High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon

Pamelia Lake Overnighter

As I mentioned in our recent Table Lake Loop Trip Report (post)we had plans to visit Goat Peak, a 7159′ peak just south of Mt. Jefferson. We had obtained a Pamelia Limited Area Entry Permit in May when they became available for September 8th and 9th. It was a roll of the dice not knowing what the wildfire or weather situations would be four months down the road but it ensured that we would be able to go if conditions permitted it. Aside from a slight chance of showers the morning of the 8th the forecast looked good so that morning we drove to the Pamelia Lake Trailhead and set off.IMG_1945


We had been here once before in 2013 on a long loop to Hunts Cove (post).

From the trailhead the Pamelia Lake Trail travels just under two and a quarter miles to the lake. Along the way the trail passes through some very nice forest scenery with several views of Pamelia Creek.IMG_1948




Just prior to arriving at the Pamelia Lake the trail veers left at a junction with the Grizzly Peak Trail which heads to the right.


Our original plan for this trip had been to take the Pamelia Lake Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail via the Hunts Creek Trail and follow the PCT up to Coyote (aka Mud) and Shale Lakes where we would set up camp before attempting to reach Goat Peak. After some additional consideration though we decided that setting up camp at Pamelia Lake might be a better option. Setting up camp there would eliminate the need to haul our heavy backpacks up the PCT while also leaving us with a hike out the next day of less than two and a half miles. It did mean we would be adding nearly 4.5 miles to Saturdays hike, but on paper it would still only be around 15 miles. The designated campsites at the lake were all along its left (north) side so we followed a use trail straight ahead from the junction and started looking for an open site.

We wound up choosing site #3 which kept us relatively close to the Grizzly Peak Trail junction as well as the Hunts Creek Trail junction.IMG_1966


After setting up camp we briefly visited the shore of Pamelia Lake then we headed up to the Hunts Creek Trail.IMG_1967



We turned left onto the Hunts Creek Trail and followed it around a ridge for nearly three quarters of a mile to its end at a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail gaining a view of Mt. Jefferson along the way.IMG_1975




On our loop to Hunts Cove I had taken the short side trip north on the PCT to see Milk Creek but Heather had not so we turned left at the junction and followed the PCT for a tenth of a mile through vine maple donning its fall colors to a viewpoint above the creek of Mt. Jefferson.IMG_1983



After checking off the viewpoint we turned around and headed south on the PCT which climbed gradually through a varied forest.IMG_1990






Along the way some movement in a fir tree caught our attention. At first we thought it might be a medium sized mammal of some kind but it turned out to be a squirrel harvesting cones that were crashing down through the limbs after being detached.IMG_1995

Approximately four and a quarter miles from the junction we arrived at Mud Hole Lake. (On some maps it is identified as Coyote Lake but on the USGS Topographic Map the name Coyote Lake is assigned to another lake on the west side of the PCT.)IMG_2010

We turned off the PCT just before the lake on an unsigned but clear trail leading NE through a meadow.IMG_2014

We were using “75 Scrambles in Oregon: Best Non-Technical Ascents” by Barbara I. Bond as our reference for the hike. This was our first time using this particular guidebook but so far everything was going smoothly. The book did not mention that there was a clear trail to follow but we were headed straight for Goat Peak and we’d turned off the PCT at the right spot so we figured we were good to go.IMG_2016

Our intended route would lead us up above a talus slope to the north (left) of Goat Peak where we would then bend to the south at about 6800′.IMG_2020


It was a lovely area with red huckleberry leaves and a few butterflies still flying about.IMG_2027


The tread petered out for a bit in one meadow in particular but small cairns helped lead the way.IMG_2030

The unexpected presence of the well marked trail got us off our guard and we weren’t paying enough attention to the fact that our heading was drifting further north than we’d intended. In the meadow where the trail grew faint the cairns led to the left of a rocky ridge end. In order to reach Goat Peak we should have veered to the right here to find the correct gully uphill.IMG_2031

Instead we continued to follow the trail as we now were hearing other voices ahead. The trail began to climb away from the meadow passing more rock covered hillsides.IMG_2035

