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I have always found Mt Jefferson (Oregon's second tallest peak) to be one of the best looking of the cascade volcanoes when it is snow covered. This weekend I decided to take an exploratory trip up the SW Ridge climbing route. My goal was not to summit, but possibly get as high as the "Red Saddle" a couple hundred feet below the summit pinnacle. The weather was forecast to be warm with winds around 45 mph. I hate wind, but decided to go anyway. It has been a while since I last climbed and I have been eager to get out again.
The Mt Jefferson Southwest Ridge route starts from the Pamelia trailhead which is approximately 62 miles East of Salem on Hwy 22 past Detroit Lake. The trailhead is off Forest Service road 2246 just past milepost 62 on the left. The parking lot is about 3.7 miles down the road (paved most of the way, but also bumpy). There is an outhouse at the trailhead.
The SW Ridge route first follows the Pamelia Lake trail # 3439 which is a very popular 2.2 mile hike (one-way) into the Jefferson Wilderness. It only gains about 800 feet in elevation and is a relatively easy hike. A special limited entry permit is required from the Friday before Memorial Day weekend through October 31st to combat overcrowding of the area. From Pamelia Lake, the route continues on a short connector trail to Hunts Creek trail # 3440 and then to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After about 30 minutes on the PCT, the route leaves the trail and is a bushwhack up to the SW ridge. It's about 2 miles from Pamelia Lake to the exit from the PCT. The rest of the route simply follows the ridgecrest up to the "Red Saddle" and then up the summit pinnacle. The total route is about 6.75 miles one-way with an elevation gain of just under 7,400 feet.
I left town after work Friday evening and arrived at the Pamelia Lake trailhead just before 7 PM. There was one other vehicle in the parking lot, but they appeared to be spending the night at the trailhead.
The trail looked almost exactly like it did this same time last year when Katie and I hiked it on our way to Grizzly Peak. There was the exact same amount of snow and in the exact same places. Déjà vu. I had hoped the trail would be snow free instead of snow covered the second half of the way.
I backpacked into Pamelia Lake in under an hour and setup camp for the night. I filtered water and packed my backpack for my climb the following morning.
I woke to my alarm at 4 AM. I slowly got ready and heated water for oatmeal while eating a muffin. I like to carb load before I start climbing. By 5 AM I was on the trail with the aid of my headlamp.
I started bushwhacking my way up the SW ridge as it was getting light. It would have been less than ideal trying to make my way in the dark. I soon gained the ridge and consistent snow. The snow was soft, but firmed up higher on the ridge where I donned my crampons.
Mt Jefferson was creating its own clouds directly over the summit most of the day. The video below shows a couple short clips from the morning and afternoon.
The views from the SW ridge of Mt Jefferson were as fantastic as I had hoped. I could see several of the Central Oregon volcanoes (Three Fingered Jack, Mt Washington, Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mt Bachelor).
I had a great view of Pamelia Lake and Grizzly Peak. They looked so far away as I climbed higher up Mt Jefferson.
The wind was howling my entire climb but became more intense as I gained elevation. By the time I was at about 7,000 feet it was too much for me. I don't enjoy being blown over and it can become dangerous, even more so on solo climbs. I decided to turn around which was unfortunate as the route looked like it would become more and more enjoyable above 7,000 feet. There is always next time.
I started working my way back down the SW ridge in the increasingly soft snow. I punched through to my crotch several times where the snow had melted away from the boulders underneath, creating dangerous hidden pockets for unsuspecting climbers like me to fall through. One time I fell through on my left leg where I have a torn medial meniscus in my knee (still not fixed) and for a brief moment I thought I was done for. Luckily the pain subsided after a short rest and I was back on my way.
Clouds continued to form over the summit of Mt Jefferson, changing shape and intensity as time went on. It was fun to watch.
I took a break down lower in the trees where the wind was less fierce. The sun was now shining intensely overhead and I welcomed the shade of the trees.
The bushwhack off the SW ridge was much quicker going down. I heard a grouse on my way down and finally saw it when it flew a few feet between branches. I hit the PCT about 100 feet from where I had left it in the morning. Not bad at all.
On the way back I took a short side trip up the PCT to Milk Creek for another view of Mt Jefferson. There are a couple other climbing routes that head up near Milk Creek, so I wanted to see what it looked like. There was a dust cloud blowing down the Milk Creek Canyon every few minutes, making me glad I hadn't climbed up that way.
Back at my base camp at Pamelia Lake, I was still the only one there. The wind was still howling and there was no real way to escape it. I tried to fish, but was soon angry with the wind and gave up. I had enough supplies to stay the night, but decided to pack up early and leave instead of continue to fight the wind. On my way out I met two skiers that were planning on camping at treeline for the night and then climbing higher Sunday. I wished them luck and started hiking back to the trailhead. I met another couple who were day hiking to Pamelia Lake and were not prepared for the snow. I let them know how much further they had and they decided to continue on. Back at the trailhead I met a father and his two children who were planning on backpacking to Pamelia Lake for the night. We chatted about the conditions while he contemplated if the snow on the trail would be too much for his daughter. I wished them luck, packed up my car and headed back to Portland. Despite the wind, I still had a fun time exploring the SW ridge of Mt Jefferson. I wish I could have gone higher, but at least I have something to look forward to next time.
High Peak Phantom 45+10 Backpack
Petzl Elios Climbing Helmet
La Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX Mountaineering Boots
Timberland Radler Trail Camp Shoes
Grivel G12 Crampons
Komperdell Powerlock Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe
Alpinizmo Swiftlite Tent by High Peak USA
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season Mattress
REI Sub Kilo +20 Sleeping Bag
Exped Air Pillow
MSR Reactor Stove System
Platypus Big Zip SL 2.0L
Saywer Gravity Filter
Foam Sit Pad
Hillsound Armadillo Gaiters
GoLite Kenai Pertex 2.5L Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
Columbia Powerfly Down Puff Jacket
Columbia Head Wall Soft Shell Pants
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Marmot Big Mountain Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15
First Aid Kit
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Suunto A-10 Compass