The only location we have visited in each of the last three years is Jefferson Park in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. For awhile it looked like that streak might be broken this year, but then Heather accidentally signed up for a 5k race on what was to be our final weekend of hiking in October. We rescheduled our final October hike and I decided to take advantage of the Columbus Day holiday and head to Jefferson Park to keep my streak alive.
We had rotated the trails we used to reach Jefferson Park between the three most popular approaches – The Whitewater Creek Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail from the north, and the South Breitenbush Trail. Since the Whitewater Creek Trail offered the shortest drive and hike I decided to revisit that trail.
It is also the most popular approach but the parking area was nearly empty when I arrived. It was a surprisingly warm morning despite the forecast of snow for the very next day and I was able to leave my hat and gloves in my pack as I set off. I’d dressed for a typically chilly Fall morning and I wound up having to remove my two lower layers before I’d gone a quarter mile, but once I got my clothing situation corrected I was able to set a nice pace as I climbed along the Sentinel Hills.
The trail started off in the trees offering only brief glimpse of the top of Mt. Jefferson. One and a half miles in an unmarked trail joined from the left coming from Triangulation Peak. Another mile from the junction is where the views started unfolding as the trail wound up and around the Sentinel Hills.
There are many other attractions in the park though including five named lakes, the South Fork Breitenbush River, and wildflower meadows (If you time it right). We had visited all the lakes and the river and seen some of the wildflowers, but we had never headed toward the mountain itself. I decided that was what I was going to do on this visit so I took the first well worn trail leading off to the right from the PCT and headed for Mt. Jefferson.
I kept going following the cairns as best as I could. As I was climbing I noticed a fellow hiker higher up along the ridge. The view behind was getting better by the minute as the elevation gain was allowing for a great look down at Jefferson Park.
The wind had been fairly strong but it was nothing compared to the gusts that met me as when I finally gained the ridge crest. It nearly knocked me off balance so I got low and found a nice big rock to sit down on. The other hiker was about 30 yards up the ridge doing the same thing. We were at the foot of the Jefferson Park Glacier staring up at the summit of Mt. Jefferson.
Unfortunately the Sun was also almost directly in front of us making pictures difficult in that direction but the view back toward Jefferson Park did not have that same problem. Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier had joined Mt. St. Helens on the horizon and the entirety of Jefferson Park was spread out below.
To the northwest I could see Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave where we had been about a month earlier. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/triangulation-peak-boca-cave-via-cheat-creek/
It appeared that it would have been possible to continue east up the ridge along the glacier but the wind was blowing too hard to attempt going any further so I began my descent back down into the park. Once I had made it back down into the meadows I turned right on the first good trail I came to thinking I had hit the PCT already. It was still early enough I had decided to head across the park and visit Russell Lake and hoped to return past the other four named lakes. I quickly realized that I wasn’t on the PCT and I had taken one of the use trails that crisscross through the park. I decided to continue along it as it was leading me in the correct direction for the lake through a series of meadows. I even found some aster still in bloom along the way.
I walked around the north end of the lake and located the PCT which I turned left on and started to head back. Near the South Fork Breitenbush River I was surprised to see a single paintbrush still blooming in the middle of a meadow.
When I reached the South Breitenbush Trail I left the PCT and headed west. As the trail began descending a small hillside toward the river I turned left at a switchback marked with a rock cairn. This trail led to Park Lake.
The only real bummer of the day was not having Heather there to hike with. This was my first solo hike and I have to say I really missed sharing the experience with her. I found it hard to just stop and enjoy the surroundings as much as we normally would. It was an interesting experience but hopefully not one that happens often. Happy Trails!