Three Fingered Jack-South Ridge

This was the last of the Cascade volcanoes with any technical difficulties left for me to climb. Not too surprisingly, I had trouble getting anyone to do the five hour drive there to climb this loose pile of rubble in the central Oregon Cascades then turn around and drive five hours back to the Seattle area. Finally, Andy Johnson caved in to the relentless pressure and agreed to go. By the time the trip was over we had spent 10 hours driving, 6 hours sleeping and only 8 hours hiking and climbing Three Fingered Jack. Andy must have been inspired by the trip since less than a week later he tried to claim the nickname "Three Fingered Andy" while doing a home improvement project. This should serve as conclusive evidence that climbing exposed, loose volcanic rock is still safer than installing trim. Hope you recover quick Andy...

The approach begins at the PCT trailhead just north of Santiam Pass on Highway 20. Much of the forest in this area was destroyed in the 2003 Booth Wildfire. This was a massive fire that joined forces with the Bear Butte Wildfire in what came to be known as the B ní B Complex. The combined effort of these two wildfires scared 90,000 acres of the central Oregon Cascades.

Approaching through the burned forest

The PCT wanders its way through the burned out forest seemingly with no intention of ever arriving at the Canadian border. In about 3 miles we entered trees that had escaped the fire and in about 4 miles got our first look at Three Fingered Jack. In another mile the trail finally rounded a SW spur and we soon got another view of Jack.

Three Fingered Jack from the PCT

In about a quarter mile we arrived at the cairn that marks the climbers path. The path ascends toward a minor saddle in the south ridge but before getting there splits into several paths, most of which make an ascending traverse in scree on the west side of the ridge. We, however, followed the path to the saddle and began ascending the ridge. After a few hundred feet we were forced onto the west side to avoid several gendarmes. There are several gullies than one can take to get back to the ridge crest above the lower gendarmes(minor scrambling).

Andy on the South Ridge with Broken Top, Bachelor, Three Sisters and Washington in the background

Once back on the ridge we continued up wondering just when we would arrive at "The Crawl", the infamous exposed traverse around a gendarme not far below the summit. After some scrambling on the increasingly exposed ridge we concluded that we must be at The Crawl. We roped up here as most sane people would do. Some reports indicate that The Crawl and the climbing above is more difficult than class 4. If nothing else, the exposure and loose rock may make it feel like low fifth.

I led under the overhang and clipped into the first of two pitons that adequately protected the traverse. I slung a horn and Andy quickly joined me back on the ridge crest. From here we followed a ledge on the right side of the ridge then scrambled up a few feet (class 3/4) to once again gain the ridge crest which was then easily followed to a steep, ugly chimney like feature.

The upper South Ridge of Three Fingered Jack

There is a crack on the right side of the chimney like feature that can be used to protect the most difficult moves. I equalized two cams in the crack but even this seemed likely to fail if there was a serious fall. I used as few holds as possible reaching high to grab more solid holds at the top of the chimney where I clipped into the rappel anchor before working right around the rock above. I belayed Andy up to here but there were still a few feet of looseness to deal with.

The Class 4 chimney

The final moves are to the left of a flake like feature that looked like it could fall off the mountain any second then along 15 feet of a narrow crumbling crest. There wasnít room for both of us to be on the summit so Andy will have to return to climb the last 6 inches. Hope he doesnít expect me to join him...

AJ on the summit of another volcano

The moraine lake on the north side... 1800' below

After spending a few minutes on the summit we down climbed to the rappel anchor at the top of the chimney. A rappel of perhaps 50 feet reached easier terrain. There is not a rappel anchor at the The Crawl so it must be down climbed. Once beyond that we unroped and I promptly took a fall on the ridge crest as a volcano boulder turned to dust beneath my foot. Eight hours after our departure we safely returned to the PCT trailhead. I now truly consider myself a connoisseur of volcanic crumble and pumice.

Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes; Jeff Smoot; Pages 126-129