Let me first start off by saying "Thank You Yana, I could have never done this without all your help, encouragement, and patience." I also have to thank Bloated Chipmunk, because of her trip report I didn't look to my left going up the third ladder and to Tazz for her encouraging words on Facebook. Words can go a long way and they sure did on this trip.
I have always been fascinated by Three Fingers and its lookout on top its peak, but I am terrified of heights. I love flying and when a plane goes through heavy turbulence, I'm the crazy one wanting more, but tap my shoulder on a high rise and I literally fall to my knees in horror (my friends love to see my reaction all the time so they always do it, or just grab a rubber snake and place it somewhere unsuspecting). I decided that I was going to conquer my fear and face it.
Yana saw my reply to a "Partners" thread on Three Fingers and asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes immediately! Monday morning we left for the trailhead and made our way up the trail sometime after noon. Being that it was Monday, we figured it would just be us, instead there was 10 cars there! In Yana's words- "Does anyone work anymore?"
The trail on the way to Saddle Lake is a mess of tree roots and mud. It's not a nice trail, but it makes up for it by feeding you blueberries. The trail is mostly up with a noticeable drop in elevation and then makes you regain it again pretty quickly. At Saddle Lake at 2.5 miles there is a junction for Meadow Mountain and to the trailhead of an alternative 8 miles hike to Saddle Lake which is so popular it is now overgrown. Here we stopped and I refilled my bottle with water.
From Saddle Lake up to Goat Flats it moderately gains elevation and the scenery finally starts to get pretty. Tarns, streams, and more blueberries for you to feast on. At 4.5 miles you get to Goat Flats and what a beautiful plateau! A lot more tarns and little streams with views of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the surrounding mountains. There are plenty of places to camp. Up here I filled up all my bottles with water since we did not know what the water situation was up above.
Now when we got here we saw the backpackers that we were up against, we knew that there was at least two parties ahead of us and they were planning to stay at the lookout for the night. From the backpackers coming back down they told us that 10 people had spend the night up there. Well Yana and I wanted to make sure if there was going to be more people up there, then we were going to beat them to the top to get the best sleeping spot. So we started huffing and puffing to beat those two backpackers. When we got to the small knoll above goat flats we saw glimpses of them and the finally we caught up to them when they took a break at a large rock outcropping on the trail. They seemed beat and we figured they were done. We gathered some intel and learned there was indeed another group in front of us of 3 backpackers. They were all from Iowa and for one of them it was his first hike ever; yes you read right, first hike ever.
We pressed on and then reached a section of the trail which actually froze me when transversing it. The trail was compacted dirt and was at an angle with really nothing for your shoes to grip on to. It was angled almost to the same angle as the slope it was on. From there we saw Tin Can Gap and we saw the group of three we had to beat to be the first ones to the top. We saw them shaking their tent's rainfly from down below so we figured they gave up. After finally getting through that scary part we made it to a rocky switchback and behold at the top was Tin Can Gap, but the group was gone.
Here Yana asked me if I wanted to continue, camp there, or turn around. I stood there looking at this mountain wondering how the hell we were supposed to get there. I thought about it and told my self to screw that phobia and I didn't come here this far to give up, especially after seeing the skinny fragile looking senior couple who told us they had come from the lookout. So we proceeded forward.
Now if you notice, I don't have any pictures up to this point. In fact you wont see any for a while because I was trying to stay focus and looking down below wasn't helping me.
We then came to the moat which came complete with rope. We descended down and continued on the trail where we had to cross a very small, but very intimidating looking snow field (well at least in my eyes). After telling myself I was not going to slide to my death and Yana's words I made it across. The trail then becomes rocky and begins to switchback up to the major snowfield. Yana got their first and told me "Tony, you are going to love what you see from here." There in front of us was the lookout. I was excited and happy that we were almost there and terrified. That snowfield freaked me out. We then also saw the group of three going up. If we could out pace them to the top we would get to the lookout first!
So Yana went up the snowfield and I being chicken stayed close to the rocks to my left. That was a big mistake because then I got stuck where the rocks ended and it became a "wall". I couldn't trust my knee to support me fearing my knee would give out and I would slide to my death (you just have to hate sewing machine leg). Yana after leaving her backpack at the top came down and gave me a hand. She got me on the snowfield and finally got to the top. As we all got up there a Beech Twin Bonanza buzzed us 3 times.
