Mt. Jefferson

July 13-15, 2007

From the second highest summit in Oregon I looked down on the wicked-looking ridge snaking down to the south and wondered at the task ahead for the Mazamas party to get their injured leader down it. We had come up by a different way, via the Whitewater Glacier.

We left Eugene Friday morning at about 7:30, and took a nice, easy pace on our hike into Jefferson Park. In places the trail was lined with Washington lilies, cats ears, bear grass and other wildflowers. We got a good view of the upper portion of our clockwise, corkscrew route up the mountain—the huge snowfields just below the summit that we’d cross the next day. The mosquitoes made our stay in Jefferson Park short. From Scout Lake we headed south up a valley and onto snowfields. Kicking steps in snow is far easier than trying to climb scree! Soon we could see lake dotted Jeff Park below, and the heavily crevassed Jeff Park Glacier above. From the top of the highest snowfield we scrambled a short ways up the scree and onto the boulder field. After a short hike east, we finally arrived at “The Beach”, our home for the next two nights. What a relief it was to drop those heavy packs! We saw several lightning caused fires to the east in the Warm Springs Reservation. They’d occasionally flare up during the night and brighten the sky. Mt. Hood was visible to the north, and Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Rainier would now and then peek through the smoky haze.

A 3:30 a.m. wakeup call allowed us time for a bit of breakfast and hot drinks before our climb. We were off hiking at about 4:30, and on the Whitewater Glacier and roping up at 5. There were a lot more crevasses opened up on the glacier than the previous time that I’d been on it, so our route across was a bit twisty to avoid them. Some sections above us were dirty with rockfall. Mid way across we saw something no one had a name for. It was sort of an avalanche, but not quite. Huge blocks of snow had broken off of a cornice and slid a ways down the glacier. After several hours we arrived at the Southeast Ridge where we left the glacier. We had gained about 1000' elevation in about 1½ miles. Going up this ridge is probably the most difficult and dangerous part of this climb, alternately slogging up scree, and hoping over boulders. Everything is loose—even big stuff. As we neared the Red Saddle we could see that there were other climbers ahead of us. They had come up the South Ridge.

We arrived at the Red Saddle a little after 9 and began six hours of “hurry up and wait”. The party ahead of us was a group of 12 Mazamas. We requested and were granted permission to use their ropes. In exchange we would clean the route (retrieve their ropes and other gear.) The Mazamas line across the “Terrible Traverse” was high and hugged the rock, and they had stretched a third rope across the less steep snow slope on the other side. Their leader was unfamiliar with the way up the pinnacle and on hearing that John had been on the summit six times before, requested his assistance. John also initially had problems finding out, but finally, by going further north over a small, icy snow patch, found the climbers trail leading up to the chute—if you’re not on the ugly talus slope to where you can see over the east side, you’re not far enough north!

In the mean time the Mazamas leader continued to explore lower down, in spite of our calls that we had found the route. While we were setting up our rope on the pinnacle, their leader took a fall and tumbled a ways down. He was caught just in time by several of their climbers. Larry, who’s on the Willamette Backcountry Ski Patrol, witnessed this accident and immediately offered assistance. As they felt they had the situation under control, they declined. Apparently the worst injury that the Mazamas leader had suffered was something to do with his wrist. We decided to continue with our climb after much soul searching, but had to cease all activity until the Mazamas were out from under the pinnacle due to rockfall danger to their party. After we received their “all clear”, April and I, who had been stuck on the summit during the Mazamas evacuation efforts, descended the pinnacle and started setting up ropes across the snowfields, while John took over getting the rest of our party up for their short summit visits.

By 5:30 p.m. we were all back to the now very windy Red Saddle. Larry, at his own choice, was the last one across, pulling pickets and ropes as he went. We quickly packed gear away and started descending the Southeast Ridge. Part way down a large rock was let loose. We all watched in awe as it bounced down the slope, occasionally knocking loose other rocks, and then went rolling down the snow, finally disappearing in a puff of snow over a thousand feet below us. A GPS was used to help guide us back to the spot where we had left the Whitewater Glacier. A second set of tracks across the glacier suggested that another party had followed that route behind us, but had probably, wisely turned back upon reaching the Red Saddle and finding the area already bustling with 20 other climbers! We roped back up and headed back across the glacier, picking up a couple wands we had left earlier to flag the crevasse zones. We were off the glacier at about 8, and back at camp about half an hour later.

Climbers were: April Anderson, Chance Fitzpatrick, Larry Huff, Scot Hunt, Roy McCormick, Rich Peevers, John Pegg (assistant leader), and Wayne Deeter, leader. This crew was a leader’s dream, with all pitching in in major ways to further the success of the climb, and I could not have asked for better companions for this tenth of my Ten Obsidian Peaks.

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