Three Fingered Jack

21 10 2012

One of Central Oregon’s crown jewels is 7,844ft Three Fingered Jack. It is the core of an extinct volcano. Three Fingered Jack lies in between Mt Washington and Mt Jefferson and sits on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jessie, Joel, Laura and I paid a visit there recently – camping at nearby Metolius River. We arrived mid afternoon Friday and got skunked at our favorite campsite on the peninsula at Allen Springs Campground. Figuring we had the luxury of time to search for a choice spot, we hunted around the local campgrounds. How naive we were! When we circled back one campground after another posted the “FULL” sign! We wound up with the very last site in the valley. No matter we made do and promised to try for a more choice spot that might get vacated in the morning!

Jessie, Joel and Laura by Canyon Creek

Though full the campground’s campers are gregarious but mellow. Nobody has trouble sleeping! Morning finds me fixing traditional bacon, eggs, and home made hash browns. All fueled up we head up to the trailhead at Jack Lake.

The three mile trail winds past a burned out area, then through shaded forest, then into wildflower-packed Canyon Creek Meadows and then into the basin underneath Three Fingered Jack. I’ve backpacked into the area and remember the view from the basin: You look straight up at the internal workings of a volcano! Spectacular.

And, this is not an ultimate challenge hike. It is a big payoff for easy effort hike! While we sweat on the trail, the climb is easy enough that we have no problem holding casual conversation on the way.

For the first three quarters of a mile of the trail passes through what was left after the B and B Complex fire, which burned 91,000 acres in 2003. It is a testimony to the catastrophic effects of climate change. Winters are warmer, allowing insects like the bark beetle to have longer reproductive cycles, leading to a population explosion. Normally lower temperature helps control the breeding season. With more beetles, the trees upon which they feed don’t stand a chance. The beetles feed on wood just below the bark – and when they complete a circle around the tree, the tree becomes “girdled,” and slowly dies. The only defense the tree has is to produce extra sap. In bark beetle-infested forests, mile upon mile of trees stand with the lower bark falling off to the ground, and the trees eventually dry out. They become the perfect fuel waiting for the moment of ignition = a forest fire in waiting.

Then it takes us through a section untouched by fire. It’s as it was. Mountain Douglas Firs and Cedars. Shady. A patch of snow here and there. A pond. No bugs. Then the it opens up into meadows carpeted with withering wildflowers, and the mountain dominates the view ahead.

Our goal is to reach the basin beneath the caldera, where we will take in the view and picnic.

We climb a forested moraine and descend into the basin. Wow! Above our heads lies exposed the plumbing of a volcano. Clearly visible are layers of lava but injected into the layers are volcanic dikes, which are like pipes through which lava flows to the top of a volcano. Cool!

I love this spot!

And all around us a sea of wildflowers.

Here, I glimpse a wildflower I’ve never noticed before, which is a kind of wild petunia. Beautiful!

We pause to drink in the view and warmth.

Laura makes the best picnic of all. Very European with fruit, cheese, and even some wine to accompany!

We love wildflowers. And there are plenty to see! But they won’t last forever.

It won’t be long before they fade and winter returns to these parts.

But for now we are happy to enjoy the moment!


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