Three Fingered Jack

July 1, 2018


Mount Jefferson Wilderness, OR

Immediately to the south of Mt. Jefferson is Three Fingered Jack – an ancient volcano eroded down to some rotten spires. It’s not nearly as tall as Mt. Jefferson but the profile is very iconic, and despite the loose rocks this is a fairly popular climb among the locals. The approach is an easy hike along Pacific Crest Trail from Santiam Pass of Highway 22 corridor and the climb can be done in just over half a day. The inspiration of making another long drive to Oregon came from again, Colin Tasker’s recent trips in “Washington Hikers and Climbers” group on Facebook. The weather was shitty everywhere in British Columbia and Washington but there’s supposed to have sunshine farther down south. To make the long drive worthy Lily and I decided to combine Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington to make a road trip. In terms of the routes we would only do the easiest on respective objectives but despite that, pitches of 5th class climbing on choss is unavoidable. That’s the main reason why I’m interested in these two peaks, to be honest.

Santiam Pass in Oregon is about 8 hours drive counting the border delay and whatever traffic problems on route so we really had to get down there in the previous day. I was busy on Saturday morning but did manage to put things together and by 5 pm we had left Vancouver. The drive was fairly uneventful and eventually we made to the parking lot at 1 am in the morning. That place was windy and not very protected but we still spent some time pitching the tent out. It’s more comfortable than sleeping in car. The climb itself wouldn’t take a full day so we decided to sleep in. At around 8 am we got out because of the sun beams and the noises from other hikers/climbers.

Three Fingered Jack via South Ridge. GPX DL

The approach is characterised by 5 miles of mundane hike in burnt forest. The grade is so gentle that we barely felt the uphill progress despite the fact we did gain around 600 m elevation on the approach. The sky was partly cloudy and there’s a cool breeze which certainly helped the pace, but other than that there’s little worth documenting.

Me staring the approach trail under partly cloudy sky. Photo by Lily Q.

Lily marching up the trail. This is the typical scenery

We travelled through a long section of burnt forest

At higher elevation we still had to hike on snow. Photo by Lily Q.

Lily with our objective – 3FJ ahead

The next stage is a stretch of scree slog to gain the south ridge. This part was no fun on ascent but super cool on the way back. There appeared to have quite a few paths but without doing enough research we stuck to the far climber’s left in the middle of the treadmill scree. It was worse than a typical Rockies slog and not recommended. It seems like most climbers choose to hike up on climber’s right side in the woods and descend the scree and I have to agree with that. Once gaining the ridge we easily followed the paths zig-zagging on loose, but class 2 terrain for a long while before finally staring at the summit tower. The ridge narrows down and it’s time to don gears.

It might not look steep but this section of treadmill scree was horrible

Lily struggling on the scree.

Lots and lots of loose stuff just to gain the ridge

On the south ridge now. Easy going at the start. Photo by Lily Q.

There’s still a lot of loose stuffs on the south ridge lower section

The exposure down the east side is huge. Don’t do this one if you have vertigo

The summit’s getting closer and closer, but still fair a ways to go

We finally had to use our hands now. Photo by Lily Q.

This is that large party we passed. This is also the start of climbing

There’s a short ridge section traverse before that infamous “crawling pitch” – a rising traverse with awkward position and considerable amount of exposure. At this point we passed a party-of-eight and decided to just solo across. The huge party’s going to fix a rope along this stretch and we didn’t want to get in the way but not being able to move fast. Just before the crux move there’s a piton which I clipped using a triple-length runner and then backed it up using my personal leash. This combination was just long enough for us to make the moves while still attached to the mountain, but once finishing the move we no longer could retrieve that runner so had to leave it for the return. After this “crawling pitch” we immediately faced another short, but vertical step that felt like 4th class (soloed) and then it’s the summit tower.

Just before committing to that crux move.

Lily finishing that “crawling pitch”

Me scrambling up easy class 2-3 terrain above the crawling pitch

I’ve seen pictures about this final summit tower and it looked like a vertical wall of cookie and I have to say that my assumption was darn correct. It was indeed made of chocolate cookie and you literally had to trust your fate on those chocolates that they wouldn’t break upon touching. I tried not to pull on those “holds” but on a vertical wall there’s no other option. After soloing half of the pitch I stopped, threw the rope down and asked for a belay. There’s a not-so-good rock horn on climber’s right which I slung around as an intermediate pro, and then I managed to put a .5 sized cam in a shallow crack. The most committing move was at the top where I had to stem against the left wall while putting my weight on a piece of eerie-looking chocolate. The “hold” held nicely and I was soon on top belaying Lily up. The climb felt legitimate 5th class to me. And once above the chocolate wall there’s still a bit of climbing to reach the true summit, but without any further technical complication and we did make good on time.

