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With the 4th of July off from work, I headed to the Mt Jefferson Wilderness for a solo hike to Jefferson Park and a quick climb of Park Butte. It's about a 5 mile hike one-way to Jefferson Park along the Whitewater trail #3429 and Pacific Crest Trail #2000. The Whitewater trailhead is at the end of Whitewater Rd (NF 2243) about 60 miles East of Salem on Hwy 22. It is a popular area later in the season, after the winter snows have had a chance to melt. As such, there are wilderness restrictions on camping locations and campfires in the Jefferson Park area. Hikers are also required to carry self-registered wilderness permits (available at trailhead). It's a long round-trip day hike, so many people backpack and stay overnight.
I left my home in Portland around 6 AM and was on the trail by 8:30 AM. There were only two other vehicles in the parking lot when I arrived. Summer finally showed up in Oregon and it was a beautiful sunny and calm morning. The temperature was about 42°F. I was very happy to be outside hiking on such a nice day.
I started hiking at a brisk pace and was surprised to see a couple small patches of snow near the trail after only about half a mile. They were isolated and I didn't start seeing more snow patches until about a mile after that.
As I neared the Sentinel Hills, the trail disappeared under a few feet of snow. I followed fresh foot prints presumably made by the other people parked at the trailhead. I had my first nice views of Mt Jefferson.
The foot prints headed straight up the ridge to a butte instead of traversing lower down where the trail would normally be. Preferring not to traverse the steep and slippery snow, I followed the prints to the butte and was rewarded with outstanding views of Mt Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack. Because it was a rocky butte, I also had the opportunity to scramble down 100 yards of large boulders and rock.
Below the butte on Sentinel Hills, I found the foot prints again and eventually the snow-free trail. Small wildflowers dotted the sides of the trail as I picked up my pace. While taking a photo of a flower I noticed two climbers headed my way. They had hiked in the night before and attempted to climb Jefferson this morning. They decided to turn back due to iffy snow conditions. There is still a lot of newer snow on top of an icy layer, making climbing treacherous. After chatting for a couple minutes I continued on.
As the Whitewater trail climbed in elevation and approached the PCT it once again became snow covered, this time for good. I followed the climbers' foot prints for a little way until they veered off toward Mt Jefferson, away from the Pacific Crest Trail. Now the only human traces around were the foot prints I was making each step I hiked. Wilderness solitude - just how I like it.
Soon the terrain opened up into the area known as Jefferson Park. This was my first time here and I imagine it must be a completely different scene after all the snow has melted. Today everything was buried under many feet of snow. There are many lakes and small ponds in the vicinity, but they were all still frozen.
The views of Mt Jefferson were breathtaking. I look forward to coming back in the fall and seeing the mountain reflected in the many lakes and ponds.
I continued hiking through Jefferson Park approximately along the PCT toward Russell Lake and Park Butte. Having never been here before, I was not sure what to expect as far as climbing Park Butte. I had hoped there would still be enough snow covering it to make it mostly a snow climb. As I approached the butte it didn't appear this would be the case. It was mostly exposed choss (loose crumbly rock). There was more snow on the West side, so I planned my route to head up that way and maybe snake around the back to summit up the North side.
I donned my lightweight crampons and swapped one trekking pole for an ice axe before starting up the snowy slope. It quickly steepened to about 30-35°. The upper snow layer was soft and slippery due to the semi-icy, firm layer about 4-6 inches underneath. I traversed across a melted out talus field before finding another snowy slope toward the summit. I continued climbing as the slope steepened to about 40-45° close to the summit. As I neared the summit I could see the snow was going to end shy of the summit with huge moats separating the snow from the rock. Luckily there was a narrow patch of snow that was moat free (although a crack was developing). I scrambled up the rock the rest of the way to the summit. It took me 3.5 hours from the trailhead to the summit (2,700' total gain over about 6.3 miles). The Park Butte summit was a short, narrow crumbly ridge. I had great views of Mt Jefferson and Jefferson Park, but the only lake I could discern was Russell Lake.
Not wanting the snow to get any worse, I quickly climbed down and headed back down the trail out of Jefferson Park. I stopped to grab my sandwich out of my pack when I was visited by a Gray Jay who incorrectly assumed he was getting a free lunch. The sun was so intense that some of my foot prints had already disappeared. I made good time retracing my steps arriving back at my car in 2 hours. It was a great hike into Jefferson Park with a rewarding mini-climb up Park Butte. I hope to come back after the snow melts with Katie.