Jack Mountain, East Ridge

Carolyn Cuppage, Pat, and I finally climbed Jack last week via the East Ridge. We originally planned a rematch with the Mox, but as the forecast deteriorated, threatening day 2 of our 4-day window, we switch opponents. This was Pat's and my third go at Jack, and as the approach is hard on old knees, we skipped the Jerry Lakes trouts this time; the goal was to climb the damn thing. Going Roupp / Toyota style, we brought bivys, a megamid, and that freeze-dried gunk labeled food. We even shared a single coffee press, and if that's not Extreme Chossism I don't know what is.

The whether folks predicted ickiness on days 1 and 2 and a nice solid high on days 3 and 4, and for once they were right. We camped at the trail head and were moving early on day 1. It started raining shortly after we reached Crater Lake. I wanted to push on through the rain to the Crater / Jack col, but Pat, older and wiser, had a superior plan: napping. So up went the mid, down came the rain, and out went the climbers. The drips slacked a few hours later, we stretched and scratched and headed up in the fog, quickly losing our way traversing to the col. We corrected course after a very puzzling look at the compass, and accidentally stumbled right onto the col bivy site. We knew a bad blow was coming back, so we anchored our little tarp with appliance-sized boulders and climbed in for the night.

The rain blew all night and all morning, and as napping had paid off before, we gritted our teeth and resolved to nap on, un-slugging only to add and subtract coffee.

The wind died down at 4pm on day 2, and we packed up and traversed Jerry glacier, bypassing the descent into Jerry Lakes via a thin but solid class 4 pitch up a rock band above the ice. 2 miles and few thousand vertical feet of pleasant off-trail rambling brought us to a nice site at the foot of Jack's Southeast ridge. The mosquitoes were delighted with our choice of shelter, and word spread quickly that supper had arrived.

Sometime in the night the promised high blew through revealing the milky way up close and personal. Day 3 dawned crisp and clear. We were rested, fed, and in the right place at the right time. No excuses for not climbing Jack today.

The East Ridge has the best rock on the mountain. Unfortunately this is not saying much. "Generally excellent rock on the ridge." says Fred. Horse hockey. The East Ridge is a continuous 1600-foot class 4 scramble, and on reading that sentence, one might presume that he means, "The East Ridge *is composed of* generally excellent rock." This is not true. What he means is, "You will find a few short patches of generally excellent rock on the east ridge, scattered between long runs of very loose stacked rocks, which may or may not hold body weight at the whim of forces that will be entirely undecipherable to the person possessing the body in question." If the rock were solid this would be an unbelievably fun climb, sustained, movey, and with great exposure. But the looseness of the rock on most of the route makes it unnerving, as you make every move anticipating that one of your three contact points may release at any time.

And of course, there're your damn partners to worry about, kicking off rocks on your head. Fortunately (and somewhat perversely, I admit), all three of us are pretty good at this kind of crappy travel by now, and no one dislodged a single partner-clocker the whole day. We carried a light 60M rope and small rack, but never unpacked them on the way up, mainly because the few decent anchor points didn't line up with the tough sections.

We topped out at 11am to big, big views. The register revealed that we were the first party up this year, and that only 4 parties summitted all last year, all by the South Face. Peggy Goldman, author of the scrambles book and one of the new guides to the 100 highest, saved Jack for 99th place. I understand why.

Most parties climb and descend by the south face, which is big and offers many route options. Having never been there, we chose badly. While traversing the summit ridge from east to west, we descended too early, and slowly but inexorably cliffed out after mixed steep snow and choss. The easiest way up and down the South face appears to be as far to the West as possible. The rope earned its weight as we rigged a rap on a big leaning boulder to descend the last pitch. With the Mounties Sharkfin accident fresh in our minds, Carolyn and I unclipped from the rap anchor before Pat, owner of the party's fattest ass, weighted it. Obviously, since I'm writing this, the rock stayed put.

Mentally exhausted after 11 hours of extremely precise limb placement, I made a stupid mistake once we'd made easier ground, rolled my foot on a sticky rock that I expected to surf, and torqued my ankle. If it weren't for the white hot pain I would have enjoyed the very exciting popping sound. On one hand I was really pissed at myself for screwing up that close to the tent. On the other hand I was grateful I hadn't screwed up higher, where the consequences would have been more expensive.

Pat and Carolyn rolled, and I hobbled into camp around 6. We fed bugs and slept. Pat, God bless him, hauled up a little bourbon, and a nip or two, plus 10 hours sleep, healed my ankle enough to move at a reasonable pace. Day 4 my partners took stuff from my pack, and we descended.

While Jack can be climbed in 3 days without too much trouble, stretching it to 4 is much more pleasurable, as the summit day is always likely to be long, and it's nice to hit it fresh and to make all those tricky route decisions without time pressure. Bring hard hats, ice axes, and crampons. Rap rope is optional if you stay on route. Leave behind the lead rack and rock shoes.