For efficiency’s sake, I had planned to spend three days on the Cascade River Road. Waking to rain on the second day spoiled that plan, as my remaining objectives would require both dry rock and decent visibility. Instead, I killed time and topped off my supplies in Concrete — the last groceries and internet before Winthrop — and figured out something else I could do in non-ideal weather. Jack Mountain, a broad, isolated 9,000-footer east of Ross Lake, seemed like a good option, so I headed up Highway 20 for awhile. Driving through Marblemount again, a sign informed me that, because of the fires to the east, this was the last gas for 200 miles, a truly Nevadan distance.
Waking at the East Bank trailhead, I started off at a comfortable 5:50 AM, crossing the big bridge over Ruby Creek, then slowly climbing away from it as I followed the well-maintained trail back toward Ross Lake. At the strange 4-way junction — a “T” with a fainter trail heading off at the diagonal, I stared at the sign for a bit, then headed up the abandoned Jack Mountain trail, which would get me out of the trees by climbing 4,000 feet to the summit of “Little Jack.”
Weirdly, this turned out to be the crux of the day. With last night’s rain collected on every leaf and overcast skies, my feet and legs were constantly sprinkled with cold water, soon becoming uncomfortably cold. I eventually found a leftover plastic bag in my pack, force-fed myself the sandwiches in another, turned both peanut butter side out, and put them on my feet, but the water just came in around the tops and pooled inside the bags. Finally reaching an open, flatter area, I wrung out my socks and waited as the clouds thinned and the dim sun slowly warmed me. When circulation returned to my hands and feet, I continued to Little Jack’s summit, where I found a metal base for some old instrument.
Though still mostly in the clouds, I easily followed the ridge northeast toward Jack, even glimpsing Ross Lake below the cloud deck at the saddle. The standard route traverses east, then climbs the south face, but with little visibility I chose to continue on the obvious ridge. This worked well for awhile, as I quickly gained elevation on decent class 2-3 terrain. I nearly got cliffed out once on a subpeak, but got by with some muddy 4th class downclimbing.
Reaching what I hoped was the summit after some fun 3rd class, I found a vague cairn and briefly glimpsed what looked like higher ground farther northeast. After some more traversing, I reached the next high-point, at the southwest corner of the Nohokomeen Glacier. I could not see anything higher in the clouds but, vaguely remembering that the summit was on the other end of the glacier, continued along the ridge.
Things turned fairly unpleasant here, as ancient glaciers had chewed the rotten rock into steep, rubble-strewn ledges on both sides of the ridge. Climbing carefully, I still managed to break off a good-sized chunk of the ridge as I left it, sending a shower of boulders down onto the glacier. Finally reaching the northwest end of the ridge, I found the hoped-for summit register, a sad roll of damp paper in a PVC tube. Better, the clouds thinned enough to see the ridges east and southwest, and a good part of the south face, my descent route.
After enjoying the sun a bit longer, I started picking my way down the broad, steep, complicated face. Though steep, the snow-patches were soft enough for a good boot-glissade; the underlying rock was mostly 3rd class ledges sprinkled with scree. I zig-zagged among gullies, fins, and cascades to avoid being cliffed out, eventually reaching the snowfield at the base near an old but still-used piton.
Then came the side-hilling. The clouds had cleared enough to see the next ridge southwest and Little Jack in the distance, so I knew where I needed to go, and at what elevation. I tried staying high over the several ridges between the south face and the return route, crossing steep sand and scree and the occasional snow-patch. I ultimately had to drop fairly low, and probably should have done so immediately.
Hurrying in my impatience, I scraped up one leg when the sand I was on suddenly changed to ball bearings on hardpack, then cut a nice thick flapper on my thumb when a piece of turf broke and sent me tumbling into krummholtz. I rinsed both out a bit, then held my thumb out to one side so it would not drip on me, cupping it in my fingers for protection. It stopped bleeding as I descended the Little Jack trail, and I ran the better parts of the descent plus most of the East Bank Trail, reaching the car at 6:00 PM.