Jefferson County High Point Trip Report

Mount Jefferson (10,497 ft)

Dates: August 16-18, 2003
Author: Bob Bolton

I drove to the Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead (from SR22 east of Detroit) on the west side of Mount Jefferson for a hike to Shale Lake south of the mountain, where my party of three other climbers was already camped. In the past, the Pamelia Lake Trail would have been the preferred approach, however there is now a permit system limiting use of that trail to 20 persons per day, and we didn't have a permit. The Woodpecker TH is higher than the Pamelia TH, thus saving some elevation gain (don't worry, Jeff's still well over 5,000 feet of effort as the TH is at 4,420 feet - and there's an approximately 700-foot drop on the PCT from the Woodpecker junction to the Pamelia Lake junction). However, it is a somewhat longer hike from Woodpecker TH. In just under four hours I arrived at Shale Lake and found my friends by hollering. They had established a great camp next to a small, rather shallow lake which was the perfect temperature for a very refreshing swim.

We started from camp at 4:30 AM Sunday, following a route scouted the day before by my companions that led to the south ridge, which we joined at about 7,100 feet. We ascended said ridge to the Red Saddle, arriving at around 10:30. It was here that we got our first look at the notorious traverse on the west face of the summit block. With or without snow it would not be fun, but without snow it approached deadly. We had hooked up with another 3-man party, all seven of us coincidentally being from the Vancouver, WA area. At one point on the traverse, one of their guys, Ron, put an ever so tiny amount of balancing weight onto the loose junk wall above us and a big chunk of rock and mud gave way right onto him. He lunged backward toward me while I was lunging back to give him room. Then he somehow lost his footing and started sliding down where the mud had just gone. I grabbed at him and he grabbed at whatever he could. Somehow, miraculously it seemed, he stopped. Their leader thought I had stopped him, but I couldn't find a handle, and wouldn't have been strong enough or on stable enough footing anyway. He had scrapes on all four limbs but was otherwise unhurt and completed the climb. After that incident we tried to set up protection for that spot, however nobody else ended up needing it, happily. We then traversed around to the north side of the summit block and scrambled up to the west ridge and then to the summit. Everyone summitted successfully, and there wasn't room for many more on that tiny pinnacle.

On our descent, we actually rappelled a steep snow patch where the snow was too shallow to down-climb safely, then traversed underneath that snow patch before ascending back up to the original traverse level past the spot where Ron lost it. It took us almost as much time from the Red Saddle to the summit and back as it took us to get to the Red Saddle in the first place! My advice - climb Jefferson when the traverse is snow, and do the traverse with a fixed rope. Even that isn't very safe, however, as one big boulder came whistling down between Steve and his daughter Shannon as they made their way back up to the traverse. We could only stand there and watch with horror, but they calmly let its fall line take it right between them. They were probably 15-20 feet apart at the time. Happily, everyone got down safely, so at least we don't have to report something much worse! Arriving at camp around 6 PM, my feet were in no condition to hike out with the big pack, so I stayed in camp while the other six left me alone for the night, arriving at their cars at around 11 PM.

I had a leisurely hike out on Monday morning, and enjoyed the unusual opportunity for a few hours of complete solitude before again joining the rat race.