Jack Ascending
24 July 2007

Photos courtesy Jim Bond, Joe Ellington, “Mouk,” “Shakestheground,” and Bob Sohomuch

We struggled with the question of adding this album to FindingBrokeback.com. It celebrates a happy day in which seven Brokeback aficionados boldly sought to fulfill a romantic notion—climbing Jack Ascending. “Truth is,” that was something we should not have done. The photos you see here were made at moments when we had time to enjoy the scenery, laugh, and take pictures. They do not represent the entire outing, which included many difficult scrambles on steep grades. Fortunately, we had no serious falls, broken bones, animal encounters, or concussions but, very candidly, there was a very real danger of these things happening.

Please take this excellent advice from those who have climbed Jack Ascending: exercise your outdoor adventuring energies at other, far safer, Brokeback sites. Experienced hikers will find much more Brokeback scenery by climbing Moose Mountain or exploring Canyon Creek. Leisure walkers will find the enchanting sights of Buffalo Paddock to be readily accessible and deeply rewarding. Spend your time at these gorgeous, far safer places. Do not attempt to climb Jack Ascending.

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It was in October of 2006 that Jim Bond and I first discussed the possibility of climbing Jack Ascending (the western summit of Mount Inflexible). Bob Sohomuch was soon brought into the conversation since he had mentioned the same idea to Jim when they were in Alberta “finding Brokeback” that past July. Since there are no trails up onto the mountain, only around its base, and since Bob does quite a bit of hiking and is familiar with reading topographic maps, he was our best hope for finding a safe way up and down.

We had become a group of seven climbers by the time we had all arrived in Alberta from various places around the globe in July of 2007, and although we had chosen a back-up day in case of poor weather, we didn’t need it; it was a beautiful clear day.

A coyote strolled through the Sawmill Day Use Area as we waited for everyone to show up, but although we saw several varieties of scat in the woods during the climb, Joe Ellington’s “deer” was the only other animal we saw. Since it was past the agreed upon time to meet, and since cell phones don’t work in the Kananaskis and we had no means of making contact, we decided that something must have happened to keep the others from joining us, and we started out on one of the trails.

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Writes Shakestheground: “Me and Rayn [Roberts] and Mouk got there late because of a lot of reasons, one of which being a ram and a moose. [Lauren and Bob and Joe and Jim] done left, but Rayn hollered for them so loud they sent back a search party and we climbed up thru lodge pole thicket, straight up at a 45 degree angle, for three hours…”

Mouk: “I remember it being magic from the moment we arrived. We were listening to the musical score in the car, of course, and as we arrived at the bottom of the mountain and rushed out of the car to make sure this was IT, it started playing ‘I Don‘t Want to Say Goodbye.’ For me, this mountain and the song had become one the day a member of the yahoo BBM board…released my favourite BBM video of all times. [1] This moment was so magic, I just stayed there, standing on the road but in another world, while [Shakestheground] and Rayn were running for their cameras.”

We were really guessing about everything we did that day. Once we decided on a place to turn off the trail, and started going up, our progress slowed but the conversations didn’t, and we threw bits and pieces of movie dialogue back and forth as we made our way up the mountain. The trees and blowdowns were very thick, and we couldn’t get any kind of a view with which to chart our course until we finally moved out into the open, both to have a look around and to find an easier route. At least we expected it would be easier, and I guess it probably was, but “easier” is a relative term. We soon found that we had only loose shale for footing and very little vegetation with which to hold ourselves on the mountain. It is steep enough up there that the weight of a daypack can pull you over backwards if you stand up too straight.

The Mountaineers climbing organization defines scrambling as follows: “Alpine Scrambles are offtrail trips, often on snow or rock, with a ‘non-technical’ summit as a destination. A non-technical summit is one that is reached without the need for certain types of climbing equipment (body harness, rope, protection hardware, etc.) and not involving travel on extremely steep slopes or on glaciers. However, this can mean negotiating lower angle rock, traveling through talus and scree, crossing streams, fighting one’s way through dense brush, and walking on snow-covered slopes.” It was July when we were there so we didn’t encounter any snow, but the rest of this description could have been written for Jack Ascending.

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After climbing to various heights on the shale, five of us decided to stop and wait while Bob and Rayn kept climbing to see if they could determine where on the mountain we actually were. They returned to us discouraged, sure that we were on the wrong mountain. It appeared that we were too far south to reach the ridge that we see in the picture and that there was a lower ridge that we would have to traverse to reach the other high ridge.

Bob writes: “One of the things that contributed to my illusion that we were not on Jack Ascending was that I had convinced myself that we had been going up too long to still be that far from the top. When I had a fairly clear view, I looked to the north and saw what I thought was probably J.A. Of course I was angry, tired, and getting concerned about safety, so that convinced me even more that we were on the wrong mountain. Rayn went just a little farther than I did, and he said he wasn’t quite at the top. At the point at which I stopped, the ground was a very steep field of loose shale. It wasn’t going to get any better. Even if we knew for sure that it was Jack Ascending, continuing to try and reach the top would have been a bad idea. Gladly, the group was agreeable to turning back.”

Going back really didn’t seem to bother anyone other than Bob, who felt that he had let us all down by not getting us to the top. But we had seen the Kananaskis from a vantage point that very few people ever have, and spent a few hours in really good company, and everyone seemed to have gotten something positive out of the experience. Right mountain or wrong mountain, as Alma Jr. would likely say, “It was good enough.”

After a few weeks of studying maps, photos, and some websites dedicated to the Canadian Rockies, Bob came to the conclusion that we had indeed been climbing the right mountain. “I was able to identify most of the mountains in our photos by using topographic maps, but what convinced me most were the few photos we took which showed the Sawmill parking area where we had started our journey. The distance, and the angle from which these photos were shot, indicate with very little doubt that we had to be near the top of Jack Ascending.”

On hearing this news, Rayn wrote: “That’s awesome!...in the pic you took of me...I was about 30 yards from the very top...close enough to the exact top to say we reached the summit. I mean, hey, I could have thrown a stone and hit it, so who’s counting?”

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Shakestheground: “I will always remember our heroic climb of Mount Inflexible last summer, looking for Jack Ascending, going where surely no one had ever gone before. I told Mouk ‘If I have a heart attack, let me die; it will be okay.’ The experience I had today turned out to be real life rather than Brokeback, but damn, what a beautiful place to be. A picture I took that day is still my screen saver.”

Mouk: “…that Ascent was among the most special [of many memorable moments in Alberta], and certainly the most challenging. I really feel it’s nobody else’s but ours.”

Jim: “In a brazen act of recklessness, a bunch of na´ve souls who were physically unprepared, and who had no idea what they were doing, tried to climb a mountain...and...only by the grace of God were they spared broken ankles, arms, and legs, animal attacks, and concussions.”

I had looked at the picture of Jack Ascending for months and was convinced that “all” we would have to do was hike up along the tree line and then go north along the ridge to reach the top; a long day, perhaps, and probably pretty tiring, but definitely doable. Nothing could have been further from the reality of what we found once we got started. What we did was much more of a scramble than a hike, and it was our absolute good fortune that it turned out as well as it did.

[1] http://www.buttwheat.com/media/I_Dont_Want_To_Say_Goodbye.wmv (50 MB; the audio begins at 15 seconds.)

LG / 31 March 2008

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