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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Bingham Ridge (Mt. Jefferson Wilderness) – 8/24/2019

After a week back at work it was time to hit the trails again. We once again turned to Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” for inspiration choosing the Bingham Ridge Trail as our destination.

The Bingham Ridge Trailhead is located 5 miles up Forest Road 2253 aka Minto Road. That road is just 17 miles east of Detroit, OR and was in great shape except for some water damage in the first quarter of a mile. Beyond that short stretch it was a good gravel road all the way to the parking area just before the road was gated.

The trail began opposite the little parking area where we had parked along side two other vehicles.
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The trail climbed through a green forest along the dry bed of Willis Creek before briefly passing through the edge of a clear-cut.
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IMG_7381Huckleberry bushes and beargrass in the clear-cut.

20190824_065018Sleeping bees on some thistle.

The trail soon reentered the trees and then passed into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
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IMG_7395The bees on the thistle may have been asleep but a western toad was out and about.

After entering the wilderness the trail continued to climb very gradually as it passed through alternating sections of green trees and forest scarred by the 2006 Puzzle Creek Fire.
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IMG_7400Mt. Jefferson through the burned trees.

IMG_7402Back in the green.

IMG_7404Three Fingered Jack through the burned trees.

IMG_7408Aster

IMG_7409Pearly everlasting

IMG_7410Fireweed

The longest stretch through burned forest occurred as the trail passed to the right of a rocky rise along the ridge.
IMG_7412Three Fingered Jack

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IMG_7417The rock covered rise.

IMG_7418South Cinder Peak (post) to the left and Three Fingered Jack to the right.

IMG_7422Still passing the rocks.

We heard a couple of “meeps” from pikas in the rocks but we only managed to spot a golden-mantled ground squirrel.
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As the trail passed around the rocky rise we reentered green forest and quickly came to the end of the Bingham Ridge Trail at a junction with the Lake of the Woods Trail 3.7 miles from the trailhead.
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The Lake of the Woods Trail runs north-south between the Pamelia Limited Entry Area and Marion Lake (post). We turned left (north) onto this trail which promptly crossed over the ridge at a low saddle and began to traverse a forested hillside.
IMG_7429The low saddle.

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The trail wound around the basin arriving at a ridge end viewpoint where we had hoped to get a view of Mt. Jefferson but soon realized that we hadn’t come far enough around yet and we were looking west not north.
IMG_7432Coffin and Bachelor Mountains (post).

We continued along the hillside finally coming far enough around to get a look at Mt. Jefferson.
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Just a little further along we arrived at Reeder’s turn around point for the 8.8 mile hike described in his book. A cinder viewpoint of Mt. Jefferson across the Bingham Basin.
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There was a strange group of clouds hanging out on the top of the mountain. We could see them moving in what appeared to be a SE direction but despite seeing the movement it never really appeared that they were going anywhere.
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As we stood at this rocky viewpoint we could hear more pikas and then Heather spotted one sitting on top of some rocks, maybe enjoying the same view we were.
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Even though Reeder calls this viewpoint “the most logical stopping point for dayhikers” he does provide information for those wishing to continue. Since logic sometimes goes out the window with regards to hiking we continued on. The trail dropped just a bit to a fairly level bench where it passed through a couple of meadows before arriving at an unnamed lake with a view of Mt. Jefferson on the left.
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IMG_7461Spirea with a beetle.

IMG_7464Unnamed lake with Mt. Jefferson (and those pesky clouds).

IMG_7469From the opposite side of the lake.

A half mile later (or just under 2 miles from the Bingham Ridge Trail junction) we arrived a Papoose Lake.
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The mountain was mostly hidden by trees from this lake but there were several frogs to watch and a short scramble up a rockpile on the east side of the lake did provide another look at Mt. Jefferson.
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It was actually a really impressive amount of boulders here and although we didn’t spot any, we could hear a number of resident pikas.
IMG_7483Looking south over the rock field.

Turning back here would have put the hike in the 11.5 mile range, but we had our sights set on a further goal – the Pacific Crest Trail. Beyond Papoose Lake the Lake of the Woods Trail passed several seasonal ponds which were now meadows where we had to watch out for tiny frogs.
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IMG_7496One of the frogs.

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IMG_7663Frog in the trail.