Three Fingered Jack


It started seeming really odd that we seemed to be heading directly at Mt. Jefferson but kept thinking that maybe the trail would bend right around some geologic feature.IMG_2042


I really started to question things when we caught up to the group of gentleman who were ahead of us. They asked how high we were planning on going which is when I became fairly certain we were on a climbers route and not the scramble route to Goat Peak. I replied “as high as our legs will take us”, knowing that if this wasn’t the right way to Goat Peak we’d gone to far to correct it by then. Shortly after we crested a rise and left the tress. We were now at the bottom of a boulder filled gully.IMG_2046

There wasn’t much we could do at that point other than go back or continue on so up we went.IMG_2048


Cliffs on the right side of the gully.

As we gained elevation the views to the south opened up and the Three Sisters joined Three Fingered Jack on the horizon.IMG_2049




We were well above the summit of Goat Peak by the time we reached the lip of the gully where stunted white bark pines clung to the steep slope.IMG_2057

Anxious to see what spectacular view awaited I charged up the final pitch only to find a second albeit smaller gully.IMG_2059

At least it had a view of Mt. Jefferson. There were a couple of bivouacs here and I waited for Heather to decide our next course of action. When she reached the second gully I decided to continue on and told her I would wave her up if I thought there was something that she just had to see. From where we were I could already see the top of Goat Peak below to the south as well as The Table and Cathedral Rocks.IMG_2060


Goat Peak


The Table


Cathedral Rocks

Getting out of the second gully was much easier than the first and I soon found myself walking along a snowfield.IMG_2066

Later research would reveal that we were indeed following a climbers trail to the South Ridge Route up Mt. Jefferson. I ended my climb at the top of the snowfield but did a little exploring to the high points on either side of the gully.IMG_2069

Climbers trail continuing up Mt. Jefferson


View south from the ridge to the north of the gully.


Looking out along the ridge.



Where we had intended to be.


View from below the snowfield.


Paintbrush below the snow.


Looking south from the opposite ridge top.


Wildflower atop the ridge.


Bear Butte along the nearest ridge.


Looking back at Mt. Jefferson

The views were nice but I didn’t think they warranted waving Heather up so I headed back down to where she was waiting. After a short break and a snack we began the half mile decent down the lower gully.IMG_2114

We passed the other group, who were still on their way up the lower gully, just after starting our descent. When we’d finally gotten back to level ground in the meadow we decided to check out the other side of the ridge to see if we find any sign of a trail we’d missed.IMG_2128_stitch

There wasn’t anything we could see, but based on all the information in the book including the map and GPS coordinates we definitely had wanted to be on this side of the ridge. Once we had gotten into the area we noticed that there were several ponds/lakes showing on the map to the south. The terrain appeared to be level enough to make a cross country jaunt inviting.IMG_2137

We used the map and GPS to locate several of the ponds but they were all dry save one unnamed lake. We did get some really nice views of Goat Peak though.IMG_2139





We took another break at the lake.IMG_2162



There were some tents set up nearby in the trees so we thought that there might be a trail somewhere nearby and set off looking for it when we left the lake. It didn’t take us long to spot the clear tread.IMG_2182

This path led us west between Mud Hole and Shale Lakes and back to the PCT.IMG_2186

Mud Hole Lake


Shale Lake

We turned right on the PCT and continued a short distance until we spotted another use trail heading further west. We followed this path past more dry (or nearly dry) ponds to Coyote Lake.IMG_2190



Our urge to explore was now satisfied and we returned to the PCT and headed back to Pamelia Lake, which looked like it was way, way down below us.IMG_2206

It was closing in on 6pm when we finally made it back to camp. We went down to the lake to get water then cooked dinner and relaxed in our camp chairs.IMG_2223






Marty, a wilderness ranger, stopped by to check our permit and make sure we were aware of the campfire ban. She seemed relieved that we had a permit and knew about the ban. We got the feeling that a fair number of folks aren’t as friendly as we were which is a shame.

