Ascent of Jack Mountain on 2020-09-07

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Bob Bolton (Stayed behind)
Date:Monday, September 7, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Jack Mountain
    Elevation:9066 ft / 2763 m

Ascent Trip Report

Useful Info: (Scroll down for details of my climb)

Jack Mountain is a remote, difficult, and intimidating objective. Technically, it is not too bad, and many parties will not need a rope, but it still presents a daunting array of obstacles. To summarize these, the following outline is a rough guide of what to expect on a journey to the summit in late August/early September:
  • Trailhead
    • Start at the large Canyon Creek parking area on Route 20. A Northwest Forest pass is required.
  • Hiking Trails
    • In the first quarter mile, you first cross Granite Creek on a bridge, then ford Canyon Creek, where the bridge is gone. In late summer the ford is usually not very deep, but it may be unsafe if water levels are high. You might have to start from the East Bank trailhead and tack on an extra 3 miles each way.
    • Hike the Jackita Ridge-McMillan Park trail uphill for 3.8 miles, then turn left at an unsigned junction on to the Crater Lake Trail, and follow that for 1 mile to Crater Lake. Elevation gain is 3800’. Good campsites available at the lake, and at a viewpoint a quarter mile before the lake.
    • Follow the brushy trail up from the lake towards the main Crater Mountain summit, gaining an additional 600’ or so.
  • Cross-Country Travel
    • Leave the Crater Mountain trail at about 6400’ and traverse heather terrain with some rocky areas northward to the 7120’ pass north of Crater Mountain—gain of 720’.
    • Descend the dying Jerry Glacier snowfield and its remnant talus, losing 680’. Avoid icy patches on the snow. The glacial rubble is particularly annoying and loose.
    • Find a faint use trail that climbs up about 140’ to a minor pass overlooking Jerry Lakes.
    • Descend 650’ down to Jerry Lakes. There are faint use trails, and huge talus near the lake. Good camping between the two lakes.
    • Ascend 610’, across a meadow to some braided scree use trails, finally gaining a gentle pass at 6540’ overlooking the upper Crater Creek valley.
    • Descend 810’ down to Crater Creek at about 5730’, down steep meadows and some bands of brushy forest.
    • Ascend through meadow, forest, heather, and small rock steps WNW up a broad ridge to a flattish spot at about 7040’ on the SE flank of Jack Mountain, gaining 1310’ from the creek. A good high camp is available in the large marshy meadow at 6020’ in upper Crater Creek, a minor detour.
  • Scrambling
    • The Traverse
      • From the 7040’ flat spot, traverse across a slippery dry slope of scree and hardpan. This is annoying and slightly dangerous due to the runout below. Aim for the snowfield ahead.
      • At the snowfield, get out your ice axe and crampons and traverse across, taking care to avoid overhangs and snowbridges near the upper moat.
      • Transition off the snow to rock and follow faint use paths on a more uphill angle, up scree, talus, and hardpan, and finally up some more solid gray rounded rock.
    • The Crux
      • A large boulder with many mysterious slings alerts you to the crux section.
      • Just beyond is the “fourth class step”, and eight-foot high rock that can be a bit tricky to get up.
      • Just before the ledge you are on ends, a “third class chimney” offers a route up the cliff band. Stay on the gray rocks on climber’s right of the chimney and avoid the red rock walls.
    • The South Face
      • Once above the chimney, head uphill on more faint paths, following occasional cairns. The entire face is a mixture of talus, rotten ridges, scree fans, slabs, and hardpan. A lot of the going is tedious Class 2, but any progress will require frequent Class 3 scrambling, especially on the ribs.
      • The usual route seems to bear left a bit as you first head uphill, and then climbs the crest of a minor rib. The ribs provide more solid rock and more rockfall protection.
      • Then leave the rib, turning right, and cross under a remnant snowfield to get to another rib.
      • Follow this rib uphill to below the main Jack summit crest, and then turn right on a long traversing route. Avoid the temptation to head to the main ridge to your left too soon.
      • You finally do gain the main summit ridge just before the summit dome of Jack, and then some Class 3 scrambling across some smooth slabs and up a small rib leads to the airy summit.

My Story:

My friend Bob had completed all but one of the Contiguous USA 4,000 foot prominence peaks, lacking only Jack Mountain, and we had both failed twice on this mighty peak, too. So I signed up to help Bob finish his quest—in 2008 I was honored to see him complete the CONUS 5,000 foot prominence peaks on Mt. Cleveland, and it seemed fitting to do the same for the bigger list. When the forecast over Labor Day looked good, we made plans for a 4-day trip, allowing Bob 2 full days to get to a high camp near Jack, maximizing his chances for success. After summit day my plan was to return alone all the way back the next day, while Bob would take two days to get back at his own pace over the non-technical terrain.