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Just under three quarters of a mile from Papoose Lake (6.3ish from the trailhead) we arrived at the northern end of the Lake of the Woods Trail where it met the Hunts Creek Trail (post).
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A left on this trail would lead us into the Pamelia Limited Entry Area for which we did not have a permit, but to the right the trail remained out of the limited area as it headed to the Pacific Crest Trail.
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In his book Reeder describes this section of trail as “spectacular” which is what prompted us to abandon logic in the first place. We turned right and continued the theme of gradual climbs as the trail passed a hillside dotted with a few asters.
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After little over a quarter of a mile we found ourselves beneath a large talus slope (by the sound of it filled with a pika army).
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Here we embarked on possibly the most significant climb of the day as the trail switchbacked up through the rocks to a saddle.
IMG_7510Apparently the trail was rerouted at some point because we could see tread that we never used.

IMG_7511The Three Pyramids beyond Bingham Ridge.

As we neared the saddle we spotted what must have been the pika lookout.
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There was more talus on the opposite side of the saddle, and more pikas too!
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We spotted at least 4 pikas (it’s hard to keep track when they are running in and out of the rocks) and heard many more. The only thing that could tear us away from our favorite wildlife critters was the view of Mt. Jefferson looming over Hunts Cove.
IMG_7534 (the clouds had finally vanished)

Continuing away from the saddle just a bit provided an excellent view of the mountain and Hanks Lake with a bit of Hunts Lake visible as well.
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IMG_7551Hanks Lake

IMG_7552Hunts Lake

IMG_7553Rock fin above Hunts Cove.

Reeder hadn’t exaggerated by using spectacular to describe this section of trail. The views of Mt. Jefferson were amazing and a variety of wildflowers (past peak) lined the trail.
IMG_7560Penstemon and a western pasque flower.

IMG_7563Western pasque flower seed heads.

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20190824_101714Hippie-on-a-stick

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IMG_7576Paintbrush and lupine

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20190824_102625Patridge foot

IMG_7584Mt. Jefferson, Goat Peak (behind the tree) and the Cathedral Rocks.

As the trail crossed a cinder field glimpses to the south between trees reveled the Three Sisters (among others).
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IMG_7588South Cinder Peak

IMG_7591The Three Sisters

IMG_7594Three Fingered Jack

The trail briefly lost sight of Mt. Jefferson as it passed around a butte, losing a little elevation as it did so.
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IMG_7597Paintbrush in a meadow behind the butte.

Although the view of Mt. Jefferson was temporarily gone the view was still good. There was a large basin full of meadows just below the trail and occasional views of South Cinder Peak and Three Fingered Jack.
IMG_7602South Cinder Peak

IMG_7603Three Fingered Jack

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The trail gained a little of the elevation back as it came around the butte regaining a view of Mt. Jefferson in the process.
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After passing another sign for the Pamelia Limited Entry Area at a now abandoned (but still used) portion of the Hunts Creek Trail we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail.
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We sat on some rocks here and rested. We were now at least 8 miles (that is the mileage Reeder assigns but with some extra exploring we’d done a bit more) from the Bingham Ridge Trailhead and needed a good break. Up until this point we’d only run into one other person, a bow hunter along the Bingham Ridge Trail. As we rested in the shade a pair of backpackers heading south on the PCT stopped briefly to talk. After they continued on we did little bit of exploring in the immediate area since there were a few flowers about and at least one tree frog.
IMG_7619Mostly past lupine

20190824_110312Paintbrush

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We returned the way we’d come enjoying the views just as much on the way back as we had the first time by. We didn’t see anyone else the rest of the day and we didn’t see anymore pikas, but as always there were a few things we spotted on the way back that we hadn’t seen or noticed earlier.
IMG_7632Butterfly on an aster.

IMG_7636Never seen one of these looks so clean and smooth, it almost looked fake.

IMG_7660We don’t know if this was just a stunted wallflower or something we’d never seen before.

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We ended the day nearly out of water (luckily for us the temperatures stayed below 70 so it wasn’t too warm) and with some sore feet. Our GPS devices both showed us having traveled nearly 17 miles which was further than we’d planned but all the little side trips and exploring can really add up. Depsite the distance this was a great hike with varied scenery, good wildlife, and a reasonable elevation gain made better by the trails having such gradual grades. Of course any trail where we see multiple pikas is going to be aces in our minds. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Bingham Ridge