Even though we hadn’t made it to Goat Peak and we’d hiked much further than originally intended (19.4 miles) it had been a great day. It helped knowing that we only need to hike 2.5 miles the next day to reach our car.

The next morning we were up before 5am and on the trail by 6:30.IMG_2265



We made it home just after 9am which gave us plenty of time to unpack, clean up, and do some laundry. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Pamelia Lake Overnighter

High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Hunts Cove

There isn’t much like a midweek hike in September, the crowds have thinned out but the weather can still be great. When I was putting together our hiking plans at the beginning of the year one of the hikes I really wanted to do was Hunts Cove. The hike starts at the very popular Pamelia Lake Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness which is one of only two areas in the Oregon Cascades (not counting Crater Lake NP) that requires you purchase a permit in order to enter them. Due to the popularity I decided to purchase our permit for a weekday after school started to hopefully minimize the number of other people we’d run into.

Having purchased our permit over four months in advance I was gambling on the conditions. Last year we had gotten permits for the other fee area along the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness, only to spend the entire 18.6 mile hike in wet and view less low clouds. We lucked out this time though. The forecast had started out as cloudy with a chance of rain but by the time the big day arrived the outlook had greatly improved to clear skies and a high in the low 70s. As a bonus the snow level had dropped down to between 6500-7000′ meaning there would likely be some new snow on Mt. Jefferson. As an added bonus a friend of ours, one of Heather’s running buddies, Jessie, was able to get the day off and join us.

We set off on the Pamelia Lake trail in the soft light of morning through a peaceful forest along side Pamelia Creek. Soon we were surrounded by the sound of rushing water with Milk Creek to our left and Pamelia to our right. Milk Creek comes from glaciers up on Mt. Jefferson and evidence of a 2006 mudslide littered the forest floor. Just over 2 miles in on the trail we reached a T shaped junction at the edge of Pamelia Lake. To the right was a 3 mile trail up Grizzly Peak and to the right lay the path to our loop into Hunts Cove and then back on the Pacific Crest Trail. Before turning right though we headed down to the lake for a photo op.

Mt. Jefferson from Pamelia Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Pamelia Lake

There was a good deal of wildlife present on the lake. A great blue heron flew from a log in the center of the lake into the far grassy shore and a family of ducks glided silently into the reeds. Several canada geese could be seen at the far end of the lake near the lakes inlet.

We made our way around the lake to a second junction. Here we had to decide if we would do the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. We decided to stick to the lake shore and go counterclockwise first to Hunts Cove and then to the PCT. The trail crossed several streams that seemed to be flowing very well given the time of year. We assumed the recent rain/snow had helped rejuvenate them. Our favorite crossing was on a footbridge over a small scenic falls.

Footbridge & falls
Footbridge & falls

The trail began climbing gently as we passed the far end of Pamelia Lake. The path traveled along Hunts Creek, crossed over it, and then climbed up above it on the side of a ridge. As we climbed we began getting glimpses of Mt. Jefferson across the valley with it’s dusting of new snow.
At a sharp switchback we could hear what sounded like a waterfall a short distance away so we took a faint side trail in the direction of the sound and discovered a beautiful waterfall on Hunts Creek.

Just a short distance from the falls we found the signs marking the trail to Hunts Cove where we took the left fork travelling above a pretty meadow with a view across to the mountain. A half mile later we arrived at the first of the two lakes that call the cove home. Hanks Lake was up first. It was a lovely lake lined with meadows and a view of Mt. Jefferson.

Mt. Jefferson from Hanks Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Hanks Lake

Some of the biggest huckleberries and blueberries we’d seen were growing in large patches around the shore and we stumbled up a pair of sooty grouse in one of the thickets.

Sooty grouse on a downed tree
Sooty grouse on a downed tree

After a refreshing rest on the shore of Hanks Lake we continued on to Hunts Lake. Although Hunts Lake has no view of Mt. Jefferson it offered it’s own attractions. Heather spotted several fish in the clear water and over the lake loomed Cathedral Rock where we would eventually find the PCT.

