Jefferson Park is awesome. It is a large, fairly level, high-elevation plain on the north slope of Mount Jefferson. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through it on its way north, and in the summertime, it is a popular destination for day hikers interested in seeing wildflowers, lakes, wildlife, and other alpine odds and ends. It is indeed beautiful. Not willing to settle for the ordinary, Barb and I decided to come to Jefferson Park in the dead of winter.
Mount Jefferson is a dormant volcano, located east of Salem, Oregon. It is a prominent feature of the Cascades, the second-highest mountain in the state, a height runner-up only to Mount Hood. Usually, Jefferson Park is an easy day hike, apporoximately five miles from the closest trailhead – Whitewater Creek. The situation is vastly different when snow is on the ground. One should expect slower travel time (naturally, the case with snowshoeing) and a need to pay attention to trail blazes to stay on course. One should definitely be well-versed and prepared for camping in snow conditions, should they decide to stay there overnight.
During our approach to the PCT from the trailhead, we did not experience a whole lot of snow, just a thin layer of it on the ground, which was good enough reason not to strap on snowshoes right away. Once we climbed above 5000′ into the Sentinel Hills, the snow got deeper.
By the time we crossed Whitewater Creek, the snow was ankle-deep, and snowshoes were needed to comfortably move forward. Our next step would be finding a trail junction with the PCT and heading north. Having started at noon, we got to this junction around 4 PM, with daylight dwindling and the winds picking up. Jefferson Park was a little less than a mile farther north.
Needless to say, it was a relief to find the sign stating that we indeed reached Jefferson Park. In the dark, we hustled up to pitch our tent and organize all the gear inside to ensure a warm and safe night. In retrospect, I feel as if we could have staked out the tent a bit better, maybe even guying it out for extra stability – the wind proceeded to beat up our tiny house unmercifully all night long. Every time a new gust shook the tent walls, Barb and I were doused with water accumulated on them, as condensation from our breath produced some moisture. Not the most pleasant experience in the world.
After some quick dinner, sleeping was an easy task – snowshoeing is a tiring pastime!
In the morning we discovered that it dumped even more snow! Our snowshoes and trekking poles left outside overnight were noticeably deeper in. After a quick and spartan breakfast of energy bars, coconut flakes and tea, we packed up and headed back. Finding the blazes marking the trail was even more important, since our tracks from the night before were gone, covered by a fresh layer of snow.
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