Three fingered jack hike
27 & 28-June-2016
This is a story… of a trip. A long trip, taking a long walk up a tall mountain.
As I drove into Portland to pick Sarah up, I mentally reviewed what I knew about the climb that was in store for me the next day.
First, Sarah’s birthday was the next day. I’d taken the day off work, and she’d flown all the way back from Colorado in order for us to spend the day together, doing a tough hike and getting some elevation.
Three Fingered Jack wad the choice; one of the Cascade Volcanos, but not a glaciated peak – so we’re talking Alpine rock climb, instead of a mountaineering summit. The difference being, I’ve learned, that it will be a long hike with a heavy pack full of climbing gear, instead of a long hike with a heavy pack full of ice and snow gear.
Also, this would be my first Alpine ascent, and he first big summit attempt in a while for Sarah and I. A few hours south of Portland, we’d be sleeping at the trailhead, and starting in pretty early in the day.
The goal was to leave Portland early, but unfortunately we were overcome by events (realizing that Sarah’s altimeter had gotten lost, dinner taking a bit longer to make than planned, etc…) and didn’t end up making it to the trail until a bit after midnight…
But once we were there, nothing else mattered in my mind.
I love being outside. I love the cold air, I love finding a tent site and setting up. And getting to see the stars and the milky way is a singularly glorious treat… all of that and more was out bedroom for the evening. It was late though, and so we didn’t get much of a chance to stargaze – bed was calling for a long day ahead of us.
We got up at six – a little less than six hours of sleep under our belts. We made a quick breakfast of fancy French vanilla cappuccino (yes yes, it was actually old Army MRE rations. You should have seen Sarah’s face go from “this is good!” To “ohh lord what are you feeding me” when I admitted that I’d been given it 3+ years ago) and tons of fruit. A semi-early breakfast optimized for time, that got a bit derailed when a friendly cowboy (named, accurately, “Cowboy”) came up and struck up a conversation with us about our hike plans, and his goal of spending a week in the back country using his horses and dogs to search for a lost hiker.
Lovely man, and he had our favorite quote of the trip… a not so subtle reminder that we’re living in Oregon. As he headed out, cowboy hat on his head, boots clicking against the pavement, he mentioned to us in his thick cowboy accent, “well you all have a safe hike now. I’m going to smoke a few bowls and then head in myself”.
The first part of the hike was through a burn – a huge forest fire had cut through the area before, so it was a little bit desolate and empty. But it did have two advantages – the first being some amazing views of the mountain, and the second becoming apparent as we went into the cover of the trees… which also provided cover for pools of water, and mosquitoes.
Thousands of mosquitoes.
A constant drone.
All told, when we were home and safe the next day, Sarah and I had over a hundred bites between us… 50 something on Sarah’s legs alone.
But we pushed through, and finally came to the scree field where the main trail and the climbers trails diverged. We’d been hiking on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail up to that point, but now we cut East, aiming to gain a few thousand feet of elevation in a little over a mile.
A mile of scree – small, pebble sized rock held onto the side of the mountain by… well, absolutely nothing, as we learned. One foot up, eight inches down. Repeated, in a switchback pattern, for a few hours. Wearing a backpack with rope, harness, trad gear and water. Food and first aid gear. Basically – heavy. We walked 13 miles total… with steps to equal 21 miles, according to our pedometers.
The scree didn’t last forever though (thank the Lord), and we finally mounted the main ridge around 2:00. Sarah and my route finding skills found us navigating thin paths around gendarmes (spires of rock blocking our path) and along thin trails overlooking 500+ foot drops. But they were a full two feet wide, and the rock didn’t /always/ break away in our hands, so it was really pleasant overall.
But all good things end, and we were faced with a tough call – start the technical ascent, or turn around. It was already 4:00, and we were exhausted. The next section involved rope and gear; effectively three pitches of technical rock climbing to reach the summit. And non-trivial climbing at that… not difficult, but the rock is weak enough that gear needs to be placed with care, and every hold has to be considered suspect. Not fast terrain.
After deliberation, we turned away. We had been hiking for 8+ hours, and only had 5 or daylight left… spending 2+ hours of that daylight on the climb alone would have been reckless. So we sat up top instead; talking, resting, and checking in with each other about how we’d been doing over the course of Sarah’s road trip.
It was lovely.
The descent was fun. Screeing (skiing down scree) was made safe and pleasant by the use of heavy gaiters. It also turned what had been a 2+ hour ascent into a 15minute descent. We even got to glissade down the snowpack, saving more time (and more importantly, causing giggles and laughs which raised our sightly-deflated spirits).
We hit the car around 9:30. Literally exactly in time to receive a happy birthday call from Sarah’s parents (literally within 10s of turning on the phone) and the start of our return adventure… missed exits, last-minute Dominos, and dinner on a deserted island made up our drive home (basically, took the wrong highway, got dinner at Dominos, ate it on a parking lot median, technically known as an island). We did stop a few times for short naps, to keep the sanity going, but we did make it home to Hood River eventually… tired, sore, and well exercised.