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Three Fingered Jack

August 27, 2011

Coordinator: Fritz Capell

Summit Altitude: 7844 feet
Elevation Gain: 3200 feet
Round-trip Distance: 13.1 miles
Excursion Time: 13 hours (car-to-car)
Carpool ratio: 1.8 (people/cars)

Photo Gallery

A Santiam Alpine Club team made a daring night assault on Three Finger Jack, and everyone reached the summit and returned safely!

The team consisted of 2011 Climb School students Steven and George; 2007 student and 2011 climber Rayna; veterans Ty and Eric; prodigal student (from the 90's!) Ken; and myself at the helm.

We had heard that teams were turning back from the summit block due to overcrowding in the summit bottleneck, and it was forecast to be a very hot day, so we decided to be extra awesome and set out at 2:30am and hike the first part in the dark. Everybody gathered at the trailhead about 10pm, scattered our tents around, and settled in for a half nights' sleep.

We were on the trail about 2:45am. Though in the higher areas there were still patches of snow on the Pacific Crest Trail, we didn't have too much difficulty navigating, and the cairn was clear, where we turned east off the PCT onto the climbers' trail.

We gained the ridge at 5:45, and stopped for a few minutes to watch the beautiful sunrise! Our timing was perfect, and it was really an incredible experience.

About 7am we reached the crawl, and indeed, were the first team for the day. We set an anchor before the crawl and used a belayer and one bolt to set a fixed line. We then set a belay line on the slightly tricky exposed bit right above that; we brought only two ropes, so we left the crawl line, and pulled the other for use on the summit block.

(I left my pack down by the crawl, thinking I would get back to it, but later had the guys bring it up. Unfortunately I had neglected to secure everything, the result being that two of my snack bottles took a long plunge down the east side. One was still visible down the face, and on the descent, I wanted to go down and retrieve it, but we decided it would take too long.)

I free-climbed the summit block, set a belay line on the summit, and belayed up the first couple climbers. After that, I descended to the midpoint so that there would be more room for climbers on the summit. Really only about three can fit up there, and I wanted each climber to have as much summit time as possible, so we worked in a cycle where each climber would climb, then clip in (of course) to the summit anchor, rest for one cycle, then belay one climber, and then rap down. This worked for a bit, and then fell apart when it became apparent that some of our climbers were a little rusty on the belaying - and with that kind of exposure, clumsy belaying wasn't acceptable. So we had to break the cycle to use the proficient belayers. You who need to brush up on your belaying - I think you know who you are! Please take the opportunity to get a little belaying practice soon!

Another challenge was that one rope is just barely enough to make that whole summit block, and still keep the tail down below where it can be easily pulled. If you use too much rope, you have to throw it down, which with wind and exposure, can be problematic. So I would have the climber stop at the midpoint anchor, clip into it, and move up on the rope a bit before tackling the top section. Turned out it wasn't really necessary, and we had enough rope, but it was a safe strategy that worked.

Another team came to the summit block just when we were starting, and had to wait for us for almost two hours. They were really nice and patient, and even gave us some watermelon, though it seemed they thought we could go faster. With one rope, I couldn't see a way we could do it faster and still be safe. Maybe, if the rope was long enough, we could have belayed in two segments and got two climbers going, but I didn't feel comfortable keeping an eye on two sketchy belayers. We finally got everyone up and through safely, and rearranged the rope and rapped out.

By that time, a group of boy scouts had arrived (without helmets!). I'm not sure that they got to the summit; they were talking about whether they could wait for the team in between. I sort of encouraged them to wait - after all, it was yet early, and one could do worse than to hang around at 7600 feet on such a beautiful day! But secretly I rather hoped they'd turn back, because they didn't seem that well prepared, and some of their protection technique was questionable. Altogether we saw about 20 other climbers up there, which is not a huge crowd compared to some of the more popular summits, but still a lot to get through the bottleneck.

We set up one more belay line to get past the exposure above the crawl, and after checking to make sure that the other climbers could get out, we passed the fixed line and pulled it. On the way down, we discovered that there are actually three pitons on the crawl - I have only ever noticed and used one! That made it a lot safer - rather than being out on a long line over the sketchy bits, I looped the rope through the last anchor and descended to each piton, clipped to the piton with my daisy, pulled the rope to there and looped through that piton, and so forth, so that my anchor point was always just above me on the pitch. It worked out really well, and I felt safer than I have ever been on that crawl.

From there, we descended normally, except I took us a little low on the ridge to catch a really nice photo spot, and it turned out to be a bit of a mistake. The terrain lower down on the west side of the ridge was slippery scree, not nearly as stable as the normal trail up near the ridge's edge. But we picked our way through it, stayed south to avoid "The Scar", and soon were being attacked by mosquitoes back down in the trees. The rest of the walk out was pleasant, and we reached the trailhead again at about 3:45pm.

Congratulations to everybody on a great night climb, and a safe ascent and descent! Though it was nobody's first summit, for everybody except myself it was their first trip up Three Fingered Jack! Welcome back Ken, it's a pleasure to have you along! And Rayna... fifth summit I believe, all of them this year, and hopefully a magnificently fitting end to the summer with us, as she's moving back to Hawaii in just a few weeks. Awesome, everybody, and I hope we can climb together again soon!

Fritz Capell

Post-Event Forum
[View Pre-Event Forum]

Fritz (leader) says:
Some pix! See link above.

Steven says:
Great pics everyone, I'm still smiling! Was great to climb with you all. Fritz, thanks again.

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