by Karen Roper
John Roper was conceived in the North
Cascades, the place where his obsession began. He grew up in Newhalem,
Washington, the heart of what is now the North Cascades National
Park, and graduated from Concrete High School in 1961.
Jack Roper in Newhalem, July 1944
In 1944, Newhalem was
a bustling hydroelectric energy town, home of Seattle City Light's
Gorge Dam and Powerhouse Project on the Skagit River in Whatcom
County. It was also home of Jack Roper, who came to supervise first
Ross, then Gorge and Diablo powerhouses at various times, and Virginia
Roper, the City Light camp nurse. The nearest hospital was a small
facility in Sedro Woolley, nearly 55 miles away. With their first
born on the way, Jack and Virginia traveled to Seattle for John's
birth on January 14, 1944.
John grew up in the shadow of the mountains, listening to their siren's call. So much virgin land; so much rock and ice and snow: Could his be the first human foot to walk there?
He began hiking summits
when he was 9 years old in 1953, doing venerable Little Si, on his
first "camp away from home" with the Seattle Boy's Club, out of
Camp Wascowitz near North Bend. Then came Sauk Mountain in 1956,
then a first "kids only" trip up Newhalem Creek in 1958 (age 14),
and a serious adventure into the wilderness to Azure Lake in 1962
(age 18) with cousin Monte Steere, a prize destination still rarely
done even now in 2004, 42 years later.
On June 15, 1963 , at
the age of 19, John climbed his first honest wilderness North Cascades
summit, Trappers Peak, a 5964-foot mass of trees and stone and snow,
overlooking his hometown of Newhalem. It was a challenging and beautiful
adventure where the views were spectacular. He was hooked.
Driven by the need to
explore the pristine territory that surrounded his home, John began
a lifelong quest for unclimbed peaks, overlooked challenging beauties
and beasts. He determined to know and understand every facet of
his mistress, studying the maps, elevations, and geography, geology,
climbing history, nomenclature, Native American history, indigenous
species, rivers, every part of her.
As his knowledge has grown,
so have his horizons and his goals. He devises and revises his goals,
and considers others' various lists and ways of classifying this
territory and state, targeting all peaks within selected boundaries,
distinct peaks determined by accepted rules of separation, named
geographic features within specific river drainages, county high
points, and whether or not it "looks" like a worthy summit.
There's always another goal, a new challenge.
And still he climbs. Will he ever stop? Not in this lifetime. Maybe
Climb on, JR.
Copyright 2004, John Roper. All