And keep walking you should, at least to the next pass - about 15 minutes beyond - between Porcupine Peak and the northwest shoulder of Three Fingered Jack. At this pass, the sheer walls of the north face of Three Fingered Jack come into play. Words fail. Far below, you can make out the meadows of Canyon Creek - a very popular hike in its own right. Different layers of lava are seen in the North Face. For the backpacker, the waters around Minto Pass are another 3 miles north. For the dayhiker, you turn south for your car is now 7.5 miles back the way you came. It is mostly downhill in both directions;-\
About 20 minutes from the first Three Fingered Jack stop, you come to a small pass from which the way north becomes visible. Mush of the central region of the Mt Jefferson Wilderness Area is now seen. Red Cinder Cone and Marion Lake. Many other lakes lie hidden. A literal sea of peaks awaits your identification.
If you have reached the first viewpoint of the Jack, then continue. The PCT is faily level for the next couple of miles. Walk further north and look to the everwidening view to the west over innumerable peaks in the fron Cascade ranges - you can even make out Coast Range peaks like Marys Peak beyond Corvallis. Above your head, the crags and crannies of Three Fingered Jack tower in awesome silence. Here, up close, you can observe many more than 'three' fingers jutting skyward.
Just before reaching the first Three Fingered Jack viewpoint, there is a short way trail leading to a grand spot where you can look out south over Santiam Pass and the mountains beyond. Wilderness pervails and glaciated volcamoes pierce the skyline - the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mt Bachelor. The spire of Mt Washington and ski area of Hoodoo along with many other peaks that you will need a good map to identifare close at hand.
US 20 crests the Oregon Cascades at Santiam Pass. At the pass, the Pacific Crest Trail leads one north or south. South into the Mt Washington Wilderness Area. North into the Mt Jefferson Wilderness Area. There is a large parking lot on the north side of US 20 - you need to pay either the self-issue daily parking fee or have an annual NW Forest Parking Pass - from which the hiker - long-distance or dayhiker - can proceed in several directions. Heading north on the PCT in 3.5 miles will take you to a glorious viewpoint of the south side of Three Fingered Jack - 7841 feet high, it is the ancient core of a much larger ancient volcano. Here, by the trailside, you can watch as climbers above work towards the summit.
The path continues upward following the moraine crest until you reach a pass right at the base of the east wall of Three Fingered Jack. During August and September, the path is just very steep - a bit loose, too. Other times you will be dealing with snow. In such cases, proceed only if you are comfortable with the terrain and conditions. Ski/trekking poles help almost as much as the mountain corgi's four-wheel drive.
From the top, you will see the awesome crags of Three Finger Jack towering above you. The literal insides of an extinct volcano exposed to the elements.
Slow, but sure, you gain the top of the moraine. The view is stunning. The north face of Three Fingered lifts straight up over 2000 feet above you. A small glacier feeds a cream-colored lake far below you. This is one of the most dramatic north faces in the Oregon Cascades (north sides of Mt Hood and Mt Thielsen being the other two). It is another one of those places where you simply stop in awe.
After about ¾ of a mile up from the lower meadow, the path winds above the highest meadow - really, an avalanche outwash plain. Finally, ducking through small trees, you come out and see the path going up the terminal glacial moraines above. Three Fingered Jack soars above you.
The cliffs of Three Fingered Jack pull you onward and upward. From the lower meadows, the trail begins to ascend - now through forest, now through meadow. Peak of the flower season in the meadows is late July. What to guess when the peak of the mosquito season is ;-] ?
Acres of beautiful alpine meadows lying at the foot of the Three Fingered Jack make up the Canyon Creek Meadows. The trail is very well traveled on summer weekends when hundreds visit. It is only two miles into the lower meadows and only about a 300-foot gain making the way very easy. The trailhead begins at Jack Lake - which is in turn, about 11 miles from US 20 and about the same from Camp Sherman.
To limit the number of people you meet on the trail, a four-mile loop goes out from the Jack Lake trailhead. The Forest Service asks you to go clockwise, turning left at the first trail junction. Coming down from above, you return to the lower meadow and follow Canyon Creek as it babbles along, reaching your return leg - the Wasco Lake trail - just in time to watch the creek tumble over a 12- foot fall.
And Mt Jefferson looms ahead - probably another 10 trail miles ahead on the PCT. The south side has very little snow in late summer, unlike the north side where glaciers tumble off around Jeff Park. The silence is glorious. It is tempting to just keep walking.
To the north, Mt Jefferson rises with the meadows far below. Only the wind, an occasional rock and the raucous call of ravens soaring on the crags high above can be heard.
To the south, the Three Sisters and Broken Top glisten in the sun. Black Butte rises a bit off in the east with its perfect symmetry.