Ascent of Mount Jefferson on 2018-07-20

Climber: Tynan Ramm-Granberg

Others in Party:Jared Bowman
Sean Casserly
Asaka Takahashi
Date:Friday, July 20, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Jefferson
    Elevation:10497 ft / 3199 m

Ascent Trip Report

Seeing poor prospects for our summit attempt of Rainier via the Emmons, we created a backup plan to climb Mount Jefferson and neighboring volcanic remnants instead.

Permits were all taken for the Pamelia Lake Limited Entry Zone, so we parked at the gate on FS-750 and walked to the end of the road, departing around 3:00 PM. From the road’s end, we headed south and gained a low ridge that had a faint waytrail along it before last year’s fire. We followed the ridge to its intersection with the PCT and hung a right, following the trail to the Slate Lake/Coyote Lake area. We attempted to follow the letter of the law regarding this second Limited Entry Zone, skirting the edge of the zone and finding a large campsite at a lake just to the northwest. We arrived at about 8:30 PM.

We departed at 4:10 AM on Friday, gaining the south ridge a few hundred meters upslope from Goat Peak and following it north to the Red Saddle. The loose rock and sand made for slow-going and one team member nearly turned back. We ultimately reached the Saddle at about 11:00 AM, at which point we got our first up-close view of the infamous snow traverse of doom. After unclenching our sphincters, three of us moved closer to the snow and began setting up anchor with trad gear that Jared had brought. I remained at the saddle and contemplated my wife’s future as a widow, before collecting myself and ultimately deciding to join the rest of the party for the crux of the climb. Another party of four arrived shortly after us (carrying only a single picket for protection) and decided to call it a day.

As a dedicated rock climber, Jared was most comfortable with the exposure on the 55* snow slope. He lead the way, placing one to five pickets on each of the three pitches of snow traverse it took us to reach the north side of the summit block. We used two 60m ropes tied together. Each pitch was anchored with cams, or a combination of a cam and sling, so we at least knew we would not slide 5000 feet to the bottom of the avalanche chutes. It was a still a psychologically taxing traverse for me. I may have had more abject terror when I went skydiving, but at least in that case I was basically thrown out of a plane while attached to someone else. In this case, I had to will myself to take the first “steps” out onto the snow--there was nobody there to do it for me. Luckily the conditions were nearly perfect. The snow was firm, but it was possible to kick steps in without too much work. I was very happy to have brought an ice tool.

We front-pointed across, using two 60m ropes tied together. One 70m rope would have sufficed. Hundreds of butterflies swirled around us in ascending gyres as we crossed. At one point, while waiting near our second anchor, I punched through into the moat that is developing along the rock face, gouging myself in the leg with a crampon in the process. Jared free climbed a low 5th class route directly up the west face, while the rest of us worked our way around to the northwest side and ascended the 4th class chimney. Jared lowered a fixed rope as a psychological crutch, which Asaka and I secured ourselves to with prusik hitches.

Many of the systems we used were new to most of the group, so the setup and execution of each pitch took quite a while. We did not reach the summit until 5:00 pm(!). The blue sky began to turn to evening. We did not tarry on the summit, but nearly immediately rappelled two pitches back down the route that Jared had taken and then retraced our steps across the snowfields. The snow had softened considerably on the west face and we were dreading the steeper southwest snow slope. Thankfully that slope had been shaded for long enough at that point that it was actually in better condition than the first time we’d crossed it.

We arrived back at the red saddle at 9:00 pm. Ten straight hours of tension finally began to dissipate and my eyes got a bit misty with relief. However, at that point the sun was setting and we had a long ways to go. We’d only planned on one night away from the car, so we were out of food at this point (Asaka and Sean later discovered they had more grub, but we didn’t know this at the time). Jared and I decided to hoof it back to camp, pack up, and try to get out that night, while Sean and Asaka resigned themselves to a hungry night in their tent. We would drive around and meet them at the Pamelia Lake trailhead the next morning so that they could avoid additional offtrail hiking.

On the way down, Jared and I were out ahead, setting a brisk pace down the scree fields. Behind us, Asaka loosened a barrel-sized boulder which careened directly down the ridge towards us. I sprinted side slope through the loose sand while Jared took cover behind a large rock--which the boulder crashed directly into before bouncing off into the darkness. Jared and I had not turned on our headlamps yet, so Sean and Asaka were worried that we may have been pulverized. We were eventually able to shout over the wind and relay to them that we were OK.

Jared and I got back to camp at 11:30, packed up, and set off down to the PCT at 12:15 (Sean and Asaka arrived about 15 minutes after we departed). We ignored the limited access restrictions and cut straight through the Shale Lake camps. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. We were literally falling asleep while we hiked and the only things keeping me upright were my trekking poles. I fell behind Jared at one point, catching up to him later only to find him asleep standing perfectly upright. We were not going to make it the full 8 miles back to our cars, but at this point we were on a sidehill with nothing resembling a tent pad. We had to hike another two miles after we’d already admitted defeat before we reached the tiny trailside tent pads at Milk Creek. Appropriately enough, these pads were in the avalanche chute runout zone at the bottom of the snow slope we’d crossed 12 hours earlier. We ultimately went to sleep at 3:00 AM.

We got a few hours of dead, dreamless sleep and then hiked out the rest of the way in the daylight, arriving back at the cars at 10:00 AM. We drove down to the Pamelia Lake trailhead and sorted gear while we waited. There were SAR trucks at the trailhead, triggering somewhat serious concern that Sean or Asaka may have injured themselves and managed to call for help. I was relieved to see them trudge out of the trees a few hours later.

We’d originally planned to do Three-Fingered Jack on Saturday and Mount Washington on Sunday, but we dialed back our ambition. Instead, we got some beers in Sisters, car camped, and then hiked Black Butte and took a dip in the Metolius River on Sunday. This is the most difficult and frightening route I’ve done to date and I dare say I won’t be doing it again! We could not have done it without Jared’s leadership and skill.
Summary Total Data
    Route:South Ridge
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Tynan Ramm-Granberg
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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