Jack Mountain (9066 ft.)

South Face

September 25, 1994

by Bruce Kolpack

With the opening of an unusually excellent weather window for this time of year, two members of the Way Too High Alpine Society, me and Dave "Mad Dog" Spencer (a.k.a. "Perro Loco" in Argentina), decided to attempt a lightning assault of Jack Mountain, the "King of the Skagit".

This was the third WTHAS assault on Jack; the previous two being aborted because of bad weather. In June of 1992, an attempt was made by me and Kevin Merchant. This year, an attempt was made over the 4th of July weekend by me, Merchant, Spencer, and Brad Canady.

There are two problems with climbing Jack this time of year: water and daylight. We figured that we would have to bivvy at a spot past Little Jack (the normal camping spot) in order to find water. We also figured that we might be hiking out in the dark (sunset at about 7 PM). Both of these prognostications proved to be all too true.

After breakfast at Alexander’s (the normal WTHAS breakfast spot for climbs north of Snoqualmie Pass), we arrived at the North Cascades Highway trailhead of the Ross Lake East Bank Trail and began hiking by 10 AM.

The trailhead is at 1800 ft. and immediately drops 200 ft. to Ruby Creek. The East Bank Trail is followed for two flat miles to the junction the Jack Mtn. Trail. The Jack Mtn. Trail is 6 miles, with over 60 switchbacks, and ends at a horse camp at about 5800 ft. From the end of the trail, the route meanders up meadows to Little Jack at 6400 ft.

Little Jack was completely snow-free and a little stream that crosses the trail at about 5000 ft. (the only water on previous attempts) was dry. It was a hot day and our initial two liters of water each were nearly gone. We were forced to push the route.

From Little Jack we spotted two groups of waterfalls on the South Face. It was about 3:30 and we figured we could reach water in about an hour. Wrong! The route descends Little Jack to a notch at 6000 ft. and from there begins a long up and down traverse. According to Becky, "ascend a short ridge step", then "descend around a buttress", then "pass waterfalls above Crater Creek by skirting a cliff". Sounds easy, right? Wrong, again! The face actually contains about six small basins, each seperated by ridges (including the buttress) that have to be ascended and descended during the traverse.

A final ridge descent brought us to the first group of waterfalls and a bivvy site at 5300 ft. Total for the day: over 9 miles and about 5200’ vertical (not to mention ending up 1200 ft. below the high point of the day). There was just enough daylight to cook dinner (Way Too High Mulligan Stew, of course; and Mad Dog brought his usual -- SPAM!).

We got up at first light and were climbing by 7:30. After traversing up and down two more ridges, we reached the summit gully and the second group of waterfalls in an hour. There’s an easy way around the waterfalls to the right (we found that out on the way down), but we went left, of course, where a little bit of unroped class 5 rock climbing got us over the waterfalls.

Once above the falls, a broad gully of rock, heather, and scree (love that scree!) brought us to a seemingly impenetrable cliff band at 7000 ft. We found some easy ramps that brought us to the level of a small glacier that was feeding the waterfalls. The summit gully then continued up and right. There were a couple of hairy scrambles and route finding problems. At one point we had to dodge some stones kicked down at us by a mountain goat. At 8000 ft. the route crosses over to a gully on the left; then returns to the summit gully at 8500 ft. and continues up to the summit ridge a couple hundred below the summit. The summit is reached by an exposed ridge walk to the east.

We reached the summit at 12:30. One other party, who we saw descending, had climbed the Southeast Ridge (Class 5.6) from Jerry Lakes. The summit register contained only two other parties in August and September.

The descent to the bivvy site took 3 hours. The traverse back to Little Jack took another 3 hours and another 1500 vertical (UP!). We got to the horse camp just as it got dark. The headlamp hike to the car took 4 hours, ascending the final 200 feet at midnight. We got to my house at 4:30 AM.

Total for summit day: over 10 miles and about 5400’ vertical. Grand total: about 20 miles and 10,600’ vertical. Not bad for two days!

This could be the last significant Way Too High Alpine Society climb of what has been a successful season. Other Way Too High summits this year:

Silver Star Mountain --- Cirlincione, Kolpack, Merchant

Mt. Adams --- Cirlincione, Davis, Kolpack, Loftus, Merchant, Spencer

Black Peak --- Kolpack, Merchant, Spencer

For me, the climb of Jack Mtn. completes the ascent of all peaks in the state over 9000 ft. These are:


Mt. Rainier



Mt. Goode 9,200+


Mt. Adams



Mt. Shuksan 9,127


Mt. Baker



Mt. Logan 9,087


Glacier Peak



Mt. Maude 9,082


Bonanza Peak



Mt. Buckner 9,080+


Mt. Stuart



Seven Fingered Jack 9,077


Mt. Fernow



Jack Mountain 9,066