After an eventful day of hiking through a storm on Three fingered Jack I was happy to be back in the warmth of my car driving towards my final destination. By now I had visited Oregon four times this season simply for ski mountaineering and after a few trips I almost felt like I was a local. As I drove over Santiam pass for the sixth and final time this season I noticed that the Mt Jefferson area was over taken in dark clouds. I had hopes that the last afternoon sun would burn off the clouds overhead as I entered Mt Jefferson wilderness via the White Water road but this was not the case. The rain slowly misted as I drove up whitewater creek progressing to a downpour as the road gained elevation finally reaching my destination the whitewater trailhead. My original intention was to camp here so I could get an early start but I chose instead to camp much lower where it was barely a drizzle.
I tossed and turned all night with the now constant downpour amplifying as it hit the tents rain fly with my mind pondering the question “would the rain delay my plans once again?” After what felt like less then an hour of sleep the ear piercing noise of my alarm verified my fear. The rain had not yet let up and I would have to wait if I wanted dry gear on the trip. Every hour or so I would awaken to check the status on the weather and by 11:00 it let off and the occasional patch of blue skies gave hope that I was in store for better weather. I used the sun to my advantage as I dried the last of my wet gear and after a quick breakfast of Oatmeal and Instant coffee I packed my backpack and drove up towards the trailhead. I had originally planned to summit Jefferson via the Whitewater glacier then on my return I would climb and snowboard the Jefferson Park glacier allowing me a few hours to return back to the trailhead around the time of the setting sun but now it wasn’t feasible to obtain my goal it would have to be a overnight trip.
After carrying 100 pound packs for a week at a time a 50 pound bag seems like nothing. I kept a consistent pace for the 6 mile hike out to scout lake hiking in running shoes on the well maintained trail until reaching the final mile stretch which was buried under a foot of well consolidated snow. Once arriving at the snowpack I followed the almost chaotic footprints that seemed to head more towards snowless terrain then the trail so I abandoned the track and started heading directly towards Scout lake. Within ten minutes of abandoning the trail I found myself on the northern shore with Mt Jefferson’s north face reflecting on the lakes surface, within seconds my pack was off and I was setting up camp. From my camp I had a perfect view of Jefferson Park Glacier and within a half hour I was off to tackle it.
Mt Jefferson from the Whitewater trail
From Scout Lake I cramponed up a steep permanent snowfield for the first 1500 feet until reaching a saddle that allowed me access to the Jefferson Park Glacier. From a distance the glacier looked all broken up but with closer examination I could see an obvious route that led all the way up to the shrunds 2000 feet above. I started off cramponing but quickly switched over to skinning up the low angled slopes. After around 500 vert I skinned up to my first obstacle a few crevasses on the left hand side of the Glacier. Curiosity got the best of me as I skinned up to the edge and looked in to find solid ground 4 feet below. Feeling disappointed I kept skinning up the glacier slowly traversing towards the gut. Soon enough I found myself staring into the deep bottomless abysses in the heart of the glacier cautiously skinning in the path of least resistance. Once arriving at 9000 feet the slope angle dramatically changed from low angled to a 40 degree consistent pitch. Without crevasses below I would usually stick to skinning but this time it was not the case so I switched over to crampons and started kick stepping up the sun softened slopes. I was alone so I had to use extra precautions traveling on the glacier so I carefully probed the path ahead of me searching for covered crevasses exposing only one lurker. The last 500 feet was by far the slowest but within an hour I was stopped dead in my tracks by a massive shrund that extended across the whole slope. I was unroped and solo so this would be the end of the road for me as I looked at the 3500 foot run that would take me to within a few minutes of camp with only one quick carry over.
Looking at the Jefferson Park Glacier from the saddle
Looking west into Oregons Old Cascades
Looking North at Mt Hood
I sat at the edge of the shrund for 10 minutes taking in the views of the landscape below glowing in the late afternoon sun and Mt hood dominating the skyline to the North all while getting my gear situated. With Ice axe in hand for potential self arrest I ripped into the Jefferson Park headwall carefully following my ascent route. The sun had softened the snow dramatically delivering conditions that ranged from deep soft corn to solid Glacial Ice. Within five minutes I was at the bottom of what took me hours to climb and crossing the saddle that would allow me access to base camp. Earlier in the day when I climbed the slope I made two observations, first it didn’t have a single crevasse and second the suncups were minimal. With prime conditions I made huge arc turns down the final 1500 feet before hitting the uphill on the opposite side of the slope. Somehow I was able to extend my final hike of the day from 10 minutes to an hour as I ran in circles searching for Scout Lake. Once arriving back at camp I changed over to dry clothes and cooked the now standard dinner consisting of Macaroni and cheese and the local stream water. After a quick overview for the day ahead I fell asleep under Jefferson with the final rays of light illuminating a bright red on the Ice covered slopes of Jefferson Park Glacier.
