Jack Mountain

Nohokomeen Glacier and Headwall

May 6-8, 2012

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason L. Hummel

Day One: Ross Lake to Glacier

There I was on a boat motoring across Ross Lake. To either shore were behemoths like the Pickets, Hozomeen and Prophet. And then there's Jack Mountain. At 9066 feet, Jack is the tallest peak in the Hozomeen Range and the fifteenth tallest mountain in Washington. And unlike the other nearby peaks, it stands alone. Next to me on the boat is Kyle and Hannah and we hope to give this mountain the attention it deserves by ascending the enigmatic Nohokomeen Glacier over the next three days.

Stepping from the boat at May Creek on Sunday May 6th, I am flushed with the newfound knowledge we had gotten from the our boat driver. From his many years hunting in the area and ferrying people up-lake, he has intimate knowledge of the region. "May Creek," he insists, "is not the way most people go." Pointing into the forest, he suggested another route up the trail-bare mountainside. Upon closer inspection of my map once ashore I noticed a weakness where I had thought he had pointed. There were, too, the tighter topo lines that haunted the upper reaches of our originally intended route, May Creek. I couldn't help but think that we had had a stroke of luck and avoided catastrophe. It reminded me of my last attempt on Jack Mountain, via another route. On that adventure we had dead ended in cliffs with not so much as a ski turn made.

With our route determined and beer stashed in the bear box, we shouldered our packs and hiked to the East Bank Trail. Taking a right at a junction, we continued for half a mile. This was where, at a point just before Spencer Camp that felt good (because feelings matter), we hung a left into the forest. "Let the fun begin," I muttered. At least the trees didn't grumble back in response.

Juxtaposed between two creeks, beginning and 1800 feet, we promptly navigated our way into a much too friendly swamp. Once our feet were freed from the mud, we ran into a glade of slide alder. They were, much to our chagrin, far too enamored in us. But with shameless vulgarity, we shook loose from their overtures and quickly found steep open forest.

Finally, we were in love.

Open forest continued all the way to snow line. There we switched into ski boots for the traverse and climb. At approximately 5600 feet, north of point 5663, we eventually arrived above a small pass. A few hundred feet descent led us to the base of the Nohokomeen Glacier along a gentle traverse above cliffs. Only eight hours to get from the dock to camp.

Below the glacier, as I settled into my sleeping bag on rock slabs, I fully expected to rise and photograph the super-moon. This is a moon that is 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than a moon at it's farthest point from Earth. The alarm was set for 4:30a.m. and to my regret, I didn't wink an eyelid until then.

Day Two: Nohokomeen Glacier to Jack Summit

Warm morning sunrays were still hours away. Not wanting to put off climbing for too long, we all shoved down breakfast and began the ascent on a frozen crust over a foot of soft snow. Even with the difficult conditions, we made quick work of the lower slopes and were soon below the Nohokomeen Headwall. Finally after all these years, there she was in full view - perfect. Lots of chatter and resting occurred beneath the remaining climb while we waited for the sun to warm the slopes.

Eventually someone grumbled loud enough that we should go. While the snow was still ice beneath our boots, it was beginning to show weakness. By the time we were halfway up the face, we had ankle deep powder. The climbing that remained was an absolute pleasure. Hannah finished off the last hundred feet to the ridge crest and when I heard no shouts of dismay from them, I took that to mean the traverse to the main summit was a go. When I crested the ridge, I could see the way was indeed doable. In fact, I was pretty sure I could ski it and that made me smile.

At the summit, we took pleasure in seeing various peaks from different perspectives. For Hannah, this was her first major North Cascades peak, so it was a very special moment. I remember her saying, "This is so much harder than Mount Rainier!" From a girl who has climbed Rainier more than fifty times her opinion was especially rewarding because it mirrors our own feelings.

Leaving the top after the others had down climbed, I skied into a narrow fin of snow and sidestepped above the nose-bleed seats before escaping with a whoop to the narrow ridge line. Kyle and Hannah were preparing to descend from there. Looking down the South Face of Jack was revitalizing. Of those few who have skied it, my hat's off to you; it's a proud descent.

Kyle took the lead onto the north face after he pulled out his axe. Lowering himself, he inched over the edge. Pulling out the axe, he quickly dropped into the face and disappeared beneath the cornice at my feet. I yelled down, "How is it?" He said that it was steep, then after a pause added that the snow was awesome.

The face was everything I had hoped for - too perfect honestly. The snow was solid. On terrain like this in such ideal conditions, you can feel like you are flying instead of skiing. Watching the sluffs cascade over the rock cliffs added to the awesome-factor. Near the bottom, when the fall-line opens up to the slopes below and the fear has lessened that is when my excitement is at it's highest. Between a mixture of relief and satisfaction, I am as elated as I am going to get.

The slopes on the Nohokomeen were smooth, but while the icy crust had softened in the sun, it had become sticky as well. Thousands of feet of skiing brought us beside ice walls, through the tumultuous Nohokomeen Glacier and back to camp. The warm rock slabs were a treat, especially after a day like we had had.

That afternoon Kyle and I climbed up the west side of the Nohokomeen. We wanted to enjoy more turns and stretch our legs after our long naps. Just as the sun painted the slopes in alpenglow, we raced back down the mountain on wonderful snow. It had frozen just enough to take the edge off the stickiness we had battled earlier. What a blast! And what a way to end such a spectacular day high above Ross Lake.

Day Three: Nohokomeen Glacier to Ross Lake

Our route back to Ross Lake went much smoother than we expected. We managed to avoid the swamp and slide alder; although the skiing in the forest was less than desirable. My ski pole broke in half when I fell over on the moss, branch and ice-encrusted snow. I barrelled headlong into a tree after it snapped. Eventhough I can easily replace it, I become attached to things. Maybe its because when my gear breaks, I feel like I'm getting older too.

Thousands of feet of forest is never as easy to descend as you would think. Not that it is bad; it's just a knee-crusher.

It was a pleasant walk back down the East Bank trail to May Creek. Since we had several hours to wait, we pulled out drinks from the bear bin, enjoyed more sun and chatter. Eventually the boat could be seen making its way to shore. Once aboard, it pulled away through the exposed stumps in a hurry.

From the stern of the boat the slopes of Jack Mountain come into view. I couldn't see our tracks. You wouldn't ever know we were up there at all. It's the same with all the peaks that enclose Ross Lake. They keep their secrets to themselves. I like that. When there are no trails you get to uncover those secrets on your own. There's something very special about that.~~~~

>>>Previous Adventure: April 13-15, 2012 The BIG Copper Circuit


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Jason Hummel