Today’s Miles: 12
Total Miles: 342.6
Hanks Lake to Jefferson Park
It’s with a heavy heart I write about this amazing day, knowing the area doesn’t look anything like my pictures after the fire swept through late summer, 2020. The beautiful landscape will rejuvenate of course, but I’ll be forever grateful I saw Jefferson Park before last year’s fire. It’s a solid reminder to seize opportunities. This link provides 2021 updates on trail closures in this area: PCT Oregon Trail Closures.
I stayed up much later than my usual trail bedtime last night, but having a hiking companion again was fabulous. Today was another big day of nervousness for me. The book describes two potentially dangerous water crossings, and I was anxious to get on the other side of both early in the day when the water level is at the lowest, as recommended.
Michelle joined me for this leg because she had been to Jefferson Park twice, and wanted to go back. Not knowing much about the area, I had zero expectations, but I was REALLY happy to have her company for the creek crossings so I wasn’t facing them alone, thus our meetup worked out perfectly.
We decided to hike down to Pamelia lake to connect to the Pacific Crest Trail, rather than hike back up the way I came down last night, which was extremely steep; it would have been a tough climb.
Michelle brought my trekking poles, which I really wanted for the crossings. I started the day hiking with them, and they proved extremely useful crossing the precarious creek near our camp, but I soon had Michelle strap them to my pack, finding them way too cumbersome. It’s really hard to hike 300+ miles a certain way, and then switch it up.
Hiking to Pamelia Lake was beautiful through lush forest, and many little creeks and cute bridges. I felt bad this is what Michelle hiked yesterday, but if you have to hike a trail twice, this was an excellent choice. Technically we needed a permit to even be on the trail, but luckily we never saw anyone – perhaps the benefit of a Monday.
We stepped into easy conversation while we hiked, and maintained that for the whole week. We were so busy chatting that on our way up the connecting trail, we realized we forgot to get water. We dropped our packs and ran back to Pamelia Lake.
Michelle had a pump filter, which complemented my gravity filter. We now had a tool for every water situation, and took turns filtering water through the week depending on the water source.
Once topped off, we made it back to the PCT – home sweet home! The trail makes you earn Jefferson park at the end of the day with a generous dose of ascent – but it’s worth it.
The first “potentially dangerous” water crossing was immediate – Milk Creek. Thankfully, the water was very low, and we found a place to easily rock hop across. My trekking poles gave me a little more confidence, which was nice. My balance isn’t what it used to be…
This hiking day is in the top 3 for all of Oregon. It was absolutely jaw-dropping beautiful. There is something so idyllic about a towering mountain in the background with water flowing down into the valley. We did hike through one burn section – giving Michelle a peek into my world the past few weeks, but the wildflowers were pretty, and the area was abuzz with hummingbirds.
We arrived at Russel Creek around 2:30 p.m. – the second potentially dangerous creek crossing. We met a family a mile back who said the crossing wasn’t bad, and advised us to look for the log upstream. It was a great tip, because I’m not sure we would have looked that far upstream on our own. This was definitely a trickier crossing than the first one, so we took a break before tackling it.
While we snacked, we watched an older couple with their dog simply cross right at the trail through the water, getting their boots and socks soaking wet. I asked Michelle if we should just do that, and she replied, “Nah, let’s try to keep our boots dry.”
The log crossing was only four or five steps, but the water was rushing, and seemed pretty deep because of the narrow spot. I was nervous, and Michelle offered to go first. She made it across easily, but I could see the sigh of relief on her face.
I started out using my trekking poles, but with the second step, the water was so deep, my pole didn’t touch ground. I felt my balance kilter ever so slightly by the surprise, and used my momentum to quickly get to the other side.
We were both safely across, and it was nice to give someone a high-five. Phew! I wouldn’t encounter another “potentially dangerous” crossing until up on Mt. Hood.
If you are a thru-hiker, you experience dozens of truly dangerous river crossings in California, so I’m sure this would be nothing to someone with all that experience, but there aren’t any opportunities to practice through Oregon, so it tested my nerves for sure.
From this point, we were only 1-2 miles from Jefferson Park, and the rest of the day had the big Wow Factor of 10. It’s appropriately named “park” because it was paradise, and almost looked planned and cared for in all the good ways.
We crossed meadow after meadow, all filled with wildflowers and little creeks, all the while with beautiful Mt. Jefferson providing the most majestic backdrop. I knew instantly I would have to return with Carl. It’s easily an area you can spend a few nights.
We stopped for a break and a swim at the very first lake we hiked by – Scout lake. I am now on Day 6 without a shower, so it was a lovely refreshing swim.
Sitting on rocks in the lake, we let the sun dry us off while eating crackers and cheese (thanks, Michelle!) I made a note to start adding cheese to my pack – it’s such a nice treat. We filtered water, and dreamed about a zero day tomorrow, never wanting to leave this magical wonderland.
Needing to find a camp for the night, we headed toward Bays Lake and quickly realized it might be difficult to find a spot. Our thinking changed from, let’s find the PERFECT location – to – we just need to find A location. Even on a Monday, every camp was accounted for.
We took dozens of pictures, and explored the area as we poked our heads into every camp nook along the way. Heading to another lake, we finally popped into a space that was empty – woohoo! It didn’t offer much of a view, so it wasn’t “perfect,” but it was a spot, and we were ready to settle in for the night.
But, Michelle quickly noticed smoke in the corner of camp, and we saw the ground smoldering under some trees.
Michelle went into immediate “action mode,” grabbing her heavy duty shovel out of her pack, and digging up the burnt dirt.
We had a fire to put out!
Apparently, Michelle came across the same scenario the last time she was in Jefferson Park, a big reason why she brings her turbo shovel.
Jefferson Park is a “no campfire zone,” and the smoldering ground was ironically right next to a sign reminding campers of this rule. Michelle assumed people started a small fire when it rained a few days back. She explained to me when a fire isn’t in a firepit ring, the heat can spread down into the ground and continue to burn for days, or weeks, without anyone noticing. This can obviously start a forest fire.
We poured all of our water we just filtered into the hole. Unfortunately, there was no easy access to the lake, so we trudged down a steep cliff two times, filling every container in our possession to pour onto the smoldering soil.
Once satisfied the forest would be saved this time, we walked around the area to survey the lake access because now we needed water for drinking and dinner.
On route, we found another camping location tucked way off the main trail that was far superior to the other spot. Woohoo! We figured we were rewarded for preventing the forest fire.
We moved our packs to our new home for the night. We now had our very own private pond (that would have made getting water for the fire a million times easier if we had known it was just right there). We had a view, and it was a wide open space – just perfect.
We made Idahoan burritos, with the addition of sundried tomatoes Michelle brought. This was a serious flavor game changer for me, it was SO good. We watched the sunset while sipping hot-water whisky drinks.
We set up our tents in the dark. My headlamp died before I was done. Thank goodness I had Michelle with me, and her backup light. (She is an amazing trail partner – she has everything!)
Earlier in the evening we noticed a telescope set up, so of course we had to go check it out, hoping someone would be there to identify some cool items in the sky. It was a big piece of equipment to lug all the way up here, so we assumed something amazing was to be seen. But when we arrived, no one was there, and we couldn’t see anything from our quick peek through the lens.
We continued star gazing from our own camp, enjoying the evening, and soaking our day in. It was a really lovely night.
Did you miss the beginning of my Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here