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Ascent to Jack Mountain-S Face on 2011-08-13

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Duane Gilliland
Date:Saturday, August 13, 2011
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Jack Mountain - S Face
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:7300 ft / 2225 m
    Remaining Elevation:1766 ft / 538 m (19% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Introduction:

Bob, Duane, Edward and I were originally planning to climb Spickard and Redoubt on a 4-day trip, starting on Saturday. But the weather forecast did not look too good for Sunday and Monday, forcing a change of plans. The best weather window looked like Friday to Sunday, and Bob couldn’t make it Friday, so the remaining three of us switched our objective to Jack Mountain. With over 4000 feet of prominence, it was a natural target for Edward, who had not climbed only a few of the P4000s in the contiguous USA. I had failed on a solo trip to that peak in 1997, and was happy to return with a strong party.

Friday, August 12:

Due to the last minute change of plans, we rushed quite a bit on Thursday evening and Friday morning to get our acts together and finally got ourselves to the Canyon Creek Trailhead on the North Cascades Highway just before noon on Friday. We were approaching this peak via the Crater Mountain Trail and Jerry Lakes—my trip 14 years earlier had been via Little Jack, but it seemed that approach was not used much these days.

We started hiking at 12:30 PM. After crossing two large bridges over the torrents of Granite Creek and Canyon Creek, we turned right on the MacMillan Park-Jackita Ridge trail and started climbing uphill seriously. The trail was in good shape as it switchbacked up thousands of vertical feet, with a few downed logs the only obstacles. Edward set his usual slow but steady pace, helpful with our heavy packs.

At about 5300 feet, after 3400 vertical feet of gain, we reached an unmarked trail junction where the main trail crossed a creek towards Jackita Ridge, and we turned left on the Crater Mountain spur trail. This was a gentler trail that passed through a zone of intense mosquitoes and soon reached beautiful Crater Lake, a tarn with huge cliffs and spectacular waterfalls looming above. We stayed on the trail as it swung around to the south ridge of Crater Mountain, switchbacking endlessly. There were now patches of snow on the trail, and it was a bit brushier and obviously got less use than the main trail.

It was now getting past 5 PM, and we debated where to camp. Ideally we would climb to a 7180-foot notch east of Crater Mountain and lose 1300 feet down to Jerry Lakes, but that would likely mean setting up camp at dusk. Also, we wanted to avoid hauling our full packs uphill on the way out on Sunday. So we decided to camp as high as we could on the trail, and make up for that with an early start tomorrow. We started looking for water and good spots as we climbed up past scattered trees and huge, sweeping views of the North Cascades, and at 6800 feet we dropped our packs and scouted around and found nice tent sites.

Our camp had water from a snowmelt brook running down the eroded trailbed, and it was in a sheltered heather hollow. By 6 PM we had our tents set up, and we ate, attended to other camp chores, and soaked in the fantastic view from 6850 feet up before turning in. Duane had his little bivvy tent, while Edward and I shared a large dome.

Saturday, August 13:

We woke up before 5 AM, ate, got our packs together, and started hiking at 5:40. I had done a recon yesterday, and the best route stayed on the trail past our campsite, to almost 7000 feet, where we could see continuous snow leading towards the east notch of Crater Mountain. We had to stop to put on crampons for the hard morning snow, and then contoured east for about half a mile, almost level, to the notch. There was some awkward steep sidehilling, but not bad.

At the notch we got our first view of Jack Mountain, looking awfully far away. We kept our crampons on over the short rock section there, and then dropped down on to the Jerry Glacier. I had trip reports that talked about problematic crevasses, seracs, and moats, but to us it was just a huge snowfield with no sign of glacial cracks of any kind whatsoever. We thought we might have to rope up, but quickly realized it was completely unnecessary. We think that the near-record snowfall of 2010-2011 must have simply smothered the glacier completely, even into mid-August.

We easily cruised down the softening snow, skirted below some buttresses, and then gained about a hundred feet up to a prominent notch at about 6580 feet. Here Jack Mountain looked closer, its south face looking unclimbable, with some morning clouds swirling around it, only adding to its allure. We could also see down to Jerry Lakes, our next destination. We thought about contouring at the 6200-foot level and gaining the ridge towards Point 6629, saving the elevation loss to the lakes, but after a detour we decided that route was pretty sketchy and dropping to the lakes was best.

So we lost about 600 feet on snow and then heather, and then scrambled over some big boulders and still-hard snowfields to the isthmus between the two Jerry Lakes. At the connector stream we rested and filled up our water bottles, and then started uphill yet again—this time a 600-foot gain to the col north of Point 6629. We made our way up some moderately-angled snowfields and a little rock/heather mix to the col, where Jack now loomed huge in our faces. In the valley below we could see a couple of flat snowy spots, and we dropped down towards the closer one. We used crampons on the snow, still in shade, and when the snow ran out we followed faint game paths through heather and forest down to a flat area at 5750 feet, on a tributary of Crater Creek.

At long last we were now ready to climb Jack Mountain itself. The route to the flat area at 6020 feet seemed blocked by a waterfall and steep timber, so I led uphill via pleasant heather benches and snowfields directly to the southeast ridge of Jack. This went pretty easily, and after kicking steps up a large snowfield we arrived at the 7000-foot flat spot on the southeast ridge. It was 11 AM.