Saturday, September 5:

We left the parking lot a little past 11 AM on Saturday, and shortly forded Canyon Creek—the water was cold but less then knee-high for me, the only real issue being slippery moss-covered rocks that I slipped on. We cached our sandals/sneakers nearby, put on our boots, and started the long grid uphill on the Jackita Ridge trail.

There were several big logs that were difficult to scramble over, and it is never fun to grind uphill with an overnight pack, but otherwise it was pleasant hiking. We saw a few other parties on this holiday weekend. Bob hiked at a steady pace despite some muscle fatigue issues, and I helped out by taking some items from his pack for him.

At 4:45 PM we reached a nice camp spot a bit before Crater Lake, featuring a nearby rocky bluff with good views. A couple of pot-smoking dudes had claimed the main view area, but they were OK with us camping in the flat areas near the trail. We set up our separate 1-person tents, hung out, rested, and decided to make dinner.

However, I soon discovered that my fuel cannister was a foreign model that clicked on to a stove, and not the screw-on kind, so we had no way to cook. Bob said that without a stove he would have to bail, since the bulk of his food needed cooking—I felt terrible for my stupid mistake. However, a group of hikers came by as we debated our options and casually asked how we were. We honestly replied “so-so” and told them about our dilemma. They said they had overpacked on fuel cannisters and had no problem giving us one of theirs. What amazingly generous trail angels!

After dinner we retired to our tents as dusk fell at 8:30 PM, but another group came in and set up their tent right next to us after 9 PM. They did try to be quiet. Camping on a nice day on a holiday weekend has its hazards.

Sunday, September 6:

Bob and I hit the trail at 7:30 AM and after a couple minutes ran in to a man and woman camped at Crater Lake. They had climbed Jack yesterday, gave us some good beta, and also mentioned that many parties were camped at Jerry Lakes and would be doing Jack today. At the time we did not realize that this brief encounter was actually an unlikely coincidence related to a tragic event.

We hiked uphill on the Crater Lake trail and stayed on it too long—we knew we needed to travel cross-country to the high pass to the north, but we should have left the trail at 6400’, not 7100’. Our idea was to gain elevation by trail instead of off-trail, but our traverse route was too high and featured lots of talus and scree, costing us time and effort.

At the pass we transitioned to the rapidly dying Jerry Glacier, not bothering with crampons on the soft surface. We headed downhill and after a bit had to leave the snow for miserably loose glacial rubble that moved when you looked at it. There appeared to be quite a bit of this ahead due to the lateness of the season.

Bob was not happy with this kind of terrain at all and found it very difficult. We called a rest and he told me that he really was not comfortable with continuing. I was very surprised and tried to talk him out of it, trying to encourage him by noting that there was only another 50 vertical feet down the next little snowfield, and we should take it one step at a time.

But Bob had not felt 100% yesterday, and he was very discouraged by the large blocks and loose junk, the kind of ground he had always had issues with. He also felt that even if made it across this area, it was a long way to high camp and he felt he would be in no condition to summit tomorrow. He just was not feeling it.

We spent 45 minutes here and eventually it was clear that all my encouragement could not dissuade Bob from his decision to turn back. I had to decide if I wanted to continue on solo or not. I really wanted the peak, and I had already hauled my full pack uphill for 5300 feet, and my time off had all been arranged, so I felt I should at least plug on to high camp and see how I felt the next morning. So, we sadly parted ways after mutual best wishes, and Bob turned to head back up the snowy slope while I headed down the loose rocks.

I looked back a few times as I made my way across the rubble, and the last time I saw Bob he was up on the easy, flat higher snowfield. I soon reached the end of the bad rocks and found a faint path that led me up a short ways to a little pass, then I went down to Jerry Lakes. I made a dumb routefinding error here and had to follow the rugged lakeshore when I should have stayed on the route leading directly to the isthmus.

I saw one empty tent at Jerry Lakes, the occupants likely up on Jack, and I took a short rest here. Then I headed uphill on a steep scree use path to the next col (gain of 610’), and then descended to Crater Creek (loss of 810’) on steep meadows and some dense brushy areas. To get to my planned high camp I had to climb the opposite site of the creek through meadows, so I started uphill again.

