Mount Jackson

The fourth highest mountain in Montana's Glacier National Park (GNP), Mount Jackson is an alluring peak-bagger's objective and had been high on my to-do list for quite some time.  Of the six mountains in GNP which exceed 10,000 feet, Mount Jackson has one of the easier approaches although this still entails a lengthy march of at least 10 kilometres just to get to the base of the mountain.  As such, two days are normally recommended for the ascent with an overnight stay at Gunsight Lake campground.  Getting backcountry permits at GNP is a bit of a hassle though (no matter how experienced a backcountry traveler you are, they always make you sit and watch a 15-minute video on backcountry safety before selling you a permit), and after reading Andrew Nugara's report of his one-day ascent of Mount Jackson with Rafal (Raff) Kazmierczak, I was convinced that going light and fast over a single long day would be the preferred strategy.  Of course, "light" and "fast" are seldom synonymous with my scrambling style, and knowing that it still took over 14 hours for Andrew and Raff to complete their trip, I was skeptical that I could even do the same in less than 16 hours which is exactly how long the border crossing at Piegan/Carway is open on a daily basis during the summer.  Although the obvious solution to the limited border crossing hours is to simply arrive the night before and car camp before getting a good alpine start, I was loath to splurge for a $20 camping site which I would only use for a few hours anyway.  Instead, I came up with the insane plan to arrive the night before and simply begin the trip in the middle of the night.  By doing the long but easy approach in the dark, that would allow me to go up and down Mount Jackson during the bulk of the day and still leave me plenty of daylight to return to the trailhead and subsequently make the border crossing before it closed.  On paper at least it sounded like a good plan.  Ultimately, what I failed to anticipate was the hot weather and the mosquitoes.

I drove out to the trailhead on the Going-to-the-Sun road on the evening of 12 July 2014.  Given the late hour, I was a little surprised at how much traffic was still zooming up and down the road.  This park truly does not sleep during the summer!  I eventually got under way just before midnight (13 July 2014) on the well-maintained trail that descends nearly 200 metres to the first junction near the bridge over Reynolds Creek.  A near-full moon was out, and I could largely follow the trail without turning on my headlamp although I did use it often partly as a means to warn any potential bears of my approach.  The hike to Gunsight Lake campground was quiet and uneventful, and I arrived perhaps a bit too early since it was still too dark to take photographs of the lake.  After crossing the suspension bridge over the lake's outlet, I took an extended break in hopes that the sky would brighten a bit before I began tackling the lower slopes of Mount Jackson.  I put on all my extra clothing since the temperature had dropped significantly, and then I had something to eat before lying down on a big rock for a bit of a nap.

When I started moving again, I climbed up the Jackson Glacier trail and started to encounter more and more snow.  The trees eventually thinned out, and I turned up the big slope below the northeast ridge of Mount Jackson.  As innocuous as it looks, this slope is actually deceptively steep.  I strapped on my crampons and climbed up some of the lower snow patches, but higher up, I removed my crampons to ascend a rather miserable section of treadmill rubble.  My upward progress was painfully slow here, and getting up to the crest of the ridge was proving to be wearisome and time-consuming.  By now, the sun had risen high enough to illuminate the entire mountain, and I was more than a little troubled by how hot the sun felt even at this early hour.  At one point, I heard a clatter off to my right, and I turned to see a rock about the size of a television dislodge from a snow patch and go hurtling down the slope.  The rock tumbled for a very long distance, and it was sobering to realize that I had climbed up through its fall line less than an hour earlier.  I pressed on and finally gained the ridge crest after what seemed like an eternity.

From where I gained the ridge crest, I got my first good look at the remainder of the route, and what I saw was disheartening.  I still had an enormous amount of elevation gain (probably about 600 metres) to reach the summit, and the ridge, at least from a distance, looked more complex than expected.  The actual scrambling on the ridge turned out to be not too difficult, but in my tired state, I found little enjoyment in the endeavour.  My biggest enemy though was the hot sun.  With virtually no wind, the heat from the sun was becoming oppressive, and I was going through my supply of water and liquid refreshments at an alarming rate.  Whenever I found shade on the ridge, I would linger there for an extended pause; I may have even dozed off once or twice.  A real godsend were the lingering snow patches that were more frequently found higher up on the ridge.  What a great relief it was to rub cold snow all over my head, neck and arms.  On a couple of occasions, I even plugged both my ears with snow!  Another cool trick was to tuck a big snowball under my baseball cap and let it melt on top of my head as I continued climbing.

After yet another eternity, I finally staggered onto the summit ridge and eventually the true summit.  I was numbed by exhaustion, and the first thing I did on the summit was sit down and polish off a delicious soda pop (Fanta orange).  It had taken me over 12.5 hours to ascend Mount Jackson, and as wonderful as the summit panorama was, it was hard to ignore the enormity of the return journey that was still ahead of me.  Despite feeling some urgency to start descending, I spent an hour on the summit anyway doing my requisite chores and somewhat recharging myself both physically and mentally.  Taking my boots and socks off, even temporarily, seemed to do wonders.

