Since 2011 Jefferson Park has been the one destination that has been on our schedule every year. This year we planned a joint outing with my parents who had not been to Jefferson Park yet. We picked them up bright and early from the Whispering Falls Campground and drove to the Whitewater Trailhead arriving shortly after 6am. We had agreed that we would hike at our own paces and would look for each other in Jefferson Park and if we didn’t meet up there we would do so back at the car. What we failed to do was set a time that we would start back to the car at in case we didn’t run into them. After giving my parents a brief description of what to expect from the trail on the way up we set off.
The forest showed the same signs of the warm and dry year we’ve had. Everything seemed to be at least a month ahead of schedule. Few flowers remained and some of the leaves were already starting to turn color.
The sky to the south was a bit hazy with smoke from fires in Southern Oregon, but Mt. Jefferson was enjoying relatively blue skies.
The Three Pyramids
At the 1.5 mile mark the Triangulation Trail joined from the left at a saddle. This marked the end of the steepest portion of the hike which is never really all that steep to begin with. Approximately a mile from that junction the trail enters a small rock field with a view of the top of Mt. Jefferson.
As I was taking a picture of the mountain I noticed movement in the rocks to my left. I looked over to see a pika dart out onto the rocks.
We love pikas and were excited to be getting such a good look at this one since we typically only hear their “meep” warning of our presence. As we were watching the first pika we began to notice others. In the end we’d spotted 5 different pikas and a chipmunk in the area.
We wound up seeing a sixth pika a little further along the trail making this the highest number of pikas we’d seen on a single hike. Normally seeing a pika, let alone 6, would be the wildlife highlight of a hike, but shortly before reaching the first crossing of the Whitewater Creek around the 4 mile mark the pikas were topped. As we passed a small meadow at the base of a butte we heard some rocks sliding. My first thought was mountain lion because of a recent discussion on how many of the cougar sightings I heard about were the result of hikers hearing rocks moving. When we looked over toward the source of the noise the animal we saw was black so we knew it wasn’t a cougar. It was a bear. This was only the second bear we’d seen while hiking and the first one had run away so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a picture. This time I had my camera ready and the bear was running up an exposed rock slide so I was able to get a few pictures before it disappeared.
We continued on to the Pacific Crest Trail energized from the excitement of seeing the bear. At the PCT we turned left, re-crossed Whitewater Creek, and entered Jefferson Park.
Shortly after entering the park we came to a signed junction and needed to decide where we wanted to go this time.
We settled on heading north on the PCT and trying to find a climbers trail that was shown on one of our maps leading up to the Whitewater Glacier. As we made our way through the park we were struck by just how dry it was and how far past all the flowers already were. The scenery was still amazing though.
We found what appeared to be a decently used trail in what seemed to be the correct area and set off toward the mountain. The trail we were following started bending back to the south though so we were forced to abandon it and take a more direct route toward the ridge where we hoped to pick up the climbers trail. We found another clear path and began following it but then it petered out on a tree covered ridge.
We seemed to be in the correct area according to the map and GPS, but we were unable to spot anything that looked like a trail so we decided to go to plan b and head to Russell Lake where we could pick up the PCT again and decide what to do from there.
We found a few flowers around Russell Lake but again the dry year was evident. The lake was at the lowest level we’d seen and there was no water flowing out of the lake to the South Breitenbush River.
There was still a little water coming down another branch of the river from Park Ridge allowing some monkeyflowers to still be blooming.
We had considered following the PCT part way up Park Ridge and visiting Sprauge Lake which we had not done before, but after looking up at the climb we’d need to do we decided to save that for another trip and instead we headed for the South Breintenbush Trail.
As we reached the South Breitenbush Trail we ran into another couple who recognized my Portlandhikers button. They had stayed overnight near Bays Lake and were on their way up to Park Ridge. After talking for a bit we continued on watching for the side trail to Park Lake which we’d find in a hillside meadow above the river.
The water level at Park Lake was also lower than we’d ever seen, but we realized it was a deeper lake than we’d thought as we looked down into the green water.
Next up along the trail was Rock Lake. Like all the lakes in Jefferson Park this one has colorful water and great views of the mountain. We spotted some trout in the lake as we passed by and got a kick out of watching a happy bird bathing along the shore.
From Rock Lake we made our way to Scout Lake where we thought we might find my parents. It was around 11am and we thought they might have stopped at the lake for a break. We didn’t see them, just more wonderful Jefferson Park scenery.
Our next thought was that they might be at Bays Lake so we headed over to the south end of that lake to take a look. We hadn’t spent much time on that side of Bays Lake so we decided to do some exploring.
We headed down to the day use peninsula and removed our packs to take a break and check out the area.
When we resumed our hike we decided to just loop around the rest of the lake and then head back to Scout Lake.
We still hadn’t seen any signs of my parents by the time we had made it back to the PCT from Scout Lake and we debated on whether to head back to the car or go up the PCT again toward Russell Lake in search of them. It was at this point that we realized that it would have been a good idea to establish a time at which we would head back to the car. We made it all the way back to Russell Lake without running into them which had us a little concerned that they may not have made it all the way to the park. Heather had come up with a theory though, she suggested that they might have gone directly to Russell Lake since that was the ultimate goal for my Mom. If they had done that we easily could have missed them while we were touring the other lakes and then missed them again while we were on the PCT if they had taken one of the other signed trials to Scout Lake. Either way we were fairly certain they were either on their way back to the car or were already there waiting so we headed back down ourselves.
Heather asked a group of young hikers that were on their way up if they’d seen anyone matching my parents description and they had, which made us feel better. We didn’t think to ask how far ahead of us they were though. We picked up our pace but kept getting distracted along the way. It was interesting to see how much the water level had risen in Whitewater Creek as the heat caused an increase in the glacial runoff.
We also kept looking back at the views of Mt. Jefferson.
We were still making pretty good time trying to catch them when we rounded a little bend in the trail and saw a gentleman trying to dust himself off. He was covered in dirt with some scratches on his head and there was a camera mounted on a tripod behind him on the trail. He explained that he had set the timer on the camera and was running up the trail to get in position for the picture when he had tripped. He said he was fine but hadn’t realized he was bleeding until Heather pointed it out. Luckily none of the cuts were deep and there was no real damage. He told us that it wasn’t going to affect his enjoyment of his hike. Just more proof that there is no such thing as a bad hike.
We never did catch up to my parents and I half expected to see them sitting on the bench along the trail at the trailhead, but instead we found them at a picnic table just a few feet away. We found out that they had indeed gone straight to Russell Lake and relaxed there awhile before heading to Scout and Bays Lakes. Heather had been right again. We didn’t know how far we’d wound up hiking with all the wandering we’d done, but we found out when I plugged the Garmin into the computer. According to the GPS we’d covered 18.1 miles, a little bit more than we’d planned on but that’s what can happen with a place as scenic as Jefferson Park. Happy Trails!