Jack Meissner and His Remarkable Ski Journey
By Ron Watters
Things had been going well for the 28year-old Jack Meissner. He had been moving along, making good mileage on his wooden Splitkein skis. He liked being alone. He liked the freedom of making his own decisions. Camping when he was ready. Moving along at his own pace. And his pace was moving him closer and closer to his goal.
It was true that people on the outside had doubts about whether he would make it. He knew that. The Forest Service had even flown a plane over to check on him. But things were going well. By golly, with a little luck, he was going to make it.
Then, he halted abruptly.
His heart sank. Dropping straight down, directly in his path, was a ravine; a steep, icy slope plunging to a narrow bottom which harbored a frozen stream. On the other side, another slope pitched steeply back up to the top. To surmount it safely, he needed crampons and an ice axe. He had neither.
Somehow, he had to get across the ravine. It was either that or turn back. And for Jack Meissner there was no turning back.
It was 1948. Jack had been out of the Air Force for just three years when he started off on one of the most remarkable backcountry ski journeys ever undertaken in Oregon. His plan was to ski from Mt. Hood to Crater Lake along the crest of the Cascade Mountains. When his route is viewed on a map, it forms a vertical line that stretches from Oregon's northern border nearly to its southern border. It was an impressive, bold plan, and it had never been attempted before.
Was this just a wild and crazy dream? After all, he had only been skiing for three years. By nearly all counts, a slip or fall into the ravine would be fatal. He was alone. If he injured himself -- broke an ankle or leg or worse -- there would be no one to come to his aid. He stared down the steep slope and pondered his options. Many more miles remained. Did he really have the experience and skill to make it?
For Meissner, skiing was born of a necessity brought by a passion for Oregon's Cascade Mountains. He had been a mechanic in World War II, keeping fighter planes running. Moving with the advancing Allied forces, he shuttled in rapid succession from England, Ireland and Scotland to Northern Africa and Italy.
When the war was finally over, he returned to a nation in the throes of post-war euphoria. To returning servicemen and women, it was a time when all things seemed possible. Meissner knew his possibilities and he had his mind made up. "I told my mom and stepfather," he recalled later, "that I was going back to the mountains."
Jack, as you can see, is not one to mince words.