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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Mount Washington North Ridge – 10/15/2022

Our lack of rain unfortunately continued for another week allowing the numerous fires in Oregon and Washington to remain active. To top it off a warm, dry East wind arrived in time for the weekend creating a red flag warning for high fire danger and blowing the smoke from the current fires into Western Oregon. The combination of the smoke and unseasonably high temperatures had me searching for a suitable hike. My Plan A, B, and C hikes were all forecast to be in the smoke (and warmer than I’d prefer in October) then I remembered seeing that Hike Oregon had gone up Mount Washington’s North Ridge back in August using a climbers trail off of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had been interested in that trail ever since hearing about it during the Chemeketans Route Finding course we’d taken and then later passing it on our hike to Mount Washington Meadows in 2017 (post). A quick of check of the forecast there showed clear (but breezy) skies and a high below 60 at the mountain, I was sold.

Just as we had done in 2017 I parked at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Big Lake which at this time does not require a Cascade Wilderness Permit for day-use (one is required for overnight stays).
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I set off South on the PCT shortly before sunrise and followed it for three miles to a cairn marking the obvious climbers trail.
IMG_3387Mount Washington from the Mt. Washington Wilderness boundary just a few hundred feet from the trailhead.

IMG_3395Three Fingered Jack to the North from the PCT.

IMG_3399From left to right – Sand Mountain (post), Hoodoo Butte, and Hayrick Butte.

IMG_3401Mount Washington

IMG_3406Sunrise on Hoodoo Butte.

IMG_3410Sunlight hitting the spire of Mount Washington.

IMG_3416Hayrick Butte and Three Fingered Jack at sunrise.

IMG_3424Big Lake, Hoodoo, Hayrick Butte, and Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_3429Just over two miles from the trailhead I passed a sign for the non-maintained use trail from the private Big Lake Youth Camp.

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IMG_3440Shortly before reaching the climbers trail the PCT left the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire scar.

IMG_3442The cairn and climbers trail from the PCT.

I turned left onto this trail which was fairly easy to follow through the trees.
IMG_3443Huckleberry leaves turning color.

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IMG_3448There were a few logs to navigate and keeping an eye on the tread was helpful.

The trail climbed moderately at first then steepened as it went, with occasional flatter sections before reaching the ridge.
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IMG_3452Maxwell Butte (post) behind Hoodoo and Hayrick Butte.

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IMG_3459Mount Washington

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I stopped here for a moment to admire a raptor that was hovering high above the ridge (small black dot in the middle of the photo).

IMG_3470The only movement that I could see was when it tilted its tail feathers which would catch the sunlight.

IMG_3471First view of Mt. Jefferson behind Three Fingered Jack.

IMG_3473Coming up on the ridge.

IMG_3474Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and a lot of smoke to the North.

IMG_3478Cache Mountain and Black Butte (post) to the NE.

Approximately 1.5 miles from the PCT the climbers trail turned North along the ridge toward Mount Washington.
IMG_3484View along the ridge to Mount Washington.

IMG_3488That East wind was really noticeable as I made my way along the open ridge crest.

I didn’t have much trouble following the trail for the first three-quarters of mile up the ridge. It was typical Cascade volcanic rock which isn’t the most fun rock to hike through but the views were great.
IMG_3496_stitchThree Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson to the left. Green Ridge (post) across the center, and Cache Mountain & Black Butte to the right.

IMG_3503Big Lake came into view as I climbed.

IMG_3506One of the steeper sections I went up. The spire is poking up on the right.

IMG_3509Mount Washington’s shadow.

IMG_3510View back down the ridge.

IMG_3511I was hoping to get up and over these rocks where the map showed a more level bench but I wound up reaching a chute where I was unsure of the correct route. The further up I’d gone the more braided the trail became and I may have been too far left. A climber had passed me way back on the PCT but if I had been able to watch him go up here I may have found a better route.

IMG_3513The chute that turned me back. It’s a bit hidden by the rocks in the foreground but there was no way across that I would have been comfortable with and scrambling up looked way too sketchy for my taste (especially w/o a helmet).

I sat down here and took a brief break to catch my breath and have a snack. I was just over 7100′ in elevation and had been feeling that on the climb up.
IMG_3514My shadow on the left from my break spot.

IMG_3518This was the place I’d come up.

IMG_3523Zoom of Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_3525With all the smoke I hadn’t noticed Coffin (flat top) and Bachelor Mountains (post) beyond Hoodoo, Hayrick, and Maxwell Buttes.

After catching my breath I started carefully down, pausing often to admire the view.
IMG_3527The Moon overhead to the West.

IMG_3528Patjens Lakes (post) in the forest below.

IMG_3536Lookout tower on Black Butte.

IMG_3540Unfortunate that my timing once again put the Sun directly in line with my view.

I passed three more hikers heading up the ridge on my way down and at one point wound up following a wrong trail too low on the ridge and had to scramble back up to the correct one.
IMG_3555Using a tree to try and get a better view.

IMG_3561A framed Mt. Jefferson.

IMG_3570Sometimes it’s the little things, like these bent trees that I really appreciate on a hike.

IMG_3572This mushroom casting a shadow was another one.

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When I got back to the PCT I turned right and hiked the three miles back to the trailhead.
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IMG_3584Looking back at Mount Washington from the PCT.

IMG_3589Three Fingered Jack

IMG_3595Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes behind Big Lake.

IMG_3601Huckleberry bushes and ferns adding some Fall colors.

IMG_3607The best Fall colors were near the trailhead.

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IMG_3611The trailhead from the wilderness boundary sign.

This hike came to 10.7 miles with a little over 2700′ of elevation gain. In total I saw 7 hunters, 4 climbers, and two fellow hikers, not bad for a sunny Saturday. It might not be one for those uncomfortable with heights or climbing/descending loose volcanic rock (for those reasons it was a good choice since Heather is still sidelined) but if you don’t mind those things this would be a worthwhile outing.

When I got back to Salem around 2pm it was 90 degrees, in mid-October! The good news is that the high pressure system causing the warm, dry weather is supposed to break up this week with rain to follow. Hopefully it will be enough to put an end to the fires. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mount Washington North Ridge