Breitenbush Lake to Shale Lake – 16.9 miles
It had been a few days since I’d stood on Mount Hood and I was ready to enjoy the scenery around another of Oregon’s peaks – Mount Jefferson. I’d face some unique challenges before the day was out.
I couldn’t help but dawdle a bit in the morning with the hikers I’d met the day before. I knew that once I left I likely wouldn’t see them again as they were only going a handful of miles before taking a side trail west. How is it that bonds form so quickly in the wilderness?
Of course I faced my first challenge of the day within the first few miles. The trail climbed steeply from Breitenbush Lake to reach a saddle. Then the trail followed the hillside further up to a rocky and snowy bowl. I had a mile or so of tromping through the snow. Thankfully there was a decent boot path to follow and it was cool enough to avoid too much post holing. With one final steep push I reached Park Ridge and stood proudly at 6,900 feet. South of me lay the obscured peak of Mount Jefferson and the lake and meadow basin below it.
The descent from the ridge took me down to the basin at the foot of the mountain. I meandered past the wet meadows and followed a side trail to one of the clear alpine lakes where I sat and enjoyed my lunch. Clouds still roiled around the mountain and I was teased with a couple almost-views of the peak.
After lunch I had another challenge to face – a glacial creek ford. The creek wasn’t very wide but it was flowing very fast on it’s steep descent from one of the glaciers on Mount Jefferson. It was also very rocky and silty. I was by myself when I arrived at the creek and wanted to wait for someone else to show up, both as moral support and to help in case something went wrong. While waiting I scouted out the best place to cross and repacked my bag so everything was tucked safely inside.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long for a hiker to come down the trail from the south side. I crossed pretty easily under his watchful eye and then offered to stay until he had safely crossed as well.
Turned out he was quite nervous about fording the river as he’d never had to before. I ended up offering my help, linking arms with him to help him cross, then crossing back to the south shore again. In the end I’d crossed the creek three times over! It was certainly refreshing.
The next couple miles wound downhill through a burnt forest. The trail was a mix of sand and ash and the early afternoon sun was hot overhead. I wound back in and out of green forest and burnt forest and was then deposited at another glacier creek. This time Instead of being a ford, the creek was under yards of snow and debris from an avalanche. It was quite a sight!
Naturally, on the PCT what goes down must then go up! The rest of my miles that day were a gradual and constant ascent through sweet-smelling forest. After hiking so much in burnt forest it seemed like the forest was so lush and verdant. Best of all the bear grass was all blossoming, imparting its unique and captivating scent.
After some huffing and puffing I arrived at Shale Lake, a beautiful alpine lake under the south face of Mount Jefferson. Surprisingly I had the place entirely to myself. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of company but I certainly enjoyed the beauty and silence of the location. I enjoyed a nice dinner and watched the light change on the mountain and lake before snuggling into my tent to escape the ever-present mosquitoes.