“You guys are some seriously f$ck*d up individuals,” is the last thing Timmy said to us before he left us at our house for the evening. He was half-joking (we think) but our micro-adventure up Three Fingered Jack that day had left all three of us soaked to the bone and ready for a hot shower.
The plan to attempt to climb 3FJ in the winter had been hatched after discovering that the weekend forecast held nothing but rain and/or 50mph winds on most the volcanoes within a 3 hour drive. We’d been chatting about checking out the rarely climbed/rarely enjoyed peak in the winter since our failed attempt up Mount Washington the previous Spring. We were hoping for interesting conditions and even more hopeful that we would have a full-value day in the alpine. Both wishes were granted.
Timmy: "I still have no idea what this mountain looks like."
We brought skis along as a “just in case” but none of us were thinking that skinning would be possible or worth the trouble. We post-holed up to our waists for a ¼ mile before ditching out on our ski-less Plan A and swapping out gear for Plan B. With skis on our feet, we left the trailhead a few minutes before 7am.
The only time we saw anything beyond the cloud we were climbing in.
(Photo by Tim Bemrich)
We navigated mostly off of memory- Corie always feeling like the approach goes too far East (every time!) and checking in with Gaia after a couple of hours of feeling like we were going to overshoot the PCT. Navigation was on point, however, and we traversed up and over small ridges before intersecting the PCT right below the South Ridge. The ascent was made within a very, very wet cloud and as we wound our way between trees and under branches, all attempts at staying dry were thrown out the window. No one was wearing hardshells: Corie & Timmy had on alpine climbing pants, and Andy was wearing soft shells.
Visibility up to the ridge was exceptional.
We elected to ditch our skis before gaining the ridge since visibility was deteriorating as quickly the wind was building and skinning was starting to hinder our progress. We post-holed through knee to waist-deep snow up to the ridge in progressively wetter and windier conditions. Upon reaching the ridge of the west bowl, the wind reached maximum power, making snow/ice/rain fall upwards. Of course, Corie decided this was a good time to pee and luckily for her, most of her clothes were wet already and Andy and Timmy didn’t notice. After a quick check-in, we all decided that conditions were “silly” and fun was still being had so we journed on.
The ridge traverse over to the summit was relatively uneventful. We roped up about a “pitch” before the crawl/4th class traverse, given the higher consequence exposure and tighter margins for error. The crawl pitch was exciting with all the usual crap rock and the wet snow covering all horizontal ledges. Ski boots and aluminum crampons had Andy wishing for mountain boots and mono points on a few moves but luckily the difficulties are brief and relatively well protected.
Entering the Crawl & Traversing out of the Crawl toward the Chimney.
Timmy rocked his way up the penultimate chimney pitch and Corie pushed the rope up to the proper summit pinnacle. Tim brought one tool with him and used it during the chimney pitch; Corie and Andy opted to leave tools below and climb with sometimes gloved, sometimes bare hands. There was not enough snow and ice to absolutely need a tool, but not enough bare rock to consistently use handholds. In hindsight, the one tool, one hand combo seemed to be about right. Shivering and fully wetted out, we rapped off the summit, rapped down the chimney and reversed the crawl back to more mellow terrain.
Timmy leading us up the chimney.
Once back at the skis, we marveled at how much more hospitable the conditions were down at lower elevations. The skiing down the west bowl was a little scary. Lots of very wet snow with boot penetration down to ankle/knee in a couple spots had us skiing one at a time and taking conservative lines. With visibility of 75’ and completely flat light, we weren’t necessarily in the mood for backflips anyways. Once back in the trees, we re-applied our saturated skins and started the 6 mile trek back to the car. With only one short-lived bobble in navigation and several belly laughs from downhill skinning tomahawks, we arrived back at the car, happy and only slightly (h)angry.
Start: Santiam Sno-Park- 4,770'
Elevation Gain: 4,167'
Time: 9:55 hours round trip
Andy's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1398648432
Corie's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1392404097
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 100' 8mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- 1 picket (didn't use)
- 0.5, 0.75, 1 Camalots
- Gear for 2 anchors
- Extra layers- lightweight shell and puffy
- 1 Ice Tool each
- Ski poles