Mount Jefferson, Oregon - Jefferson Park GlacierDate:
I'd just quit my job. Oh how I fucking hated that job. Celebrate! What to climb? Out of the many times I've said, "let's climb Jefferson!" I'd somehow never done it. The Jeff Park route looked wild, fun, exposed, but technically easy... perfect celebratory solo climb. I didn't really know anything about Jeff, but I have many friends who have done the Jeff Park route... knowing that I'm a better/faster/stronger/bolder/better looking climber than most of them, I didn't even think twice. I bought a crappy Green Trails map of the area, and headed up.
Got to the Whitewater trailhead at 5pm on Friday, shot up the trail and was at the top of the moraine at 7,400' by 8. I didn't really know where I was going, and left the map in the truck, so I went left on the PCT instead of right, thinking Jeff Park was the best approach to the Jeff Park glacier... I've since reexamined the map and realize a better approach would have been right... but whatever.
Tucked into my bag and dreaming of sugarplums and fun, shitty rock by 9pm, my watch beeped at me at 4:30, I was away with a full water bottle and a full tummy by 6 (about an hour later than I'd meant, but you know how that goes).
The glacier was crevassed, but easily passable. The first bergschrund was a fun, short 12' piece of basically vertical ice, then some steep snow to the second, which was another very fun little piece of 15 or so slightly overhanging ice. The glacier ice was perfect, and I regretted not the time for a longer section- the second bergschrund specifically went all the way to around 60' of overhanging ice, if one felt so inclined. I did not, solo!
On the saddle, I stowed pons and tools, and started the long scramble across the ridge. It was surprisingly long- it just kept going and going, but the scrambling was exposed and interesting enough to not be too tedious. Regardless, I made good time, and eventually stood across a short stretch of snow (the only I'd encountered for the whole ridge traverse) to the summit pinnacle. It looked like 50' of easy, if shitty, scrambleclimbing, with maybe a couple low 5th class moves. Dumped my tools and pons off on the snow, and started the scramble up, expecting to be selfying at the top in about 10 minutes.
Wowy, wowy. What a complete pile of pieces of shit. Rock? It was like climbing a vertical stack of broken tile. 15 or so feet of that bullshit, and I was on barely better, but now low-angle crap rock, and could see I was maybe 25 feet of sketch from the goal. But then... wait a minute... there's two pinnacles? I saw another, steeper pinnacle to the south, behind the one I was mostly up. I bet that's the high-point
, I thought to myself. Because it was farther away, looked more dangerous, and I didn't want it to be.
I looked at my watch. 8:44am. Well, I guess I'll traverse out around the east face of the pinnacle I'm on, see how the two connect, and decide which one's higher, before I continue making upward progress. I don't know why I didn't just go to the top. I wish I had. Wouldn't it have told me the same thing? But I didn't. Dramatic irony.
So, with only probably another 15' of elevation to the top of the pinnacle I was on, I moved out around to the east... Still cautiously testing every hold before fully weighting it, I stepped onto a ledge. I kicked it a couple times, weighted it, while gripping a separate, bulging boulder above. It was a slight lie-back. I leaned back more to see what I could see, couldn't see anything, so I let go of the bulging boulder with my left to find something else to grab to move closer...
My face bounces off rock... wut?
It's happening faster than my mind can work, and yet time stands still in that odd way that people describe in these situations. The fall probably only took 1.3 seconds, but in that 1.3 seconds, I had enough time to come to realize:
You're falling, you're out of control, you will die now
Amid the trashing and tearing and shit breaking as I rag-dolled down the east face, there is no hope in my heart. It's 1,500' of steep jagged rock to the glacier below. I had two thoughts... First, This is it?
It was not a surprise that I would be dying in the mountains- I figured it would happen someday, and it's probably the way I want to go, when my time comes. But this? This
stupid fucking class 4 slag heap is going to do me in? I thought it would be some grade V in Peru or Alaska, many years and gnarly ascents from now. I was just astonished that this stupid Oregon volcano was going to snatch my life in it's prime.
The second thought was simply, God?