Hunts Lake and Cathedral Rocks
Hunts Lake and Cathedral Rocks

We left Hunts Lake and returned to Hanks Lake to begin the real adventure. From Hanks Lake we could have returned to the trail junction and continued 3 miles to the PCT on the official trail or we could look for a former trail that lead from the far end of Hanks Lake up to the PCT shaving off a mile or more from the hike. We opted for the off trail adventure and set off around Hanks Lake in search of the old path. Using a Green Trails map I knew the old trail followed an inlet creek up to the PCT below Cathedral Rocks so we worked our way to an inlet creek and began working our way up along it. The map only showed one creek so despite not being able to find a convincing former trail we sallied forth through the brush.

Inlet creek we followed from Hanks Lake
Inlet creek we followed from Hanks Lake

The map indicated that the trail had eventually crossed the stream and continued on the far side so when I spotted a decent place to cross we hopped over to the other side. We found several sections of what could have once been a trail, but they could have been game trails as well and never saw any blazes or other indications of an official trail. Next we stumbled on a lovely meadow with a small pond in the center. At that point I decided to consult the Garmin. I knew we were headed in the right direction for the PCT but it wasn’t until I looked at the Garmin that I realized we had followed the wrong creek up. The Garmin clearly showed the additional stream that wasn’t on our other maps so that mystery was solved. Now it was a matter of finding the least steep climb up to the PCT. Using the GPS I headed to what looked like the most gradual ascent passing through a pair of small heather meadows.

Heather & Jessie in one of the small meadows
Heather & Jessie in one of the small meadows

Leaving the second little meadow we climbed one last steep section and suddenly popped out on the PCT. We were probably about a half mile further down the PCT than where I had expected to meet up with it, but that just meant a little shorter hike. After celebrating our find we turned left and headed north. After just a couple hundred yards the PCT dipped a bit and passed right along the edge of the meadow we had just left. That was good for a laugh or two :). This section of the PCT was great as it traveled between Cathedral Rocks on the right and Hunts Cove below to the left. Views extended across Hunts Cove to the far ridge and Three Fingered Jack beyond.

Three Fingered Jack from the PCT
Three Fingered Jack from the PCT


Hanks and Hunts Lakes from the PCT
Hanks and Hunts Lakes from the PCT

The PCT then reaches a plateau below Mt. Jefferson that is dotted with lakes and ponds. The first pond we arrived at was a strange red color. As I approached the water a frog swam from the shore and floated in the colored water.
Next up was Shale Lake and a wonderful view of the mountain.

Mt. Jefferson from Shale Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Shale Lake

Shale Lake had some great looking tent sites and next to it was nearly dry Mud Hole Lake. Across the trail lay Coyote Lake and several other small ponds.

Leaving the plateau we began descending down toward Milk Creek with views of Pamelia Lake below. Just before reaching Milk Creek we reached the turn off for the return trail to Pamelia Lake. Before heading back I went down to the Milk Creek crossing to get a picture of Mt. Jefferson.

Mt. Jefferson from Milk Creek
Mt. Jefferson from Milk Creek

We started smelling smoke while I was getting the picture at Milk Creek and when I turned around the sky behind us was filled with smoke. Then I notice that there was smoke drifting in front of Mt. Jefferson as well. When we got back to Pamelia Lake the scene was quite different than it had been in the morning.

Smoke over Pamelia Lake
Smoke over Pamelia Lake

Smoke had settled in the valley but we had no idea what the source was. On the way out there was just a bit of smoke in the forest but it didn’t detract from the beauty. Green moss covered much of the ground and dozens of varieties of mushrooms and fungus added character to the view.




We had a blast on this hike. For the most part we had the trails to ourselves the whole day and the weather had been perfect. Aside from the bit of smoke at the end of the day (which was apparently due to a controlled burn being done by the Forest Service near Sisters, OR) it couldn’t have been better. We’d knocked out 18.2 miles in just over 9hrs. It was really fun having Jessie join us on the hike. It was great having someone that didn’t even blink at the 5am departure time or the distance/time we were planning on doing. What a way great to spend a Thursday in September 😀 Happy Trails!

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