Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

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Chip Down
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Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Chip Down » October 27th, 2019, 9:36 am

A couple questions faced when circumnavigating a mountain: CW or CCW? How high?

I did clockwise last time, in my twenties, about this time of year, stronger and leaner than I am now, but not as shrewd, resourceful, wise. Disaster was narrowly averted. This time around, I considered CW again, for nostalgia, and to see if I could find a better route. But no, variety won out, and also the desire to tackle the challenging part first, ending with the easy hike from the moraine lake to PCT.

Hiking north on PCT from Santiam Pass, I looked for a good opportunity to cross over the ridge eastbound, but nothing looked appealing, so I continued up towards the south end of the west face, where the climbers' trail departs PCT. It was under snow, but I picked a similar route I suppose, over the ridge and into a little surprise bowl, then to the next ridge, where I was happy to see the saddle on the east ridge, a popular off-trail destination above the moraine lake. It was so close, and I had just left the PCT a half hour before. Unfortunately, getting to the saddle required a drop and/or steep traverse through hard snow. I wasn't equipped for that. I followed Jack's south ridge away from the summit, which was actually uphill, to a high point where it splits into two ridges, then followed the SE crest down until I could safely drop into the valley to the east, which I could then ascend to the saddle on the east ridge. The descent was painfully slow; every step had to be carefully planned and executed.

From the valley floor, I then had to ascend through a combination of somewhat dense forest and boulder fields, treacherously covered with just a few inches of snow. I didn't over-think this part of the hike; I pretty much just brute forced my way to the saddle. I had lost a lot of time due to lack of crampons/axe, and was feeling demoralized.

Approaching the east ridge saddle, finally, I wondered if the north side would be full coverage, nothing but steep hard snow, forcing retreat. But no, it wasn't that bad. I thought I could pick out a safe route down to the moraine lake, down to Canyon Creek Meadows, then up to PCT, which I was surprised to see switchbacking its way up Jack's north ridge (I had imagined it would be further west; I had forgotten the north ridge veers east a bit). Another surprise: it was rather cloudy down in the Canyon Creek valley. In fact, PCT was soon swallowed up, and the clouds headed my way, as if sensing an interloper. Within two minutes of my arrival at the east ridge saddle, I couldn't see Jack or the moraine lake, and clouds were even spilling through the saddle and obscuring the route I had just ascended. What an amazing coincidence that I arrived at the saddle just barely in time to enjoy the last couple minutes of views.

It soon cleared a bit, but I was spooked. If clouds thickened, was I sure I could find PCT on the north ridge? Also, what about those snowy switchbacks to the crest of the north ridge? Were they icy tilted ramps? If so, was there a safe workaround? I dropped to the lake as I pondered my options. At the lake, I decided it just wasn't worth it. Nothing new lay ahead; if I retreated I could do some fun exploring on the way back. I had looked forward to reacquainting myself with Canyon Creek Meadows, but that alone wasn't enough enticement to continue (I lacked the time/energy to drop to the meadows and then return the way I came). So after a leisurely five minute break at the lake (longest break of the day?) I ascended back to the east ridge saddle.

My Plan B for the route back to Santiam Pass (car) was to go pond hunting. There are many, some named (summit, martin, booth), but mostly unnamed. Summit and Martin were spared the BB fire, but all the others I visited were in the burn zone. All were harder to find than I expected, each one a fun challenge. It ate up a lot of time, and when I arrived at Booth Lake, I was getting a little worried. The sky was dark, it had been snowing intermittently for maybe a couple hours, it was getting late. Then a strong breeze came, and the heaviest snow of the day. I had to start getting really serious about getting down. Pond hunting was fun, but I really had to get to road or trail by dark. I knew I couldn't count on distant landmarks, and the terrain was more rugged (random) than I expected. I couldn't trust my gut, had to believe my compass even when it seemed ridiculous.

