Trip: Mt. Jefferson - South Ridge

Date: 7/17/2008

Trip Report:
Went for a 3 day summit bid on the South Ridge of Jefferson this past week, and had amazing weather, great conditions, and a successful summit. Myself, Bob and Daniel are fairly new to climbing, and our guide Chris, from Timberline Mt. Guides, took great care of us.
We set out Wednesday morning from Pamelia Lake Trailhead around 8:30 for the 7.5 miles approach. We hiked to the lake, then up north of the lake to join the PCT and head east toward our intended campsite near Shale Lake. We passed another TMG group coming out who had failed to summit two nights ago because of high temps due to cloud cover, and very soft, unconsolidated snow. Ran into snow on the trail around 5500 feet, and glimpsed a large dark shape moving through the distant woods, and about 3 minutes later came across fairly large bear tracks. We moved east to a great site near one of the ponds at about 5800 feet, maybe Coyote Lake (snow filled and covered, but a good water source), with a great view of the mountain and our route.
A delicious pasta dinner, bedtime around 7:30, and fitful rest until wake time, 12:30 AM.
Woke to crystal clear skies, a bright moon, and temps about 34 degrees at camp. Perfect. Departing about 1:45, we followed Chris's heading through the snowy woods towards the bottom of our drainage, which led directly upward toward the South Ridge. The snow got a little steeper, and then we went up a steep, hellish scree field for about 200 feet, until we were able to cut over to the right (east) through a level snowfield, and nearly gain the ridge, probably around 7700 feet.

The going was little tough as the sun started to rise around 5:00 AM, moving up along the ridge, mostly in scree, some of which was very doable, some of which was very frustrating (step up a foot, slide back 8 inches). We'd had enough of this by about 6:00 AM, so headed up over the ridge and out onto the snowfield on the east side of the ridge (probably considered the top of the Waldo Glacier). We roped up around 9000 feet as the snow steepened slightly, and moved together on short ropes up the snowfield, paralleling the ridge on its east side. Around here we found deep, solid bootpack, likely from the TMG group two days ago (thanks guys!), and followed this to the top of the snow, cresting the ridge just below and east of the red saddle, around 8:00.
Making good time, according to Chris, but things would start to slow down at this point, as we could see the very exposed traverse around to the west of the south summit, toward the area between the pinnacles that we hoped to scramble up.
Chris lengthened the ropes at this point, and set out to protect the route with pickets. The bootpack continued out across the traverse, and the snow was staying very firm, taking vertical pickets quite well as we moved across the slope. It looked like a higher traverse, up closer to the rocks, had melted out quite a bit, and ended in some small crevasses, so we stayed low until we were about 3/4 of the way to the other ridge, and then front pointed up to the ridge that led up towards the rocks.
Chris headed up to set up a belay, and then we followed him up the rocks. Really a scramble over huge boulders, checking for loose rocks with each hand and foothold.

We hung out in the saddle between the pinnacles as Chris went up and set up our last pitch, a pretty easy scramble up about 75 feet and around, to the top! The weather was amazing, with light wind, a lot of sun, and very warm temps. We could see north to Hood, Adams, St. Helens and Rainier, and south past Three Fingered Jack and the Sisters. We were on top at about 11:30, and stayed up there for about 20 minutes. Photo below courtesy of Chris Wright.

The register was suspiciously (and satisfyingly) empty of recent summit records, showing only one from 2008 so far.
The way down was fun but uneventful, involving a rappel from the saddle between the pinnacles, and couple of lowers down the steeper snowfields. The sun was starting to warm up the snow on the traverse slope, so we wanted to move fast back to the red saddle. Once we were there, it was a long climb back down to camp, arriving back about 6:45, making for a 17 hour day! Very long, very exhausting, but hugely satisfying. We know it's the "easy" way up Jefferson, but still felt great about what we had done. We also couldn't have been more pleased with Chris's guiding, feeling safe at all times.
To sum up, we got lucky with the weather, and were grateful for the beta from the preceding group, and for their bootpack higher up. As a beginning climber (2 Hood [1 solo], 2 Adams, 1 Shasta, St. Helens, etc...) I felt comfortable the whole way, and would have felt OK solo on most of the route, with the obvious exception of the traverse, and a little bit in the rocks. I was thankful for all the protection.


Gear Notes:
Crampons, axes, helmets, poles, with Chris carrying, and using 3 snow pickets, and some rock gear. There is a new yellow sling left in the saddle between the pinnacles.

Approach Notes:
7.5 miles, from Pamelia Lake trailhead, up to the PCT, then over snow to the area near Shale and Coyote Lakes, with plentiful water and flat campsites.