Looking west from the headwall
The shrund that stopped my progress
My tracks down the Glacier
MT Jefferson and the Jefferson Park Glacier from Scout Lake
The next day I woke up early both to watch the sunrise and get an early start on the trail so hopefully I would be back to the car in the afternoon and meeting up with a friend in hood river by that night to celebrate. I watched the early morning sun crest over the cascades for one final time in my journey as I packed my bag for the long day ahead. Soon I was back on the trail searching for an efficient route over to the whitewater glacier when I stumbled upon a group of three campers who were trekking across the PCT for 12 days. They were happy to see someone as they had lost the trail in the snowpack the day before and I was more then happy to point them in the right direction. After an hour of exchanging stories back and forth and showing them how a splitboard works I was back to hiking with pockets filled with Oreo’s and rice krispy treats. I arrived to the lower slopes of the NE side of Mt Jefferson and after some map checking I decided to abandon the climbers trail for the more obvious and scenic ridgeline. I put on my crampons and climbed the steep firm slopes slowly traversing until reaching the base of the Whitewater glacier.
The NE flank of Mt Jefferson
The base of the Whitewater glacier
The climbing route is a traverse over a mile long on low angled glacier before reaching the south facing scree ridge that borders the icy slopes. After stuffing my face with rice krispy treats and enjoying fresh water from the glacier I was skinning across the long traverse. I had looked at Jefferson from the high alpine of the southern Washington Volcano’s and Mt hood so many times it felt oddly rewarding to look back and see them dominating the skies to the north as I skinned across the high flanks of the Whitewater Glacier with the headwall and summit 2000 feet above. Little did I realize that the route I was taking happened to be the longest. Starting off on the lower NE flank then I would have to do a complete circumference of the mountain to gain access to the final 200 foot scramble to the summit pinnacle. Once arriving at the southern ridge I ditched the snowboard and started climbing the steep scree field until reaching the highpoint referred to as the red saddle. From here I had a perfect view of the Southern Oregon volcano’s from three fingered Jack to Diamond peak with the Three Sisters wilderness in-between and to the North was a sketchy 60 degree slope I would have to cross to summit proper. I had heard about the traverse and thought nothing of it but after seeing it I almost considered turning around.
Looking North at Hood Adams and St Helens
The Whitewater Headwall
Looking South from red saddle
The traverse without my kicksteps
If I was going to do the traverse I would have to put in the bootpack and carefully cross the 300 feet of near vertical slopes all while looking down a 3000 foot gulley filled with cliffs and rocks knowing all to well that any fall had a substantial chance of being fatal. I knew that the traverse was going to be sketchy but at the same time I felt confident with my climbing abilities so I switched over to crampons and Ice axe and pushed forward. Each step was a process as I placed the Ice axe as deep in the snow as possible and kicked the frozen slope until it became a platform then I would pack down the snow all while being extra cautious of my other foot slipping out. Each step took a few minutes and what would normally take 15 minutes took around two hours. My feet were bleeding and in a lot of pain as I finally reached solid ground and the top 200 feet of technical rock climbing above me. I carefully took off my crampons and put my Ice axe in my backpack then attempted the last 200 foot rock face between me and the summit. For my first attempt I tried the north ridge proper with careful foot and hand placements I found myself dead in my tracks with a ten foot Ice wall above, after a few minutes of attempting the Ice wall I down climbed the rock all while looking at the 1000 foot fall I would take if I slipped. I noticed another area that had great handholds and attempted it but got stopped once again this time by an overhanging rock with no handholds. By this time I was sketched out and frustrated I spent a few seconds convincing myself to attempt the face one last time in the area that was the most exposed but seemed climbable. Once at the route I pressed forward finding solid hand and footholds along the way and with some semi technical moves I was standing on the summit of my final objective.
Looking South from the summit of Mt Jefferson
Looking down on the Whitewater glacier
I only stood on the summit a few minutes taking in views of 12 different volcano’s 9 of which I could see my ski routes. I was happy to have a moment to celebrate my accomplishment but I was also sketched and I truthfully just wanted to get down. I carefully down climbed the rock wall on the route that had the least amount of Ice and quickly found myself back at the traverse. I was very happy that I took the extra time putting in the steps as heading back was almost effortless as I would place my Ice axe in its previous trench and carefully place my feet on the steps. Once arriving at the red saddle I was relived knowing all to well that the technical climbing was over with and from here on it was easy slopes. After being on exposed terrain the south ridge was a breeze as I climbed, jumped and slid 1000 feet down to where the snowboard was waiting at the edge of the glacier.
The traverse with the steps put in
The ride down the Whitewater glacier was a disappointing traverse with only about 10 turns to spare along the way. I had originally planned to be back at camp by 3 p.m. but here I was riding the glacier at 7 p.m. so to make up for lost time I chose the most direct path to camp knowing I would have to down climb 1000 feet before arriving at snow once again for the final 500 feet. After climbing 12 hours I was back at camp throwing all my gear in my backpack preparing for the last 7 mile push to the trailhead. I got on the trail around 8:30 as the sunset alpenglow illuminated on Jefferson jogging back trying to take advantage of the last 45 minutes of light. After tripping a few times I switched over to a headlamp and found myself back at the trailhead a little bit after 10:00. I was bloody, blistered and bruised but most importantly I was stoked that I had completed my journey.
One last look at Jefferson as I hiked back to the trailhead
In conclusion Jefferson was one of the most technical climbs within the Cascade Volcano’s. I was glad that it was my final climb as I felt that without the experience I had gained throughout the season a summit would have been all but impossible. Within the Oregon Volcano’s Jefferson by far has the best summit view being centrally located.