I actually heard highway traffic before I reached PCT, and then hiked the trail a few minutes to my car. I had started out on a crunchy frosty trail in the morning, knowing it would be a pleasant sunny hike back down. I never even considered the possibility I would return offtrail, following compass in a surprise snow event, minutes before sunset. I guess you could say disaster was narrowly averted.
Attachments
0.jpg
The east ridge saddle of TFJ, with Jefferson making an appearance.
1.jpg
At the saddle, looking a little east/right of the moraine lake. Couldn't recall if I had been over there. Went exploring. Fun.
2.jpg
The moraine lake. At upper right [edit: oops, left], notice the PCT switchbacking up Jack's north ridge.
3.jpg
Moraine lake pano. Notice the water is brown; I was hoping for turquoise. I'd forgotten how steep/crumbly the moraine is. I don't endorse visiting this place.
4.jpg
Looking up at Jack from the moraine lake.
5.jpg
The first goal on my pond hunt, and the only one that was frozen. This where it first started snowing.
6.jpg
Oh, that's why it's snowing. When I got out of the bowl of that pond I could see south and east, and realized the snow was blowing from there.
7.jpg
Booth Lake
8.jpg
My favorite lake of the day, a total surprise. I came upon this as I arrived at what I thought would be a saddle in a ridge.
boo!.jpg
Demons and Serpents and Black Cats, oh my! Drat, I just realized a Jack-O'-Lantern theme would have been perfect here! I should have carried a miniature carved pumpkin.

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Bosterson
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Bosterson » October 27th, 2019, 10:13 pm

Punishingly bleak.
Will hike off trail for fun.

Aimless
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Aimless » October 28th, 2019, 10:10 am

I had started out on a crunchy frosty trail in the morning, knowing it would be a pleasant sunny hike back down. I never even considered the possibility I would return offtrail, following compass in a surprise snow event, minutes before sunset. I guess you could say disaster was narrowly averted.

This is where I feel someone ought to ask, were you carrying enough extra clothes, food and water to survive a night out at that elevation in those conditions? If not, why not?

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Chip Down
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Chip Down » October 28th, 2019, 6:13 pm

Bosterson wrote:
October 27th, 2019, 10:13 pm
Punishingly bleak.
Well done.

Aimless wrote:
October 28th, 2019, 10:10 am
... were you carrying enough extra clothes, food and water to survive a night out at that elevation in those conditions? If not, why not?
First, I want to point out that I was being a bit dramatic, bookending my TR with an allusion to my previous trip, as mentioned in my second paragraph.
But on to your question: I was fairly cautious. I started super early for a safety buffer, parked on a major highway that runs straight east/west, was somewhat familiar with the terrain, carried more than enough food/water, had more clothing than I really needed for the predicted weather. And I had beer. Barring injury, almost nothing could have kept me from navigating out of there. For sake of discussion, could I survive a sedentary night at my high point on Jack's east ridge? Maybe. It would be brutal. But I'm not willing to start every hike with worst-case-scenario gear.

Aimless
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Aimless » October 28th, 2019, 7:39 pm

Brutal but survivable is within tolerances, if barely. :|

This time of year the risk factor for off-trail solo hikes is high enough that survival can become a real issue. Experienced hikers can usually cope with some unexpected adversity, but even experienced hikers die when such unexpected problems begin to compound. One immobilizing injury followed by several days of winter storm conditions may be a worst case scenario, but such scenarios are not especially rare in wintery conditions on rough terrain. Stay safe. I like your TRs and would miss them.

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Don Nelsen
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by Don Nelsen » October 28th, 2019, 7:42 pm

Nice TR and pics. Thanks!

I love how you go out and tackle difficult hikes and terrain and seem to always come back smiling. Please keep up the good work.

dn
"Everything works in the planning stage".

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retired jerry
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by retired jerry » October 29th, 2019, 5:32 am

nice report

I have to check out that area some time. In better weather.

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DannyH
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by DannyH » October 29th, 2019, 7:25 am

Reading this while my ankle is wrapped in ice is great motivation to keep up the effort in PT. Thanks Chip!
"It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

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teachpdx
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Re: Three Fingered Jack, snowy semi-circum

Post by teachpdx » October 29th, 2019, 3:48 pm

Great report!
I can only imagine how tedious it was to off-trail it from Booth Lake back up toward the PCT. After about the hundredth downed tree I would have been over it.
Worst case for bailing, you could have taken the Old Summit trail from Booth past Square Lake and back around to the PCT. You were pretty close to the established trail on the east shore of Booth.

Square Lake is also a great overnight spot... I may try to get back there this winter on snowshoes and make a long, cold night of it.

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