Mount Jefferson-Return to the SW Ridge

As usual, when I come across a climb that is a bit more dangerous than I am comfortable soloing, I call a medic. That implies that this is another trip with paramedic Andy Johnson. It's a bit odd that Andy and I had yet to climb something other than a volcano, and here we were again on our fifth. On my previous trip to Mt. Jefferson I turned back just beyond Red Saddle, the base of the summit pinnacle, with my tail between my legs and fear in my eyes. I was back now, better equipped and with a partner to make another attempt to climb the last 500 feet of Mt. Jefferson, the second highest mountain in Oregon.

I met Andy around noon under the mostly cloudy skies of Federal Way. I was prepared for the four and a half hour drive, equipped with a new compilation of music including such hits as Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing", Frank Zappa's "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and, of course, Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of". An appropriate sound track for the route we were heading for. By five o'clock we were at the Pamelia Lake Trailhead and by Seven we were at our bivy sight a couple hundred feet above where I had camped on the last trip.

Sunset from our bivy sight: a busy evening at Portland International Airport

After a reasonable nights sleep and some stove difficulties, we settled for a cold breakfast, and less water and a later start than we would have liked to have had. We made quick progress up the 4000' of the SW ridge and we ready to start across the traverse from Red Saddle around 11:00AM. Andy took first lead on the traverse around the west side of the pinnacle, setting a few pickets for a running belay. Progress was fairly slow due to snow conditions. After traversing far enough to see the class 4 gully leading to the summit pinnacle saddle, we decided to give the gully a try rather than continuing to traverse to the standard route on the north. After about a pitch of 55 to 60 degree snow, Andy reached a bit of a dead end near the base of the gully and was out of pickets. 

The summit pinnacle saddle from the traverse (taken on the descent)

We set up a belay anchor and I took the lead up the gully. It looked a lot easier when Andy was leading than when I started up it. Hmmm...the snow had a solid crust but was sugar beneath and good ice was non-existent. I put in a picket in the best snow I could find and worked my way into the narrow gully. After climbing 10-15 feet I reached some exposed rock where I was finally able to put in a piece of protection that I trusted. From there rock and thin ice finally gave way to enough solid ice to place an ice screw. A few feet above the ice screw I reached the last of the rock. There was about 10 feet of nearly vertical snow above me before the angle eased. I place another picket because I thought one would look good there, not because I thought it really offered much protection. I tested the was more of the same sugary snow we had been encountering since we got near the gully. After some stemming between the mostly solid right side of the gully and a narrow fin of snow and ice on my left, I managed to reach the saddle. It was about 70 feet from the belay anchor to the saddle.

Me climbing in the gully


The view down from the summit pinnacle saddle

With good anchors available at the saddle, I belayed Andy up. He had more difficulty with the final snow pitch than I did. Sometimes it pays to be a lightweight...and the first one to climb the crappy snow. Andy belayed as I lead the last half pitch (easy) to the summit. 

Andy belaying at the summit pinnacle saddle


Me on the Summit of Mount Jefferson

We had only brought a 120 foot rope so rappelling the gully would have required switching rappel anchors in the gully which was barely wide enough for one person let alone two. Not being able to do anything about our selection of ropes, we decided to descend the standard route on the north side. It turned out to be considerably easier than the gully. After down climbing two short class 4 rock sections and about 50 feet of 50 degree snow we started the traverse back to Red Saddle. The traverse averages 40 to 45 degrees with only a short section that is relatively low angled.

Andy on the easy part of the traverse

Finally, back at Red Saddle we untied and headed down the ridge in thick clouds. We were back in the sun at camp around 4:00 and the trailhead at 6:00. I was home by 11:00pm, Andy arrived home at 12:30 after missing the ferry...sometimes it pays not to live on Vashon Island. 

Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes; Jeff Smoot; Pages 117-125