Mountain #15: Mount Jefferson

September 20, 2015

Corie: For me, Mt Jefferson was the ultimate trip- varied terrain, supposedly interesting climbing, and a beautiful alpine enviroment 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 vacilated 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.



Andy: I feel like a broken record (or an iPod stuck on repeat?), but after every mountain we climb, I can't stop saying how special the experience was. A year ago, I might have suspected that after climbing so many more mountains, each subsequent one would lose some of that special feeling. But on the contrary, each peak has just instilled an even greater sense of wonder, respect, and gratitude than the last. We have incrementally increased the difficultly of these mountains with time, letting our skills and teamwork mature, and with greater difficultly certainly comes greater reward. Mount Jefferson was a culmination of time, skills, and favorable conditions, which turned it into a very wonderful (but tiring!) trip.



We chose to climb the South Ridge over two days, one of the longer and easier routes on the peak. This was a good introduction to Jefferson and left us with interest and desire to return for some of the more challenging routes. It was really fun to be on a new mountain, akin to meeting a new friend with unique intricacies and puzzling challenges to discover. Additionally, to accompany Corie on her journey to release some of her Grandfather's ashes from the summit added a heightened purpose. Mount Jefferson was incredibly beautiful and gracious to us on this trip, and I look forward to our return.




In Summary...

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 threatned to fine us if we did not "cooperate," turn around, and return to the trail head.  We turned around, 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 bushwacking 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 (review our track for the full extent to which we went meandering). The beta for the VERY CLEARLY MARKED climber's trail is the following:



Hang a left at this junction to circumnavigate Coyote Lake aka "The Mud Hole" until you come to a small clearing.


There is a small cairn on the left that appears to indicate that the trail should continue to the left into another meadow- it does not. Instead, hike slightly further into this clearing, and take a small trail on the left, which appears to be a drainage.


Follow this trail, which is well-marked with cairns, until you reach an open scree field, framing Mt Jefferson- show below.  


We opted to climb to the top, right-hand side of this field (not recommended), but it appears that others walked up the middle, and slightly to the right. At the top, you will reach the beautiful overlook shown below:

After this, there are a number of ways to hit the South Ridge, we elected to cross the snow fields whenever we had the option to do so since they provided better traction than the scree and talus.  The rock on the ridge was much more solid than what is found on Jefferson's neighboring giants but caution should still be used when navigating the ridge. At the top of the ridge is a small, 3rd class pinnacle- a perfect location to scope out the traverse and put on crampons, bust out ice axes, etc.  




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 downclimb back to the traverse and start our descent.




Import Things to Note: 


1. Permits ARE REQUIRED for anyone looking at setting foot on the Pamelia Lake Trail- even if you're just passing through.  These permits are issued here. If you do not have a permit, you will be stopped- we ran into a ranger 5 miles into the climb (and we were on the PCT) and another person we ran into had been stopped a mile into his trip.  There is a $250 per person fine associated with not having a limited- entry permit. NOT worth it.  Go up Woodpecker Ridge- it's faster anyway.



2. The risk of runout on the traverse is high- a pair of climbers we met on this trip had encountered a man who fell 300 feet from the traverse and had to bushwhack back to the climber's trail.  He was luckily unharmed.  With the first snow of the season being present, caution should absolutely be embraced and if you're uncomfortable or unskilled on steep or techical terrain, either stay at home, or bring protection.


3. We encountered Pika, a species that not only helps track climate change, but that is already facing extinction in some of its known habitats, here for the first time!  That was really, really cool.  Check out the Worldwide Pika Project to help out with surveying.




Equipment List- South Ridge

Identical to Lassen Peak with a few adjustments:

- we brought our lightweight 3 season tent rather than our bomber, Trango 2, due to good conditions.

- harnesses

- belay/rappel devices

- 3 slings with lockers

- 30m rope


See here for the approach from Woodpecker Ridge TH to Camp:

 See here for the climb from camp to the summit of Mt Jefferson:



The Stats:

Pamelia Lake TH to turn around (@5,134 feet): 4.63 miles with 2,394 feet of elevation gain

Woodpecker Ridge TH to camp: 7.09 miles with 2,856 feet of elevation gain

Camp to Summit: 5.9 miles with 5,229 feet of elevation gain


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