Up top the three Iowans couldn't find their way up and Yana found it and we took off for the final scramble! The Lookout was ours!!!!! We then all got to the ladders and Yana went up first. Then was my turn, but I chickened so the regular hiking Iowan went up next. Then it was my turn and I kept repeating Tazz's words aloud- "focus on what is front of you" and Bloated Chipmunks words "Don't look to the left". I went up the ladders and at the 3rd ladder I got stuck with my backpack. I started getting sewing machine leg and Yana came back down and took my backpack and went back up. I then climbed that 3rd ladder and just looked at each handle bar and got to the top and I grabbed that rope and scrambled as fast as I could to the door of the lookout where I started screaming with joy. Yana and Ben ( I think that is his name) couldn't figure out how to open the door and I got there and I just pulled the string and ran in.
Once inside I just became overwhelmed with emotions of accomplishment and that I was able to beat my fear of heights. I tried not to tear up and I think I did pretty well to hide it. Yana came over and gave me high five and we ran in to claim our sleeping spot. The rest came up and we celebrated. We opened the windows and enjoyed the views and admired our hard earned views.
No matter how many times I told Yana "Thank You" I felt like that word wasn't enough to express my gratitude to her for helping me.
The sunset was beautiful but I barely took pictures which is so not me! I was just taking in what I had done. Around 7:30 we heard voices and what do you know, the other two backpackers we had first passed made it! They got up there and we started celebrating. This may have not been Mount Rainier; but hell, this isn't no "hike"
We all made dinner, shared whiskey, chatted, and laughed wondering how 10 people slept in there the night before. I then made the mistake of telling everyone that I read that on high winds the lookout can shake and "levitates" . Later that night the wind picked up and holly s#it" it was scary, but I just laughed it off till it was time to go to the bathroom. Oh that wasn't fun going out. When I came back in, Ben had to go and he was too freaked to go till he got the guts to go out too. The rest of the night I just basically rested till I took a little nap.
In the morning I enjoyed the sunrise from bed and finally got out to make breakfast. We all ate and packed up, closed up the lookout and said bye to Steve and his hiking partner since they were still packing.
Here I had to face my fear again and Yana went down first and I followed. Yana and Ben guided me down to the 3rd ladder and I did the same thing I did as when I went up repeating to myself Tazz and Bloated Chipmunks words. Then I got stuck at the 2nd ladder and after trying to get unstuck I made it down to solid ground. I then freaked out when you had to follow this footpath no wider than a foot with a drop right next to you to the Queest-Alb Glacier. Yana encouraged me over and finally I was past that and we scrambled down to the snowfield. The height was getting to me and the other 5 hikers caught up to us and then came the getting off the snowfield part.
Yana just walked down and I once again had a fear that I would step on the snow and slide to my death. Yana then proceeded to glissade. One of the Iowans proceeded to do the same and then came my turn. All I could see was the end of the world. As I went down I used my trekking poles and stupidly my hands to slow down (not a good idea). Everyone was yelling for me to just go for it but I couldn't help it. Little did I know that First Time Iowa Hiker was coming full speed behind me and he crashed right into me. Oh my elbow didn't like it- ouch, ouch, ouch!
We then said goodbye to the Iowa group and off we went. On the way back that sloping dirt part of the hike got me again. We took a break at Tin Can Gap and the Steve and his hiking partner passed us. Finally I started taking pictures.
From there it was back up the moat and back to Goat Flats and on to Saddle Lake where we passed our hiker friends again on our way to the to the trailhead. First to the lookout and first to the car!
It was a great experience and it was great to share the lookout with a group of great backpackers.
I thought the highlight of my hiking year was going to be my Spider Meadows-Buck Creek Pass Loop, but after facing my fear and confronting it, this one takes the top honor. I can't believe I'm writing this trip report, but I am and again- Yana, thank you so much for those words of encouragement; they may not seem like much, but those little words made a big impact. You help me faced my biggest fear and Holy *bleeps*, I did it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Wow! What an excellent trip report! The pictures you posted are beautiful. Almost like I was there!
Actaully, I was there. I was the 40 year old chap who came up with Steve. Thanks for letting us stay in the cabin with you all, you were great hosts! I was happy to share my whiskey with you all! You gys were the first NWhikers I have met in person. Very cool.
As for the airy ladders, a boisterous woman climbing the Pilchuck Lookout ladder summed it up pretty well. She mounted the last rung, eyes shut tight, stepped into the crowded lookout, and in her outside voice announced,"If I had a scrotum, it would be shrinking right now."
(True story. She was in our group!)
That's pretty much how I felt on the Fingers ladders myself.
Fun trip report and I too offer my congrat's. I really had a fun hike with Eric, Bob B. and Duane a couple years back and feel that 3 Fingers is one of the best hikes in the Cascades since that lookout is so unusual in where it is located.
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