Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

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Aimless
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Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by Aimless » June 22nd, 2019, 8:43 pm

This trail is located on the east side of the Mt. Jefferson wilderness and its trailhead is both the lowest and the most northerly of the strictly eastside trailheads. The last time I hiked this trail I didn't do much hiking. The trail had fallen victim to a profusion of snowbrush in the aftermath of the notorious B&B fire and where the snowbrush began, at about the 2.5 mile mark, all sensible hiking ended.

A couple of years ago the Deschutes Forest management declared its intention to abandon this trail above Cougar Springs, about 2 miles up from the trailhead. Knowing this, I did not expect to do much hiking on this trip, either. Instead, I came prepared with a big lopper and leather work gloves, intending to do some freelance brushing out, because in my opinion this trail did not deserve to die. The east side of Mt. Jefferson wilderness needs trails. All of them suffered from the B&B in varying degrees. Abandoning most of them would be a very bad idea for those who, like me, love that area and do not want to be confined to just one or two wildly popular trails, which are the trail from Jack Lake up to Canyon Creek Meadows, and the Cabot Lake trail. Both these trails see maintenance, but not much is being done elsewhere.

To my great surprise and delight, when I hiked up the Jefferson Lake trail on Tuesday afternoon (6/18/19) the trail had been brushed out past the 2.5 mile mark. I continued onward, looking for the spot where the maintenance gave out. After 4 miles, it still hadn't stopped, but I had run out of afternoon and headed back to my campsite to wash up and make some supper.

The next day (6/19/19) I decided to carry a lighter day pack, leaving behind the loppers, pruning saw and other tools, except for a light hand clipper. I was determined to see how far up the trail this maintenance miracle extended. It was a blue sky day with a nice breeze blowing. There was one other car at the trailhead.

The first thing you see as you start hiking is a small wooden bridge across rushing Candle Creek. The next thing you see is where a giant tree, which was standing when last I hiked here in 2017, fell across the trail. The cross section the saw crew removed was at least 5-1/2 feet in diameter!

The trail continues through fairly lush mixed forest, with vine maple and several more old growth trees. It touches on Candle Creek again at about half a mile, then veers over to enter a lava field and you leave green trees behind for most of the next 4 miles. Here the views open up considerably for about another quarter mile across the lava before descending to pass alongside the lava flow's edge.
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It was here I saw two kinds of tracks in the dust. The first were a series of large circular tracks, where someone had set down a bucket. I presumed this was connected to the other car at the trailhead. The second kind of track was a bear's paw print.
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Gradually the trail wanders away from the edge of the lava and the snow brush becomes a prominent feature, often more than head high. It being mid-June, the brush was in ecstatic bloom, with clouds of white blossoms.
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After 2 miles of hiking you reach Cougar Springs. It's one of the few obvious landmarks in what can seem like a sea of brush, punctuated with standing blackened snags. A lot of this stretch of trail looks like this:
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At about 3 miles in I solved the riddle of the bucket prints. It was accompanied by a trailwork volunteer who was removing invasive cheat grass and bagging it up. I talked with her for a bit. She informed me that she was part of a group of "locals" who had adopted the Jefferson Lake trail. They were responsible for almost all the massive amount of work I had witnessed, putting in over 1000 hours on this one trail. They even had some certified sawyers among them who logged out the fallen snags. I thanked her and them profusely. She said they'd not cleared trail as far as Jefferson Lake, yet. Most of their work was done in the fall, to avoid heat and ticks.

The trail re-enters the lava field at about 5 miles from the trailhead. Here the snow brush has no foothold and the trees show little sign of burning. In the end I hiked a full 6.5 miles up and arrived at a point where the trail was clogged up with fallen snags. There were a lot of them in that neighborhood.
DSCF2073.JPG
I could have continued, but I was within 10 minutes of my turnaround time, so I didn't bother to navigate any further. Instead, I found a nice place to sit, look at the view, which included some cliffs the volunteer had assured me sometimes harbor mountain goats.
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I should emphasize that this trail does not yet approach anywhere near its old terminus at the Cabot Lake trail near Patsy Lake and is NOT a useable trail to get to the Table Lake area. It is not even cleared as far as Jefferson Lake, although it can get you quite close to it, if you are willing to bushwhack the final mile or thereabouts. I can't say how difficult the bushwhack might be, not having gone that far myself. I should also say that much of the trail is severely shadeless and is best hiked on a cool day, or in the morning hours.

But I should also emphasize that this is a success story, of people reclaiming a good trail the USFS thought not worth the trouble. It is hikeable for 6.5 miles, where a short time ago it was an unhikeable mess beyond the first mile and a half. Hurray for the volunteers. Go, hike this trail and be glad. It could use a few more boots on the ground.

justpeachy
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by justpeachy » June 23rd, 2019, 6:08 am

Well that's GREAT news! Thanks for the report! Are the volunteers planning to clear more of the trail this season?
in my opinion this trail did not deserve to die. The east side of Mt. Jefferson wilderness needs trails. All of them suffered from the B&B in varying degrees. Abandoning most of them would be a very bad idea
I totally agree.

