Corie: I felt absolutely destroyed after we finished this adventure and I’m pretty sure I drank 4 liters of water before I peed. The gist of the adventure was linking 2 of the Cascades on foot: the crumbly Three Fingered Jack with the slightly-more-solid Mount Washington. When we originally mapped it, it looked like we would be covering 20ish miles and gaining around 7000′ during the day. The Monday before we left, we checked our own work and saw that the mileage would be closer to 30. Woof. But, we accepted the challenge and got to sleep as early as possible on Friday night.
In the morning, we started slowly and increased our pace gradually as our bodies woke up. Within the first mile, we passed two large parties carrying an exorbitant amount of gear. We passed them after a few loud throat-clearings and made extra haste to get ahead of them. It was a gorgeous morning! The sun was nearly up when we hit the ridge and made our way toward The Crawl. I lead us through The Crawl and up the first pitch (thanks for sharing, Andy!), and Andy climbed past me and up the summit.
We snapped a quick video and made 2 raps back down. We simul’ed back through The Crawl and were off the technical portions and fast-scrambling down before we saw anyone else. They asked us how long it had taken us to summit and after we replied they exclaimed: “Is that some sort of record?!” “Did you guys even bring a rope?” We laughed and bombed down the scree, picking up the pace on the way down and loving every minute of the beautiful trail. Back at the truck, we swapped out gear, pounded more water, and each grabbed our 2 liter bladders before hitting the trail once more.
Perfect miles on lovely trails with Mount Washington in the distance.
At mile 18, I was sick. I spit up half of a bar, noted that I was already worried about running out of water, and was momentarily ready to quit. We were so close to the climber’s trail that I couldn’t justify it. This day wasn’t going to be as fast as I had been hoping for but I sure as hell wasn’t going to quit. I choked down some Newman Os and willed my body to keep them down. We lumbered up to the ridge, relishing in the shaded sections as the day was becoming hotter. When we gained the ridge and started traversing over to the spire, we saw a woman sitting alone on a rock. She warned us to “be careful because it’s treacherous.” We smiled to each other and kept moving. When we reached the base of the pinnacle, we saw two more people waiting for their friends who were making their way up to the summit. Our tiny packs must have made us conspicuous because they were eyeing us warily as we started solo’ing up the rock. We reached the summit and met a wonderful and hilarious couple who gave us a PBR. We busted out our ropes & harnesses to make the final rappel back down to “solid ground.” As we passed the woman who had warned us about the “treacherous mountain,” she exclaimed, “wow that was fast! you guys must be experienced!” We had a good laugh about that for a while, our exhaustion definitely not inspiring many feelings of experience.
Mount Washington Summit.
The way down was horrible. At this point, it was so hot that we couldn’t even run the flat sections. We were too dehydrated and didn’t have nearly enough water to sustain anything more than a fast-hiking pace on the way out. I found myself weaving drunkenly down the climber’s trail, willing myself to move for 15 minutes at a time and swishing small amounts of water around in my mouth. By the time we were headed back down the PCT, I was nursing Mentos and staring at a dead watch. I felt destroyed. Sitting down anywhere that I could became my primary focus. My mouth was so dry I could barely swallow and I became fixated on the idea of Grapefruit Juice and Sprite. Totally fixated. I decided in these moments that dying of thirst has to be the worst way to die. When we eventually reached the edge of the highway, I sat down, tears welling in my eyes as I looked up at the truck, 200 yards away but at the top of a small hill. I was done. Toast. All I wanted was water. Or juice. Or sprite. Andy kept going. I eventually followed, slamming as much water as I could into my body and sitting in the cool shade of the truck for a few moments. We had done it. And I was tired.
The primary benefit of Alpine Starts.
Andy: After completing the 3 Sisters Traverse last year, and inspired by Christof Teuscher’s link ups we have been tossing about the idea of linking peaks together for a while and Three Fingered Jack and Mt Washington seemed like an obvious pair. The principle of parsimony shines on the simple, elegant “Point A to Point B” traverses like the 3 Sisters Traverse, but this link up is attractive because both of these mountains are jagged, obvious peaks that lie on opposite sides of Santiam Highway. They both involve some amount of 5th class climbing and the majority of parties use ropes and protection to safety ascend. We chose to park the car at the PCT trailhead at Santiam Pass, run to and climb 3FJ, return to the car to resupply and switch gear, then run to and climb Washington, finally returning to the car.
3FJ on the left, Washington on the right. Black Butte makes a nice appearance in the middle of the frame.
Photo by Eric Bailey
Since Three Fingered Jack contains multiple bottlenecks that could have severely stalled us waiting for other parities, we left the car at 4:30am and pushed far ahead of other groups climbing that day. The approach went quickly, as did the climbing and we summited around 7:15am. The descent was quick, putting us back to the car a few minutes after 9:00am. We both felt confident and still full of energy at this point, about 12 miles in with the most technical climbing behind us. We could now ditch the larger rope and the 3 cams we brought, which was appealing looking at the next 18 miles in the heat of the day. After refueling and squaring up our kit, we were off again.
Corie leading the final pitches to on the 3FJ summit spire.
I’ve never hiked the section of the PCT from Santiam Pass south to the junction with the Big Lake Trail. I had erroneously assumed this area was subject to the 2003 B&B Complex fire, but much of the trail is untouched with large Ponderosas and stands of hardwoods providing welcomed shade. The running through this section went fairly quickly but the mileage began to catch up with us around mile 20, which also corresponded to the beginning of the major elevation gain on the flanks of Mt Washington. Our progress slowed here, as we navigated up the steep scree slopes, finally arriving at the base of the summit spire. We passed a few hikers, but noted only one other climbing party nearing the summit as we began. We briefly vacillated on whether or not to use a rope, ultimately deciding to solo the final few hundred feet. We arrived on the summit at 1:30pm and chatted with the other climbing party briefly before heading back down. After a short rappel, we shuffled down the scree slope, finally rejoining the PCT and heading north.
Scree on scree on scree.
Dehydrated is a weak adjective to describe our state upon arriving back to the truck. We ran out of water around 2:00pm and the remaining 2.5 hours and 90°F heat took its toll. We didn’t run much on the way back. This link up was super fun, but very strenuous as we expected. I’d say it’s more difficult than the 3 Sisters Traverse, primarily due to the mileage because the elevation gain is 3,000’ less. I’m not sure if I’d attempt this link up again, but it was a great test of fitness and a spectacular high-speed exploration of these two peaks.
When we were fresh, we could run ;)
Equipment List- Three Fingered Jack
- 1 liter of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 40m 9mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- .5, .75, #1 Camalots
- 3 alpine draws
- Materials for 2 anchors
Equipment List- Mount Washington
- 2 liters of water each
- Lunch & snacks
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 100' of 8mm cord
- Harnesses & ATCs
Total Time: 12:32
Total Distance: 31.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,680'
Elevation Loss: 6,568'
Andy's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/683291223
Corie's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/683289276