From the Jerry Glacier looking at Jack!
Jack Mountain 9,066'
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The approach to Jack Mountain starts at the Canyon Creek Trailhead about 20 miles east of Newhalem on Highway 20. Beckey also describes an approach via Little Jack Mountain and the West Bank Trail. We could only find one person who had done the mountain so we had virtually no first hand information of the route or the mountain. Jonathan Pryce and I took the steep trail up to Crater Lake and the first camps. Many hiking parties camp at Crater Lake and are rewarded with great views, waterfalls, and trips to either the East or West Peaks of Crater Mountain.
We left the trail behind and ascended past the lake through the last trees on the east side of the basin to the saddle between the two summits of Crater Mountain at 7,180. Another possibility is to take the Summit Trail up to about 7,000 and then traverse over to the saddle.
The saddle rewarded us with our first view of the Jerry Glacier directly in front of us and Jack Mountain, 9,066, in the distance. The South Face of Jack looked almost vertical from our vantage, and Jonathan, ever the optimist, assured me it was not as steep as it looked.
We stayed high on the Jerry Glacier, and looked for the ramp described by Beckey to avoid the elevation loss of descending to the Jerry Lakes. We found the ramp, but decided against the jump across the moat to the wet rock with heavy packs. Instead, we descended and traversed the Jerry Glacier, avoiding a few small crevasses, to snow and then heather to Jerry Lakes, 5,900. We saw some bear scat on the snow and hoped we might encounter the bruin fishing.
Jerry Lakes is a beautiful lonely basin consisting of 5-6 lakes teeming with Cutthroat Trout, great views, and wonderful camps. Since the lakes are only accessible by crossing the Jerry Glacier, they are out of reach to all but inspired climbing parties and rugged fishermen.
From Jerry Lakes we climbed a ridge at 6,825, through scree, trees, and heather to finally get our first view of Crater Creek. A traversing descent brought us to a roaring feeder arm of Crater Creek at about 6,000 where we set up camp for the night and relaxed. There was a waterfall nearby.
Since the summit was aid to be only 5 hours from Jerry Lakes we started our summit push at 7 am. We ascended broad Heather Meadows northwest, to and over a ridge, and then traversed down and west a steep slope to the main arm of Crater Creek.
We got our first close-up view from the bottom of the South Face at about 7,000. Jonathan was correct, it was not quite as steep as it looked. We ascended steep scree and snow over 900 to the top of the snowfield where we rested a bit, removed our crampons, and looked for the route up Smoots "obvious gully". It became readily apparent that if Smoot had actually done the climb he had it confused with another one. We looked to the right and to the left and only found one possibility.
The rock was steep, and loose. We traversed beneath a small waterfall, indicating a narrow gully, and started to climb class 3-4 loose rock beneath a cliff. After a few hundred feet, obviously at the crux, the route steepened, narrowed, and slanted, to an unknown result hidden from our view. I looked, and Jonathan looked, and we both reached the same conclusion That it was way too loose and too hard to continue without protection. Class 4? Maybe a bit beyond. At one point Jonathan had most of his weight on a rock that was mostly air underneath, and looked like it would sail away at any second. Luckily it did not. We saw almost no where to place protection, even if we had any.
Sadly, regretfully, but wisely, at over 8,000, we decided to withdraw from Jack Mountain until another day. We will return with proper gear, hard hats, and a larger party. The mountain is much harder and much more dangerous than described by Smoot, or even Beckey. Beckeys second edition rates this as class 3-4 at the crux, where we stopped, and then easier higher up as the gully widens.
As we were putting on our crampons to descend I saw a dark shadow fly over our heads and Jonathan saw a softball sized rock sail between us. Jack Mountain is made up of volcanic rocks of sheered and fractured Paleozoic greenstones. It is certainly a dangerous place.
The first ascent was by Edward Barnard and his party from the U.S. Geological Survey in 1904. The mountain is named for Jack Rowley, a Ruby Creek gold prospector in the late 1800s. The next recorded ascent was in 1930 by Forest Far and William Degenhardt. Fred Beckey has the first ascent of the Northeast Glacier in 1978.
We backed carefully down the steep snow, and returned to camp, disappointed at not being able to summit, but confident that we had made a good decision and very enlightened as to the true nature of big Jack Mountain. We saw only a footprint or two the entire day, so the mountain had the feel that we were the first ones on it. There is no route in place, no trail, no cairn, not even crushed Heather. Maybe a month earlier, when more of the route is covered with snow would be better.
Later we talked to a guy at Jerry Lakes who went up on the East Arete solo but soon returned to Jerry Lakes to take his chances with the jumping trout. We continued past the lakes, and back across the Jerry Glacier to near the Crater Saddle where we met a party crossing the Glacier with no rope, ice axes, crampons, or even ski poles. Yikes!
We camped on the Southwest Ridge of Crater Mountain and did the class 3 scramble to the summit at 8,128 in the early morning. We had a great view of Jack, and big, scary Hozomeen Mountain, 8,066, and even Luna Peak, 8,285, and the rest of the Pickets. All of the Paysaten was visable. We had a great view of Oscela Peak, 8,587, Mount Lago, 8,745, and Mount Carru, 8,595 to the east. Jonathan even spotted a forest fire from our vantage at the old lookout site. Ruby, Sahale, and even El Dorado were seen to the southwest. A sea of summits!
24 miles, and 10,500 for the three days.
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