Then I wasn't falling anymore. I was sitting. My vision was blurred, or maybe it was just my mind... but I was sitting on another rock ledge, and shit was pounding down around me. I jerked my legs in and huddled up, to prevent them from being crushed or severed by falling rock, but they all fell to my left and right. When all was quiet, and I was able to confirm that I wasn't dead, I knew that I was, at least, very fucked up. My left arm hung limp at a retarded angle, I was bleeding everywhere, and my head swam. My ass hurt, oh how my ass hurt. I looked around. Surely I'd broken 50 bones, and would slowly rot to death on the side of that mountain. I looked at myself... my arms looked like they'd gone through a meat grinder. I tried to raise my left arm, and SLURP.. it popped back into it's socket with a disgusting sloppy spongy feeling. It hurt, but I could move it. I started probing myself for gushers and pokies... nothing squirting, no bones poking out. My ankles were fine. My legs were bleeding and hurt, but not broken. I carefully stood up on my ledge, dripping blood everywhere. My hands were bleeding, my face throbbed and was going numb... I felt blood cooling in the air. I pulled my camera out of my pocket, surprised it turned on, and took a picture, to see how bad it was. I couldn't make out the picture on the viewscreen in the bright sunlight with blurred vision.. But I was glad that I still had
I looked down... 1,500' of rocky death. I looked up to where I'd fallen from... I pictured a roped pitch and decided it was probably 35-40'. I could see blood on the rock where I'd bounced a couple times. How the hell was I not much more injured? I couldn't believe I'd stopped falling, and then I couldn't believe I was on my feet.
The climbing was steep but looked easy.. barely more than a scramble back up to the right of my fall line. I collected the items that had escaped from my pack when the lid burst open.. a shirt and my food bag sat right next to me there on the little ledge.. nothing else appeared to have escaped, despite the lid breaking completely open. Still had food and the ability to make water. I climbed back up to where I'd fallen... the ledge I'd been standing on was gone. Smooth, sheer rock wall where it had been. I inspected my right hand closer... two of my fingertips had ripped open, pieces of the pads missing.
So much for fun.
Fuck this pile. Thinking I was 50' of bullshit sketch ass crumbly boulder scrambling from the summit (I think I was actually about 10' of 3rd class from the summit), I flipped it the bird and started back across the shoulder of the northern pinnacle to the line I'd come up. Uhg... no way in HELL I'm down-climbing that shit. All I had for escape was a single 30m piece of 6mm and some tat.. not enough to get off in one rap, nor even two, for that matter. But I knew descent would be long and slow and painful, and the sooner I got through the technical sections, the sooner I'd be out of hot water. Just make this happen.
So I added a piece of cut rope I found on the ridge to a tatted boulder, moved the two lockers that were on it to the side I'd be rapping off (looked like they'd gone down to the Whitewater), and, trailing blood everywhere, lowered myself down the shit to another decent looking boulder. I slung it with a piece of 5mm, clipped a sacrificial wiregate to it, and rapped another 15m to the broken tile... nothing left to anchor to, I made the shittiest downclimb on the shittiest rock I've ever... finally back on snow, I took a deep breath and slipped and slid my crippled ass on hard ice back around to the ridge and my stashed gear.
Somebody I talked to that had climbed recently suggested descending Milk Creek ravine and taking the Russell back down. Unfortunately for me, I'd planned to descend the climbing route. I'd left my bag, pad, and trekking poles at the moraine under Jeff glacier, and didn't know if there was any kind of connection between the two. I'd scoped this possibility out on approach, and had concluded that it looked like they probably connected in some reasonable way.. but who knows? I didn't even bring a map. I had no intention of leaving my shit, though, so if it didn't connect, I was going to be super piste.
On the other hand, there was no way I was going to traverse all that shitty, exposed rock back across the ridge in my new, unimproved state. I was also concerned about downclimbing the bergschrunds this late on a hot day. So I decided to descend the west face and give it a go around the Russell. Worse came to worse, I could probably climb the backside of the saddle without too much wasted time, and at least bypass the ridge traverse, if I couldn't get through to the Russell.
It was pretty steep, so I was mostly high-dagger the whole way down.. my shoulder didn't care for it much, and it began to get extremely tedious. At one point, I concluded that a big rock buttress above me must surely lead back up to the saddle.. well, it would save me a bunch of time, possibly... talked myself into climbing it... uhg, more sketchy steep loose shit, and it did NOT top out on the saddle. Another terrifying downclimb back to the glacier, and restart my descent. What an idiot, 45 minutes of my short life and other quart of blood wasted.
