, then the West Ridge is your uphill destination. On the north side there are two standard climbs (the North Ridge and Northeast Face). Another, the Sherpa Glacier Route, is a suitable alpine ice climb for late winter-early spring.
South ApproachesThe quickest approach to this route is from the Esmerelda/Longs Pass Trail that starts one valley over at the head of Teanaway River (c. 4,300 ft). See the "Getting There" section on the Ingalls Peak page) for a description on how to get to Longs Pass (6,400 ft). The pass is 2.5 miles WSW of Sherpa. It is the first time you will see the peak (if it's not obscured by clouds). Descend the tape worm trail for maybe two miles to Ingalls Creek, crossing it at around 4,800 ft. The trail junctions with the Ingalls Creek Trail here. Take the ICT east for 0.5 miles to the first major clearing where the Beverly Turnpike Trail junctions off (there used to be a sign at this junction but it may have fallen apart). Leave the Trail here and bear northward upslope crossing the stream coming down through the clearing on your way up. Aim for the buttress forming to the right (east) of the stream, mounting it at some place around 6,200 ft. Diagonal across the east side of the buttress into blocky, slightly forested terrain and continue up into the basin 0.5 miles south of the summit. For a continuance to the West Ridge, see the description for that route.
It is also possible to approach this side of the peak from the ICT trailhead (c. 2,000 ft), but this is over 11 miles (maybe 7 miles farther than the Longs Pass approach). However, what this route adds in distance it subtracts in total elevation gain. Since it's not up and down like the route over Longs Pass, it requires only about 6,600 ft of gain. I still think I'd use the Longs Pass approach--especially if you weren't going to [cough cough] ride a bike up the ICT.
East RidgeFrom the basin at ~7,000 ft, climb up a broad gully trending NNE to the ridge crest east of the balanced rock (visible from below). Follow the ridge westward over blocks and sandy benches past the balanced rock and on to the summit. Class 3-4. This route can be done in a long day from the car but only if you don't tarry. The total elevation gain is 2,100 ft to Longs Pass + 3,800 ft from the Ingalls Creek Trail to the summit + 1,700 ft to get back to Longs Pass from Ingalls Creek = 7,600 ft.
North ApproachesI have not seen these routes so I won't comment much on them. Best to consult a guide book such as Beckey's Cascade Alpine Guides. Drive to the Stuart Lake Trail (for an approach to this trailhead, see the Getting There section on the Colchuck Peak page). Take the trail about three miles to the south branch of Mountaineer Creek. There may be a climber's path up this creek. If so, it will start on the west fringe of the big swamp at 4,600 ft. Ascend approximately two miles into the head of the valley (c. 5,800 ft) then turn right (west) and climb up another half-mile to the base of either the North Ridge or the Northeast Face. Both of these routes are mid-class 5.
Red TapeThis peak resides in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, therefore the "leave no trace" policies, etc. apply here. Furthermore, the north side of the peak is regulated by a permit system to keep numbers down. Day trips are self-issue permits at the trailhead. Overnight trips need a meatier permit, available from the Wenatchee Ranger District (specifically, at the Leavenworth Ranger Station). See also here.
When To ClimbThis is a summer kind of outing though intrepid climbers may wish to climb the Sherpa Glacier in early spring as a moderate alpine ice climb. This glacier and the couloir above it extends up to the 8,200-ft col west of the summit.
CampingFor south side routes, the most feasible camping location is at 4,800 ft on the Ingalls Creek Trail where it junctions with the trail up to Longs Pass. This is a designated campsite in the valley. You could also camp in the basin 0.5 miles south of Sherpa's summit but it would be quite the hump to get up there with a heavy pack. Plus, there's really no reason to camp in that basin anyway (the peak can be climbed from the trail in a day no problem). For north side routes, possible camping can be found at the head of the south branch of Mountaineer Creek due east of the summit.
Mountain ConditionsLocalized Forecast
Leavenworth Weather Forecast