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We woke up to another fine morning. Two in a row, and just like that, Oregon isn't looking so dismal anymore. We drove out through Sisters and on to the PCT trailhead south of Three Fingered Jack. Another remnant volcanic plug, TFJ offered another low class 5 summit block on crummy rock. Unlike Jefferson which was almost completely covered in snow and rime, we expected at least a modicum of actual climbing on rock, made possible by the southern approach and lower summit altitude. The trailhead was low enough that there was no snow for the start, but that would last for only the first mile before the familiar snow cover returned. As we had on the previous days, we left the snowshoes in the van and headed out on foot, carrying a rope and other climbing gear.
It didn't take long after the snow started to be more or less continuous for us to lose the trail. There were no other boot prints to help us navigate, but then this was a much easier route to negotiate. The forest was not particularly heavy, and we knew that we just needed to head in the general direction of the long, extended South Ridge and from there it would be obvious. It was. The approach was about 5 miles, though it had looked closer than that. By the time we had finished following the ridgeline up and over several snow-covered bumps along the way, it no longer seemed that close - where's the summit?
We still had the snow-free summit pinnacle to climb with a good amount of elevation left to gain. The slopes were as loose as advertised, but with relatively low angles, they were more a nuisance than a danger. Coming to The Crawl, it wasn't hard to identify this as the first rope section. The ledge starts off quite wide and I walked out half the distance before turning back where the ledge narrowed and the holds scarcer. I backed off and waited for the others to show up. Rick was only a few minutes behind, but Matthew was much further back. When he finally showed up, he was hating his boots, his feet finding the Sportivas less sporting and more hurting. He swore this would be the last time he'd wear these boots on an approach. Matthew commented that there had to be something wrong when he was looking forward to changing into his rock shoes because they'd be more comfortable. And while Matthew did that, I belayed Rick across the traverse, then he in turn belayed Matthew and I on the same rope. I collected our belay anchor and brought it with us for the other rope section just below the summit. Ten minutes later we were looking at the rotten chimney, but it didn't seem all that rotten to me. I walked up to the chimney to get a closer look, and sort of just started up, lured by a few sloping shelves about 4 feet apart going up the wall. This made the climb up fairly easy, but looking down, it didn't seem like it would be as much fun in the other direction. I reached the large belay rock with 4-5 slings around it, and paused there to wait for the others. Out came the climbing gear.
Utilizing the rope, Matthew got the chimney lead. Providing photographic coverage from above, I watched Matthew start climbing, nervous that the holds weren't so solid. Testing each one carefully, he made steady progress until he reached a softball-sized rock. He tested it with his right hand, found it solid, then pulled up on it. Immediately it came out in his hand with a small shower of connecting debris. He stumbled but held his position, cursing the rock soundly. This had the effect of making him more nervous, and probably wishing he had given the lead to Rick. Continuing cautiously and more slowly, he did a better job of testing the holds and usually trying three or four before he was willing to commit his weight to the chosen one. Meanwhile, I was backing up and out of my position to give him room at the rappel station, and I was finding the rock behind me considerably looser than the stuff I had just climbed. I had to push rocks and pebbles back in place while redepositing others to safe locations all in the effort to keep anything from falling down on Matthew - I didn't want to give him any reason to curse me as well.
There were no more mishaps as the rest of the rocks held for Matthew, and after reaching the rap station he continued up to the summit using most of the 35m of rope we had. There was considerable rope drag, so I climbed up to a midway position and belayed Rick to that point, Matthew belaying the final summit block. I used the rope for a security handhold while climbing that last block just before Rick (it wasn't easy enough to just solo, and after watching Matthew's rock give out, I was nervous too).
The summit has been described as a small platform, but I think it is better described as a thin, rounded ridge about 30ft long, one side slightly higher than the other. We scrambled around on the ridge to take pictures of the views and each other, moving cautiously even though it appeared the loose stuff had been knocked off long ago. Looking north we speculated as to where the other two fingers were. I believe only the middle finger is visible, the other one further to the north being hidden behind. The whole ridge going north was a twisting ridge of towers and very crappy looking rock, and a traverse of it seemed dangerous and hardly inviting. The cloud layer was still below us today, and we could see north to Jefferson and south to Mt. Washington, The Sisters and Broken Top. Having missed the summit of Jefferson the previous day, Matthew was the most elated at reaching the summit, a far more "worthwhile" effort than South Sister three days earlier. After about 20 minutes, we headed down.
Matthew and Rick rappeled off the upper summit while I downclimbed and collected a few carabiners left by other parties for this section. All three of us rapped off the lower section, utilizing the numerous rap slings already there. The rest of the descent was mostly uneventful until we were within a few miles of the trailhead. Then I came across a trail worker ahead of us. Unseen as yet, I noted he was wearing an official-looking shirt and carrying a shovel. Since we had no Wilderness permit (access here is restricted even for dayhikes), we were cautious about being questioned by him when we caught up. We followed at a distance for about 15 minutes before we were brave enough to pass him. By then we had convinced ourselves that he was probably not a ranger. He wasn't - just a volunteer trail worker out doing some maintainance. And a very nice older gentleman too. Seems like a good way to spend some time after retirement.
Getting back to the van we were equally happy to find no citation on our vehicle. Four days without a vehicle pass and no ticket yet. Yahoo! Back to Bend we drove, eager for another effort at Mt. Washington the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Three Fingered Jack
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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