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[TR] The Jack Mountain Assault: A 4 Day Epic

Josh Lewis

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"The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone, is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been." -Albert Einstein


Jack Mountain is rarely ever climbed due to it's all around alpine difficulty. The Previous year Yem and I made an attempt up Jack Mountain in icy conditions. This time I came more prepared with better mountaineering skills, went in better condition, and brought my ice tool as a second axe. But it still ended up being an epic trip with many exciting moments as well as getting on the edge of my comfort level. This mountain lives up to it's reputation.


It has been unusually cloudy this summer making it difficult to obtain a good weather window. When the forecast looked halfway decent, we knew that this would be the best time to make a go for Jack. Yem picked me up from my house on the morning of July 19th. On the way we enjoyed a quart of chocolate milk which is part of my mountaineering tradition.






Day 1: Going into Jerry Lakes Basin

We arrive at the Canyon Creek trailhead around noon which meant that the day was already hot. The trail to "Crater Lake" is about 62 switch backs (we counted both on the way up and down) with about 3,900 feet of elevation gain. Crossing the creek this time was not as bad, although we still had to take our shoes off. Before arriving at the lake there were some downed trees on the trail which we had to climb over or go around. At the lake I had to go from tennis shoes to plastic boots due to the wet spots and eventually snow patches. The ending of the trail marked the beginning of the scramble up to the Jerry Glacier Saddle. There was a little bit of loose rock which is why I waited for Yem to climb up all the way until I would go up. I admit climbing in plastics isn't quite as friendly for scrambling as shoes. At the top of the scramble was a large snow patch that took us all the way to the saddle (7,200 feet).








At the saddle we could see Jack Mountain and our camping destination below. We took a break and roped up for the Jerry Glacier. The rest of the way was an easy walk down about 1,300 feet of elevation loss. As we were hiking down I could see clouds rising over Jack Mountain making it questionable whether we would make a summit bid the next day. Finally we arrive at the Jerry Lakes which after a little searching we found a flat place to camp. As I cooked dinner I enjoyed the alpenglow on Crater Mountain. After this we got some well deserved rest.














Day 2: Waiting out the Storm

In the middle of the night it started to rain which is when I had to get up and put on my pack cover to prevent it from getting soaking wet outside. Sometimes I would wake up to the booming of thunder. During the morning was when the thunder was at it's worst which we could hear it crashing though the valley. Both of us were completely unmotivated to go outside which I slept in until about 2 p.m.




The rain still continued which even the idea of advancing our base camp soon fell out of the question. Yem told me an amazing story of finding his dog in San Diego and other fun conversations as more hours pass by. Even during evening the sky was foggy making me wonder if the weather would cooperate during summit day. Even though I slept so much the previous night I still managed to sleep great that night as well.




Day 3: The Summit Assault

We woke at about 6:45 a.m. and made breakfast. Yem figured an early start would actually be a bad thing considering that on our previous attempt the icy traverse was some of the more sketchy climbing that I've ever done. We were on the move by 7:57 a.m. crossing around the Jerry Lakes. Once we were back on snow I took the lead because I was the only one with plastic boots which went though the snow like butter. And besides I love kicking in steps. The Saddle above was not as dangerous this time because of there being less snow. Once past the snow section we had to do an easy scramble section and then traverse to the saddle. At the Saddle we could barely see Jack Mountain though the clouds. Once again we had to drop down the valley and lose our beautiful elevation. As we went down there was a little bit of bushes which I kept my crampons on to make going down easier even though we were not on snow most of the time. At the bottom we finally stepped foot on Jack Mountain.






I decided to go left to stay on snow as long as possible. Good mountaineering is about taking the path of least resistance, not the most direct way. I don't mind challenges, but no sense in going though bushes when you don't have to. As we hike up though the snow Jack Mountain comes out of the clouds, our good weather window had finally arrived. We continued on past our old camping spot from last year and got onto the first major snowfield of Jack Mountain.










The snow conditions were nearly perfect. Not too soft, but easy to make steps for traversing. I was very pleased that I felt fully comfortable on this, the previous year was so icy that I dreaded every step. After traversing I went straight up the mountain towards our entrance onto the route. The tactic I used was easier because it avoids up sloping traverses. After an hour from when we entered onto the snowfield we arrived on the rocky section.




Going up this part was much easier using crampons on the loose rock. We curved around the corner where it starts to become class 3. I took off my plastics and swapped to shoes. There was a cairn or two that ensured that we were going the right way. After more class 3 scrambling I come across a rappel sling and start to think "this route doesn't get any harder than class 3". A few seconds later my attitude changed very rapidly. The route traversed across a very exposed section that required very careful use of hands. I took one picture and put my camera in my pack (I usually don't put it away on scrambles). I admit that the class 4 section made me nervous, had to carefully plan out exactly where the steps were and test the holds. The rock was loose and crumbling away, looking down I could see rocks tumbling thousands of feet down the mountain in high speed. But I managed to feel fairly comfortable on this terrain. And I know I shouldn't be!




