Third Times A Charm:  Climbing Three Fingered Jack

Third Times A Charm:  Climbing Three Fingered Jack

July 26, 2018 0 By sarahkyllo

The first time I tried to climb Three Fingered Jack, a crumbly 7, 850 ft. peak of volcanic Oregon rock, there was a storm front causing high winds near the summit.  I had never done a technical peak before and was eager but nervous to try out my newly learned skills of traversing on a fixed line.  Our group made it about 300 ft. from the summit, contemplating whether an attempt was safe with the winds when one of the members hurt her back, and our decision was made clear.  We would be heading down.  I was mostly relieved, as the wind was cold and unrelenting and the exposure and scree intimidated me.

Last summer, I made my second attempt. Our group camped overnight, despite wildfires in the area, hoping to have a change in winds and clearer conditions.  About 1 ½ miles in, we realized that it wasn’t going to happen as we struggled to breathe through smoke filled air.

Third attempt this year, was in the middle of July a few weeks ago.  I had hoped to get a group together this summer and it all quickly fell into place over an email exchange.  Our group of 4 quickly became 8 and at the trailhead, we met up with another group of 4, who were also in our outdoor club.  Even though we planned to climb separately, it ended up making sense to just share the fixed lines and rope and do a big group of 12. It would take longer, but it was a great group of people, many who had never done the climb before.

The weather was clear and beautiful, although definitely hot.  The first 5 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail through a mix of sand, burnt trees, and forest up to the ridgeline seemed to fly by.  We were then assaulted with swaths of aggressive mosquitos covering every part of our bodies, covered or not.  We put on some bug spray and headed up the climbers path, up to the steep ridge.   I enjoyed the steep hiking, feeling so much more in shape than I had the first time I did that part.

We started traversing the ridgeline, I remembered how scared on the narrow trail I had been the first time, and this time felt calmer and acclimated.  At least I did until I realized that the path from where we had quit the first time, wasn’t really all that close to the summit block.  There was a lot of loose rock, scree, and class 3 scrambling to do to get there, with a few 4th class moves (meaning I was hugging a rock and making some decisive climbing moves).  I swore a few times and a few of us expressed our worry about getting back down.  But onwards we went.

We saw some mountain goats in the distance, which was neat, since I hadn’t realized they had been re-introduced to the area a few years ago.  We got to the final area before our leader set a fixed route (using rope and personal protection) through what is known as the Crawl.  Once one a rope with my prussik rope, I felt much calmer and moved over to the next section, following my teammates.  There a team mate and I got really close to a mountain goat, who seemed to smile and stare at us, letting us know this was his territory.

We stood, still clipped in, waiting for the goat to find another path, because for us humans, there was really only one way over on a narrow ledge.  Finally, he relented and walked away and all of us gathered by the Chimney.  Our leader led the short class 5 pitch and each of us was belayed up into a new swath of angry black flies.  While near the summit block, there was only room for about 3 people and one by one, we walked over to the summit block and had our summit photos taken.  It was beautiful, seeing monarch butterflies, and the mountains and valley below us.  I had finally reached the summit!

There wasn’t much time to celebrate, as black flies tried to get into my shirt, eyes, and even my bra.  And there was the small fact that we were only 50% done.  We still had to get down.  I rappelled down the chimney, and followed a few other teammates back to the crawl.  We down climbed while clipped in, which was way scarier than it had been on the way up.  A group of us commented we all thought that was the scariest part of the day.  A few of us from the group ended up waiting for almost an hour for the rest of our group to make it to the summit block and back over, and clean the route.  Slowly, slowly, and carefully, I made my way back along the crumbly rock, going on my butt a few times just to make sure I didn’t slide.  Eventually, we were at a safe place for a group shot, and we headed back to an actual trail.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as we got back to hiking.

Most of the group left quickly, and a few of us, hung back a bit, drank more water in the 90 degree sun and the 5 miles back seemed to stretch endlessly into what seemed like 10.  We passed some PCT thru hikers and their tired dogs, and couldn’t believe we still had several more miles.  My feet hurt from blisters from the sand in my shoes, my quads already hurt, and I was sweaty and tired.  Finally, almost 12 hours from when we had left the trailhead, we were back at our cars.

I was so happy to change into my flip flops, skirt, and tank top while I sipped on a cold drink, cranking the a/c on the my 2 ½ hour drive back home.  The exposure, the sweat, the pain, it was all worth it.  Do I want to climb that peak again?  Probably not, but I’m so glad I finally had the third time luck.