Monthly Archives: August 2016

Three Fingered Jack Loop

Another weekend in Central Oregon where I chose, as a final long training run for the upcoming Volcanic50, the classic loop around Three Fingered Jack (3FJ).

While the classic loop goes around the 7,841ft mountain taking the PCT on the West side until Wasco Lake and goes back to the Santiam Pass Trailhead via Trail #4014, I decided to change it a bit.

Starting at the Pacific Crest Trailhead – Santiam Pass, I headed North on the PCT. After several miles, I got off the PCT and started climbing up towards 3FJ. Right before the crawl, I slipped my climbing shoes on as I wanted to go see what the final pitch looks like and maybe go at the top. The crawl was airy and great caution must be made here as well as the sections around it (multiple deaths and accidents have been reported). I arrived at the bottom of the last pitch. The views are terrific from here and while going up it didn’t seem to hard (5.4 climbing grade), I decided to stop here as I didn’t feel like climbing down it without a rope would be safe.

After going down the Crawl and putting back my running shoes, I ran down to go back on the PCT. From there, I ran North to Wasco Lake enjoying beautiful views of Mt Jefferson and 3FJ overlooking Canyon Creek Meadows.

This run offers several opportunities to refill water (Wasco Lake, Canyon Creek, Booth Lake, Square Lake) and I took advantage of it as it was very dry, hot and exposed. From Wasco Lake, I headed to the east saddle of 3FJ via the beautiful and fresh Canyon Creek meadow instead of taking the #4014 heading to Jack Lake as the classic loop does.

My3FJvsNormalRouteMy modified loop (Yellow) vs the classic route (Purple)

I quickly arrived to 3FJ East saddle where I encountered Mountain goats that seem to be thriving since they were re-introduced several years ago

From here, people usually hike down the way they came and head back to Jack Lake. As for me, I had found several reports and tracks of hikers going down south following a creek. As a matter of fact, when I arrived at 3FJ saddle, several women were coming up the south side. As they confirmed to me, they mainly followed the creek up. One of her having done this part 5 times, I was confident I would  be able to go down this way as well. And I did! But this part was mainly bushwacking though thick brush and a lot of downed trees. I eventually met the #4014 trail, and accelerated to make up for the lost time.

I passed Booth Lake, Square Lake (it’s not square at all!) and arrived back at the trailhead where my wife picked me up in time for some kayak time and swim time at Big Lake before sunset.

if I were to do it again, I would still go up the saddle as the canyon creek meadow and the east saddle were my favorite parts. However, because of the bushwacking part and tree hoping,  I would skip going down south and would run back to canyon creek meadow and Jack Lake to join the trail #4014 that the classic loop takes.

Nutrition: Water, homemade sports drink (recipe to come soon), HoneyStinger Chocolate Waffles, HoneyStinger Gel Gold

GPS Track available here (22.4 miles, 4,300 ft elevation gain/loss)



Three Sisters Circumnavigation

The 3 Sisters Circumnavigation had been on my bucket list for a while now. The total course consists of 49 miles and 6,719 ft elevation gain/loss. Made up with several trails, the west side is mainly on the PCT.

The same friends (Jameson & Matthew) with which we ran around Mt Hood last year joined us. I decided to go counter-clockwise as it was easier to find an opportunity for Matthew and Jessica to join us as they wanted to run about 20 miles.

We started the run at the Pole Creek Trailhead after a short but restful night at this quiet trailhead. I’ve stayed there overnight numerous times when climbing the sisters and as it is pretty remote, it generally offers very peaceful nights with great views of the stars and North/Middle sisters (thanks to the 2012 fire).

Jameson and I ran the first 30 miles and met Jessica and Matthew at the Devil’s lake trailhead. While it added about 2-3 miles, it gave Jameson and I the opportunity to resupply in water and food. From there, we would run back to Pole Creek TH (20 miles, 2,706 ft elevation gain/ 2,884ft elevation loss).