Me staring at the cookie pitch. Photo by Lily Q.

Me leading the crux cookie pitch.

Lily just about to climb up the cookie pitch…

Above the cookie wall there’s still some rope work to do

Me dragging the rope up to the false summit. Photo by Lily Q.

Lily climbing up to the false summit

Lily posing on the false summit.

The large party’s still on their way up, slowly but steadily

Summit Panorama from Three Fingered Jack. Click to view large size.

The Three Sisters looking south. South Sister is an “ultra”

Mt. Washington will be our next objective

Mt. Jefferson to the north -we climbed it in early June this year.

As typical as the central Oregon scenery goes

One thing about 3FJ is the colours on this mountain.

The west face is also a vertical wall. Again don’t come if you have vertigo

Lily standing on the true summit of Three Fingered Jack

Meanwhile the other party had arrived at the base of summit tower

Lily traversing back from the true summit

Me doing the same. Photo by Lily Q.

Me on the true summit of Three Fingered Jack. Photo by Lily Q.

The party-of-eight from Salem, OR was patiently waiting for us to clean the summit tower so we wasted no time. We tied the two 30-meter ropes together and made a single rappel directly off the summit horn. If you have only one 30-m rope then you will definitely need two rappels. Then we carefully down-scrambled the loose, but easy terrain to above that 4th class step. We did see a rappel anchor but were too lazy to take the ropes out. The down-climb actually felt easier than on ascent probably because we already knew the route. The other party’s handline was quite an asset for us. We no longer had to do an awkward diagonal rappel and instead we just had to attach ourselves to the rope using prussiks. The down-climb was quite easy and fun and we did also retrieve our piece of triple-length runner.

Me rappelling off the summit. Photo by Lily Q.

Lily halfway down the cookie pitch rappel.

A brief transition onto easier but loose ground

Me down-climbing the “crawling pitch” using the fixed rope

Lily traversing/down-climbing

Finishing that “crawling pitch”. Note another large party’s waiting

At the bottom of the climb we crossed our path with another party-of-four gearing up. It’s fun to look back at the climbing section and count how many climbers could we see. There were 12 of them doing multiple kind of things and we were very glad that we weren’t stuck somewhere up there right now. The descent off south ridge was fast and easy and no time we were back to the scree. Plunging down the treadmill scree was just as fun as skiing and no time we were back to the trail. The 5-mile hike-out was a numbing game but at least it’s all on downhill. Too bad the heat was taking its toll at this time of a day and despite the scenery, I did not enjoy this particular hiking section.

Descending on easy ledges. Pretty much done the hard stuffs now

The scenery is good just doesn’t have many mountains around

A review shot of the climbing section on 3FJ

Lily traversing/descending easy but loose lower south ridge

One of the many towers that we had to bypass

Onto that huge scree path now

It’s fun and furious. We got a ton of rocks on our shoes

Nice and green.

Back to the trail now, looking back at Three Fingered Jack (3FJ)

This is that short patch of snow we had to step onto

One last look at Three Fingered Jack

Into the woods now.

It’ll be a long walk out, and under the hot afternoon sun

Walk, walk and walk…

Into the burnt forest now. Kinda cool to see the whites though

The trees are very white and quite reflective

Further down we were hiking on some grass fields

A cool tarn not too far from the trail-head.

There’s some decisions to be made. We were about 40 kilometer from the nearest town to get any supply which isn’t a short distance. Lily had come prepared with a whole box of backcountry food as well as stoves and a full tank of water. I came with nothing as I thought we would just drive to town and east fast food (as what I normally do). After evaluating back and forth we decided to just camp nearby Mt. Washington’s trail-head without detouring to the town. There’s enough food for us to survive a night plus the scenery at Big Lake is supposed to be awesome. There’s actually a campsite near Big Lake and we even managed to get a spot right beside the lake with a private beach. The cost was $24 but worth the spent. It’s 6 pm once everything’s set so the evening was quite relaxing.

Me relaxing at Big Lake with Mt. Washington behind. Photo by Lily Q.

This is that private beach of our campsite.

The next day we woke up at around 6 am under some overcast skies but still decided to go for Mt. Washington. Overall I would definitely recommend Three Fingered Jack despite the questionable rocks. The cookies are actually more solid than appeared it’s just that at some point in the future the chocolate “holds” will break, and you just simply hope it’s not on “this day”.. The climbing is very enjoyable and not overly technical, but one thing to note, make sure you arrive, start early and be technically efficient unless you enjoy being stuck up there with ten other climbers in line.