I had a couple of days free to take a short backpacking trip and chose to hike up the Cabot Lake trail on the east side of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
The drive to the trailhead via FS Road 12 and FS Road 1230 is quite passable for passenger cars. Road 12 is paved, but Road 1230 is mostly graveled and has all the familiar clouds of dust, washboarding, stray chunks of rock, impinging brush, and occasional water gullies that we all know and love, but they all exist at tolerable levels. The trailhead parking is large and without shade. This is a popular trail, at least up as far as Carl Lake, but on Tuesday (7/10) it only had a few vehicles.
The first two miles of trail, up to Cabot Lake, are nearly level, but were badly burned in 2003 during the B&B Complex fire. No big trees survived in the first 1.5 miles, so shade is non-existent. Cabot Lake is not visible from the trail and the side trail that leads down to it is unmarked. If you are interested in it, look for a broad, bare dirt spot in the trail almost exactly 2 miles from the trailhead, then follow the deadfall-strewn path downhill to the lake. Beyond this spot, the trail soon climbs up some switchbacks through unburned, but very badly beetle-damaged forest with many dead standing snags and almost no shade. I heard a hermit thrush singing along here.
At about 3 1/4 miles you encounter a large shallow pond that mostly becomes a broad mudflat by September. By this point, the forest is healthier, shadier and more pleasant hiking, although the numerous ponds in the next mile make this stretch buggier, too.
The last pond in this series is almost large enough to qualify as a lake and has a lovely view of Mt. Jefferson.
From here it is only another mile or so to Carl Lake, a large, deep, clear mountain lake with the crest of the Cascades rising up at the western end, as spectacular cliffs. It's about 5 miles and 1000 ft. of elevation gain all told.
There are many campsites around Carl Lake. I chose to camp on the east end to take advantage of a stiff breeze that helped keep the mosquitos down to more acceptable levels. The last snow patches had only recently melted and there were still a few snow remnants near the southwest edge of the lake, so the bug population was still close to its peak. I didn't mind them terribly. I've seen much worse, but there were always a few landing on me and I did my share of swatting them. At the moment there is no water running into or out of the lake, but it is so deep and clear that the lake water is excellent anyway.
In the morning the air was calm and from my tent I heard the splash of an osprey hitting the water to catch its breakfast. Later I saw it and heard it crying. It seems odd that raptors always sound petulant and complainy to me. After breakfast I hit the trail again, aiming to hike on to Table Lake, another 6 miles up trail. After skirting the south side of Carl and junctioning with the Shirley Lake trail (which leads up to the PCT), the Cabot Lake trail climbs about 400 feet via switchbacks to a vantage point above Carl Lake.
From here onward for about two miles the trail stays near 5900 to 6000 feet, climbing or dropping according to the terrain, and it is beautiful terrain, with old mountain hemlocks or whitebark pines, talus rockfalls, cindery meadows, a few ponds, lava fields, some broad views to the east, and an almost parklike feel.
After passing alongside a large lava field, ending with a spectacular view of Mt Jefferson, the trail drops 700 feet in a mile, down to Patsy Lake, a smallish, but deep lake in such a steep-sided bowl that campsites near it are almost impossible. This is where the now-abandoned Jefferson Lake trail used to junction with Cabot L. trail. You then climb again about 300 feet on your way to Table Lake. The distance from Carl L. to Table L. is 6 miles.
Table Lake has a nice meadow where the inlet creek flows into it. There is also an ample spring emerging just below the trail as you meet the lake. Much of the shoreside is rocky, cliffy and not easy to camp in, but there are some good campsites above the NW corner of the lake. It was very buggy there, but not at Armageddon levels. The hot weather should improve that situation in a week or two. I was the only person there on Wednesday (7/11).
Table Lake also has its resident osprey and I was lucky enough to see three river otters in the lake, and watched one of them catch and eat a trout! I anticipated very hot weather on Thursday as I hiked out the 11 miles back to my car, so I got a very early start. Perhaps the heat was why I only saw two people that day, a pair of day hikers headed toward Carl Lake. It was a great hike!
This forum is used to share your experiences out on the trails.
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Very nice! I had hoped to get into Table Lake and The Table for the first time this summer, but an unplanned and unwanted hernia surgery will push this trip to next summer. I've made it to Carl Lake and Shirley Lake, but never beyond. Beautiful country, and glad you were able to enjoy it without the crowds.
"Going to the mountains is going home."
— John Muir
— John Muir