It turned out the off-trail section was indeed 2.1 miles, even with significant swerving and swaying about. What wasn't clear ahead of time was that it was (mostly) through a section destroyed by the B&B Complex Fires in 2003. So for the first mile or so, we were hurtling fallen logs, trying our damnedest not to trip over their many branches and/or being impaled by same, and then began the (big honking!) boulder scramble, followed by a 500' slip-n-slide up golfball-sized scree on a 35° pitch.
And, upon marking that achievement, we were about 1/3 of the way into a 24 mile loop on a 95°F day without shade! Ai yi yi! Why did we do this? Well, so we could eat lunch right here:
180° view (eight image, 4x2, pano) northwestward from our lunch spot at 6500'.
But I get ahead of myself, as always. We started our day with a 6am meetup at Dick's on Boone's Ferry, and carpooling (Thanks, Jim!) from there to Santiam Pass, which we arrived at somewhere around 8:30 or so. Oddly, although they had a nice-enough outhouse, the requisite picnic table, and a good sized parking lot, there was no self-service Forest Pass offering. We didn't notice, until someone asked us. Poor guy had to risk a citation, or drive to a ranger station many miles away.
The NOAA forecast for the TH was a high of 77°F. (They lie.) It was warm already. We were in the burn zone from the get-go. The first four or five miles were through wide-open territory, with views south to the Sisters and north to TFJ. We passed a few small lakes, and cussed out numerous hidden stumps in the trail that were covered up by the shrubs overgrowing it.
TFF trailhead shot. Definitely a wide-brim day!
Ten years after the fire, the pines were shorter than us. The view was still crisp and clear!
I didn't remember too many places where all three Sisters could be lined up from the north? Fun to see again where I just was!
Just a couple miles in, we came to Square Lake, and our first good views of the saddle crossing over TFJ.
The fire went to lake's edge mostly, but one random spot was preserved as a potentially shaded campsite.
Although lots of logs had been cut off the trail recently, perhaps 1/2 mile total was completely overgrown with these shrubs
(which we were extremely thankful were past flowering!)
The burnt landscape proved fascinating in its own way, as well as opening up lots of views we wouldn't have had in a forest.
Something really intense burned at the base of this tree!
Broken Top, Three Sisters, and Mount Washington over Square Lake
As we climbed, we left the shrubs mostly behind, and envisioned easy navigation over TFJ's saddle.
Mental image: Post-apocalyptic crispy-golden arches. (Sun and heat being felt, yes.)
TFJ over Booth Lake. One of the B's in B&B was Booth, so apparently the fire started near here?
Obligatory pano. Too beautiful not to!
Just doin' my part, keeping the trail navigable...
TFJ looming ahead, we're constantly re-assessing the viability of heading off-trail...
About 5.5 miles into the hike, we arrive at First Creek, which is our jumping off point. There's no way to mistake First Creek. It really is the first creek you cross on this trail. And it's the only one with water, too. Which probably sounds redundant from the reader's perspective, but didn't seem so at the time. Anyway, the strategy here was to turn towards TFJ, and generally follow the drainage until a saddle crossing became clear. There was no sign, whatsoever, of anyone other than deer and elk having taken this route before us! (We did cross through a bedding meadow, where the aroma was still intense!)
First Creek. Turn left here. Or right before here. Or right after. Doesn't matter. Be aware!
Navigation was a breeze! Footing was not. Elk meadow directly ahead.
Our pace fell to just over 1 mph as we had to leap, traverse, or otherwise avoid copious downfall.
It looks deceptively easy. Until one of those grass-covered branches reaches out and grabs your ankle! Or the log below you crumbles.
Following the creek directly was more work, as there was both dead stuff and newly live stuff to contend with!
Maybe a mile in, we found what could've been a drop-dead beautiful little pond, but it was mostly dried up.
We see the saddle getting closer, and eagerly anticipate finally getting out of the forest!
As TFJ becomes more prominent, the horizontal layering is striking! WTH?
I'm now extremely puzzled over the geologic processes that led to this!!!
Cinder bomb? Thought it was an anthill from a distance. Giant, consolidated, red cinder blob! Several of them, actually.
We tried, again, walking in the woods. No easier.
As the slope increased, I was convinced we were now suffering the worst that would be thrown at us.
And we were! I rejoiced at the sight of the boulder field! Heck, this was much easier than Elevator Shaft.
They were BIG boulders, though! (Jim's 6'6", eh? You can see Jim, right?)
TFJ continued to grow, as we climbed. Looks like smaller rocks up higher! We'll be heading right, up near those trees.
C'mon, can't pass up a shot like that!
The other, east, side of the saddle had a very cool promontory, as well!
Only 500 vertical feet to go!
But as the scree size decreased, the hillside became more and more slippery. Hard to keep moving forward, here!
Almost there, Jim! (Can you see Jim?)
Two hours and 2.1 miles after leaving the trail, we crest the saddle at about 6500', and are treated to the most spectacular of views! (Not to mention our first human sightings since leaving the trailhead. Ah well.)
Full 360° panorama, 11 images, from the TFJ saddle. (Interactive Photosynth)
Tripod? Who needs a tripod?
Right away, I spotted where I'd propose we lunch: that tan colored outcropping the upper-right. I mean... Wow!
Below us, a most beautiful tarn in cirque. And trails! And, yeah, people...
We head out to our overlook for lunch, passing what we presume to be ancient whitebark pines holding sentinel on the ridge.
