Marion County Highpoint Trip Report

unsurveyed point on the north ridge of Mount Jefferson (9,000+ feet)

Dates: June 23, 2004 and February 2005
Author: Adam Helman

Climb - June 22 to 23, 2004

This adventure was but part of a lengthier journey in my continuing effort to complete the Oregon county highpoints. My companion for Marion County was Terry Richard.

The Marion County liner lies at 9,000 feet along a north-south trending ridge in-between the Jefferson Glacier to the west, and the Whitewater Glacier to the east. With a trailhead elevation of 4,100 feet, the large elevation gain and horizontal round-trip distance suggested that a backcountry camp would save time for the following "summit" day. Thereby we filled our overnight packs and headed up the trail around 4:30 p.m., our goal being to camp at Jefferson Lakes, at some 5,800 feet, immediately under Mount Jefferson. In so doing a twelve hour, 4,900 foot day becomes a nine hour, 3,200 foot day. Note that the morning had been occupied in climbing to the Wasco County liner on Olallie Butte.

Our Jefferson Lakes camping plan was not to be. Snow became an issue at 5,500 feet, at times burying the dry trail and forcing us to search for the trail farther ahead as it reappeared at the opposite end of the snow bank. The showstopper came when we had to cross Whitewater Creek. The stream was flowing high, and was bordered by overhanging snow on both banks. A snowbridge was available for the crossing, but neither Terry nor I wanted to risk the attempt since failure would mean a life threatening fall into the torrent of near-freezing water. We agreed to camp on the near bank of the stream and search for safe passage early in the morning.

I considered the chances for actually locating a safe crossing, envisioning all manner of scenarios for how I could complete Oregon should I fail to reach the Marion County liner the following day.

After a cold supper of kosher salami, sourdough bread and hot mustard (plus extra-aged gouda cheese), I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept soundly from "9 to 5".

Terry woke me with "Adam!" from his tent, and, ice axe and crampons stored, we headed upstream at 6:30 a.m. in search of a crossing point. In less than ten minutes we located a snowbridge that seemed sturdy enough to support our individual body weights with daypack. We crossed without incident, Terry placing colored tape on nearby tree branches to indicate the crossing point on our return. I saved a GPS waypoint.

We ascended mainly on snow, reaching a prominent 7,400 foot hill described in a previous trip report by Ken Jones. The going was slow on sections which required climbing on scree, especially from some 8,400 to 8,800 feet immediately prior to reaching the main ridge on which lies the Marion County liner.

We left our packs at 8,800 feet and walked uphill, GPS in-hand, some 400 feet south and 200 feet higher still, to the area of the theoretical point representing the highest land in Marion County. The ridge becomes progressively steeper, and is transformed into a nearly impassible cliff formation at about 9,300 feet.

Terry Richard took numerous photographs of the mountain, its surrounds, and of myself - all with the goal of documenting the experience for an article about county highpointing.

Terry just became the first Oregon resident to complete his state!!

We descended to our packs, enjoyed the views along with lunch, and descended uneventfully to camp in a remarkably short time owing to favorable snow conditions, returning at 1:35 p.m. - some seven hours after starting out.

I had broken down my tent in the morning and just lounged on my groundpad munching food before filling my overnight backpack for the downhill hike - one which commenced at 2:30 p.m. and concluded some two hours later.

Terry R's newspaper article was featured in the July 25, 2004 issue of The Oregonian. It is hoped that the well-written contents will encourage more people to visit the Oregon county highpoints.

Location of the Marion County Highpoint - February 2005

I was shocked to read the trip report by Peter and Mary Green, to be posted at this website, by myself, in early February 2005. The Greens had visited Mount Jefferson's north ridge a mere three days after Terry and myself.

As they note in their report, an updated 1997 USGS 24,000:1 topographic chart places the county boundary at a different location than the previous, 1991 chart (see above hyperlink). The new location is set precariously on the same ridge, albeit about one thousand feet farther south and some 480 vertical feet higher at the 9,480 foot contour.

A photograph by Dennis Poulin amply demonstrates the rockfall-prone nature of Mount Jefferson's north ridge. Taken at the 9,000 foot level and looking south up the ridge, a prominent gendarme at 9,360+ feet blocks safe passage higher up the ridge. It is clear from both the Green's report and the photograph that a "new" location for the county highpoint would pose a daunting, dangerous challenge.

I became proactive and investigated the question of a new highpoint location with considerable determination. Both Dean Molen and myself had only the summit of Mount Jefferson between us and our own Oregon state completions. By the current rules of county highpointing we would be denied that reward unless we returned to the north ridge and visited the new liner.

In contrast, a "grandfather clause" exists in the current rules that absolves a previous state completer from returning to a county should new information contest the previous highpoint location.

Here is the exasperating point: Dean Molen visited the Marion County liner with Bob Bolton. Bob had completed Oregon by the time the Green's report was filed. Bob and Dean did nothing differently at the north ridge. Yet by the current rules, Dean must return to re-do Marion County while Bob need not.

The same state-of-affairs exists upon replacing Bob Bolton with Terry Richard and Dean Molen with myself. Terry and I did nothing differently, yet Terry is absolved of a return visit because he just-so-happens to have completed Oregon.

I contacted both the Linn and Marion County Survey offices. I also found a GIS database tool (Geographic Information System) at the Linn County website, and a set of county maps at the Oregon Department of Transportation website.

Without exception, the data suggests that the current location of the Marion County liner,
at some 9,000 feet on the north ridge of Mount Jefferson, remains correct

Here are the specific items of information (Linn County forms the relevant boundary with Marion County)

The only piece of data that suggests a new, higher location for the Marion County liner is the 1997 USGS chart.


Given that the relevant territory on the north slopes of Mount Jefferson was never actually surveyed, there is no "official" definition of the county line. Consequently it is silly to conclude that the county line crosses at a specific location on the north ridge of Mount Jefferson - including the 9,000 foot (1991 chart) and the 9,480 foot (1997 chart) elevation contours.

Given that there is no "official" boundary on the north ridge, the most definite means of guaranteeing that one visits the Marion County highpoint is to walk the ridge along its entire length.

Most would agree that is an unneccesary task. It is also almost physically impossible to accomplish. All that is required is a "good faith effort" given the knowledge available at the time of the climb. For myself and Dean Molen (who also needs JUST Mount Jefferson to complete the Oregon county highpoints), said effort has already been accomplished.

For future highpointers, given the new information regarding the indefiniteness of the county boundary, said effort might entail walking the ridge to a reasonable endpoint based on the terrain and rockfall hazard - perhaps to the gendarme at 9,360+ feet which served as the stopping point for the ridge traverse of Peter and Mary Green (see photograph).


This report settles the Marion County liner issue. Bring helmet, crampons and ice axe for your bid on the north ridge. A snowbound, late spring or winter assault would help mitigate the rockfall hazard, and yet bring its own problems - including possible avalanche threat. A rope is not out-of-the-question.