Rambling Mt Jefferson Wilderness on PCT

The first plan for a Mt Jefferson Wilderness PCT (USFS) ramble was ambitious and assumed a ‘happy weather path’. Well, OR in September can be a fleeting factoid. The forecast changed to probable rain on day 3 morning and temperatures in low 60s. I changed the plan to be more conservative for both distance and campsites. Both changes were critical as the weather was even worse than forecasted with snow and temperatures in low 30s day 3. I even lessened the miles on day 2 and 3 from the ‘shorter’ plan – camping day 2 at Olallie Resort, rather than June Lake.

Key Learnings:

  • Plan and prepare for bad weather – windy cold rain is very dangerous
  • Be willing to a) change plans if conditions merit, and b) pay attention to conditions and adjust
  • Carry the right equipment / gear and knowing how to use in bad weather

The Route

Day 1 started at Pamelia Lake TH (a very high use TH) and then climbed Grizzly Peak; from there to PCT NOBO to Jefferson Park. Day 2 from Jefferson Park PCT NOBO past and back to Olallie Lake. Day 3 (the challenging day) from Olallie Lake back to Jefferson Park. Day 4 was the reverse of Day 1. (Recorded tracks: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4).

Other PCT hikers were mostly doing sections of OR of days or couple weeks. Thru hikers were few. Of the 65+ miles, >90% walks thru the disaster from Lionshead Fire in 2020.

Mt Jefferson Fires (recently)

Hiking Mt Jefferson is gut-wrenching and can be down-right depressing walking through so much destruction from wildfires. On the north side of Jefferson, just past the Pamelia Lake junction, it was the B&B Complex fire that burnt in the early 2000s. Then in 2020, the Lionshead Fire burnt from Pamelia all the way past Olallie Lake – destroying everything in-between – except: Jefferson Park and Olallie Lake by the resort. The Lionshead Fire was more complex as another fire to the west (Beachie Creek) burnt Detroit area. The Salem Statement Journal has a good article on this history.

I ran into another section hiker and his comment can hardly be improved: “the only way these fires stop is that all the fuel is burnt”. While maybe true, if one looks closely, the ecosystem recovery is happening … just not on human timescales!

A good article on WA / OR wildflowers – what, where, etc

Day 1 – Pamelia TH to Jefferson Park

Immediately after leaving the TH, Pamelia Creek flows along the path and at the lake, the junction to Grizzly Peak (really a ridge).

Climbing Grizzly Peak with a full 4-day backpack was probably not the smartest thing … a long 3 mile climb through the trees. At the top, Jefferson was completely hidden across the valley.

After crossing Milk Creek (actually clearly running), and climbing through the last stand of living trees, those strange leftover ponds amidst the skeletons from Lionshead fire.

After another couple miles, Russell Creek can be heard and its gorge seen … the beginning of Jefferson Park not far! Russell Creek could be a challenging cross late afternoon. But nothing quite compares to walking into Jefferson Park.

Camping in Jefferson Park is only for ‘overnight’ permit holders, not PCT hikers, and designated spots only. I camped at Bays Lake this night.

Day 2 – Jefferson Park to Olallie Resort

The morning dawned as expected looking like a good late summer day. Walking out of Jefferson Park early morning had its rewards.

Climbing over Park Ridge is an adventure, and once over, Mt Hood comes in view to the north.

But once down from Park Ridge, the heart of Lionshead Fire blasts you full on … it shows the power of that fire but also the magic of Breitenbush and Olallie Lakes that kept some fire away – very little is better than none, no?

Easy to see why there are few good campsites in this section, and luckily for PCT hikers, Olallie Resort allows free camping for hikers – they had 7 porta-potties to handle that volume. When I camped 1 other party of 3 NOBO hikers were there. The folks at Olallie Resort are absolutely fabulous … if you can get there, go! (camping, cabins, boating, but no swimming – public water source).

Day 3 – Olallie Resort to Jefferson Park

The weather forecast for day 3 was rain until 10 -11 and then sunny. That didn’t happen. I was ready for rain, so left early am after packing up under my tarp. It rained, it snowed, it got cold … by the time I made Jefferson Park, I hid in my tent to get warm and stayed there.

Another solo hiker had gone NOBO that morning over Park Ridge carrying a large format camera tripod – I could imagine carrying in blowing snow and cold rain. Tomorrow’s forecast was better temperatures and dry … time to get down off mountain.

Day 4 – Jefferson Park to Pamelia TH

An early start with headlamp through part of Jefferson Park, and meeting 2 very large deer at the south end, helped make for a gorgeous morning above the trees and again back at Pamelia Lake.

I was back to the car around noon and ready to head back into the valley with some more predictable temperatures. On the way back, one last look at Jefferson w/ new snow.

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