TFJ as majestic as it gets... What a spot for lunch! (It was now nearly 1:30pm!)
We were saddened to see a fire burning over by Warm Springs. The end of the crystal clear skies for summer 2013?
Thought I could get Jim an endorsement deal here, but maybe he didn't show enough logo?
Some folks who had scrambled to the saddle from the north continued on up this secondary promontory. We'd climbed enough, thanks!
Selfie! First time I'd sat. Hard to stay still, with these views in all directions.
Some sort of stonecrop was blooming all around our little outcropping.
It was clear the little pines struggled mightily to survive here!
I could see the PCT traversing the ridge across the valley, and suggested, "We could just climb straight up that?" to avoid 4-5 miles. HA!
See that little glacier in the shade? Smackdab in the middle? Remember that...
The enormity of the B&B Complex was still dawning on us! It stretched nearly from Jefferson to Washington!
Given the lateness of the day, it was time to descend the north side of the saddle, and finish the loop!
One last look south at the Sisters area.
We were both pleased to be taking a trail, rather than sliding on our asses, down the scree saddle.
On the way down, I spotted a goat climbing straight up a glacier over on TFJ! It was an amazing sight!
Yeah, I did say, "Straight up!", right? That's the glacier I mentioned above, in the shot with Jim on the knob.
We quickly descended 600' or so, along the moraine.
Most of the ice is gone, but some remains. A torrent of meltwater echoed through valley, filling, and emptying, the tarn.
When the light hit just right, the turquoise was unbelievable!
Some hikers decided that this was as good a view as they needed today!
That inflow stream is probably a good 10-12' across. Capturing scale is difficult in this environment!
The flower show didn't really impress much, given all the build-up I'd gotten from Google on this area. Still, nice.
Bet we never get a TR to this rock arch!
The Long Haul
It seems we saw, and just decided it wasn't worth the effort to actually go into, the main Canyon Creek Meadows area. There appeared to be a bit of lupine growing, but otherwise it was just a large green field at this point. I'm definitely starting to feel jaded. I know people make a point of hiking here, specifically, from Jack Lake and thrill over it. But at this point, it just wasn't doing anything for us, so we just headed down the canyon, past some apparently "lessor" meadows along the way.
It was about 2:45pm, hovering around 90-95°, and our best guess was we had "well over" 10-12 miles to go! We knew we still had to reclaim the 1000' of elevation we'd just given up, too, as we crossed back over TFJ again to the other side.
The lower meadows were nice enough. Don't drive this far for them, this year, though.
The lupine did seem to be just starting to come on, and will probably get much better shortly.
But much of the meadow area was just, well, rather plain.
It was nice walking beside Canyon Creek, though.
We took this opportunity to refill our hydration bladders!
Note to Tom: There were several bridges in this wilderness, this being the least of them!
In a few miles, we arrived at Wasco Lake. There were a handful of reasonably nice, treed campsites around it.
And then, we were back on the PCT, where the grades are easy(!), all the way to Santiam Pass again.
Wasco Lake from above, as we head south on the (tree-covered) PCT.
The water in Wasco Lake was spectacularly clear and blue!
The burnt woods were full of numerous little potholes like this. (DEET helped!)
Mount Jefferson remained a presence for many miles.
As we traversed a Ghost Forest, we "pulled a mayhem" and put snowballs under our hats to cool down!
Nearing 6pm, we're on that stretch of PCT that I saw from our lunch spot across the valley.
The fiery red layers in TFJ were impossible to capture. Being here in early morning light would be spectacular!
An overlook worthy of another TFF stickpic shot!
Jim crossing over to the west (sunny!) side of TFJ.
Me, assessing how much daylight's left. Oh, we met a Kiwi thru-hiker about here! Kewl...!
As expected, the late sun lit TFJ very nicely. Took too many photos here, too.
Yet another example of why panos should be shot with a tripod! sigh...
A simple change in lighting completely changes the "mood" of this mountain!
More western pasqueflower. Who can resist?
The PCT gradually, painfully gradually, leading away from TFJ! (After hiking the gorge, the PCT seems like a very soft sidewalk!)
Hoodoo Ski Area seemed to be kind enough to offer us a strong cell signal, to alert family just how late we were!
We hit a nice little overlook that offered a sweeping 270° view towards the south!
Black Butte, and the nearly full moon, rose to our east. The Warm Springs fire smoke becoming much more visible now.
Really wanted to find one like this, that I could capture the setting sun through. Oh well.
The trudge along the PCT seemed like it might never end. Were we really going downhill???
Huh? Another 800' EL to go??? No way!
Finally, we start to make out the sound of the highway over Santiam Pass! Whoohoo!
9:01pm. Yeah, no
Okay, all-in-all, another absolutely wonderful day in (what was left of) the woods! Everyone should do this loop! Once. Heh, I honestly see no reason to do it again anytime soon. Maybe in another 30 years, when the forest has recovered a bit more again. Don't get me wrong. I am really, truly glad we did it! Very cool loop. (Shoot for a day that's really in the 70's, though!)
Final mileage: 23-24, Final EG: 4000'-ish. (Right-click, View-Image, for full-size map.)
http://gpsfly.org/gps_map.php?gps_id=2645&w=645&h=440 I got home a bit after midnight. It was a loooong day! And worth it.
(Thanks again to Jim, for doing so much of the driving!)