Monday, September 21, 2020

PCT - Santiam Pass to (almost) Three Fingered Jack

Before I launch into this latest hiking adventure, I'd like to take a moment and thank all the firefighters who worked tirelessly for the past two weeks battling the wildfires that ravaged Oregon.  Not only did these brave men and women help many people evacuate, they also fought these fires under terrible conditions (gusty winds and thick smoke).  Most of the blazes are now either under control or at least no longer posing imminent danger to populated areas.

Sooo.....jumping in where I left off in the prior post!  Continuing with my hubby and I's hiking/camping weekend in July.  (If you've forgotten, refresh your memory here.)

Gotta get the "official" sign pic!

After tackling two trails the previous day, hubby and I awoke for today's ambitious goal - hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (aka PCT) from nearby Santiam Pass northward.  According to my hiking "bible" - aka William L. Sullivan's "100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades" there was a terrific view of Three Fingered Jack Mountain about 5 miles up the PCT.  One my 2020 hiking aspirations was to log 25 new miles on the PCT and this latest trek would help towards fulfilling that goal.


The beargrass was in great supply

After staying up late watching the sunset on Coffin Mountain, hubby and I slept in and lollygagged around camp, taking our time eating breakfast.  So even though our campsite was only 15 miles from the trailhead, we didn't arrive there until almost 9 am.  And despite having a huge lot, parking at this trailhead was already nearly full.  We managed to snag the last available spot - luckily it was big enough for hubby's truck!

Beargrass forest


Stepping out of the truck I was surprised by how warm it was for 9 am.  Hubby immediately switched to shorts but I decided to keep the zip-off legs on my hiking pants.  It would later prove to be a smart decision.

Hayrick and Hoodoo Buttes through the trees

The PCT northbound from Santiam Pass traveled through forest burned in a 2003 wildfire.  The ghostly gray dead trees were a somber reminder of the devastation.  However, beargrass had established itself nicely post-fire.  Cream-colored poofy blooms lined the forest floor.  Progress was slow as I tried to capture yet more stunning beargrass images. (And, no I didn't get enough photos of it from the previous day!)


Mountain parade - Mt Washington and the Three Sisters

Although I'm not a fan of wildfires, the lack of vegetation on trees did open up views of the nearby mountains.  As we climbed higher, a line of Cascade peaks paraded across the southern horizon.  Mt Washington was the closest, followed by the Three Sisters and Broken Top.

Looking towards Three Fingered Jack

And moving northward I got occasional glimpses of Three Fingered Jack's pointy summit.


Little trailside pond


About a mile in, we passed by a cute little pond rimmed with wildflowers.

A few lily pads

 I zoomed in to capture the lily pads floating on it's surface.

Happy to see new tree growth


Beyond the pond, our trail started to climb more steeply.  I puffed and sweated in the increasing heat.  Thankfully a strong breeze was blowing, and that made the temperatures bearable.  If not for the wind, I would've surely overheated.


Lots of little trees sprouting up in the burn area


Hubby and I passed through an area where the forest was covered with small fir trees.  It was heartening to see the forest beginning to re-establish itself after such a devastating fire.

A nice patch of lupine

Fire zones also produce great wildflowers.  We passed through many meadows flush with purple lupine and orange scarlet gilia.

Hoodoo Butte through the burned trees


About 3.5 miles up the PCT hubby and I came upon the top of a ridge.  Views to the east were fantastic with conical-shaped Black Butte prominently anchoring the skyline above a mixture of green forest and gray burn area.  A couple teal mountain lakes glittered like jewels below.

Ghost trees


It was here a southbound backpacker passed by and warned us that the mosquitoes were thick in the trees and in areas where the snow had recently melted.  I had a small bottle of repellent in my backpack, so figured we could always spray ourselves if things got too bad.  So we continued on.

Hiking through snow - in July!

Unfortunately, it turned out that helpful hiker was right - hubby and I no sooner entered the forested area when the mosquitoes came after us in droves!  They seemed to like hubby better than I, and he was soon regretting his switch to shorts.  Every time we stopped, even for a minute, they would swarm us landing in great numbers on our exposed skin.  I couldn't even get out my repellent fast enough - I was spraying mosquitoes as they were biting me.

Three Fingered Jack view at our turn around point

Although Deet works the best for repelling mosquitoes, it's so toxic I try to avoid using it at all costs.  So I'd purchased a small bottle of Deet-free bug spray for hikes.  But sadly that day it failed miserably.  Realizing that keeping ourselves moving was the best way to avoid these flying vampires, we marched steadily onward.  But it was past noon, and I was in dire need of some fuel.  Hubby promised we'd stop for lunch when we arrived at the Three Fingered Jack mountain viewpoint.  But we kept hiking and hiking with no viewpoint in sight.  My gps read 5.3 miles, then 5.4, 5.5.....surely we didn't miss it?  I was getting tired and hangry.  Where was that stupid mountain?

Black Butte and a couple of lakes

About a quarter mile from the viewpoint we ran into a section of trail totally covered in snow.  Gingerly hubby and I postholed through the wet, slushy stuff, trying to follow previous hiker's footsteps.  It was slow going, and to make matters worse, the mosquitoes were thickest in these melting snow areas.

Looking westward to another lake

Finally, rounding a corner there was Three Fingered Jack rising above the trail.  A fabulous view - totally worth the hot uphill climb, slogging through snow, and facing bloodthirsty mosquitoes.  But I was beyond hungry now, and insisted on taking a lunch break right there on the trail - mosquitoes be damned!


Lupine brightens the forest floor


So hubby and hastily tried to cram down some leftover meat and cheese from the previous night while fending off mosquitoes intent on making us their lunch.  It was the fastest meal break ever - after five minutes of battling those flying demons I was ready to get moving again.

Dramatic clouds


Bidding the mountain a fond farewell, we hurried back through the snowfield, through the mosquito-infested forest until finally taking a breather on the ridge, which thankfully seemed to be free of bugs for the moment.  Hubby pulled out the rest of our lunch and we finished refueling.


Nice afternoon light on the beargrass


From the ridge, our path back to the truck was all sweet downhill.  Good thing for me, as by now temperatures were blazing hot.  I was happy for the stiff breeze and the fact that I still had lots of water left in my hydration bladder.  Those two factors saved me from totally melting down.  Heading back downhill, we passed several folks with huge backpacks slowly climbing in the opposite direction.  I don't know how these people managed - they were obviously better suited for handling hot weather than I.


Beargrass everywhere!

And then we were back in the beargrass zone.  Hooray!  The afternoon light was now so fantastic on the plumes, I couldn't help adding yet more images to my memory card.

More pics of the beargrass and forest

 Not only the beargrass, but there were also some interesting clouds in the sky.

Mt Washington view down a beargrass-lined trail


It was a relief to finally reach the trailhead.  I pulled off my hot, dusty boots and grabbed some cold water from our cooler in the back.  And, one of the advantages of camping nearby - a very quick 15-minute drive to our campsite which meant a cold beer much sooner!

Our lovely campsite at Marion Forks

That day happened to be my hubby's birthday.  Not only did he get some tasty apres-hike birthday beers, I also brought a small pie and adorned it with a candle.  What a guy - he gave up fishing on his birthday weekend to go camping and hiking with me (through a vicious mosquito-infested trail even!)


Happy birthday to my hubby!

Although one of the recent wildfires burned very close to the campground where we stayed that weekend, I was happy to see it's been spared for now.  Nearby Coffin Mountain has also escaped the flames.  So there's hope I can return next summer to camp at Marion Forks and take in another sunset on Coffin Mountain.  But I think I'll wait until the snow is entirely melted before I hike this portion of the PCT again.



  1. For once I don't envy you that hike. Those mosquitoes sound a nightmare. I imagine you had a difficult night with all those bites. Fantastic views. Quite different with those fire damaged bare trees. Glad to hear the fires are now under control.

  2. ...was that a Marionberry pie?

  3. Three Fingered Jack is as characterful as his name suggests, an unmistakeable peak. I'd be right with you photographing that bear grass; it's so very photogenic. I hate hiking and being eaten by insects as I go. The main culprit in Britain are the Scottish midges - our only man-eating carnivores.

  4. I did hiking and backpacking but only a fraction of what you do so I am envious and saying why didn't I do more. Fire leaves ruin but new life comes out of it.

  5. Beautiful scenes, but the heat and mosquitoes would have done me in very quickly.

  6. Hello

    Happy belated birthday to your hubby! I love the views of the trail, mountains and the gorgeous wildflowers. I am glad to hear the fires are under control. Fantastic hike and photos. Take care, enjoy your day!

  7. Beautiful Beargrass! So good to hear the fires are now under control:)

  8. I share you admiration for the firefighters. A scary and dangerous job and certainly over here in the UKL underpaid and under-appreciated. Love the Bear Grass - what an odd looking yet striking plant

  9. Our mosquitoes were bad this year too. Looks like you had a better beargrass bloom than we did.

  10. Hot but magnificent. The Bear Grass is sensational. I know exactly how awful those mosquitos were! They could very quickly drive one insane.

  11. Looks like a great place to spend a birthday! Well, except for the mosquitoes. Lovely photos as usual.

  12. Oh lordy, I've experienced those nasty clouds of mosquitos in OR when the snow is melting! Yuck! Thank goodness for that breeze and the beautiful views to compensate for the heat and bugs! Happy Birthday Roger!


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