I descended down past the buttress and could see the real
climb back up to the saddle... ah yes, how foolish I was... it's about 800' up there. Well fuck that noise anyway. I continued descending, then I was traversing toward the ridge that I THOUGHT separated the Russell and Jeff glaciers.. ascended a couple hundred feet of steep snow and strained to peek over the ridge, praying I'd see nice smooth glacier rolling away into safety.... NOPE. Just a huge fucking pile of shit. There was glacier, but it was about another 800-1000' down steep scree, and I had no confidence it would wrap around and meet up with the Jeff in a reasonable way. Fuck it... I have no idea what's over there, I don't want to dig myself any deeper than I am. I know what's on the Jeff Park, I might as well do it.
So I backtracked across moraine piles and snowfields, all steep and loose, rock tumbling down here and there. An hour later, I pulled myself up mud and rock onto the western edge of the saddle at the top of the Jeff Park headwall. I'd promised myself I'd bake some water and eat something when I got there, but with the sun high and hot and the dissolving snow and still the headwall descent ahead of me, I couldn't stop. "I'll rest when I'm out of danger... there's still danger here yet," I said to the snow. The snow agreed.
The immediate obstacle was a 30 or 40 foot long band of steep, slushy snow stretching from the west end of the saddle under a rock band and above the 60+' gaping bergschrund below. I was rapidly losing my patience for this mountain and started off across too quickly. I was noting the rocks above me and reminding myself not to get too close, lest I punch through a moat- WOOSH! I put my right leg through the snow into a moat, completely throwing me off balance... I fall backward. Next thing I know, I'm on my back hanging upside down on 60 degree snow 10' above the lip of the bergschrund. The only thing keeping me from immediately sliding down head-first over the cliff is my ankle twisted excruciatingly painfully up under about a 3" lip of ice, but it's slipping. I rolled onto my left, previously dislocated shoulder... ignoring the lightening bolts of pain, I rammed both the shafts of my tools into the hot snow to self-belay. They both sunk in to the hilt with no discernible resistance. NO way they'll hold my weight when I release from the hole my ankle is caught in. I decide the only chance I have is to roll backwards- a backwards somersault- whip my feet around through the air and drive them as hard as I can into the soft snow below my ice tools.
"God help me..." It's not a question, this time. I execute, knowing there's no fucking way this can possibly work...
I'm standing in the snow, mere feet above the lip of the schrund... My leg is locked up in a vicious spasm, but it fucking worked. The snow in front of me is all brown... why's it all brown? Did I shit myself? Oh... no... It washed off a couple liters of dried blood, I realize.
I can't believe I'm alive. Again. Can't believe it. A creeping intuition that the mountain is aware of my presence and wants to kill me begins to snake into my mind as I now much more carefully finish the traverse across the snow band on violently spasming leg and approach the down-climb of the top schrund. This looming feeling... looking up at the jagged towering spires of the knife-edge and Tooth, the hungry, unfeeling maw of the schrund, and the pile of mancrusher rocks strewn out across the glacier to skier's right... I was having so much fun a few hours ago. Why'd shit have to get real? "Fuck you, Jeff. Fuck you, you fucking piece of shit buzz-kill mountain. I hate you," I mutter aloud.
I high-dagger the steep slush down to the one spot on the wall where I think I can safely downclimb- the spot I came up. No more than three body-lengths, I've downclimbed worse. Granted, I've never been bleeding out and with a dislocated shoulder downclimbing ice, but I figure it all evens out in the end.. right?
I consider digging out a bollard and just rapping it on my cord- it's definitely long enough. But the thought of trusting anything but my own hands and feet just doesn't jive with me, and I start the climb down. No problem- the face of the ice is in the shade, and it's still perfect. The bottom of the schrund- a gnarly mess of fallen serac and black crevasses- now in the sun and slushy- gives me the heebeejeebees, but nothing collapses under me, and I'm below the top schrund in no more than 5 minutes.
Despite the ease with which I got down the top schrund, I'm feeling very shitty. Dehydrated, depleted, fatigued, in pain... I keep catching my crampons on my pants as I begin the descent above the bottom schrund. At first, I'm just like WTF dog? Stop that.
