26
May
2012
jloomis

Square Lake and Booth Lake - Mt Jefferson Wilderness, Oregon

Memorial Day Weekend traditionally kicks off the camping season for many across the country. Growing up, my family always spent a full week at Yosemite National Park camping and enjoying the outdoors. While I always had a great time, I prefer to get away from the crowds these days. This year Katie and I planned a backpacking trip into the Jefferson Wilderness. Our plan was to hike a few miles up the Summit Lake Trail # 4014 from the Pacific Crest Trail off Hwy 20 just South of Three Fingered Jack. Not knowing how much snow there would still be up high, our plans were flexible in regards to how far we went and which lake we camped at. I was hoping we would be able to make it all the way to Martin Lake (5,400'), but Booth Lake (5,100') and Square Lake (4,750') were our backup plans, each respectively lower in elevation.

Square Lake & Booth Lake Trail Elevation Profile

We packed plenty of gear and were prepared for whatever condition the trail was in. I brought fishing gear and even light climbing gear in case I wanted to take a quick jaunt toward the summit of Three Fingered Jack from our base camp. Unfortunately the weather forecast was less than stellar and called for a chance of rain or thunderstorms much of the weekend. We were hopeful the chance of rain wouldn't pan out and it looked positive when we arrived at the trailhead.

Our first disappointment came as we pulled off Hwy 20 to find the short road to the trailhead blocked by a large patch of snow. Luckily we were able to park off the side of the road and simply start our hike sooner than anticipated. We observed one other parked car that likely belonged to the tent we saw a short distance later pitched a couple hundred yards from the road. This area was all burned in the B&B fire of 2003, so there were dead snags everywhere. As a plus, it made the views better.

Road to Pacific Crest Trailhead Parking Area     Three Fingered Jack from Trailhead

The snow patch blocking the road was only about 100 yards long and it was mostly bare pavement the rest of the way to the Pacific Crest Trailhead. Our route had us on the Pacific Crest Trail for maybe a quarter mile before we turned onto the Summit Lake trail # 4014. The trail alternated between patches of snow and melted out stretches.

Katie at Pacific Crest Trailhead     Junction for Summit Lake Trail # 4014

Further along the trail to Square Lake, the snow patches became deeper, but still gave way to occasional melted areas. The sky was mostly cloudy toward Mt Washington, but we managed to catch a glimpse of its pointed peak. There were enough sun breaks to force us to wear sunglasses, so we continued to be hopeful the weather would hold.

Katie on Snow Patch     Mt Washington from Summit Lake Trail

By the time we hit the Mt Jefferson Wilderness, the snow patches were larger and more frequent, but we still managed to follow the trail for the most part.

Black Butte     Katie at Mt Jefferson Wilderness Boundary near Square Lake

Square Lake was ice free, but still had plenty of snow around much of the shoreline. We did, however, spot one melted out flat area that would make a good place to camp if we had to turn around from Martin or Booth Lake.

Square Lake     Creek near Square Lake

From Square Lake we really started to gain elevation and the trail disappeared under snow. With the aid of my GPS we headed toward Booth Lake. As we climbed, we noticed a fresh, but wet layer of new snow on top of the snow pack. It must have snowed a day or two ago. It wasn't looking good as far as finding a melted out place to camp at Booth or Martin Lake, but we continued to keep our hopes up. The weather also appeared to be changing by this point, with increasing clouds.

Three Fingered Jack in the Distance     Katie in the Deepening Snow

As we crested the draw from Square Lake, we were rewarded with views of Three Fingered Jack. It was covered in fresh snow.

Three Fingered Jack     Close up of Three Fingered Jack with Fresh Snow on the Peak

The snow depth increased to about 4-5' feet near Booth Lake. We were disappointed to find Booth Lake still frozen over. We found some small melted out areas under a few trees that had been spared from the 2003 B&B fire. Unfortunately there were no flat spots suitable for pitching a tent.

Frozen Booth Lake     Three Fingered Jack above Booth Lake

We relaxed at Booth Lake for a little while, taking pictures and pondering our next move. The weather was completely cloudy and didn't look to be improving. We decided there was no point in continuing on to Martin Lake and instead chose to head back to Square Lake.

Katie at Booth Lake     Jason Enjoying the Snow near Booth Lake

We followed our tracks back to Square Lake and stopped at the flat melted out spot we had observed on our hike in. While munching on some food, we discussed what we should do. I had really wanted to be higher up at smaller Booth Lake or Martin Lake where it would be easier to fish from shore. Also, there were more hiking opportunities toward Three Fingered Jack at higher elevation. While Square Lake was nice, the thought of being cooped up there in our tent all weekend if the weather turned nasty was not very appealing to either Katie or me. We decided to hike back to the car and re-group.

Katie at Square Lake

No sooner had we started hiking out, the weather took a turn for the worse and started raining. I figured it was just a shower and decided not to put on my rain jacket (a decision I later regretted). Katie was much smarter and quickly put her jacket on. Just a couple minutes after that, I started noticing sleet mixed with the rain and a noticeably cooler temperature. Moments later it turned into a downpour of hail that lasted the entire hour-long hike (approximately 2 miles) back to the car. I was in too much of a hurry to stop and put my jacket on. It wouldn't have mattered much as I was drenched in a matter of minutes. By the time we made it back to our car, my right hand was so cold I could hardly move my fingers enough to un-grip from my trekking pole. Starting the car was an even more daunting task.

Eventually we warmed back up and headed to the Three Creeks Brewing Company in Sisters, Oregon. We felt much better after warm food and beer. In higher spirits we decided to drive around and explore a few campgrounds in Central Oregon. It hadn't rained in Sisters, so we were again hopeful we would find better weather to at least camp for one night. Amazingly, we visited several campgrounds along the Cascade Lakes Highway that still had several spots available. Unfortunately they were not immune to the rainy weather. Ultimately we decided to head back home and catch up on projects around our house. We didn't get back until after midnight which made for one long day trip. Not exactly how we imagined our Memorial Day weekend adventure would turn out, but at least we ended up warm and dry and still enjoyed a few good views during our 7 mile round-trip hike. Hopefully we can make it back after the snow melts and the weather is a bit more sunny.

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2 comments

Erik Badzinski, Fri, 06/01/2012 - 11:46

Thanks for the trip report. I was planning to head up to Martin this weekend to do some fishing but it looks like my plans might change!

Daniel Hoskins, Fri, 06/22/2012 - 21:51

I had been looking for a map of the lower trail that goes from the trail head to Martin Lake. Your report has a nice download for Google Earth,...Thank you! Nice report as well there was alot especially in the details very informative.

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