So far, all we had done was typical cross-country Cascades travel in the 5700 to 7200 foot range, with no serious difficulties. But the south face of Jack looked very menacing ahead. The route, as marked in my guidebook pages and trip reports, traversed at the 7200-7400 foot level, below a band of cliffs, and then climbed a gully through the cliffs and then up slightly less-steep terrain to just west of the summit. We could see this, and it looked like it might go, so we set off across the face.

First we sidehilled across some miserable ball-bearing scree, then came to the start of the large snowfield that covered most of the south face below the cliff band. We started across it, and we were a bit spooked by the exposure here—a slip on this snow would send you down a long way. I was able to kick pretty good steps, but our ice axes were not going in very far for self-belays. After a few minutes we came to a small patch of more scree, beyond which was a long snow traverse to near the gully through the cliffs.

At this point we had a discussion about continuing. None of us was thrilled with over a thousand feet of steep snow and rocks below our traverse line, even if we put on crampons. Time-wise, we knew we were behind the curve and figured we would be lucky to summit by 2 PM (it was now 11:30 AM) and then have to face a lot of up-and-down on the way back. Duane and Edward had just climbed Silvertip Mountain in B.C. the previous weekend and were probably a bit worn-out mentally and physically from that effort, and they both seemed very intimidated and unconfident in the face of this monstrous peak. I was feeling better, and although I knew that summiting would be a huge effort and most certainly a return to camp in the dark, I felt that we could go for it—we had good weather, a strong team, and had come far already. I did worry about the steep snow, though, and none of us wanted to put on our harnesses, rope up, and set protection with pickets—we knew that we simply didn’t have time for that.

After about ten minutes of friendly debate, I agreed that it was best to turn back. My partners didn’t have their hearts in it, and it would have been suicidal to continue solo. So we carefully crossed the short section of snow we had just been across, and here I realized I was glad we were not continuing—the snow was a bit scary, too soft for crampons but a bit too slippery and hard for good step kicking. After the scree section we were back at the 7000-foot ridge rest, off of the hard stuff on the mountain.

We worked our way back to camp without incident, trying a few detours from our outbound path. We glissaded down from the ridge to the upper Crater Creek flat spot at 6020 feet, but got a bit cliffed out in trees getting down to the lower flat spot—to me, our ascent route was better. Then it was up 800 feet to the next col, down 600 to Jerry Lakes (rest and more water), then up 1300 feet to the east notch of Crater Mountain. I kicked steps for a long sidehill traverse of the Jerry Glacier that avoided pretty much any elevation loss from the 6580-foot minor col. We were all tired, confirming our decision to turn around—Duane and Edward were dragging a bit on this last uphill push.

We were back at camp at about 4:50 PM, after an 11 hour effort. We had plenty of time to lounge, eat, and otherwise hang out. The main problem we had was lack of water—our stream on the trail bed had dried up, so we made due with what we had filled up with at Jerry Lakes and the snow that Edward melted on his stove. Edward and I wanted to get the consolation prize of Crater Mountain, just 1200 feet up the trail from camp (Duane had previously climbed that), but we decided to wait until morning and hope the weather held. We went to bed early and rested well after our exertions.

Notes:

Jack Mountain is a huge, difficult, and remote peak. By our route, a summit climb would involve an elevation gain of about 11,400 feet.

After turning around we talked about how it might be best as a 4 or 5-day trip, camping at Crater Lake, then the Crater Creek Meadows at the base of the peak. Our attempt was definitely hampered by not starting to hike until the afternoon of the first day, causing us to camp on the Crater Mountain trail instead of Jerry Lakes. This simply made our summit day too long.

Also, our trip was after a very snowy winter, leaving lots of steep snow on the south face. As northwest climbers, we do appreciate snow when it covers scree and brush, but when there is a very steep snowfield with nasty run-out, the consequences of a little slip could be fatal. The normal conditions of loose rock might be preferable in this case—it is more annoying travel, but slips usually don’t take you too far. Also, even if we had traversed the snowfield and climbed through the cliff band, most of the south face above the cliffs was snow, too, and likely very scary as well.

A final factor was psychological—despite years of experience on Cascade peaks (the three of us had all climbed Bonanza, Stuart, Buckner, Shuksan, Whitehorse, etc.) the remoteness and grandeur of Jack caught us a bit by surprise. You have to be at the top of your game for a serious attempt on this monster—strong, rested, and confident in your skills. We just were not feeling it on this trip.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:9600 ft / 2926 m
    Elevation Loss:4650 ft / 1418 m
    Distance:22.5 mi / 36.2 km
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:7510 ft / 2289 m
    Extra Loss:2110 ft / 643 m
    Distance:11.5 mi / 18.5 km
    Route:Jerry Lakes/S Face
    Trailhead:Canyon Ck TH  1900 ft / 579 m
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:2540 ft / 775 m
    Extra Gain:2090 ft / 637 m
    Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Trailhead:Crater Mtn Trail Camp  6850 ft / 2087 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2011 - Jack/Crater (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDate
1(Attempt) Jack Mountain2011-08-13
2Crater Mountain2011-08-14
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


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Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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