Here I started hearing yelling. I could not figure out where it was coming from—it sounded like it was below me, but then up on the peak. It was very intermittent. After more uphill hiking I heard it again and finally dropped my pack to try to figure out the mystery—it sounded like someone might be in trouble. I tried yelling back but got no response.

When I returned to my pack, suddenly a guy appeared from above—he was Dave, and he told me that his friend Dan had fallen through a snowbridge while climbing Jack. He was OK, but shaken up, and had retreated alone to the creek to wait while Dave continued up with another party. Dan may have seen me and started yelling, thinking I was his friend.

Dave looked carefully and spied Dan, on the slope above the creek, and was able to yell across and find out he was OK. Happy the mystery was solved, I got more route beta from Dave, wished him the best, and continued up towards camp.

I bushwhacked a bit and dropped down into an idyllic meadow at the headwaters of upper Crater Creek, below some sheer cliffs with waterfalls. I found a dry and flat area at the edge of the area to pitch my tent. It was only 3:30 PM—not enough time to try for Jack’s summit today, but still a lot of time to kill. And I discovered that when Bob and I split up, I now had no pot or pan to use with my stove—I would have to make due with the cold food I had with me.

So I just hung out for a few hours, resting, reading my maps and trip reports, and taking a short walk around the meadow. As I ate my food, a solo climber suddenly appeared, perhaps he had seen my tent from above. He was Colin, from the other party on Jack today, and knew about the situation with Dave and Dan. We had a nice chat, including talking about a certain web site we were both aware of.

At dusk I went to bed, not sleeping well due to the usual pre-big-summit apprehension.

Monday, September 7:

I woke up at 5:30 and was alarmed to see all the summits around me sheathed in clouds, and a cold wind blasting my campsite. The forecast has been for uninterrupted sunshine, so this seemed odd. I was already scared to be tackling this monstrous peak solo, and the weather was not helping my mental state. Somehow I got dressed and willed myself to get ready at take it one step at a time.

But as I looked across the valley towards Jerry Lakes in the predawn murk, I saw two headlamps making their way downhill—clearly climbers bound for Jack from the usual camp at Jerry Lakes. This gave me a psychological boost, since at least someone might find my body if the worst happened. On my ascent I would occasionally see or hear them behind me.

I started hiking at 6 AM and hiked up easy heather that eventually transitioned into a miserable scree traverse and real scrambling. Fortunately, the clouds were lifting and were soon gone from the peak, leaving just pleasant partly cloudy skies. At the snowfield I first tried to stay in the moat but quickly realized that was not working, so I got out my ice axe and crampons and carefully negotiated the snowfield traverse to its far end.

After the snow, a bit of steep talus/scree/slabs brought me to the crux section. I was able to force myself up the big class 4 step, and then I quickly identified the class 3 chimney. But somehow I blew it and started climbing the wrong side of the chimney, up some rotten red rock walls. I soon got myself into a very scary position, high up the wall, clawing for handholds, and not helped by a heavy and unwieldy pack. I am not sure how, but the adrenaline kicked in and I willed myself to the top of the cliff band and the more gentle terrain above.

I then made my way up the giant south face of Jack using my GPS track, faint use paths, occasional cairns, and my best judgment as I searched out the most solid rock. Nothing here was super hard, just tedious and slightly annoying. One could not help but to knock rocks down every now and then, and I was careful that the other climbers were not under me. I liked it when the route followed the solid rock of the ribs, even though that meant more athletic scrambling.

The last part of the route was a long traverse and I started getting excited—I knew I would likely make it. I finally saw the summit dome, scrambled to the ridgecrest notch just before it, and made the short but exposed climb to the airy summit, ecstatic to get a peak that had eluded me for many years.

It was windy and cold up top, and I layered up, ate a snack, and looked through the ragged and random register pages. I had been there for 10 minutes or so when two other climbers showed up, Nicolas and Greg. They knew who I was, since Bob had alerted them when they met near Crater Lake. We chatted and took each other’s photos while we enjoyed our summit sojourn, discovering that we had a few friends in common.

I left after a little under a half-hour on top, feeling cold and also anxious to get the tricky descent behind me. Nicolas and Greg followed me, about 10 minutes behind. I retraced my uphill route, checking my GPS often, and recalling several landmarks. The others called out to me at one point from above to say I was off-route, but I yelled back that my little rib had cairns on it and had worked for me going uphill. There are clearly many ways to navigate the chossy mess of this face.

