Three Fingered Jack (winter solo)

Three Fingered Jack (7842ft) via South Ridge, 900ft 5.2 M3 Steep Snow, solo, 20 Feb 2020

We have been continually blessed by this winter’s generous warmth and sunshine. Another prime weather window that allowed for beautiful skinning to Bachelor’s summit a couple days earlier got me itching to get back into the real mountains again. I’ve had my eyes set on Three Fingered Jack for a while- a sentimental climb for me that signified by first real big mountain solo- albeit in slightly more difficult winter conditions this time around. It’s also sentimental because I had attempted a similar winter push around a year ago, just 6 months after my accident, and had gotten shut down, exhausted by the end of the skinning before even attempting any real climbing. Seeing the progress possible in a year’s time, as I soon would, makes me realize the vast potential for continued improvement in technique, confidence, and fitness. 

I’d been very unsure of the conditions on the mountain, having also skinned deep powder at Tumalo just a few days before. However, I felt that the low altitude summit had probably absorbed enough sun since then to let things solidify over night. So I headed out, alone, on Thursday morning and was on the snow just as enough light glowed to allow me to leave the headlamp in the pack all day.

First glimpses of the summit in the early light

The skin was rather uneventful, and being in a valley of sorts, it stayed shadowy, and by the time I had reached the cornices of the upper bowl’s ridges, a thin veil covered the sky and kept things relatively fresh. 

View on the saddle from the top of the bowl where I left behind the ski setup

I headed up the final 800ft of technical vert just as the sun began beating down, making it hard to believe it was the middle of the winter! However, only the last 300ft or so of vert are truly technical and time consuming, with some pretty thrilling cornice traverses and exciting exposure on either side. One particular traverse (pictured below) took me some time to commit to, after checking out very non-appealing overhanging rimey down climb alternatives. Taking it slow, it went quite alright, and the snow was just hard enough to make it feel decently secure. 

The scary “catwalk” traverse; not as bad once committed into it

Honestly, in comparison, the final summit chimney was inviting, and I launched into it without pause. Using two tools and crampons, I stemmed my way up the funnel while sinking surprisingly good tool placements in sporadic ice. A few kind of scary, near vertical but short steps on shitty, variable rimey snow led to the top, where I balanced as best as I could for just long enough to snap some pictures. 

Mt Jefferson from the exposed summit pinnacles
Rapping down the crux mixed chimney; thankful for the tagline

The down climb was equally thrilling, but knowing the terrain and having the steps kicked in allowed me to get to the rap station relatively quickly. I finally relaxed, hanging from my harness, ate some food and some snow and enjoyed the moment, knowing that I could get down safely now and that taking my time was the only priority. 

I wrapped up the rappel and started down climbing the ridge, and thankfully the kicked in steps on the traverse made it much easier than on the way up. The only annoying thing was that now snow was balling in a big way in my crampons, so I continually had to pause to clear these. 

A cornice ramp in the sky

More somewhat frustrating walking down through variable snow and rime brought me back to my ski stuff, where I sat for a while and took in the day in front of me. Not a hint of wind and a pretty infrequently had view of the three Sisters and Mt. Washington spread ahead of me in a gray but golden haze, shimmering in the sun. For a while I’d totally escaped- full physical and mental immersion had strained my existence to the finitude of each moment, and to come out of that and just breathe, with nothing ahead of me but a causal ski back to the car, made the stillness of the moment shake me to the core just that much more. 

Hunger and thirst drove me hurriedly back to the car, but it’s hard to get enough of these moments, and it won’t be long before the craving returns. 

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