A friend and I met up on a stormy Saturday to hike a hybrid loop around the jagged Cascade Peak Three Fingered Jack. We suited up in the parking lot and started clockwise through the burned area. Three Fingered Jack was shrouded in fast moving clouds, making it look more ominous.
After about 4 miles, we reached the point where we would head off the path, leaving the old summit trail behind and heading through the dead trees to the saddle. The going was tough but navigation was simple. After around 3 miles, the mountain’s volcanic past showed itself; rock and pumice dominated the landscape. We boulder hopped like champs and finally reached the start of the saddle scramble. There was a noticeable foot trail tracing up so we followed that, kicking our feet in with each step and driving our trekking poles into the loose scree.
With a great feeling of exhilaration, I crested the saddle but was immediately blown around by the intense northerly winds. The bone numbing cold instantly set in. We took shelter behind a few small trees and hurried to put on our jackets and gloves. The weather felt real and raw, which only added to the adventure of it all. I joked that our hike had suddenly turned into an “expedition”.
We explored the cliff plateau above the small glacial melt lake and warmed ourselves with a few pulls of some cinnamon whiskey. I felt alive and free looking over the northern valley below. Initially we had intended to spend the night on the cliff but the harsh winds made us descend to the meadows instead.
With the tent secured, we climbed in for the night. The full moon shinned like a silver beam on the walls. We finished the last of the whiskey and curled up in our sleeping bags.
The night was cold. I awoke many times, my 35 degree sleeping bag not nearly sufficient for the below freezing temperatures. My adventure partner, on the other, slept snuggly, cocooned in her 0 degree mummy bag. In a weird way, the harsh night made things more fun for me. Discomfort breeds more vivid memories.
With the morning light came the morning sun. It was intense and instantly warming. Instead of heading north on the trail out of the meadows, we looked West and saw a distinctive line on the distant slope. With adventure in the air, we decided on another off trail traverse. This time, it was more difficult. We climbed and climbed, kicking steps and willing ourselves up. Finally we reached the top of the western ridge and found the path. The Pacific Crest Trail would now lead us back.
We passed through the burned area again, the fall reds and oranges contrasted beautifully with the barren white trees and bright blue sky. After about 8 miles, we reached the parking lot, tired and hungry. ~Life had been lived.~