PERIMETER HIKE AROUND THREE-FINGERED JACK


If I had left the house five minutes earlier, I would have been ahead of a group of too nicely dressed millennials out for a hike—or maybe a stroll, given their pace—and not listening to their chatter.  

I had a long hike ahead of me, 22 miles before me, new country to see.  

I had needed for some time to get out of the house and out of town for the day.  It had been a tough week with some animal issues, I had been alone, and I needed time for myself.  That happens occasionally, and I don’t feel guilty about leaving, only making sure when the time is available, I go.

I have a short but significant list of difficult hikes I want to do.  Last year, I hiked into Husband and Eileen Lakes through Linton Meadows, seeing a gem of a place on a 21.5 miler, most of which burned six weeks later. I was saddened, but at least I got to see it.  In September, I circumnavigated Waldo Lake, a shade over 20 miles, about the maximum distance I’ll do on a day hike, assuming there is not much elevation gain.  I’ve hiked 18 or 19 miles with 5000 feet of gain, and I was beat.  I’ve hiked the McKenzie River National Scenic Trail twice, 26.6 miles, but the trail descended 2000 feet.  The first two I did solo, in large part because of the latter hike, which had others along.  I learned that hiking long distances solo avoided the issues of…well, people.  

Anyway, I wanted to circumnavigate Three-fingered Jack, one of the high Cascade peaks, and I didn’t get to do it before the snow and the short days arrived last year.  While I had a sore knee which I should have left alone, the time I had was a Saturday, the last cool day for the foreseeable future, so I went, unfortunately at the moment in line behind a bunch of others and a loose dog on the Pacific Crest Trail, southbound, towards the west side of Three-fingered Jack, a jagged spire of rocks in the sky, not quite 8000’ high.  

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Three-fingered Jack from the Northeast, at Porcupine Peak, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

One of the hikers heard me and told everybody ahead to step aside.  I passed quietly, later admonishing myself for not thanking them.  I was focused.  During my AT (Appalachian Trail) hiking days, 20 years ago, I did nine 20 milers, including three in a row, by trying to get 10 miles done by 10, 14 by lunch.  I wouldn’t be doing that speed today, being 20 years older, but early miles on a cool morning means fewer miles later in the hot afternoon. I was carrying 3 liters of fluid and a water purifier, which I hoped not to use. 

I soon left the PCT headed east, well north of the mountain, through a large burn, which was the 2003 B and B fire, which burned 90,000 acres.  It was not coming back well, with only brushy madrone trees.  I worry that the policy of letting wilderness fires burn will lead to more of these places, since persistent drought and hotter weather is likely to change forest succession.  Ten miles to my northwest, Eight Lakes Basin was devastated by the same fire and hasn’t come back at all—almost no brush, no grass, nothing. 

Two and a half miles in, I reached Square Lake, surrounded by tree skeletons, took a picture and kept going.  For the next six miles, I went up and down in open madrone brush, by Booth Lake with decent views of what was probably once a stunningly beautiful area.  Af few trail runners were out, and  I passed a couple with backpacks.  Most of the upper mountain was hidden by steep escarpments on the east side, and I was glad I was doing this on a cool day, as well as having good sun protection and a wide-brimmed hat.  A couple of times, I wondered whether I should turn around, since it looked like the mileage was going to be significantly more than planned, but I hung in, continuing along the rocky trail, by an occasional flowing source of water, with lupines everywhere, the miles passing every 19 to 20 minutes.  Eventually, I left the wilderness at Jack Lake, entered a parking lot with kids with inner tubes and dogs.

I took a short break for fluid on the shore, then continued towards Canyon Creek Meadows.  It would have been nice to have taken the detour through it, but on a weekend, the trail would be crowded, and the extra two miles was not going to sit well with my left knee, which was already protesting.  

Crossing a rushing stream from the meadows, I approached a series of small lakes, ending in the larger Wasco Lake, where I took a trail up to a ridge at Minto Pass, back on the PCT some eleven miles from where I left it, north of Three-fingered Jack.  I stopped for lunch at a rocky outcrop with some nearby shade and splendid views of the lake below and Black Butte in the distance.  I ate, lay down, raising both legs on a nearby hemlock, enjoying the joy of not moving.

My climbing continued to Porcupine Peak, and the approach I have of reducing many things to numbers helped me immensely.  I had planned the trip with good topographical maps, one of which I had with me.  I also had a dedicated GPS unit plus another on my phone, which I recorded only occasionally.  I knew from my research that I would be climbing about 300 meters vertically, here, and with the altimeter on my watch, I knew how much I had done.  This knowledge aides me a great deal psychologically.  I passed several small ponds, views of Mt. Jefferson to my north, Marion Lake in the distance, which I had once hiked around, and the 23 mile Duffy Loop, which I had once hiked, to the south and west of Marion Lake.  

Suddenly, several familiar faces appeared on the trail, and I stopped to talk to some on a Club hike to Canyon Creek Meadows.  The leader wasn’t surprised to see me out there.  He knew I was thinking of doing the perimeter hike, and we chatted briefly.  He told me I didn’t have much more climbing left.  I told him there was a great lunch site above Wasco Lake.

The last climb to Porcupine Peak, at the north end of Three-fingered Jack, switchbacked up on rocky tread.  I glanced at my odometer.  It was going to be a longer day than I had planned, but at least it would be downhill from this point.  I passed high above a lake below, looking on the GPS at Santiam Lake, where I had hiked a year earlier.  Across from me, above the lake, was Maxwell Butte, 3 miles distant.  The more I hiked in this area, the more the wilderness areas became familiar, like old friends.  I also discovered new sights, like the large open meadow below me that I hadn’t appreciated the other time I had been up here.

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Maxwell Butte with Santiam Lake

 

I was passed by a pair of trail runners, and short time later came up on a man wearing earphones, who made some comment ending with “Buddy,” and whom I had to pass by walking off the trail.  Seemed like he wasn’t having a good day.  Down, down, down I went, out of the woods, into the old burn area again, along a long re-route of the PCT, down past a pond near the junction of where I went to Square Lake, with views of Mt. Washington, Belknap, and The Sisters to my south, back to Santiam Pass.  

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Mt. Washington (closest), North Sister left of Middle Sister, and the cone of Belknap Crater near Mt. Washington.  Broken Top is at the upper left

 

I won’t lead the hike for the Club, for it is a difficult exposed trek.  But I know what’s out there, and there are parts I do hope to see again.  I still have to get into Canyon Creek Meadows.

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Looking from the south towards Belknap Crater, left of center, Mt. Washington (pointed), Three-fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson (snow covered), and Mt. Hood (distant, to right of Mt. Jefferson).  View from Collier Cone near the PCT and the Obsidian Loop Trail.

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The Sisters (Faith, or North Sister) on the left, Belknap Crater, the higher Mt. Washington, Big Lake, and Hayrick above it, right center.  Part of the B and B burn can be easily seen, along with the burn from the 2011 fire in Mt. Washington Wilderness in the distance.

 

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