Should be as easy as that, right? No... I keep snagging, I keep falling on the steep, soft snow. My body is no longer doing exactly what I tell it to anymore. Approaching the bottom bergschrund, I can't remember where I came up, and I don't want to get close enough to look for fear I'll trip and fall over it. I decide not to down-climb the bottom schrund, but go way the hell out under the north ridge and bypass it... looks pretty clear over there, aside from the fact that it's the garbage chute of the north face and rocks are actively falling. Better than dealing with these fucking crevasses right now!
I traverse over... but now I have to deal with the tragedy of an unsound mind. It's actually very crevassy over there... little baby ones, but they're everywhere. Lots of intersecting cracks, and patches of rotten ice and the sound of rushing water everywhere. I begin to fear punching through and splashing into some 31 degree underglacier bottomless creek, and grit my teeth. I tell myself I just need to stay on the white glacier and I'll be fine.. But Self reminds me the mountain IS alive and actively trying to KILL me, so maybe not. I start wandering back and forth, trying to stay away from anything that looks wet... not that it is going to help much. Rocks whiz past me from behind from time to time...
I finally emerge below the mess of rotten glacier and scary crevasses and bergschrunds and cut back skier's left, out of the rockfall area. I tell myself I can let my guard down, now.. smile, bro! You won.
But Jeff has gotten into my soul.. despite the fact that I've been on easy terrain for a while, I can't let my angst go. My heart is full of hate. If anything, having no danger to focus on, to distract myself with, just let's the pain catch up... My shoulder screams, my arms burn, my leg aches, my knee clicks painfully with every step, my face is regaining sensation, and it feels like I took a 95mph fastball to the jaw.
Coming down toward camp, I look back up toward the west side and see that had I been willing to downclimb (glissade) about 500' of steep scree, I probably could have linked up with the Jeff from the Russell. Noted for future use, useless to me now.
I slog back to camp, collect my shit, make a cup of noodles and melt water. I find fleas in my water... WTF? I don't care, I drink the fuckers. I want to eat something real, but more, I just want off. I need medical attention. And tequilla. So instead, I eat a package of Shot Blocks and start charging down to the tree line.
I don't know if there's a climber's trail up there or not, but I never did find it. Instead, I just bushwacked my way through sensitive alpine meadows, crushing probably rare, endangered alpine flowers and bugs and shit, stomping through pristine marshy creek things, knowing any Ranger would probably shoot me on-site. I at least made an attempt to be considerate and not destroy shit on the way up, but on the way down, I just b-lined it due north and tore a path of destruction 30' wide from the forested buttress I'd come up to the PCT. Sorry, birds and flowers and stuff... you'll grow back someday.
6 miles of uneventful trail later, I arrived at my truck. People were there, and they stared at me... Probably wondering what nature of spirit I be, but nobody said anything. I didn't give a chance anyway, I launched what was left of my tattered, bloody pack into the cab, painfully jumped in, fired 'er up, and tore ass.
I really just expected to get my wounds cleaned and stitched up... but apparently I looked bad enough that I was c-spined and sent to the Trauma Center at OHSU. They x-rayed and CTed me about 15 times, looking for broken shit and internal bleeding. Apparently there was some confusion over my hematocrit- at one point it sounded like I'd gone down 10 points since arriving, and people started talking about emergency surgery for bleeding organs.. Fortunately, that was cleared up. I guess someone had misread something. I was 36 when I came in, flattened off at 34. Obviously had lost some blood from my external injuries (normally around 44), but a drop of 2 points since arriving could have been explained by IV fluids alone. Not a BFD.
Two days later, I'm home... stitched and bandaged and slinged... and glow a little when you turn the lights off. My shoulder is broken, but not badly. It'll heal up fine. I'll likely have some scarring on my face, but nothing disfiguring. Lots of scars to remember this one by...
I don't write trip-reports, and this is no PSA. I am writing this one trip-report for the gratuitous enjoyment of any who wish to read it- as I think it's an entertaining tale- and mostly for the digestive effect it will have for me. Not really interested in the moral implications or wisdom of soloing, carrying phones, mistakes I made, or any of that shit. Seriously.
A couple of CC members may know who I am. Please, I absolutely want not
to be "outed," as should be more than obvious... so your discretion is appreciated.
- Dead ManGear Notes:
For summer conditions- Two tools to the ridge, climbing boots to the summit. Tat and rings for rapping. Bring a thin rack of mediums for a running belay.Approach Notes:
Next time, I'll go south on the PCT from the Whitewater trail, and cut up at Russell Creek.