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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Round and Square Lakes – 10/9/21

We were hoping to get a backpacking trip in over the holiday weekend but the forecast called for rain/snow in the mountains starting Saturday night through the rest of the weekend so we opted instead for a day hike instead. The good news was that the forecast for Saturday was for partly to mostly sunny skies so we were hoping for some nice views. We’d chosen a hike to Round and Square Lakes near Three Fingered Jack and the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness which was the shortest of the drives (a little over 1 1/2 hours from Salem) that we had been considering. While we hadn’t been to Round Lake yet we had passed by Square Lake on a loop hike in 2012 (post). Earlier this year on our hike to Santiam Lake (post) we had retraced some the beginning of that loop. For this hike we would also be starting at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Santiam Pass but would be retracing the final 4.5 miles of the 2012 loop between Booth Lake and the trailhead.

Both Reeder and Sullivan describe hikes to Round and Square Lakes but each of their descriptions are for out and back hikes starting at the Round Lake Trailhead which is closer to the Sisters/Bend area. Starting at Santiam Pass cut off some driving but it did add approximately 5 miles of hiking to our days total. We arrived at the trailhead just in time to catch a bit of color from the sunrise.
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IMG_5758Black Crater (post)

After 0.2 miles we turned right at the junction with the Old Summit Trail.
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The Old Summit Trail traverses a hillside above Highway 20 through snags left over from the 2003 B & B Complex (Bear and Booth Fires). The lack of larger trees provides plenty of views south to Black Crater, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Hayrick Butte and Hoodoo Butte. The over night clouds were quickly breaking up as we hiked revealing more and more of the mountains.
IMG_5768Black Crater and North Sister

IMG_5772Black Crater, the top of Broken Top, some of the Sisters, and part of Mt. Washington.

IMG_5775Hayrick and Hoodoo

IMG_5777Between Mt. Washington and Hayrick Butte is Scott Mountain (post).

IMG_5787Cache Mountain is the high point furthest to the left.

IMG_5788Broken Top and the Three Sisters

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IMG_5797Mt. Washington

IMG_5798The Three Sisters. The summit of South Sister is between North and Middle Sister behind 9321′ Prouty Point.

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IMG_5812Black Butte (post)

Near the 2 mile mark we entered the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The wilderness sign provided a good reference for comparing how much taller the trees were this time versus in 2012.
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Mount Jefferson Wilderness signA different angle from 2012.

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Shortly after entering the wilderness we began descending toward Square Lake. Three Fingered Jack was somewhat hidden behind a cloud further to the north.
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The only deer we spotted during the hike popped out of some brush below the trail for just a moment before disappearing back into it. As has been the case more often than not this year I did not have my camera at the ready so all I got was one of their white rumps.
IMG_5825One white rump with a black tail amid the ferns near the center of the photo (good luck).

The trail wrapped around the lake past a large campsite to a junction with the Round Lake trail approximately 2.5 miles from the trailhead.
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IMG_5827The only paintbrush we would see all day.

IMG_5829The top of Mt. Washington is just visible on the other side of Square Lake.

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At the junction we followed the pointer for the Round Lake Trail and continued along Square Lake.
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IMG_5837Mt. Washington’s spire again.

IMG_5839A rainbow was trying to form to the west.

We soon left Square Lake and continued through the recovering forest.
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IMG_5842Lodgepole pine seeds require fire in order to be released from their tight cones.

The Round Lake Trail is just about 2 miles long running between the junction and the Round Lake Trailhead to the east. Several maps show the trail passing near Long Lake Lake along the way. It does not but rather veers away form that lake. It may have been an older pre-fire alignment but Reeder mentions this discrepancy in the map and warns “don’t even bother trying to find it unless you’ve got lots of time and patience”. I’ll be honest and say this sounded like a little bit of a challenge so when we were able to spot the western end of Long Lake we decided to make an attempt for it.
IMG_5847Our first sighting of Long Lake (zoomed in).

Using our GPS and a paper map as backup we angled cross country toward the lake which quickly was hidden from sight. There were plenty of downed trees to climb over or around and one line of snowbrush to push through but we also were able to follow some game trails which helped us find ways through the obstacles. It was also evident that the area around the lake can be pretty wet and probably muddy meaning getting as close as we did probably wouldn’t be possible at other times.
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We reached the western end of the lake after three tenths of a mile. It took less than 15 minutes but without a map and some route finding skills we wouldn’t advise it.
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IMG_5850Ducks taking off from Long Lake.

Any thoughts of walking around the north side of the lake quickly vanished when we saw how dense the vegetation and downed trees were.
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We did however return to the Round Lake Trail by bearing NE. It took a little over 21 minutes to find the trail just over a half mile from the lake.
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IMG_5860This is one of the areas that we could see getting pretty muddy/wet.

