Mountain #6: Three Fingered Jack

January 31, 2015

Andy: I first climbed Three Fingered Jack last summer and had a blast, but I was psyched to try this peak in more wintery conditions. The parking lot at the trailhead was completely dry and snow-free, as was the first mile or so of trail. After that, the snow came in patches and eventually became more contiguous as we gained elevation. The Pacific Crest Trail is fairly easy to follow through most of the approach and we found some old, melted out footprints that followed the correct path most of the time. After around 4 miles we reached the west side of the mountain and started the climb up a snow covered slope, and reached the main ridgeline.


The ridgeline approaching the summit spire was super cool and featured 3rd class scrambling mixed with steep sections of ice and snow. This was probably my favorite section of the peak - the terrain just looked super cool and navigating through it was tons of fun.


The climbing becomes 4th class through a section known as “The Crawl”, an exposed traverse underneath a gendarme, and finally a short section of 5th class up to the top of the final spire. These sections were dry rock, just as we had hoped and added some fun and slightly spicy moves for us rock climber types. The rock on 3FJ is definitely rotten in spots and hardly rock at all in others. Much of the final spire is loose, chossy, and doesn’t offer much protection-wise, but luckily its all sub 5.3 climbing. 


We chilled on the summit for a bit, took the usual selfies, and began our descent, which involves a few rappels and back-leading many of the traversing sections to reach the starting point. Once we got out of the rock I was finally able to bust out my skis and slash slush on the way down. It was short-lived, but totally worth it! Skiing off mountains makes me giddy. 



Corie: MIXED CLIMBING EXCITEMENT! Yes, the combination of rock, ice, and the slush we’re calling “snow” this winter, made for some spicy and fun adventuring. The first part of 3FJ was a leisurely hike in patchy snow that was pleasantly interrupted at times by views of the summit, the silhouette of Mt Washington, the Three Sisters, and The Great Mt Jefferson. 


I felt confident and in control throughout 95% of the climb… That other 5%? I spent either crying and shaking as Andy coached me back to reality, or fighting back tears. Why was I so upset? The rock? Naw- that was rad! The weather? Psh- it was exquisite. I was upset because I had to self-arrest for the first time in my mountaineering career. Popped that cherry with a vengeance. As I stepped with assurance down a stretch of 60*, ever-melting snow “pack,” my feet slipped, I shrieked, and I dug into the snow with all my might… 20’ later I managed to stop. 


Oof. Thank the gods for all those practice runs, eh?
Any way, this mountain was rad and as we walked back to the car in the darkness, I was overcome with the feeling of how amazing my life, our life, is, and I consider myself so so lucky to be able to pursue (and accomplish) the goals we’ve set for ourselves, with good health, hours of sunshine, and support from those we love. 


In Summary…

Although the total precipitation for the northwest is close to normal, the snowpack is dismal. While the December snowfall was disappointing, the loss of snow throughout January has been downright depressing. Mt Hood is at 22% of normal snowpack, and Bachelor is not much better at 37%. Originally, we had planned to climb Mt Bailey this month but after scoping out Three Fingered Jack from Hayrick Butte last weekend and realizing that the upper rock spire was mostly free of snow, we seized the opportunity. During a normal winter, the upper spire of 3FJ would be covered in rime ice and snow, making for a very different style climb. 


We climbed the standard South Ridge route which involves a 4 mile approach along the PCT. The route then gains the ridge by way of a 30-40* snow slope that probably reaches 60* for short sections near the top, making crampons and ice axes necessary. The last section to the summit involves exposed 4th and easy 5th class climbing that the majority of parties will want to protect. As mentioned above, the rock is super chossy so helmets are a must. Although the climbing is easy, be prepared to employ creative protection by slinging blocks and knobs. 


Equipment List:

- Identical to Saint Helens, plus:
- Harnesses
- 60m rope
- 5 slings/cord of various lengths
- 0.5, 0.75, 1 Camalots
- 4 alpine draws
- Belay devices


The Stats:

Total Distance: 10.6 miles
Car to Car: 12:15
Car to Summit: 7:34
Starting Elevation: 4868’
Summit Elevation: 7433’
Elevation Gain: 3249’

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© 2018 by The Elective Mountain Refugees. 

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