There isn’t much like a midweek hike in September, the crowds have thinned out but the weather can still be great. When I was putting together our hiking plans at the beginning of the year one of the hikes I really wanted to do was Hunts Cove. The hike starts at the very popular Pamelia Lake Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness which is one of only two areas in the Oregon Cascades (not counting Crater Lake NP) that requires you purchase a permit in order to enter them. Due to the popularity I decided to purchase our permit for a weekday after school started to hopefully minimize the number of other people we’d run into.
Having purchased our permit over four months in advance I was gambling on the conditions. Last year we had gotten permits for the other fee area along the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness, only to spend the entire 18.6 mile hike in wet and view less low clouds. We lucked out this time though. The forecast had started out as cloudy with a chance of rain but by the time the big day arrived the outlook had greatly improved to clear skies and a high in the low 70s. As a bonus the snow level had dropped down to between 6500-7000′ meaning there would likely be some new snow on Mt. Jefferson. As an added bonus a friend of ours, one of Heather’s running buddies, Jessie, was able to get the day off and join us.
We set off on the Pamelia Lake trail in the soft light of morning through a peaceful forest along side Pamelia Creek. Soon we were surrounded by the sound of rushing water with Milk Creek to our left and Pamelia to our right. Milk Creek comes from glaciers up on Mt. Jefferson and evidence of a 2006 mudslide littered the forest floor. Just over 2 miles in on the trail we reached a T shaped junction at the edge of Pamelia Lake. To the right was a 3 mile trail up Grizzly Peak and to the right lay the path to our loop into Hunts Cove and then back on the Pacific Crest Trail. Before turning right though we headed down to the lake for a photo op.
There was a good deal of wildlife present on the lake. A great blue heron flew from a log in the center of the lake into the far grassy shore and a family of ducks glided silently into the reeds. Several canada geese could be seen at the far end of the lake near the lakes inlet.
We made our way around the lake to a second junction. Here we had to decide if we would do the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. We decided to stick to the lake shore and go counterclockwise first to Hunts Cove and then to the PCT. The trail crossed several streams that seemed to be flowing very well given the time of year. We assumed the recent rain/snow had helped rejuvenate them. Our favorite crossing was on a footbridge over a small scenic falls.
The trail began climbing gently as we passed the far end of Pamelia Lake. The path traveled along Hunts Creek, crossed over it, and then climbed up above it on the side of a ridge. As we climbed we began getting glimpses of Mt. Jefferson across the valley with it’s dusting of new snow.
At a sharp switchback we could hear what sounded like a waterfall a short distance away so we took a faint side trail in the direction of the sound and discovered a beautiful waterfall on Hunts Creek.
Just a short distance from the falls we found the signs marking the trail to Hunts Cove where we took the left fork travelling above a pretty meadow with a view across to the mountain. A half mile later we arrived at the first of the two lakes that call the cove home. Hanks Lake was up first. It was a lovely lake lined with meadows and a view of Mt. Jefferson.
Some of the biggest huckleberries and blueberries we’d seen were growing in large patches around the shore and we stumbled up a pair of sooty grouse in one of the thickets.
After a refreshing rest on the shore of Hanks Lake we continued on to Hunts Lake. Although Hunts Lake has no view of Mt. Jefferson it offered it’s own attractions. Heather spotted several fish in the clear water and over the lake loomed Cathedral Rock where we would eventually find the PCT.
We left Hunts Lake and returned to Hanks Lake to begin the real adventure. From Hanks Lake we could have returned to the trail junction and continued 3 miles to the PCT on the official trail or we could look for a former trail that lead from the far end of Hanks Lake up to the PCT shaving off a mile or more from the hike. We opted for the off trail adventure and set off around Hanks Lake in search of the old path. Using a Green Trails map I knew the old trail followed an inlet creek up to the PCT below Cathedral Rocks so we worked our way to an inlet creek and began working our way up along it. The map only showed one creek so despite not being able to find a convincing former trail we sallied forth through the brush.
The map indicated that the trail had eventually crossed the stream and continued on the far side so when I spotted a decent place to cross we hopped over to the other side. We found several sections of what could have once been a trail, but they could have been game trails as well and never saw any blazes or other indications of an official trail. Next we stumbled on a lovely meadow with a small pond in the center. At that point I decided to consult the Garmin. I knew we were headed in the right direction for the PCT but it wasn’t until I looked at the Garmin that I realized we had followed the wrong creek up. The Garmin clearly showed the additional stream that wasn’t on our other maps so that mystery was solved. Now it was a matter of finding the least steep climb up to the PCT. Using the GPS I headed to what looked like the most gradual ascent passing through a pair of small heather meadows.
Leaving the second little meadow we climbed one last steep section and suddenly popped out on the PCT. We were probably about a half mile further down the PCT than where I had expected to meet up with it, but that just meant a little shorter hike. After celebrating our find we turned left and headed north. After just a couple hundred yards the PCT dipped a bit and passed right along the edge of the meadow we had just left. That was good for a laugh or two :). This section of the PCT was great as it traveled between Cathedral Rocks on the right and Hunts Cove below to the left. Views extended across Hunts Cove to the far ridge and Three Fingered Jack beyond.
The PCT then reaches a plateau below Mt. Jefferson that is dotted with lakes and ponds. The first pond we arrived at was a strange red color. As I approached the water a frog swam from the shore and floated in the colored water.
Next up was Shale Lake and a wonderful view of the mountain.
Shale Lake had some great looking tent sites and next to it was nearly dry Mud Hole Lake. Across the trail lay Coyote Lake and several other small ponds.
Leaving the plateau we began descending down toward Milk Creek with views of Pamelia Lake below. Just before reaching Milk Creek we reached the turn off for the return trail to Pamelia Lake. Before heading back I went down to the Milk Creek crossing to get a picture of Mt. Jefferson.
We started smelling smoke while I was getting the picture at Milk Creek and when I turned around the sky behind us was filled with smoke. Then I notice that there was smoke drifting in front of Mt. Jefferson as well. When we got back to Pamelia Lake the scene was quite different than it had been in the morning.
Smoke had settled in the valley but we had no idea what the source was. On the way out there was just a bit of smoke in the forest but it didn’t detract from the beauty. Green moss covered much of the ground and dozens of varieties of mushrooms and fungus added character to the view.
We had a blast on this hike. For the most part we had the trails to ourselves the whole day and the weather had been perfect. Aside from the bit of smoke at the end of the day (which was apparently due to a controlled burn being done by the Forest Service near Sisters, OR) it couldn’t have been better. We’d knocked out 18.2 miles in just over 9hrs. It was really fun having Jessie join us on the hike. It was great having someone that didn’t even blink at the 5am departure time or the distance/time we were planning on doing. What a way great to spend a Thursday in September 😀 Happy Trails!