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IMG_5870Rainbow

IMG_5871The Round Lake Trail just on the other side of the downed tree.

IMG_5873Long Lake is back down that way somewhere.

We turned right and continued east on the Round Lake Trail.
IMG_5874Back on the Round Lake Trail.

IMG_5876Black Butte shedding the morning clouds.

IMG_5879The top of Three Fingered Jack behind some thin clouds.

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IMG_5883Green Ridge (post) in the distance with a little smoke rising from the Metolious Basin where the Forest Service had ignited a prescribed burn over the preceding two days.

IMG_5892A better look at Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_5898First glimpse of Round Lake.

The trail descended to a small parking area at the trailhead next to the Wilderness Lakes Retreat.
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We’d seen some maps showing a trail around the north side of the lake through the retreat to some camp sites on the eastern end but we weren’t sure if the retreat was private property or if it was okay to hike through so we opted to follow Forest Road 600 from the trailhead around the south side of the lake.
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When we spotted a path heading down off the road we took it and made our way down to the lake shore.
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The partial rainbow returned as we took a break at the lake.
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We eventually pulled ourselves away from Round Lake and headed back toward Square Lake. We were feeling a little moisture in the air and based on the clouds ahead we were expecting to find ourselves in some misty fog at best by the time we made it back to the Old Summit Trail.
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IMG_5955Starting to look kind of grey.

IMG_5961A mountain bluebird adding a splash of blue to the green backdrop.

IMG_5966Clouds over Square Lake.

IMG_5968A few scarlet gilia blossoms.

Instead of heading straight back onto the Old Summit Trail we turned right in order to revisit Booth Lake. From Square Lake the Old Summit Trail switchbacked uphill gaining 400′ in the next mile to a gap between a rock outcrop and a rocky hill. We remembered seeing a small lake amid the rocks over on the opposite hill and as we climbed this time we began thinking that it might be possible to get to the unnamed lake.
IMG_5975The unnamed lake is about halfway up the far hillside.

IMG_5981Black Butte and Long Lake from the trail.

IMG_5994Heading toward Three Fingered Jack we got back under blue skies.

IMG_6003Square Lake still under a clouds,

IMG_6008The unnamed lake that drew our attention.

Unnamed small lake in the Mt. Jefferson WildernessSimilar view from 2012.

We stopped momentarily at the gap discussing what route we would take if we did try and reach the lake. I was pretty certain I wanted to give it a shot but I decided to wait until we were headed back in case I changed my mind after reaching Booth Lake.
IMG_6014The trail at the gap. It was grey and cloudy to the west.

IMG_6016Still at the gap, it was blue skies to the east.

Beyond the gap the trail climbed just a bit arriving at its high point above Booth Lake in 0.3 miles.
IMG_6017There is Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_6027A good look at Green Ridge.

IMG_6030A lupine that was late to the party.

IMG_6038Booth Lake

Heather opted to stay at the high point instead of visiting the lake which was roughly 0.4 miles away and 150′ below. I shuffled down the trail and made my way to the familiar sandy lake shore.
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It didn’t look that much different than it had in 2012.
Three Fingered Jack from Booth Lake

I returned to Heather and we started back toward the gap. I was still planning on trying to reach the off trail lake but Heather was not. She had decided that she would only attempt it if the Three Sisters had been uncovered from the clouds. I went ahead of her and left the trail at the gap working my way up around rocks and over downed trees while climbing up a semi-steep slope. I trusted the deer tracks that I was trying to follow and sure enough made it to the little lake.
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IMG_6066The trail cut on the far hillside.

The rock cliffs holding the water on the eastern side made for some easy walking and great views down to Square Lake.
IMG_6074Black Butte, Long Lake, and part of Square Lake.

IMG_6078Square Lake along with Broken Top and the Three Sisters (Mt. Washington was hiding in the clouds still).

IMG_6093Part of the rock ledge.

IMG_6084Three Fingered Jack had once again disappeared.

As I was admiring the view I thought was hearing things but as I was making my way back along the ledge I spotted Heather on a small hill on the opposite side of the lake. The Three Sisters had been visible so she stuck to her word and had followed me up.
IMG_6094Where’s Heather.

After satisfying our desire for adventure we returned to the trail and headed back to Square Lake where we made a quick stop at the campsite.
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We spent the return hike watching the clouds almost clear from Mt. Washington just to reform over around its top.
20211009_132540View climbing away from Square Lake.

Three Fingered Jack and Square LakeSimilar view in 2012.

Square Lake2012

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IMG_6174Finally clear!

IMG_6181Hayrick Butte and Hoodo as we neared the trailhead.

This hike was a lot of fun with some new sights and some familiar but different sights. I wound up doing 14.8 miles according to the GPS and although no climbs were particularly long the up and down nature of the hike provided approximately 2000′ of cumulative elevation gain.

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