I was worried mostly about the chimney, given my bad experience on the way up, and I thought I might need the help of the others to find the right one. But I scrambled down as far as I could, following the GPS track, and a red-dust use path led me right to the obvious cleft, which I was able to downclimb with no issues. Perhaps in the morning the best route was hidden in shadow for me, I don’t know how else I could have missed it.

I did a butt-slide and short jump to get down the big step, and then started down towards the snow. Suddenly I saw Nicolas and Greg on the cliffs above me, asking where chimney was—I found this somewhat ironic, since I had asked them the same question on the summit!

I was soon at the start of the snowfield, and Nicolas and Greg caught up to me as I put my crampons on. As I traversed the snow, I saw a snowbridge that had been there in the morning was now collapsed--it was definitely best to stay away from the upper edge. Once off the snow and done with the ugly scree traverse, on safe easy ground at last, Nicolas and Greg passed me for good, wanting to get back home this evening. I hiked the easy heather slopes back to my high camp, arriving at 1:30 PM.

I packed up quickly and ate a snack, and when I set off I took a detour over Jerry Lakes Peak on my way back to Jerry Lakes. This was not as easy as I thought, see my separate trip report.

From Jerry Lakes I climbed up the heartbreaking 1300’ to the next pass, seeing no sign of anyone. It was 6 PM when I hit the big snowfield, and the crunchiness of the surface made me opt for safety as a solo climber, so I put on my crampons again. At the pass I followed a GPS track down to the Crater Lake trail, instead of the high route from yesterday, and that was OK meadow traversing. I got to the trail, hiked downhill almost to the lake, and took a stumble when my shoelace loop got caught on a twig, right before meeting two hikers on an evening stroll from their Crater Lake campsite.

Fortunately, my previous campsite at the view bluff, just below Crater Lake, was not occupied. As dusk fell I pitched my tent, filtered water, and, using the little pot I had cached there, cooked up a good meal as the stars came out. A long and productive day.

Tuesday, September 8:

At 1:30 AM I awoke to the strong sooty and charred odor of wood smoke. The hazy sky told me that a cloud of the stuff from far-away fires had come in to blanket the entire area. In the morning I packed up quickly and took off down the trail, taking 2 hours and 15 minutes to boogie down the trail to my car, a brown haze limiting the views. I was happy I had no uphill exertion today. By 9 AM I was driving back to home.


I called Bob when I got home and he was fine—he had gotten back to the Crater Lake view camp on Sunday evening with no issues and had hiked out on Monday morning. I hope he feels better next year and can make another attempt at this peak.

The next morning, I heard the devastating and tragic news that Jake Robinson had perished in a climbing accident over the weekend. Earlier this summer, Jake had volunteered to carry Bob’s pack up to high camp on Jack for him, a characteristically generous offer on his part, but schedules did not align and it fell to me to be Bob’s companion for this coveted peak. And I was a poor substitute, unable to haul what Jake could have.

A final twist was that the woman we talked to at Crater Lake on Sunday morning was Jake’s girlfriend. During our chat no one knew about the others’ ties to Jake, and no one knew Jake had died the previous day. A terribly sad blow to the entire northwest climbing community.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:9306 ft / 2836 m
    Total Elevation Loss:8160 ft / 2486 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14.8 mi / 23.9 km
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Partly Cloudy
smoke on last day
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:9306 ft / 2836 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 7166 ft / 2184 m; Extra: 2140 ft / 652m
    Loss on way in:2140 ft / 652 m
    Distance:12.7 mi / 20.5 km
    Route:S Face-Jerry Lakes
    Start Trailhead:Canyon Creek TH  1900 ft / 579 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6020 ft / 1834 m
    Distance:2.1 mi / 3.3 km
    Route:S Face
    End Trailhead:Crater Creek Meadows  3046 ft / 928 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2020 - Jack Mountain (3 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Jack Mountain2020-09-07 a9306 ft / 2836 m
2Jerry Lakes Peak2020-09-07 b2311 ft / 704 m
Total Trip Gain: 11617 ft / 3540 m    Total Trip Loss: 14591 ft / 4447 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
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.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

Statistics by Day

Day Elev. Gain Elev. Loss Distance Hiked Max Elev. Camp
# Date Description Ft M Ft M Mi Km Ft M Name Ft M
12020-09-05Approach hike to Crater Lake380011584.577.35557001737Crater Lake View Camp57001737
22020-09-06Approach via Jerry Lakes246075021406526.19.81771202170Crater Creek Meadows71202170
32020-09-07Summit day304692830469284.166.6959066276390662763

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