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Three Fingered Jack

Mountain Description (7,841'):

   Three Fingered Jack is about 14 miles due South of Mt. Jefferson and about 4 miles North of Santiam Pass (which we’ll drive).  The highest point on Three Fingered Jack is unmistakable from the East or West.  So is the Northwest ridge, which has 4 or 5 towers large enough to be seen from a distance.  Perhaps some combination of the summit and two of these towers gave rise to the name Three Fingered Jack.

   Unless you want to climb the South Ridge (which we are), stay away from Three Fingered Jack.  The remaining lines pass through a treacherous mixture of basalt flow and pyroclastic debris.  Several routes do have the potential for good winter climbing, but the trick is finding them in the proper condition. 


    The PCT (Pacific Crest Trail – the West coast version of the AT but much more difficult and, might I add, prettier) is the best approach to the South Ridge, the West Face, and the Northwest Ridge of Three Fingered Jack.  Some climbers prefer to approach the South Ridge from Square Lake and Booth Lake, but the USFS has blocked the old trailhead and prefers the public to use the new PCT trailhead.

   Follow US HWY 20-126 to Santiam Pass.  Between the summit sign and the Hoodoo Ski Bowl and Big Lake road, turn North at the well-marked entrance to the PCT trailhead.  Drive 4 tenths of a mile and park.

   Follow the PCT North for approximately 5 to 6 miles or 2 to 3 hours.  Not long after the West side of Three Fingered Jack becomes visible, but before the PCT leaves the trees, follow a climbers’ trail, marked by a rock cairn, right and uphill into the woods.  The trail steepens and emerges onto a treeless hillside, marked by a conspicuous scar.  The scar is a result of climbers trying to get down from Three Fingered jack quickly.  Do not follow the scar or several trails or several trails above it which diagonal up and left toward the summit.  It is quicker and less tiring to continue straight up along the forest edge toward a low point in the South Ridge.  (During the descent it is quicker to plunge-step down the scree on the treeless hillside). 


    Descend the South Ridge.  It is the only recommended descent route. 

South Ridge Route Description:

    The South Ridge is the only recommended route on Three Fingered Jack.  Despite its share of loose rock, it is enjoyable and relatively safe.  There is actually very little climbing involved except for two short pitches near the top.  Bring a rope and use it on these pitches, as there is considerable exposure and risk.

   Hike up the South Ridge, passing several gendarmes on the left.  Near the summit, a large gendarme which appears to block further progress can be passed on the right via sloping ledge (5.1).  The ledge is overhung by the gendarme wall on the West and drops 800 feet on the East, so people get down on all fours to try and get by.  Because of this, the ledge is called The Crawl.  The hardest part of the climb comes at the end of the ledge, where you must get up off of your knees and use your feet.  Fortunately, the rock is some of the best found anywhere on the mountain.

    After the gendarme, continue up past an 8-foot vertical wall to the base of the summit pinnacle.  Climb an obvious chimney or groove, using whatever appears to be most solid.  If you need protection, bring nuts or cams in the 1” range for a crack on the right side of the chimney.  Finish up horrid rock to the summit, a somewhat terrifying mixture of cinders and cobbles which probably does vibrate in the wind as the original ascent party claimed.  The view is spectacular! 

Interesting Excerpts From Summit Journals:

    Within minutes, six elated young Central Oregonians straddled the knife-edged summit of Three Fingered Jack…  McNeal did a handstand on the crest and let out another loud yodel.  The acrobatics surely unnerved his friends, for there was no room for him to return to his feet except in precisely perfect form.    -  Don Alan Hall on Ervin McNeal’s summit ritual in 1923 

    ROCK APES 4:00 pm.  First Ascent-W. face direct from bottom.  5 ˝ hrs. on rock.  First 300 feet cramponing on horrible rock-pitons driven straight into rock.  Crux pitch consisted of 3 direct aid pins to a 9” ledge then an exciting free move on an overhang using barely stable holds.  Scramble to join Ted Davis’s ‘first’ on the upper face.  Climb ended in a 25 ft. jam and knob climb just north of summit.  Bob Bauman-right hand covered with blood (so is the rope, pins, biners, etc, etc, etc,), Mark McLaughlin-Obsidians Eugene Oregon. (3FJ)