Monday, September 7, 2009

Three Fingered Jack Attempt

After a long day of rafting and a late night drive home I was surprised to be able to drag Emily out of bed for a summit attempt at Three Fingered Jack.
But first... let me give you a background story of why I decided this could be done...

So, one night at Ruby’s I was discussing the idea of climbing Three Fingered Jack and how difficult it would be because of the EXTREME exposure of the climb. When I mean exposure I’m talking about narrow ridges and walkways with several thousand foot drops on either side. Several years ago a female member of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue and friend to many of my climbing buddies fell to her death on a private climb of Three Fingered Jack. So, because of that story and multiple others of the terrible loose rock and deadly falls I found it absolutely amazing when a young blonde waitress at Ruby’s walked up to me and said, “oh yeah... I climbed Three
Fingered Jack last weekend”... To this I questioned her as to whether or not she
made it to the summit and if they used a rope and climbing gear. She replied that it was pretty scary but they got to the top without a rope just fine.....

So, based on that story and knowing that my buddy Aaron and Nate had made it to the top last year (I didn’t know much detail about their climb) I decided that Emily and I could totally do it.

We started off the hike from the trailhead in the pass and walked through several miles of the charred B&B fire from several years ago. Although the fire
devastated the landscape and killed the entire forest for miles and miles
leaving nothing but charred tree trunks, it also opened up the forest to beautiful views of the entire pass for the entire hike to the base of Three Fingered Jack. We had wonderful views through the trees of Hayrick Butte and Hoodoo as we progressed towards Three Fingered Jack which was still obscured by morning clouds. We followed the Pacific Crest Trail for nearly 5 miles until we saw the climbers trail leaving the maintained trail to the right. We climbed up about 200 feet and looked up to see the climbers trail ascending a steep loose scree slope to the summit ridge of TFJ. The debris slope was a beautiful red hue of lichen covering the rocks.

Emily and I started up the very steep scree slope. The rocks were crumbled remnants of the disintegrating summit. The actual spires of rock of the true summit are the internal remnants of the stratovolcano the peak used
to be. It was literally falling apart into a slope of dusty loose rubble that we had to climb up. I had heard stories about how dusty and loose and terrible the climb to the ridge is but thankfully for us it had rained for the previous several days leaving the ground wet and more solidified for our footing. It still was tough going and with each step we slid back half a foot so it was slow going.

When we got to the summit ridge it actually looked like we may actually be able to do it. It got steep very quickly but Emily and stayed off rope until we got to the true ridge and started going around some very exposed area. I had borrowed some cams, quickdraw, hexes and a helmet for Emily from Tyler McPherson and I had my
own Beal Rando 30m 8mm rope. I took out the rope, tied it off in a Kiwi coil around me and tied Emily off to me about 10 feet away with a butterfly knot. We started traversing the ridge and with every step it looked more and more like the Ruby’s girl had been full of shit. Eventually we got to a key section of crazy exposure called “the crawl” for obvious reasons because one needed to crawl along a crumbly ledge of rock trying to avoid falling about 1500 feet to their death.. bouncing all the way down. Emily and I came to a flat platform of rock about 20 feet from it and after I saw the look on her face I decided to call it a day and head down. There were two climbers ahead of us up on the final pitches near the summit and they clearly were roped up and belaying each other. Although I had the right gear the rope we had wasn’t quite as long as we needed and I had never place rock protection “pro” before and this situation was not the place for me to try for the first time with the life of my girlfriend in my hands. Nor did I want to leave her, go off rope, and attempt to free climb it myself. Although I may have been able to do it (and I’ve heard of others free climbing to the summit) the last thing I wanted was for her to watch me fall to my death up there. So... instead we took the wise choice and decided to descend.

As anyone that climbs knows descending an area of serious exposure is much more difficult and scary then climbing up... Thus it was a slow go and I knew Emily was nervous. Every time she was in an area of exposure I looped the rope over a “chickenhead” of rock as a counterbalance with my weight in case she slipped and fell. Eventually we got back down to the top of the debris slope and took ourselves off rope. We were both happy to be down from the ridge section. I was disappointed we didn’t make the summit as the day was beautiful and we had perfect weather but it certainly wasn’t worth risking our lives. See the video at the end of this post for an idea of the exposure we were presented with.

The entire trip out of the woods I was pondering how the hell the girl from Ruby’s made it to the top without a rope and in half the time it was taking us... She must have had the wrong mountain... We made it out just before dark and to top off the evening I got pulled over by a State Trooper on the way home for having a light out and rolling through a stop sign in the middle of the valley with no one else around. He acted like he was doing me a favor for not citing me for my headlight although he did give me a $250 stop sign citation (I got it later reduce to $180... still sucks though). I should have just pulled over and smacked my headlight, which typically turned it on... oh well. To kick me in the ass even further... the two climbers we saw ahead of us was actually my buddy Drew who I had climbed Hood with two years ago and if I had simply called out they would have put me on their rope team and got me to the summit while Emily waited in the sun... but in retrospect I look forward to climbing it with my own skills under my own power in the future. So... a disappointing day for me but it was still really nice to get into the woods for some beautiful views.

To end this story.... I went to work the following Thursday and saw the girl who supposedly climbed it and called her out on it again asking if she made it to the summit without a rope. Again, she said “yes”. I then asked, “so you free-climbed the spires at the top of the peak without a rope?” She replied... “no, we didn’t go up the pointy rocks, we just stopped at the summit”. I wanted to scream out loud!!!! She thought the “summit” was the flat area beneath the towers of rock! I explained to her that the summit = apex = highest point = tippy top = highest visible spot!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! Oh well... I had a great time on the mountain because I thrive for exposure and the rush of cliffs all around me but I think next year I’ll have to go back with Chris and knowledge of the right tools and gear we’ll need to actually reach the summit! I found what Emily’s comfort limit is and I’ll adjust all our future climbs based off of it until she feels more comfortable in situations like that.

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