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retired jerry
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by retired jerry » June 23rd, 2019, 6:35 am

thanks for the report, nice

what's with the Forest Service? Doing everything they can to keep people out of Wilderness. Closing trails. Restricting access to those they aren't able to close. Making people reserve online ahead of time...

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kelkev
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by kelkev » June 23rd, 2019, 11:53 am

I had heard that a group of local volunteers had been putting in tons of labor to reopen this trail. Hopefully they can get it cleared to the Cabot Lake Trail in the near future. I've hiked it in years past, but only a couple of miles in from the trailhead. The USFS abandonment of the east side Mt. Jefferson Wilderness trails is ridiculous. Another one lost to time is the Brush Creek Trail, which intersects the PCT just north of Rockpile Lake. I hiked it several years ago, and finding the tread at the trailhead was near impossible, but I managed to pick up the old trail on the ridgetop and follow it easily to the PCT. Scenic, rugged, and worth saving as well. Last update I heard is that the snowbrush has really taken over the lower parts - - I need to check it out again sometime and see.

Thanks for the update!
"Going to the mountains is going home."
— John Muir

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jessbee
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by jessbee » June 23rd, 2019, 5:27 pm

Awesome! I'll add this one to my list!
Will break trail for beer.

Blog and photos

johnspeth
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by johnspeth » June 23rd, 2019, 7:12 pm

kelkev wrote:
June 23rd, 2019, 11:53 am
I had heard that a group of local volunteers had been putting in tons of labor to reopen this trail. Hopefully they can get it cleared to the Cabot Lake Trail in the near future. I've hiked it in years past, but only a couple of miles in from the trailhead. The USFS abandonment of the east side Mt. Jefferson Wilderness trails is ridiculous. Another one lost to time is the Brush Creek Trail, which intersects the PCT just north of Rockpile Lake. I hiked it several years ago, and finding the tread at the trailhead was near impossible, but I managed to pick up the old trail on the ridgetop and follow it easily to the PCT. Scenic, rugged, and worth saving as well. Last update I heard is that the snowbrush has really taken over the lower parts - - I need to check it out again sometime and see.
I agree about the abandonment of that side of Mt Jeff. I hiked the area last summer and found slightly better conditions than what you described. The trail from Bear Valley to Rockpile Lake (trail 4005) was in good condition. The brush you mentioned was cut back far enough to last a few seasons of new growth but it will need to be eventually revisited. I heard that firefighting crews cleared it as part of training. They did a great job. When I was there, the trail was hot and dry until the burned area ended about half way to the lake. That's a win for us.

We also have a loss in the area: The Bear Valley trail (trail 4006) from Bear Valley to Minto Pass is posted as closed/unmaintained. It had quite a bit of brush obscuring the trail. I followed it for a quarter mile and figured it wasn't worth the effort to continue after my Rockpile Lake hike. The trail was faint and I personally would not attempt it unless I had plenty of time. I have no idea what to expect past the quarter mile. I've never hiked that one.

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teachpdx
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by teachpdx » June 24th, 2019, 10:40 am

It's so encouraging that the trail has so many clear miles!

Table Lake is on the backpacking docket for this summer... I may just have to bring some loppers and see how far I can hack away from the Patsy Lake side of things. This trail deserves some love.

Aimless
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by Aimless » June 24th, 2019, 11:30 am

I'm just guessing, but if you started in from the upper end, by Patsy Lake, you might find you have more use for a saw than a loppers. btw, you won't regret going to Table Lake, but be warned that in early July it's buggy. Of course, if you can live with the mosquitos, that just means you get more solitude and see more wildlife.

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teachpdx
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by teachpdx » June 24th, 2019, 11:43 am

Aimless wrote:
June 24th, 2019, 11:30 am
you won't regret going to Table Lake, but be warned that in early July it's buggy.
I think Table Lake is on the list for later in August or early September. I handle the bugs okay, but my partner hates them and gets eaten alive (even drenched in DEET) so I have to take that into consideration for these trips.

We spent a couple nights at Square Lake in late May, and even that early the mozzies were noticeable when the wind died down. Luckily there was a stiff breeze most of the day.

justpeachy
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Re: Jefferson Lake Trail, June 18 & 19 2019

Post by justpeachy » July 1st, 2019, 7:13 am

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I have an unpleasant PSA for this trail, from another hiker who was there yesterday: the ticks are out in force. Several ticks embedded themselves before they were discovered, with more crawling on the packs, and they flicked off a bunch during the hike out.

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