Once I arrived at the second rappel sling, I could look directly down on my partner which was an amazing perspective. After a little while I set down my pack and climbed down to make sure that he was doing ok with the class 4 section. Once we both arrived safely at the rappel sling we were past the crux of the climb. But we still had a ways to go. I decided to take the ridge looking route up which was usually class 2 with a few class 3 spots. Eventually it ended which Yem told me that we had to get over to the snowfield on the left. To get there we carefully traversed over and slightly downward. Then the rest of the snow climbing was upwards. This part of the climb was an amazing experience for me.








We used both axes at this part for speed and control going up the slope. Looking down was still exposed, but I didn't feel one bit nervous. I was excited as I kicked in each step saying to myself "This is Climbing as it should be". Yem and I joked back to each other saying random "Touching the Void" quotes. One of them being that "Climbing makes you feel more alive". The adrenaline was pumping and I knew that I was in my element. It had taken us about an hour and a half to climb the snowfield when we arrived onto the summit ridge.








The ridge was quite pleasant, the rock was good for the most part and it was much safer than all the other climbing we did that day. Looking behind us was the West Ridge of Jack. The clouds were divided right at the ridge making it have a neat atmosphere to the place. There was one snow patch that I had Yem lead because I was in my tennis shoes. With a little more scrambling and a walk up "The Ramp" we arrived on the summit of Jack Mountain! On the summit I celebrated by having a pack of Oreo's with some milk (we used powdered milk). I promised Yem some which I was enjoying them so much that by the time I had only 3 left I realized I had to share. The views were quite incredible, but after about 30 minutes we had to make good time down the mountain.








A Scary Descent

I had not fully realized the gravity of what we had climbed. Going up I felt fantastic, but it wasn't until we started to go down that I realized that we had a situation coming up. We quickly scrambled down the ridge and got to the snowfield where I once again swapped to my plastics. As we climbed down the snow I was amazed at what we had gone up, but I was still feeling relatively comfortable. Going down took a lot of kicking in steps and ice ace placements. It was getting late in the day making it important that I down climb as fast as I safely can. At the bottom of the snow I carefully fill up our water bottles. It was a precarious spot to place my pack, but I knew that I had no choice. I was becoming very thirsty from all the kicking steps and could start to feel cramps coming on.








From here we went slightly up and were soon off the snow. The down climbing had taken us about 2 hours. I swapped back to my shoes fast (every time I did this, to save time I kept the crampons and gators attached and put it in my pack) and was back to scrambling down. Every now and then one of us would send a rock down which we had to be careful about how we were in position of each other. I was surprised how fast we managed to get down to the second rappel sling. This is where things got scary.




We got the rope ready and put it though the rappel ring, my biggest worry came true. It didn't reach. Looking down I dreaded the idea of having to get off the rope and down climb the last section. I knew that if there was anyone to go down first, it would have to be me. Looking around I said aloud "there's gotta be another way". We both knew there wasn't. This was the only way down. The rappel position was the worst I've ever seen. The people who put up the webbing couldn't have done much to fix this. With the slightest tug the webbing moved which worried me. We secured it on as best as we could. I said a prayer and got on with the rappel.


To start out I had to go over to the right where there was a minor ledge. With one hand I held on to the brake and the other I held the rock. I had to traverse more towards the webbing to get it in motion. But as I got closer it became increasingly more over hang like. My arms were exhausted from the climbing and were starting to give way. I could not figure out a safe position to get to. If I fell, I could majorly swing and pull the sling in a bad direction. I was starting to shake from how scary it was and how strenuous it was. I was getting so tired that I couldn't grip my brake. If I fell it would be fatal. I was terrified. I was almost to the point of tears wondering what I could do. Yem could see that I was not having a good time and finally said "I'm going to have to ask you to take a leap of faith". My heart was pounding, I was trembling, but I knew that I could no longer stand idle. As hard as I could, as careful as possible I managed to brake in a awkward position and I fell back. The rock held and I continued to rappel down. I was breathing so heavy by this point, when I reached the bottom I was still breathing heavily in disbelief of what just happened. But we still were not down.


I unclipped my device and looked for a way down. I made sure the ropes were even and called up that the rappel was as good as it can be. I suddenly heard the whistle of a rock coming right by me shattering into pieces and sailing down the mountain. I immediately hurried to an overhang spot, ducted my head, and hoped that I wouldn't get pelted by a rock. I heard more coming down as I waited on my insecure spot. One foot was being held up by a small hold, while the other I felt slowly sliding down. I was still terrified. As I look over I see the mountains glowing gloriously with orange and red colors. Normally I can take photographs on ledges and strange place, but not this time.


