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Ascent of Three Fingers on 2014-08-03

Climber: Craig Willis

Others in Party:Ariana B.
Date:Sunday, August 3, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Three Fingers
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:6850 ft / 2087 m

Ascent Trip Report

As a result of committing to a friend's party months in advance, I did not end up arriving at the road closure along Forest Road 41 until after 7:30 PM. I started hiking/biking at 8:00 PM, arriving at the Three Fingers TH near Tupso Pass shortly after 10:00 PM. After taking a snack/water break and locking-up my bike, I continued via headlamp up the trail until reaching Saddle Lake. Knowing that other people were somewhere along the route (as indicated by several different parked vehicles and bikes I had seen earlier that evening), my goal was to get close enough to where people were camping to find out useful route beta for current conditions.

I bivied next to my backpack for approximately 2.5 hours. When I woke up, I noticed a small salamander had slithered under my bivy sack and presumably had rested with me. I continued on my way, taking time for short breaks and water replenishments. I arrived at Goat Flats by 4:30 AM, instantly noticing someone bivying near the trail. I continued walking until finding a nice unused campsite in a small grove of trees, protected from wind and surprisingly mostly bug-free.

I rested in my bivy sack for an hour until I awoke and noticed the person I had passed earlier was now awake and having breakfast. I walked over and said hello to the solo mountaineer, and nearly at the same time we asked other, "Are you going up or coming down?" We were both heading up towards the lookout, so I asked her (Ariana) if she would mind if we went up together, as I rationalized to her that it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes to scout terrain and potential routes. She agreed, and we were on our way from Goat Flats shortly after 6:00 AM.

My "extra set of eyes" notion was correct right from the beginning, as we followed a path through a large snowpatch that took us to the north side of the ridge right away. Having reviewed route descriptions, this path (despite being well-defined) seemed incorrect so I walked across the ridge crest and scouted the terrain. I soon noticed a very well-defined trail approximately 200' below us and informed Ariana of the news. This is just one example of how having an extra person helped the success of this trip. As the day continued, we would ultimately each help each other with several critical sections of the route; our varying skills & experience complemented each other very well for this trip.

After dropping down to the actual trail, the route to Tin Can Gap was straightforward. Then the real "fun" began. We hiked up a steep path to a steep upper snowfield that had a moat. Although there was a set of tracks skirting across the top of the snowfield, we both felt that the early morning icy conditions would make the moat a better/safer option for us. The moat went well until rounding a corner. We passed a large snow slab in our way which was easy to climb around; we would later find out from other people that the snow slab broke off the previous afternoon. We then were faced with a super-steep rock climb/scramble, much of which had wet rock. Ariana was totally in her element on this terrain and she would later claim it was the most fun part of the entire route.

Once above the scramble section, we were atop a rocky ridge. At first, we thought we could scramble down the other end of the ridge to join the obvious path down below. But after some scouting of the terrain, we realized that downclimbing rocky ledges near the first steep snowfield was the best option. Then we had another short section of steep snow to traverse before reaching a nearby saddle; although the bootprints in the icy snow side-traversed this entire section, we knew a fall there would be fatal and we both opted to soon climb over the section and into the safety of a moat. From there, we did some easy scrambling-walking to the saddle where the obvious path was awaiting us.

The route then went around the south side of the ridge until reaching another saddle attached to the top of the Queest-Alb Glacier. The moat was not yet open so we followed a path up the rocky ridge, leading to a rope tied to a tree and leading into the moat below. We both went down into the moat but soon found that a section of the moat was not yet melted out enough and we would find ourselves dropping a minimum of 10' vertical trying to get through. So we backtracked and went all the way up to the top of the ridge again, this time walking down onto the top of the glacier and joining bootprints traversing across the top of it and leading down to a saddle.

Once at the saddle, the route went back to the south side of the ridge and we soon encountered another large snowfield. This snowfield was not as steep as the others and was easy to traverse. On the other side of the snowfield we started following a well-defined trail switchbacking up steep meadow slopes. It was here where we encountered the person who had made the bootprints seen during the trip; he had left his camp near Tin Can Gap early that morning and was on his way back. He told us that three guys had spent the night in the lookout, too, who were still up there.

We continued on the south side of the ridge, passing some minor icy snow slopes along the way. Then the trail turned uphill and alongside a rocky ridge, leading to the last large snowfield. This snowfield was steep but manageable. It seemed to take forever to ascend but the lookout building peeking through the pinnacle ahead of us was a great motivator. Once atop the snowfield, we encountered the three guys who had spent the previous night in the lookout. After a brief conversation, they continued down the mountain while we had a brief snack/water break.

We then did some easy scrambling and walking until reaching the infamous three wooden ladders leading to the lookout. A lot of people make a big deal of the ladders because they are old & slanted but I thought they were no problem at all. Then, at 10:50 AM, we reached the summit lookout. We gave each other a high-five for the successful trek.

Personally, this was a major accomplishment for me; not only because of the amount of effort & skills needed to reach the lookout but also because this marked my completion of the "Washington Lookouts" list on the Peakbagger.com, SummitPost.org, and FireLookout.com websites. I became the first person to accomplish the feat of seeing all of the fire lookouts that are still standing at their officially used locations in Washington. I also liked that my journey came full-circle; my first lookout ever visited was right across the street (Mount Pilchuck).

We took some time to each sign the lookout register and take photos, and I even made a short video. We each really enjoyed the moment. We then headed back down to our packs which we had left near the top of the snowfield. After another snack/water break there, we began our descent of the snowfield. The descent back to the glacier seemed to go by quickly. During this time, the sun and high albedo of surrounding snow really roasted us. Fortunately, the snow had softened since the morning and the four people who had descended ahead of us made great tracks, so our efforts crossing the top of the glacier were fairly straightforward. For the final snowfield prior to Tin Can Gap, we opted to go the steep snow route rather than do the super-steep & wet rock climb into the moat. The snow traverse seemed to take a very long time but step-by-step I am certain it was better than the alternative option.

Once we were finally off the snow slope and near Tin Can Gap, we packed our crampons and ice axes. I finally got enough cell phone service to send a text message out to several people, as well as make one phone call to a peakbagging acquaintance. The rest of the hike to Goat Flats was straightforward. I waited for Ariana (who had a slightly hurt ankle) as she packed her camp gear and then we walked down the trail together. Getting to Saddle Lake seemed to be quick but the final few miles back from there to the trailhead seemed really long and monotonous. We reached the trailhead and our respective bikes by 6:00 PM. After one more high-five, we each rode down Forest Road 41, with me arriving at 7:00 PM and Ariana arriving at her vehicle nearly five minutes later.

All in all, this was my favorite and most memorable trip of the year so far.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:6650 ft / 2026 m
    Extra Gain:700 ft / 213 m
    Distance:36 mi / 57.9 km
    Route:Three Fingers - Standard Route
    Trailhead:FR-41 Road Closure  1600 ft / 487 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Bicycle, Ice Axe, Crampons, Ski Poles, Bivouac
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear



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