9/18/15: Mount Jefferson
For me, Mt Jefferson was the ultimate trip- varied terrain, supposedly interesting climbing, and a beautiful alpine environment all added up in my mind to be a fantastic trip. However, those weren’t the reasons this trip was my “ultimate.” Climbing Mt Jefferson has been on my wish list since my grandfather passed away four years ago, nearly four years to the day on which we hit the trail for this trip. Mt Jefferson has been the goal for me, the reason behind wanting to start the "A Mountain A Month" project, because I’ve been wanting to spread his ashes on the summit, from the middle of a beautiful wilderness area, from a place that his memory could help fuel the growth of generations of plants and wildlife, and from a place that I could finally allow myself to say my final goodbyes. It is safe to assume that I put a lot of pressure on myself going into this trip… so when things started to go “wrong,” I vacillated between “the sky is FALLING” and “this must be some sort of test…” and choked on tears throughout the entire experience. But, the testing, the “this is definitely not a trail” moments, the “okay where can we ditch our packs for the next four hours?” moments, the “I am so overcome with my emotions that breathing through silent sobs is nearly impossible” moments, all culminated into the most spiritual experience I’ve had to date. And I think that, for me, the goodbye I was able to say on the summit of this mountain was more profound and genuine than I could possibly have imagined.
That’s the simple reason why I climbed Jefferson and why I, along with Andy (without whom the entire experience would have been more than I could have handled), fought through intense exhaustion, pushed by outright anger, and found the motivation to do some pretty scary, high-consequence mixed climbing- for a long overdue goodbye in a beautiful place.
The guidebook indicated that the only hazards on this route were “dehydration and boredom.” We laughed about that on our way up but… well, it’s kind of true. The ridge literally goes on for miles and with only a few sections of terrain that allowed for fast movement, hours and hours went by as we slowly, deliberately gained elevation.
The bonus for this trip was that we were climbing in the season’s first snow so there were a few fun little snow fields to navigate through and when we reached the traverse, our psych was elevated when we realized that we would be traversing below the summit pinnacle on fresh, fairly consolidated snow, rather than on the sea of scree that was likely present prior to this week’s precipitation.
We originally started from the Pamelia Lake TH, not being aware that the Limited Entry permits applied to people hiking through the are as well. Five miles up the trail, we were stopped by a disgruntled ranger who threatened to fine us if we did not “cooperate,” turn around, and return to the trail head. Basically, he was on a major power trip and unfortunately, seemed to care little about the eco-impact of hikers and was simply focused on micromanaging people into doing what he told them to do (he literally followed us out- about 50 yards behind us on the trail). We turned around, after some discussion, warned the climbers coming up the trail below us, and came up with a plan to ditch our packs in the woods, return to Pamelia Lake, drive to Woodpecker Ridge, and hike back in as far as we could that night. Suffice to say, starting the trek in over was an annoying addition to the day and ended up adding extra 10 miles to the day.
We had a photo of a short cut (part of the SW ridge?) up a drainage that avoided going all the way to Shale Lake that we were planning on taking, but after 30 minutes of bush-wacking in the dark, we elected to continue hiking on the PCT. We hiked about 7 miles up the PCT from Woodpecker Ridge TH before finding a place to camp.
The next morning, we woke at 545am, sorted out our packs, left my heavy pack and our camping equipment stashed in the woods, and set off up the trail. When we reached Shale Lake, the route to the Climber’s path became highly unclear and we spent a good chunk of time route-finding and making circles around the dry lake bed (or “Mud Hole”). Once again, it seemed as if the fates were thwarting our success and I was nearly dissolved to tears by the time we found the trail. That being said, the entire area was rich and alive with fall colours and lay heavy under a thick layer of fog- adding to the magic of the place (I can see why people camp here).
The rest of the climb was a struggle for me- more route finding issues coming up to the ridge and I was, for some reason, fighting heavy legs and low energy for much of the climb. Looking back now, I think it was due to the weight I was placing on the trip and my intense desire to be successful- a feeling that I haven’t really felt with so much intensity before. I am also, now, glad that it was such a momentous experience. But once we hit the top of the ridge and got a good view of the summit spire, my energy returned and I was hit with a massive wave of PSYCH!
The snow on the traverse was in excellent condition and offered relatively stable and safe passage despite the steepness of the angle (60+ degrees in places) and the risk of injury by rock fall. Safety necessitated speed during this climb and we opted to wait for slower parties to move out far in front of us before hitting the traverse on the way back. The summit pinnacle itself was just plain fun- a variety of rock, snow, and ice that yielded interesting mixed climbing and some fun, relatively mild exposure. We roped up for only a brief section of the climb.
We were in luck and the weather held throughout the time we spent on the summit- we had views from Adams all the way to Diamond Peak!
We rappelled the first section off the summit and saw another set of rap rings on our way down. Conditions, however, were good enough that we elected to down-climb back to the traverse and start our descent.