Saturday, August 24 – Sunday, August 25, 2019
With a gorgeous weekend weather forecast, Greg and I headed out for a one-night backpacking trip in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. Our destination was Santiam Lake. The shortest route to this lake is via the Duffy Lake Trail, but we wanted to visit Berley Lakes as well so we started at Santiam Pass.
The first 1.3 miles are along the well-traveled PCT. This area burned in the 2003 B&B Complex Fires:
There is no shade, but there are views
Crossing the wilderness boundary:
Most of the summer wildflowers are done, but we saw pearly everlasting:
And scarlet gilia:
St. John’s Wort:
We reached the junction with the Santiam Lake Trail and turned left:
We got a peek at Three Fingered Jack through the burned snags:
We passed several of these snowmelt ponds:
Views to the west:
At 2.2 miles we passed a junction with the abandoned and unmaintained Santiam Lodge Trail:
Hiking on through the burn:
After 3.3 miles we left behind the burn and entered unburned forest:
We crossed this wide flat plain which was pretty cool:
We passed another large pond on the left. There were a few campsites here:
We entered a meadow with a view of the top of Three Fingered Jack:
In that meadow we heard an elk call off to the left twice. We were super excited because how cool would it be to see an elk! We ran into hikers coming from the other direction. They wondered if it was hunters using a call because today was apparently the opening of the season. “Oh, I bet you’re right,” I told them, and we parted ways. Sure enough, a few moments later as we were peering across the meadow hoping for a sign of elk, we saw instead three hunters emerge from the trees. Nuts!
In that meadow is a junction with a sign stating “no fires within 100 ft. of lake”. The main trail heads left and we headed right to head down to the southern shore of the lake:
5.6 miles from the trailhead we reached the lakeshore where we quickly found a nice campsite in the trees.
The view from this part of the lake is great, with Three Fingered Jack visible to the east:
We could see the top of Duffy Butte:
We could also see the top of Red Butte with Mt. Jefferson behind:
A few asters blooming near our site:
After setting up camp we switched to day hiking mode and set off towards Red Butte. We continued north on the Santiam Lake Trail, then picked up the Dixie Lakes Trail, which soon crossed this huge meadow:
Back in the burn again:
We passed South Dixie Lake:
Then North Dixie Lake:
And then we hit the motherlode of huckleberries. The last quarter mile of the trail was lined with huckleberry bushes that were loaded with ripe huckleberries. Our pace slowed substantially as we gorged our way from one bush to the next. Delicious!
We reached Alice Lake:
From Alice Lake we followed an old trail up the slopes of Red Butte. The trail seemed more like a once-official now-abandoned trail, rather than a user-created trail:
In fact, I discovered that Red Butte was briefly the site of a fire lookout, so it would make sense for there to have been a trail here. But where it emerged from the trees into a burned area the trail goes straight up for a bit. I wonder if the old alignment disappeared in the mess of of downed trees in this spot. Fortunately that section was short and soon we were back on the old trail, traversing the slope:
Three miles from our campsite at Santiam Lake and we made it!
Looking east into the heart of the wilderness:
Three Fingered Jack:
Three Sisters and Mt. Washington, and on the right in the distance is The Husband:
Maxwell Butte, Mowich Lake, and Duffy Butte:
We sat on the summit for awhile enjoying the awesome view. We had passed people coming down as we hiked up, and we shared the summit with a group of about six people, so this place is definitely not a secret. On our way down we checked out a short side trail that allowed us this view to the north with Mt. Jefferson and Jorn Lake:
We could even see the tippy top of Mt. Hood over the shoulder of Mt. Jefferson:
Back at the lake:
We made dinner and sat by the lake to eat. It was a really pleasant evening for sitting by a lake. We enjoyed watching this diving duck as he disappeared underwater and popped back up over and over:
The winds calmed and the lake became a nice mirror for Three Fingered Jack:
I got up to see the stars during the night. Amazing! Even though my polarizer was stuck onto my lens I went ahead and tried a shot anyway:
In the morning we awoke to partially cloudy conditions. Three Fingered Jack was mostly enveloped in clouds and mist swirled above the lake surface. It was actually pretty cool, and I ended up taking a lot of photos:
It hadn’t been cold, despite the misty conditions, but then it really warmed up as the sun started to come out. These trees looked beautiful backlit by the sun:
And before we knew it the clouds were burning off:
We sat by the lake for a long time enjoying the scenery.
Our friend the diving duck returned:
While Greg was packing I went for a wander. Campfires aren’t allowed within 100 feet of the lake, but I found this fire ring that was closer than that:
We started heading back at 10:40. On our way we took the side trip to Berley Lakes. The east end of Lower Berley Lake is closed for rehabilitation:
Looking west down the lake:
We reached the far west end of the lake where we took our packs off for a rest:
And enjoyed the mighty fine view of Three Fingered Jack:
I took the five minute trek over to Upper Berley Lake, which is pretty, but not as nice as the lower lake:
Then we made our way back to the main trail and hiked back to the car. This trail is covered in dust and volcanic ash so we both looked like Pigpen from Peanuts:
Our total for the weekend: 19.2 miles, 2,200′ elevation gain. While this route is longer than the route via Duffy Lake, I’m glad we did it so we could visit pretty Berley Lakes. It’s also far less crowded than the Duffy Lake Trail, although it’s incredibly dusty. It was a beautiful weekend!