After leaving the summit, I retraced my steps down the northeast ridge without any problems.  I briefly considered following the alternate descent taken by Andrew and Raff, but because I was unsure of where exactly they went, I ended up just going back down the big slope I originally ascended.  Going down this slope was far easier given that the loose rubble and snow patches could all be glissaded fairly quickly (beware of big fissures in the snow patches).  With some luck, I regained the snow-covered Jackson Glacier trail and hiked back to Gunsight Lake campground.  Upon re-entering forest, I was immediately accosted by a swarm of mosquitoes.  Up until this trip, I had seen relatively few mosquitoes during my previous outings for this year, and consequently, I had forgotten to bring bug repellent.  I would pay dearly for this oversight during the remaining 10-kilometre hike back to my car.  The last six kilometres or so were especially brutal as the mosquitoes here were absolutely relentless.  I was eventually forced to don my hooded waterproof jacket to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but this felt like I was hiking in my own portable sauna.  Adding to the misery was the 200-metre ascent from Reynolds Creek back up to the trailhead.  What a cruel way to end an already long and exhausting day!

Epilogue:  When I stopped in Fort MacLeod, Alberta to get gas on my drive home, I was attacked by a second swarm of mosquitoes as soon as I stepped out of my car at the fuel pump.  I must have looked really comical doing something akin to the Chicken Dance, swatting at waves of mosquitoes while simultaneously trying to pump gas.
Seems so far away... A break in the trees along the approach trail grants a moonlit view of Mount Jackson.
The goal is to aim for the "flat" top in the photo. The sky begins to brighten over the slopes below the northeast ridge.
On descent, I nearly glissaded into that fissure! The first rays of sunshine illuminate an outlying ridge of Blackfoot Mountain.  Note the part of the snowfield/glacier that has slid off revealing the rock underneath.
Starting to get warm already... The morning sun also shines on Fusillade Mountain to the north.
And it's much steeper than it looks too! Despite appearances to the contrary, the rubble is horribly loose on this slope.
How appropriate that "Gunsight" is next to "Lincoln"! Gunsight Mountain looks wonderfully complex.  Also visible at far left is diminutive Lincoln Peak.
Ulp! There's still a lot of elevation left to gain... This is the view of the upper part of Mount Jackson from where Sonny gained the northeast ridge.
That would be one scary glissade! The north face of Mount Jackson still harbours a fairly large glacier.
That's why you probably don't want to glissade here... Here is a closer look at a crevasse in the glacier on the north face of Mount Jackson.

No worries--it's all Class 3 stuff.

The upper part of the northeast ridge presents some interesting challenges.

Those gaping holes kinda ruin a good ski descent, no? Mount Stimson (right of centre) is barely visible in the distance behind Blackfoot Mountain.  Note another large chunk of snow/ice sliding off the upper slopes of Mount Jackson.

Death of a glacier?

An enormous section of snow and ice appears to have slid down the lower slopes of Mount Jackson.

Whew! The heat from the sun is just killing me right now! The real scrambling begins up ahead.
Gee, that summit still looks far away! Difficult sections along the ridge can usually be circumvented to climber's right.
There is a really annoying drop-off along the summit ridge that may require some backtracking. The summit is finally in sight!
Too tired to enjoy this moment... Sonny finally stands on the 3064-metre* summit of Mount Jackson.

*generally accepted elevation (my GPS was not working)

R.I.P. Rhonda Mode (I assume). A memorial cherub can be found in the summit cairn.
A most coveted summit, but one that will require some logistical planning... Mount Stimson reigns above all other peaks to the south.
Walton Mountain is probably very seldom climbed. Walton Mountain and Harrison Glacier are to the southwest.
Love this view! A sea of peaks stretch out to the northwest behind Gunsight Mountain.  Barely visible at bottom left is Lake Ellen Wilson.
Both are equally great scrambles though! Despite being further away, Mount Gould easily overshadows Reynolds Mountain in the foreground.
That's gonna be a miserably long walk out the valley in a few hours... Fusillade Mountain and Gunsight Lake draw the most attention to the north, but peaks such as Mount Gould, Mount Siyeh, and Going-to-the-Sun Mountain are all readily identifiable on the horizon.

That's a very persistent snow patch on Siyeh!

Here is a closer look at Mount Siyeh, Cracker, Matahpi Peak, and Going-to-the-Sun Mountain.

If you look close enough, you can even spot lowly Divide Mountain on the horizon. Some of the more prominent peaks to the east include Citadel Mountain (left of centre), Little Chief Mountain (centre), and Mount Logan (far right).

Still amazed at the Nugara brothers' attempt to daytrip Logan on snowshoes!

The remainder of the eastern view is dominated by Mount Logan (left), Blackfoot Glacier, and Blackfoot Mountain (right).

Afternoon is not the best time to photograph this lake...neither is the middle of the night! Gunsight Mountain is a stunning backdrop for Gunsight Lake.
Three hours of sheer hell coming up on the hike out! Here is a last look at Mount Jackson from the trail on the hike out.
Total cumulative elevation gain is probably closer to 1850 metres! Total Distance:  ~27 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  19 hours 40 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  ~1450 metres