Ascent of Mount Jefferson on 2010-08-20

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Friday, August 20, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Jefferson
    Elevation:10497 ft / 3199 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tough climb, great campsite, superb summit.

## Note that as of 2010 there is a permit requirement for the Pamelia Lake approach with a daily quota of 20 people ##

We did this the day after South Sister - quite a contrast! In common with most other ascents on this trip we met no-one on the mountain, although there were a few Pacific Cresters on the PCT: one couple we met had left Mexico 125 days ago and were due in Canada in 28 days time.

Anyway, our climb. Thur 19 August: We ran into red tape issues immediately. Turning into Pamelia Road at about 07:30 we encountered a sign saying that in addition to the Forest Pass (which we had) we needed a permit to hike to Pamelia Lake. We drove back west to Detroit Lake ranger station (a few miles W of Detroit City, just W of mile 49 on highway 22). Here we discovered that only 20 permits are issued per day and there were no spaces until 3 days time! The fact that we were only passing through, not camping at the Lake, made no difference. However, a feasible alternative start point was suggested - Woodpecker Trailhead.

Woodpecker Trailhead is reached via forest road 2246 - turn E off highway 22 just N of mile 61. This is good gravel: there are a few forks but staying on the main roadway you reach an obvious TH in 5.4 miles (4500ft, co-ords tbc, parking for 6ish vehicles). We were told there is no need for Forest Pass or permit, but there is a self-serve permit station, and for good measure we also displayed our Forest Pass.

We started hiking at 09:15, a fair bit later than intended (Day 1 would be quite short but we'd wanted to make the best of the cool early morning.) 1.8 miles of roughish undulating trail leads to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Here we turned R and in another 1.8mi reached the junction with the Pamelia Lake cut-off trail. This section is downhill, losing 600ft; just before the junction we crossed Milk Creek which is pretty much the only substantial creek on the W side of Jefferson, easily crossed by a makeshift bridge or a short boulder hop. From the junction, a further 4.5mi of very easy PCT leads to Shale Lake (5840ft; 12:45; we stayed 30 mins or so). The lake's outflow and inflow were both dry. We stopped and filtered 2l of water to refill our bottles, and chatted to another PCT-er, from NZ. I wandered to the S shore of the lake for a fine view of Jefferson.

From the outflow (NW corner) we followed a good trail which leads NE to a nice meadow (camping opportunity) but soon runs out. After some bushwhacking we came across another trail which we followed (BAD mosquitos). Later, on the way down we found its origin: follow the N shore of Shale Lake to its E corner. From here a well-defined trail follows the obvious valley shown on the Topo map running NE, leading to the saddle immediately N of Point 7818ft (well above Goat Peak). The trail is cairned in places and mostly easy to follow. Eventually it expires in a boulder field at the bottom end of the rocky upper valley. From here there are 3 options:
1) climb the E slope, initially following cairns then loose ground then juniper/pine brush, with traces of a trail but very hard work. This is the way we went up and do NOT recommend.
2) climb the E slope keeping just above (R of) the bouldery bottom of the valley: mostly loose slopes but becoming a trail on the final climb to the saddle. This is the way we descended - a nice descent route and probably the least-worst ascent route
3) head straight up the valley - OK if you like scrambling over man-sized boulders with an overnight pack on your back - probably not recommended...

Finally reaching Jefferson's S ridge we found an excellent campsite, immediately E of Pt 7818ft, at 7690ft (15:15, co-ords tbc; if arriving via the saddle itself you need to contour round to the R a short way). This is a level sandy area with a few campsites marked out with stones, right next to a big snow patch, soggy in the afternoon sun, which made a good water supply. Having the place (indeed the mountain) to ourselves we selected the best one, cleared away a few pebbles, set up Petter's little Bibler tent, filled a few pots with snow for the sun to melt, and spent the rest of the day resting, eating and admiring the views S to the Sisters, and particularly straight up the S ridge of Jefferson, rising only 2800ft above us but looking pretty challenging.

