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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

Pre-Event Forum
[View Post-Event Forum]

Steven says:
I've got gas money for a carpool, if possible. Also, are there plans to camp Saturday night as well?

Fritz (leader) answers:
I'll go with you, Friday after-work-ish? I probably won't be able to camp Saturday though.

Fritz (leader) says:
Everybody ready to go? Open for Verify - all participants please come by and check your vitals!

Fritz (leader) asks:
Does anyone have the opportunity to go early on Friday and stake us out a couple camp spots at Big Lake?

Steven says:
Fritz, can you drive? Sorry, wasn't very clear. I was looking for a carpool to join. My car isn't running so hot at the moment. After work is fine by me. I'm ready and super excited to go.

Eric answers:
I can drive or ride along from Portland. I will not want to camp on Saturday. Is there a Portland meeting spot (like Fritz's place)?

Fritz (leader) answers:
Yep, let's us three meet at my house at 6. I'll email my address in a bit.

Rayna asks:
I would be able to go earlier on Friday, but was hoping to join a carpool as well... would someone be able to come & get me on their way down from Portland or other?

George answers:
Rayna, you're in Salem, right? I can hop up and get you.

Rayna answers:
Yup, West Salem. Thanks, George. I'll text you my address later.. what time are you thinking of going?

George answers:
I was thinking of heading out around five.

Fritz (leader) answers:
Ty is in Salem too, maybe y'all can hook up?

Eric says:
I am going to be coming from PDX. Do you have another seat Fritz? Alternately I can pick you up so you do not have to drive for a change.

Eric asks:
Hiking boots or leather mountaineering boots?

Fritz (leader) answers:
Your call. Word is there is some snow still on the trail, but I have trouble believing it is very substantial.

Fritz (leader) says:
Steven, Ty, and Ken, can you Verify your contact details and push the appropriate button at the bottom of that wee form? Thanks.

Rayna asks:
Fritz, pleeeease remember my nalgene! It has been quite a month without it :P Thank you!

Fritz (leader) answers:
I'll try! I'd put it in my pack right now but I'm in Michigan.

Fritz (leader) says:
Doesn't look like anyone is going early enough that we are likely to get a spot at Big Lake. In which case we'll have to find a spot, probably in the area of the PCT trailhead.

Fritz (leader) asks:
Seems that we should expect crowding on the trail, and given the bottleneck on the summit block, that means we need to get up there early, probably walking @5, latest 6. Is anyone interested in doing it as a night climb instead, leaving about 1 or 2am?

George answers:
Ooo, intriguing. I'd be down for that.

Ty answers:
I could be on board with that provided I down enough engery drinks.

Steven answers:
I could do that.

Rayna answers:
This just gets better and better. Climbing with six boys *and* in the middle of the night ;0) So... what's the new plan?

Steven answers:
I can't tell if you're bragging or

Eric answers:
For one, we obviously need to invite more girls. Secondly, and more to point, I vote for hiking in to somewhere around Martin Lake on the PCT Friday night and leaving camp around 7:00. A night climb seems like we lose some of the scenic value of the approach.

Fritz (leader) answers:
There are several things about Eric's ideas to like, but one that I don't is that packing in to Martin Lake would require further preparation that I don't really want to tackle. Either of the other two plans (walking at 1/2 or 5/6) would be relatively interchangeable.

Rayna answers:
I was bragging... kind of :P So I vote for 2am. says sunrise is at 5:22am, so there is hope for pictures (and I never get much sleep camping out before a climb anyway). Also FYI, the Salem Hiking Meetup Group has 10ish people planning on having lunch near the summit (don't think they're planning on doing the rock block though).

Eric answers:
I prefer thye additional sleep, but can kick ass either way.

Ty asks:
fritz do you have the directions to the trailhead?

Fritz (leader) answers:
yes, added above.

George asks:
So do we have a consensus plan? Are we camping tonight? Where?Departure time?

Fritz (leader) answers:
I don't think we will have any choice but to camp around the PCT trailhead. Sounds like night-climbing is the consensus, but I don't see that it matters to decide right now, if we'll all be camping together tonight.

Fritz (leader) says:
Each car will need a Northwest Forest Pass. If you don't have one, we might have a spare among us.

This forum is closed at this time.

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