Mount Jefferson - Milk Creek West Ridge, June 2008
Aaron and I paired-up for another go at an Oregon Volcano, this time Mt. Jefferson. I had wanted to revisit the Jefferson Park Glacier route, but given that Tom and I had essentially climbed the headwall above the glacier to the saddle on a previous attempt, I had a hankering to explore a different side of the peak and so we somehow convinced ourselves to give the Milk Creek West Ridge route a try instead. It's a moderately interesting route...when covered in snow (I can't imagine what a horror show it must be when devoid of snow). Probably the most direct route to summit, the West Ridge has some of the character of a mini-Liberty Ridge climb - for the portion below Thumb Rock anyway. Unfortunately, the snow was warm, wet and very sloppy and only got worse the higher we got. It was 100+ degrees at the Detroit Ranger station the Saturday before the climb and it continued to remain uncomfortably warm at our 7000-ft camp that night. This did not bode well for the finish on the rimed-up summit pinnacle.
The thunderstorms and lightning show over the Sisters that evening was an entertaining pre-bedtime distraction, which come 2:30am decided to pay us a visit with a brief dousing shortly before our wake-up call. We eventually got moving around 3:30am, finding the snow no firmer than what we experienced the previous afternoon. We paired-up with Mike and Chance of Eugene the day of the approach, and so each did our part kicking steps up towards the summit the following morning. It was mostly just step kicking in heavy snow for the 3000+ feet up from camp. There were short bits at 50-degrees or so, but we were usually up to our knees in mush at these spots. The route would have been much more interesting in firmer conditions, but it was what it was...
We reached the base of the summit pinnacle in good time and worked our way to the north side to gain the standard ramp that leads to the summit. We were prepared for ice and had some rock pro, but the summit pinnacle was still totally plastered in wet 'rime' that barely adhered to the rock. Forget the rope and gear - just suck it up and go for it! Or not. It's still your standard Oregon views from Jefferson - perhaps better than any other volcano in the state given the proximity to the Sisters and Three Fingered Jack. Returning from the north side, we followed a steeper-than-expected and exposed boot track that traversed the west side of the pinnacle to Red Saddle. The variation that gains the notch above this traverse might have gone with some mixed rock and slop as well, but the run-out here was somewhat unnerving. To quote Jeff Smoot, "...the summit pinnacle still repels its share, mostly in disgust or fear." I'd say that's probably a fair characterization.
We rested at Red Saddle for a while, taking photos and such before the embarking on the Southwest Ridge descent. With some relatively solid scrambling near the top and mostly snow-covered slopes below, this route becomes an infernal scree slog later in the summer. Finding a good line back across the choss and snow beneath Milk Creek Glacier's South Lobe, we traversed back to our camp low on the West Ridge. As forecasted, afternoon thunderclouds were building overhead and so we wasted little time packing up camp and heading back down.
We wished our 'clients' well as they stopped to filter water somewhere low in Milk Creek Canyon, and continued down into the forest, following the Pamelia Lake Trail back to the car. Dining at Cedars in downtown Detroit late that afternoon, Aaron and I agreed to give Three Fingered Jack a miss the following day. We were exhausted and it was just too damn hot to climb. We parted ways after 'linner', and boy was I jealous of Aaron's one-hour drive back to Bend. I would come to regret the beer I drank as well, as staying awake on the stretch between Detroit and Madras was easily the crux of the trip!
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