Prepare your muscles for a soak in the pools at Breitenbush by hiking on Mount Jefferson, Oregon’s second-highest peak, 10,495 feet above sea level. This snowcapped symmetrical volcanic cone dominates the Oregon Cascades horizon between Mount Hood to the north and the Three Sisters to the south. Unlike Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson is rarely visible to motorists approaching from the west.
Twelve miles east of Detroit on Route 22, turn left; follow Forest Service Road 2243 (Whitewater Creek Rd.) 7.5 miles to the Whitewater Creek trailhead. Then it’s an easy 4.5-mile hike to Jefferson Park. This is the northern base of the mountain and features a plethora of lakes and wildflowers. The alpine meadows are full of purple and yellow lupine and red Indian paintbrush in July. On the way up, wild strawberries and red huckleberries can provide a delectable snack. For a special experience during the summer, start the walk after 5 p.m. when there’s a full moon and the trail is bathed in soft lunar light.
Above Jefferson Park, the ascent of the dormant volcano’s cone is a precarious endeavor and should only be attempted by truly experienced climbers. You’ll reach the bottom of Whitewater Glacier at 7,000 feet. Thereafter, climbing routes steepen to 45 degrees and snow and rock ridges crumble when touched.
Near the top, the rocks aren’t solid enough to allow the use of ropes or other forms of climbing protection; going down is even more dangerous than going up. Even if you head up the more sedate south face, you can expect difficulties due to the instability of the final 400 feet of rock on the pinnacle. It must be emphasized that climbers regularly die on Jefferson.
Those who elect not to make the ascent may also run into problems. Sometimes the mosquitoes in Jefferson Park are bloodthirsty enough to pierce thick clothing. On occasion the area is so crowded with day-use visitors and folks trekking the nearby Pacific Crest Trail that this place seems more like a city park than a mountain wilderness.
No matter; the sight of Mount Jefferson in alpenglow at sunset or shrouded in moonlight will make you forget the intrusions of humankind or the elements.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel