Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Fingers - South Peak - 09.23-24.09

Elevation Gain: ~4200'
15 miles RT
Two days

While our trip to France was our honeymoon. This trip acted as our getaway after the wedding.

Jennifer hadn't been out much this year, so we decided to do the scramble of the South Peak of Three Fingers as a two day. This way, we wouldn't have to exert too much on one day. The plan was to leave on Wednesday and stay in the summit lookout overnight. Then hike out on Thursday.

We left a little late on Wednesday...partially due to out of town guests the night previous, and partially due to some equipment issues when packing. We were finally at the trailhead and hiking around noon. At the trailhead was a sign which warned of both black and brown bears. Something I don't recall seeing before. I guess there are legitimate sightings of brown bears in the area?

Jennifer took the lead, and we were off on a pace that should get us to the lookout around 6pm. We stopped and chatted a few parties on the way down including a couple of guys who had stayed in the lookout on Tuesday night. We hoped that none of the other parties ahead of us had the same plan. As we headed up, we eventually left the dark wet forest for the hotter meadows above and eventually to the Goat Flats where we got the first view of the lookout. (It could be seen from farther away, but not easily with the naked eye.)

Once passed the Goat Flats, it seemed like the lookout was not getting any closer. We trudged onward until we got near where the guidebook claims the last water is before the summit. I reached the area before Jennifer and scouted around for running water. There was none to be found. After the two of us wasted a fair amount of time looking for water we saw a party coming down from Tin Can Gap. We consulted them about water farther up the trail which the man stated there was glacial melt not too far past the gap. They asked us to look for their lost camera and gave us a business card to locate them if we found it. Having seen them meant no one else would be up at the lookout when we got there. A true romantic getaway!

We hiked up to Tin Can Gap and proceeded eastward. Shortly, I knocked something out of a tree. It was the woman's camera. I put it in my pocket and continued to a snow patch a bit down the trail. Here, I built a small dam and dug out the backside for a location to pump water. Unfortunately, the filter was acting up and it took a long time before it started operating correctly. (It seemed like there was air in the system, and once it was flushed out, the filter operated in a speedy fashion.) We pumped about three liters of water figuring that would be enough for the evening. (I still had about a liter or so.) We packed up and continued on.

There was a short climb down a gully with a nylon rope in it. I think this rope made us feel like the gully was more hazardous than it really was and we took a fair amount of time descending the gully. I think in early season this is a section of steep snow. After that little scramble, we figured we would take our ice axes out and use them as canes with the ability to put them away quickly if we hit any more third class terrain. Of course, it was more trail until the final snow patch and we didn't need them. It was about 6:30pm when we hit the snow, and it was soft enough to kick steps in on the way up. Jennifer was concerned about making it to the top before sundown, but I knew we were so close that barring a incident it would happen. So we made our way up the snow and then put our axes away for the last bits of third class scrambling to the ladders. We took an exposed off route way on the left face a bit before rejoining the standard route and continuing around the corner to the ladders.

The ladders do not inspire confidence. Jennifer started up the first and was quickly onto the second while I stayed a ladder behind her. She had difficulty squeezing her pack through the notch at the top of the second ladder. Once through, she was turned around and had to readjust to get up onto the rock where the final ladder rests. Once up, she hung out a bit for me to get through the squeeze. Then she proceeded up the ladder as there wasn't room for both of us below it. I quickly followed behind her and we went about opening the shelter before the sun set on us.

Once in, we went about getting ready to heat dinner while watching the sunset and setting up our sleeping bags. The wind was rough, and it took a while to light and eventually boil water for dinner. (We cooked outside as we didn't want to be responsible for burning down the lookout.) Once done, we ate dinner while watching the sunlight fade, and the lights of the cities and highway grow brighter. After dinner, we watched the stars a bit before retiring to the lookout. With the swirling winds, we shut the front door, and kept all the shudders closed except the one for the door. It was difficult to sleep with the wind. Jennifer had thoughts of falling off the bed onto the floor, while I thought the whole lookout would be swept over the edge to land 2000' below on the glacier. We set our alarms to be up for sunrise.

We eventually got to sleep, and woke in the middle of the night to go pee and look at the stars. We quickly retreated to the warmth of the lookout to sleep until sunrise. Our alarms went off, but there was still no light. Jennifer fell back asleep quickly, while I lay awake. I woke her up shortly afterward to help raise the shutter on the east side exit window. (We had left the window open for ventilation overnight, but never raised the shutter.) After she helped me and saw a bit of the sun rise, Jennifer returned to bed. I stayed awake photographing different stages of the sun rising. I alternated between that, reading a mountain trivia book that was in the lookout and cleaning up. When Jennifer finally awoke for good it was around 7:30am. We didn't have a whole lot of water left and she wanted coffee, so I told her it was in our best interest to descend. Especially if the low clouds to the west decided to start rising and envelope the summit.

We packed up and closed up the shelter. Then I led out to down climb the ladders. While the ladders are easy, one slip could mean death from the top area, while the bottom two are less exposed. I moved over to the ladder and got down it so Jennifer could get on it. I did a bit of awkward maneuvering to get to the next lower position and Jennifer continued down. I started down the second ladder so she could move into position above it. I sped my way down to the bottom ladder and watched her climb the rest of the way down. The ladders definitely felt worse on the way down. And the squeeze move was a little scary pushing out through the squeeze into space rather than squeezing into a secure spot while going up. After the ladders we made quick work of the scramble bits above the snow. We admired the view a bit, and then put on crampons for the walk down the snow. While not necessary, they were nice to have. The snowfield is not very steep, and there is plenty of space to arrest a fall before hitting the rocks at the bottom. Plus the snow was softening up quickly with the morning sun hitting it.

After the snowfield we hiked down a bit to the real last spot for water before the summit. (Around 6200', right on the trail.) We stopped to filter more water and eat breakfast. The pump once again was being uncooperative, and we stopped after filtering about two liters of water. Figuring it wasn't that hot yet, and we were heading downhill. We should be able to make it to the car with that much.

With that, we started hiking the trail back. Each little bit of second class terrain we said "that is the last hard bit." Then we headed back up the gully with the rope. After making quick work of that, it was time to convert pants into shorts, and keep our trekking poles out for good. Just above Tin Pan Gap we saw a solo scrambler. She was concerned about the snow as she had running shoes on and no poles, ax or crampons. We told her what we experienced and she said she would make a decision when she got there. (Judging by the fact she didn't catch us on the way out, I'd say she went for it.)

At Tin Can Gap we met a party of two men and just below we met another party of two men, all headed for the summit on day trips. We hiked and hiked and stopped to pick blueberries a bit after passing Goat Flats. Other than birds, frogs, and a lone marmot, we did not see any other fauna. (Except perhaps whatever bit me and left large red itchy welts on my arms.) The blueberries were great considering how late in the season it is and that the leaves are turning and falling off of the bushes.

We made a last stop at Saddle Lake before gutting it out to the car. Once at the car we chugged water and drove the 17 miles out on the forest road before eventually driving home.

This was a super enjoyable trip. Partly because of sharing it with my new wife, but also because it was extremely beautiful. We had a lovely honeymoon trip. If I was to do this trip again, (for the fondue party??) I would plan/pack a little differently. First, we had brought helmets and I probably wouldn't if doing it again this time of year. We did actually use the helmets, and that was partially because we brought them, but mostly because it was easier to do the squeeze at the top of the second ladder with a helmet on your head and not on/in your pack. (We didn't wear the helmets at all on the way up.) Also, I would probably bring an ax, but not crampons. The amount of snow is short enough that if it required crampons, one could always use the ax to hack steps out. It was amazing to me the low volume packs that the day trippers were heading up with. I also think it would be interesting to do the trip in earlier season when the route is more snow and less trail near the top. That may require crampons, helmet and an ax.

One last thing, they were grading the road while we were on our way out. I can't say that it was any better, it seemed more like they were just spreading loose dirt over a decent hard packed gravel road.

My pics are here.

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