Backpacking to Mt. Jefferson and Jefferson Park

3 09 2015
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Russell Lake – Mt Jefferson fills the sky!

One of Oregon’s wonders is Jefferson Park, and Laura and I recently hiked the Whitewater Ridge Trail to spend a couple of Eden-like days in its splendor!

A dormant 10,495ft high volcano, Mt. Jefferson is Oregon’s 2nd highest peak. It sports five glaciers. And sitting just below its northeast side is Jefferson Park – a square mile plateau sprinkled with wildflower meadows and brilliant lakes.

Laura and I backpacked about six miles up 1,800 vertical feet up the Whitewater Ridge Trail to reach it. The day we hiked, it was 85 degrees at the trailhead. Much of the route is exposed to the sun – with beautiful views, but on our day the heat and effort were what dominated our trip up.

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Now we just need to find a campsite!

But once at Jefferson Park any suffering we endured melted away amongst the sheer majesty of the place. Because once you have arrived, every view is dominated by Mother Nature’s spectacle. Look one way and the mountain covers the sky 180 degrees. Look everywhere and you see carpets of green, plus wildflowers and twinkling lakes. The biggest lakes are Russell, Scout and Bays, then there are smaller ones like Park Lake or Rockpile Lake

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Bays Lake – Dive Right In!

Jefferson Park is a protected area within the Mt Jefferson Wilderness, and there are maybe two dozen designated campsites throughout. It’s very popular so some of it has been marked off limits for the land to recover. It’s all alpine flora, which is super delicate.

We’re trying to find my old favorite spot on Bays Lake. But it’s occupied, so we opt for a spot on Scout Lake. We’ve got nothing to complain about with our view.

Laura enjoying the warm sun

Laura enjoying the warm sun

And Laura has no problems settling into the routine. Before long she’s relaxing reading a book on Tibetan Buddhism in the fading afternoon sun.

We take a bit of time to explore the plateau. We head north up to the Russell Lake area. It’s a ways but worth the effort. We decide to return there the following day. There are not many wildflowers as times I have been here before, because in 2015 we have a severe drought. The wildflower season came very early. But on the other hand, huckleberries are everywhere! We collect huckleberries for breakfast.

huckleberries

These will be good at breakfast!

Then it was back to camp for dinner. I brought a quick fix rice side and blended it with cooked chicken. It looked huge but I ate all of it. Laura had simple cheese, crackers and some meat like sausage.

It was a beautiful evening. Starry and windless. I slept very well.

I awoke to a rosy dawn, and made hot water for coffee or tea. Those huckleberries went well with my oats and yogurt.

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Our campsite view on Scout Lake

Hunger satisfied, we headed out for an exploratory hike checking out the area, and the first destination was Russell Lake. It’s about a mile north from our camp at Scout Lake, a completely flat trail meandering along the meadows, passing through islands of trees. We could see that a few weeks earlier it was a carpet of wildflowers everywhere.

Once we reached Russell Lake, we took a trail around the lake. We encountered campers, everyone gushing about how beautiful this place is. It was on the northern fringe of the lake where we found a micro-zone ecosystem with a view to knock our socks off.

The stream into Russell Lake

The stream into Russell Lake

There, a three-foot-wide stream meanders across the meadow before entering Russell Lake. It wets the soil enough to allow wildflowers to continue blooming along its path. And in the stream, we glimpsed frogs and minnows.

There was Indian Paintbrush, Lupine and several other species of wildflowers I couldn’t identify.

We spent a half hour taking pictures and examining this micro eco system.

Russell Lake Indian PaintbrushIt was so profound that just a bit of extra moisture kept this area lush with life, with an extended season, long after other parts of the meadows had gone to seed.

Russell Lake Stream3

Later, we headed over to Bays Lake for a swim. Bays lake has lots of boulders and it’s deep. We dove in and swam across, back and forth, revelling in the warm water and the beauty! We both decided to bring more friends up here in the future. It’s too beatiful and it’s got to be shared!

Following the evening meal another rock solid sleep.

The following morning, it was time to head out. The trail now would be all down, much faster and easier. We passed by several groups, pretty diverse! Some retirees, and I swear a lady over 80. And three kids, followed 5-minutes later by mom toting an Everest expedition sized 70 pound pack for all of them! Cheers for her!

Well, here is a victory photo. A trip well done! We’ll be back.

Rod Laura trails end portrait





Three Fingered Jack

21 10 2012

One of Central Oregon’s crown jewels is 7,844ft Three Fingered Jack. It is the core of an extinct volcano. Three Fingered Jack lies in between Mt Washington and Mt Jefferson and sits on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jessie, Joel, Laura and I paid a visit there recently – camping at nearby Metolius River. We arrived mid afternoon Friday and got skunked at our favorite campsite on the peninsula at Allen Springs Campground. Figuring we had the luxury of time to search for a choice spot, we hunted around the local campgrounds. How naive we were! When we circled back one campground after another posted the “FULL” sign! We wound up with the very last site in the valley. No matter we made do and promised to try for a more choice spot that might get vacated in the morning!

Jessie, Joel and Laura by Canyon Creek

Though full the campground’s campers are gregarious but mellow. Nobody has trouble sleeping! Morning finds me fixing traditional bacon, eggs, and home made hash browns. All fueled up we head up to the trailhead at Jack Lake.

The three mile trail winds past a burned out area, then through shaded forest, then into wildflower-packed Canyon Creek Meadows and then into the basin underneath Three Fingered Jack. I’ve backpacked into the area and remember the view from the basin: You look straight up at the internal workings of a volcano! Spectacular.

And, this is not an ultimate challenge hike. It is a big payoff for easy effort hike! While we sweat on the trail, the climb is easy enough that we have no problem holding casual conversation on the way.

For the first three quarters of a mile of the trail passes through what was left after the B and B Complex fire, which burned 91,000 acres in 2003. It is a testimony to the catastrophic effects of climate change. Winters are warmer, allowing insects like the bark beetle to have longer reproductive cycles, leading to a population explosion. Normally lower temperature helps control the breeding season. With more beetles, the trees upon which they feed don’t stand a chance. The beetles feed on wood just below the bark – and when they complete a circle around the tree, the tree becomes “girdled,” and slowly dies. The only defense the tree has is to produce extra sap. In bark beetle-infested forests, mile upon mile of trees stand with the lower bark falling off to the ground, and the trees eventually dry out. They become the perfect fuel waiting for the moment of ignition = a forest fire in waiting.

Then it takes us through a section untouched by fire. It’s as it was. Mountain Douglas Firs and Cedars. Shady. A patch of snow here and there. A pond. No bugs. Then the it opens up into meadows carpeted with withering wildflowers, and the mountain dominates the view ahead.

Our goal is to reach the basin beneath the caldera, where we will take in the view and picnic.

We climb a forested moraine and descend into the basin. Wow! Above our heads lies exposed the plumbing of a volcano. Clearly visible are layers of lava but injected into the layers are volcanic dikes, which are like pipes through which lava flows to the top of a volcano. Cool!

I love this spot!

And all around us a sea of wildflowers.

Here, I glimpse a wildflower I’ve never noticed before, which is a kind of wild petunia. Beautiful!

We pause to drink in the view and warmth.

Laura makes the best picnic of all. Very European with fruit, cheese, and even some wine to accompany!

We love wildflowers. And there are plenty to see! But they won’t last forever.

It won’t be long before they fade and winter returns to these parts.

But for now we are happy to enjoy the moment!