Finally Yem arrives down which we had two options for going down. Both of them looked bad. After making careful observations one of them looked outright awful and would be a serious mistake. The one on our right however was possible but not pleasant. Yem came up with a fabulous idea of girth hitching a sling to another sling to the rope. This would give me just enough length to get to the class 4 section. I carefully down climbed this section and on to the class 4 section. Yem mentioned the idea of leaving my rope, he could tell right away that although I might say yes, he knew I might possibly go back for it. So he saved my rope by soloing that section which I very much appreciated.


Epicing on the Side of the Mountain

The sun had already set which we now had to make best of the remaining day light left. We some what quickly scrambled down the class 3 section and around the corner came back to the snowfield. Going up this class 2 section with crampons was much easier than hiking down in shoes because of the loose rock. I swapped back to boots and we got our headlamps out. It was back to kicking steps and ice axe plunging.


By now it was officially night. The snow was solidifying making every step and axe placement more difficult than coming up. Eventually we reach the bottom and can faintly make out our tracks. The sun melted out our steps for the most part making it hard to see where exactly they were. I told Yem "When you get to my house, you can have all you can eat ice cream". It took a while to cross the snowfield which once we were on the other side I could finally start having thoughts "I think I'm gonna make it out alive"! When we got onto the rock it was hard to make out exactly where we were. "I can't see Jack's eastern high point" I said to Yem which was a sign of us not traversing enough. I kept my crampons on because I was too tired to bother with them, plus they helped with the scree.


We had a rigged idea of where we were, but could not find enough evidence of places we been. So we decided to go to the snow and find the bowl which would lead us back to our tracks. "Found the trail" I said with a smile. A few minutes later I announced "lost the trail". Our route up went to the right of where we were, but unfortunately we turned too early. It was steep down below as we traversed on snow. Finally it was time to turn around and back track. Back at our newer tracks we cut right though the bushes. Yem mentioned "You don't mind if we sleep here on the mountain?". At first I didn't like the idea which we did a little more exploring and found a creek. With it was two okay spots to sleep on. "I admit, I'm pretty beat myself" I said. So I approved of the idea and filled up our waters. Unfortunately I had forgotten my shell pants back at camp which I only had shorts for my legs. Yem had some thin long johns he let me borrow. Camp was still a long ways away, and if we were to have tried it we had a bit of elevation gain as well. Oh how I wished that my -20 degree bag that was at camp was with me.


I managed to get perhaps 3-4 hours of sleep that night. But every time I woke up I felt very cold and was shivering. Those parts of the night felt very long. I felt so thirsty yet I did not want to move and lose heat. During the early light hours Yem and I were not getting anymore sleep which we were both shivering. Finally we got up, and started the hike down.


Day 4: The Long Haul Home

We did a little bit of traveling though bushes but were down at the bottom in decent time. Looking behind us I could see steams of clouds coming in which I figured meant a storm. We hiked back up to the saddle in about an hour and was able to see our camp down below. Carefully we hiked down to the lake and back to camp. After a good breakfast I took a half hour nap. Yem woke me up and said we had to go. All sorts of mosquitoes were buzzing around the tent. I felt unmotivated to go outside, but knew the sooner we got out, the better. As I packed my gear I had to keep circling the camp to reduce the chances of getting bit. This made packing take longer. The mosquitoes were getting quite bad which is why I was happy to leave the camp spot.








Slowly we slog up hill toward the Jerry Glacier. By the time we arrive the clouds had fully come in making it low visibility. I had Yem lead this part because my legs were tired from all the snow kicking the previous day. Hiking though the fog we missed the saddle. Fortunately it clears for a short spell and we see the way we need to go. At the edge of the glacier we unrope and take a short break.










The rest of the way down was easier going with good visibility. With a little bit of navigation and staying to the left we arrive at "Crater Lake". Before long were on the 62 switch back trail making great time. After hiking down for a while we arrive at the trailhead. As compensation for kicking in steps Yem buys me dinner at Marblemount which I was very pleased. And of course I had to get chocolate milk for the way home.


This was a very exciting trip with many experiences on the way. Anyone climbing this mountain I urge you to know that it takes years of mountaineering and is quite an under taking. I want to thank my partner Yem for his research, driving, and good company on this trip. This trip filled my adventure cup for a while, most mountains don't even come close.


This trip takes place from July 19-22, 2012.

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No Josh, it was a great TR! Finally got around to reading it, and I'm glad you made it out OK. Sounded a bit tense for a bit.


I didn't seem to remember any rappelling on the way down Jack, but the bottom is pretty darn exposed. I remember zig zagging on ledges to keep the scrambling reasonable. Also, for future reference, it is a bit easier to reach the saddle above Crater Lake if you continue up the trail past the lake for a bit. That way you don't have to mess with the cliff band and can hike across easy scree/talus to the saddle.

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