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Three Fingers shim John & Kristie

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hikes :: Friday, August 20, 2004
Three Fingers
MT. BAKER-SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST, WA :: Wow! This is the hike to which all others will be compared!

The weekend forecast predicted overcast skies and rain, so I decided to take the day off from work to enjoy what might have been one of the last sunny days of summer. Reading through trip reports and trail descriptions, I searched for an adventurous, day-long hike that would push my limits and astound me with its scenery. I chose Three Fingers and was not disappointed.

The trail is 14 miles roundtrip and climbs nearly 4000'. Its destination is the old fire lookout, perched atop the southernmost finger. In the top photo, you can probably discern the four or five pixels on top of the highest peak directly above my head. That's the lookout! The photo was taken by a couple of friendly hikers at Tin Pan Gap, who told me what to expect of the remaining snowfield traverse, climb and scramble. They then turned around and returned to Goat Flats, and I was on my own.

Many of the trip reports had me wondering whether I should even attempt this part of the hike. Honestly, I was worried about the infamous rickety ladders, the steepily sloping snowfields, and the guy who became so terrified at the lookout that he had to be air-rescued. I didn't have an ice axe or crampons, and these were suggested necessities. The glacier views from Tin Pan Gap are awesome, and I would have been happy to end my hike there.

As I weighed my safety against my desire to get to the top, a group descended from the ridge above and assured me if I was careful, I'd be just fine. They had left their ice axes stashed in some bushes at the gap.

So on I went! The snow was soft and I was able to kick in some good steps with my boots. Cairns marked the way, and ropes were setup to allow me to virtually rappel down some steeper sections. The final snowfield was larger and a little trickier to negotiate. My trekking poles helped immensely. The last scramble to the ladders was tough with loose rocks and wobbly boulders, but finally I made it. Really, it's not so tough and scary this late in the year when most of the snow has melted, but you still need to be mindful of every step.

The ladders are fun, and again there are ropes to assist. They squeak and wobble as you climb them, but they seemed to be lashed on to the rocks fairly well. I didn't want to think about it too much as I was on them.

At the top is the lookout, with not much space for anything else. I had it to myself for about an hour. It's well outfitted with a bed, a comfy chair, a table, reading materials and all sorts of other neat camping paraphenelia. The views from the top are amazing! On either side, the shear dropoff is over 1000' down to the Queest Alb glacier or the Squire Creek valley. Although the skies were hazy, I could clearly see Puget Sound and the sparkling cities of Everett and Seattle.

I even had a strong cell phone signal! So I called Kristie to let her know I was okay and that I would be home sometime that evening. I left the trailhead at 7:30 AM, and finally arrived back at my vehicle at 5:30 PM. That's ten hours on the trail, and I was hiking at a fast pace. If you go, allow yourself at least that amount of time. Or, plan to camp at Goat Flats and bring yourself a pre-baked pie crust. The beautiful meadow is filled with so many blueberries, you could make yourself a serious blueberry pie!

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on Thursday, March 9, 2006 at 9:43 PM

A friend (co worker) of mines Grandfather built the look out tower. I mentioned to him it would be a shame for him not to experience this adventure. So he suggested w(yes thats right we) make the trip. Niether of us have climbing experience but are considering the possibility. I saw your posting and thought I would ask your advice. Thanks, Jim

on Saturday, March 18, 2006 at 7:11 AM

Hi Jim!

This is an incredible hike best done later in the summer when most of the snow has melted on the approach to the lookout and the blueberries are ripe for picking. There's nothing terribly difficult about the trail, it's just very long. I would suggest breaking it up into two days. Camp at amazing Goat Flats and then summit the lookout the next day.

Keep an eye on the trip reports at www.wta.org and on www.nwhikers.net. I believe late August and September will be prime times to hike this trail. Any earlier, and you'll need an ice axe to cross the steep snowfields. Any later, and you could be stuck in a snowstorm.

Thanks for visiting and best of luck!


on Saturday, July 29, 2006 at 10:12 PM


Check out the above site for trips and maintenance of the lookout. It is preferable that you don't stay in the lookout while painting and other maintenance is being done.

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