Fri 20 Aug: we left camp at 06:15, just after first light. The route from camp makes a short rising traverse across the NE slope of Pt 7818, then crosses level ground just below the saddle. Here we found a steep snow slope (running water but camping here would be pretty uncomfortable). We traversed R a little way until the gradient eased then made a short edgy cramponless ascent of the still-frozen snow. Above here we immediately climbed a bouldery ridge - quite hard going. On the descent we discovered a cairned trail which skirts the W (L) base of this ridge (8430ft) before zig-zagging up onto the S ridge a little further on. This latter route is good in descent and possibly best in ascent. The trail continues up the S ridge, soon becoming loose and unstable and in places steep and generally tough work. The best approach is generally to keep close to the crest where the ground is slightly firmer.

We followed the crest to 10100ft, above the point where the SW ridge joins. From here we skirted R of the ridge on fairly unstable ground but on the descent we found it is much better to keep close to the crest on good stable boulders. A small saddle is reached (10220ft) which provides the classic view across Red Saddle to the summit's impregnable South Horn and the notorious W face traverse. Continuing close to the crest, the Red Saddle is soon reached (10226ft, 08:30). Here we put on climbing harnesses and crampons, roped up and tackled the snow traverse which crosses the W face. It varies in position from season to season depending on the amount of snow, but at the time of our climb the initial slight descent on looseish easy ground crossed a small snow patch, then the traverse itself followed the top edge of the snow for maybe 40m, then a level traverse continued for maybe 80m, over the skyline crest to arrive at easy rocks the far side. There was a fair bit of snow and the traverse was longer than it often is. Petter led, belayed by me initially until the 60m rope ran out, then we moved together Alpine-style, Petter placing protection as he went (rock protection in the early stages; also 2 pickets and a deadman) and belaying me once he reached the far (N) side of the traverse. Here we left all the gear save for a few slings, and followed a fairly well defined trail which continued N, on easy but fairly loose ground. This reaches the N slopes of the summit then turns S. The least difficult route ascends slabs R (W) of the crest (YDS 3), keeping towards their RH edge, then curves L, finally ascending a gully (almost a chimney) which steepens near the top, becoming YDS 4 for the last 5-10m. The last few steep moves lead directly to the tiny summit: a small block which it's just possible to stand on, slightly overtopped by a rock spike which it would be rather more challenging to stand on (!) but easy enough to put a hand on top of. The spike had was adorned with a variety of slings and we were kinda wishing we'd brought the rope to abseil back down the gully.

We arrived at 10:15, 4h after leaving camp and 1h45 from the Red Saddle. The view was superb - south to yesterday's South Sister; north to the stately and somewhat higher Mt Hood with Adams peeking over its R shoulder.

After what seemed quite a while but was only 15mins, we carefully downclimbed the gully, returned to our gear, roped up and re-crossed the traverse. The snow was now in the sun, softer and required more care. We were back at the Red Saddle at 12:00 (1h 30 from the summit) and back at camp at 13:30 (3h from the summit). The descent was pretty easy, with the loose steep sandy slope working in our favour.

We were intent at catching a meal (and hopefully also a motel room) back at Detroit so quickly refilled our water bottles from the pans of snow which the sun had melted for us, decamped and headed back round to the saddle and easily down the loose sandy descent, taking care to stay L, above the bouldery floor of the valley until its SW end where we picked up the cairned trail we'd used on the way up. NB this trail is a bit hard to follow in places and we found the GPS trail recorded on the way up to be useful a couple of times.

We were back at Shale Lake at 15:15 and after what seemed like a long walk-out, reached the trailhead at 18:30 after a pretty hard 12.5 hour day. (Note that there is a good view of the W face from near the Milk Creek crossing and of the final climb up the N end of the summit from the PCT/Woodpecker Trail junction).

We got back to Detroit "City" (!) in time to bag the last room at The Lodge motel, shower and enjoy a good meal at the (quirky but entirely acceptable) Cedar Restaurant (check out the chainsaw display in the bar!).

Having a day in hand we headed back to our "HQ" in Seattle and by good fortune were able to meet up with Mr himself, Greg Slayden for a meal, before heading for Mt Olympus the following day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:7497 ft / 2284 m
    Extra Gain:750 ft / 228 m
    Round-Trip Distance:22.4 mi / 36 km
    Route:South ridge
    Trailhead:Woodpecker trailhead   4500 ft / 1371 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 4; PD+
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:1 Days 1 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 

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