Three Fingered Jack is part of a very old volcanic complex that has been eroded over hundreds of thousands of year. This process left behind a dramatic summit of spires made out of totally crumbly volcanoic rock. Because it’s in Oregon it’s also very very cold. Getting to the summit col involves about +2200’ of elevation gain over 4 miles, if you don’t get too lost.
So this is the start of the real trip, step one is to drive down to California so that I can then drive back to Seattle! I have two goals for the trip: I want to ski off as many of the Cascade volcanoes as possible, no need to summit since a lot of them can’t be summitted easily or would be unnecessarily dangerous, but I want to ski from as high as safely possible. Goal two is to do a really special trip with a friend Alan that I met while at Stanford, more on that in a week after we finish that trip! Step zero though, is to drive… a lot.
I know I shouldn’t film while I’m driving but you get pretty bored after six hours.
Anyway, all the driving out of the way I parked at Santiam sno-park in Oregon, the trailhead for Three Fingered Jack. When you get up with the sunrise anyways it’s not necessary to park up at these trailheads and freeze overnight, but I’m trying to acclimatize for the bigger volcanoes like Lassen and Shasta that are coming up soon. So I froze a bit overnight in about 10 degree temps and realized that over my years of living in Palo Alto and Seattle I’ve gotten a little soft. I used to be able to just stand around in freezing weather and keep my hands warm, but now I have to wear gloves. The horror!
It was also around this time that I realized I had forgotten to bring a fork or spoon with me, a somewhat major oversight on a big trip. The only thing I could find in the car was a wrench we used once to change the oil, which I washed off very carefully…
I woke up around 8:00 am when the sun hit the car and was surprised to find the parking lot totally empty and full of fresh powder!
And about an hour later and after a classic breakfast of blueberries and crunchy flakes three retired folks from Eugene rolled into the parking lot.
We chatted about plans for the day and because of the whiteout conditions and because they knew the area pretty well I asked to tag along with them. Plus it’s always a lot of fun to meet new people and have someone to talk to while you ski! I don’t wear headphones when I’m outside, so it’s a welcome break to have someone to talk to for a few hours.
In the end their sense of direction wasn’t sufficient against the total whiteout that we skied in for the first two hours or so and we probably added an extra mile as we wandered around the mountains. The area around Three Fingered Jack is a complex of small hills and bumps, carved by what might have been ancient glaciers, but could also just be a lot of rain. Hard to tell with snow on top! Eventually, the weather started to clear up.
Around one in the afternoon we arrived at our goal: the south bowls, where we found a beautiful 6" of powder sitting on top of an old rain crust. Chrissy, Robert, and Larry were telling me that given the dry winter this was probably the best day of skiing they were going to get all year!
We parted ways just below the col where the terrain gets a bit steeper. Larry had forgotten his skins and was using half-skins, so the terrain was just too much for his gear that day.
I continued on up to the col to check out the upper mountain for future reference, but when I got there a cloud blew in and I couldn’t see anything anyways. From the occasional views that I was able to see it was pretty obvious that the terrain was serious and I would need a rope and partner to be up there safely.
The ski off the col was a little alarming. It was basically a series of small rollovers (big bumps) that would get steep and then flatten out and then step again. Each roll-over that I passed over would avalanche down into the next one. Not big avalanches, but still enough that I could have gotten pulled down into some trees if I wasn’t careful. On the way up I had stayed out on an open slope that was less steep, so I traversed back to that slope rather than ski the steeper treed terrain, which I had assumed would be safer. Eventually I dropped back into the forest below, which had wide open trees with plenty of space for making big turns in between. The skiing was amazing, 6 inches of powder, 2" of which had fallen just that morning as we skied out.
The ski back out through the rolling hills took me almost three hours and by the end I was totally wiped. Luckily I got some really fun skiing in at the end to make up for the hours of somewhat boring and flat cross-country travel.
I know, some people come just for that part, but I’m in it for the proper skiing!
I also realized on the ski out that the burn area near the road was filled with a surprising discovery, Manzanitas! I think that they were filling in the rockier areas where the trees were struggling to make a comeback. Anywhere that was south facing and a little steeper was filled with dense manzanita plants, with beautiful orange stems! Many of them were too young to have died off and re-grown the way that we’re used to seeing them from the desert in California.