27 miles of hiking • 4250' elevation gain • 2 nights
It has been getting harder and harder to find solitude in the outdoors, so I've been consulting my pal Matt Reeder's book often, Off the Beaten Trail. The final hike he describes, involved some off trail adventuring and plenty of mileage to reach, and so I chose Table Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
I had secured my first actual requested day off since the pandemic began, so I had 3 days to play. I messaged Matt, as I often do, to find out if there was anything I should know that he didn't mention in the book. He supplied me with a gps track to follow so I wouldn't get lost in the off trail sections, and informed me that he too, was heading out there, and would still be there for one more night as I arrived.
I hadn't seen Matt nor hiked with him since the pandemic began, so I was super excited to get his text with his gps coordinates so that I could find him and his wife Wendy by the lake.
Also along for the adventure - my partner Zane and my dog Lily. We didn't get a super early start on Friday, so we were hiking in the heat, and just generally being pretty slow with lots of water breaks.
The trail starts up right away, through a reroute that adds switchbacks and a little extra mileage, so my route was longer than the one described in Off The Beaten Trail. Not super strenuous, but enough up to feel it with a 40 lb pack. Eventually, I reached a burn zone from the 2006 Puzzle fire, and took a little stroll off trail to some interesting rock formations and had my first view of Mt Jefferson of the day. As we meandered through the Tim Burton dead forest, I caught glimpses of Three-fingered Jack through the trees.
Eventually we reach one of the only sources of water between the trailhead and our destination - Papoose Lake. Most streams we crossed were dry, so we opted to fill up here even though I prefer moving water. We found a good stick, and the dog spent the time swimming and cooling off while I pumped water and looked for signs of pika in the giant rockslide that was the backdrop to the lake.
We continued on, and ran into the only other two hikers we would see on the trail, 2 solo men. We encountered what would be one of the most magnificent views of the day, where the trail intersected with the Hunt's Cove trail. Mt Jefferson wowed us as we walked along the ridge, enjoying the wildflowers and the scenery below.
Continuing on, we almost missed our connector trail, and had to backtrack. There wasn't a cairn to mark it, and rangers had covered the trail with branches, blocking out any idea that a cross country route existed there. (Matt says it may actually have been a Native American trail, but I'll have to see if I can find more information on that.)
Once we actually found the very very faint beginning to the trail, it went steeply downwards into the basin. As described by Matt, we could see the direction we were supposed to head, and area between the Table and an unnamed cinder cone. The trail was rough at times, very overgrown in sections, but not hard to follow once we knew what direction to go. (Do Not Go Towards the boulder field.)
Once past the cinder cone, we were almost to our destination for the evening. As we crossed the meadow by the lake, we heard a friendly voice from in the trees. We had arrived. We quickly set up camp and spent an hour talking with friends until the wind made it time to enter our tents and find comfort and warmth in our sleeping bags. My dog's mind was blown to have traveled so far in wilderness, to find a familiar friend. I felt bad as she pounced on Matt, who isn't necessarily a dog person, but the sure joy in her was a pleasure to watch.
Our second day was spent exploring the lake and a nearby viewpoint. Again, the trail up to the Bear Butte viewpoint wasn't hard to find, as it was signed that the trail ended when it in fact went further. Faint at times, but by no means hard to follow. Another fantastic viewpoint greeted us, with views of Jefferson, Bear Butte, and even the Three Sisters.
Afterwards, we relaxed as much as we could, fighting through the swarms of biting insects. I found use for most recent purchase, my hammock, and enjoyed staying bundled up and relaxing in the shade of the trees.
In the morning, we opted for an early start to try to beat the heat, and we were on our way out shortly after 7 am. The way was easier to follow on the way back, and the only trouble we ran into was a faulty water bladder that sprang a leak in Zane's backpack. We switched containers, and made our way back up on the steep faint trail to find our way back to official trail. It was a long long trek, but ultimately worth it. My only regret is not having the energy to try to get up on and explore the Table, but that off trail adventure will have to wait for another trip. This was my first exploration of the Mt Jefferson wilderness, and I hope to get in at least one or two other trips in before the permit system goes into place next year.