A great/must-do run that offers various landscapes (volcanic, forest, sand), stunning views as well as several streams and lakes to get fresh water. The bonus of this loop is that the entire course is runnable as it is never really steep.

Nutrition: Water, HoneyStinger Chocolate Waffles, HoneyStinger Fruit Smoothie Chews

GPS Track available here (52 miles, 7,650 ft elevation gain/loss)


Where are we ?

“When someone’s knocked out unconscious, what’s the first thing they say when they come to ?”
“Where am I?” I answered without a second thought.
“Exactly” Tuck said. What’s more, he had the answer.
A life on the edge – Jim Whittaker

This excerpt, taken from Whittaker’s book, describes a discussion between J. Whittaker and Ed Tuck, the inventor of the first GPS device released more than 25 years ago. His device was created to answer the ultimate question anyone asks at some point: “Where am I?

Where Am I ?

Nowadays, a variety of tools and devices make the navigation easier. They provide a considerable additional layer of safety as one can use technology to find his/her given location at any time including the path back to the start/trailhead.

This is actually one of the main reason I acquired my first GPS device 3 years ago. On a winter day of December 2012, my wife and I decided to explore the rugged “Rock of Ages” hike in the Columbia River Gorge. A thin layer of snow prevented us seeing the trail (unmaintained trail) and when we found out we had only 1 hour before sunset, the only tools I could use to return to the trailhead were my memory of the way up, the 2 cliffs to avoid on each side of the ridge, the sound of the highway where the car was parked and our few snow tracks. We made it back safely but afterwards, I deeply wished I’d had a GPS device not only to be able to find our way back to the start (by using the “Trackback” function) but also to see where we wandered/got lost at the top of the ridge.


Where am I ? 

Since then, I have used my GPS device on all of my adventures and never got lost. When in doubt, I usually visualize my current location/direction in comparison to my created route which have prevented me multiple times from getting lost.

IMG_1654Using my Suunto Ambit 2 to ensure that I am on the”right track” while peakbagging in The Enchantments

While I usually carry a map and a compass on each of my runs (they are the two first recommended items in the 10 essentials), being able to navigate by just looking at my wrist is a considerable timesaver. It is especially useful during a race when every minute is counted.

What Ed Tuck didn’t realize is that not only a GPS device will tell me where I am at any given time, it will also tell my where I was and where I will be.


Where was I ?

As most modern GPS devices record one’s GPS location every given interval for several hours/days, it is possible to look at the track that is composed of all those recorded points. I find those tracks extremely useful to look at to visualize where I got off course for example or even share my course with another person.

NorthSister1Looking back at my GPS track. Using Google Earth to compare my GPS track with a correct one to study where my friend and I missed the summit of North Sister. In Blue: The track of Karl Helser who summited North Sister. In Red : our track. This is looking South East. We can see that we should have gone over the ridge towards the Bowling Alley.


Where will I be ?

The fact that I haven’t gotten lost since then doesn’t come just from having my GPS watch. It also comes from the fact that I’ve refined my trip preparation as I believe it’s important to study well a route and/or take it with you on your trip. By looking at maps, routes from previous trip reports, I typically create my prepared route and load it onto my watch. I use this route to visualize exactly where I will be going. All this time spent studying maps, looking at GPS tracks help me get familiar with the area and be at ease right from the start.

By “prepared route”, I mean that I usually prepare a GPS file of my intended trip, either by finding a file from another person that has already done the route (or part of the route) or by manually creating my own. However, I always try my best to use a track generated on the actual trail as creating a manual track can lead to navigation errors when out in the field.

Preparing my future adventure with the right tools : the 3 Sisters circumnavigation

Because I have benefited many times from other people’s tracks, I have decided it was time to share mines. My plan is to propose a set of GPS tracks that represent my main past adventures & explorations (climbs/hikes/runs/rides….etc) that I feel are worth sharing to be reused. You will find those GPS tracks on the page “MY TRACKS” for which the link is present at all time in the blog’s navigation bar located at the top of each page.

Any suggestions/critics are appreciated!