Mozzie Season Begins

a quintessential Jeff Park shot from Bays Lake

Jeff Park has reputation as one of the most spectacular backcountry areas in Oregon. I concur. It’s an alpine wonderland set at close to 6000’ filled with meadows, dotted with tarns and blue lakes, with expansive and seemingly endless views of Mount Jefferson, 10,400’.

It has probably been a decade since I’ve visited Jeff Park, mostly because I remember really, really disliking it as a dayhike- by the time you get to the magical stuff, it’s almost turn-around time. And Jeff Park is the kind of place you want to soak into your pores.  Unfortunately, due to its well-deserved reputation for spectacular, the fragile landscape is also being *loved to death* by hoards of dayhikers & backpackers, so I suppose keeping my own personal visit quota low is a small drop in the bucket of a contribution to keeping this incredible place intact.

I can’t really say I forgot about the mosquitoes….but, we’ll get to that.

House sold, another house purchased and currently in suspended moving/house limbo, Andy and I took some time away this weekend for soul therapy. Starting up the Whitewater Trail at 12:30, we spent our time on the trail reminiscing about life transitions and moving forward, dispersed with long periods of silence and simply being together. Interestingly enough, both of us recall hating the Whitewater Trail: essentially a hot, boring, waterless, and dusty slog. We were anticipating the park, and it simply felt like it took forever to get there through some really uninspiring scenery.

I’m not sure what changed. Perhaps we enjoy the walk now more, taking our time and not emphasizing the end point so much in backpacking anymore. Maybe this helps, I dunno. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised when the miles passed swiftly, and I found myself looking at the Whitewater trail and all its transition zones from a different perspective: a moderate climb through old growth, sunlight filtering through. The dusty ridge climb section where the flowers haven’t yet come out to play. Cool wind, warm sun, how the light changes as you gain elevation.  

Whitewater Trail

And then, somewhere around three miles in, this starts to happen. Mountain peek-a-boo.

Andy climbing along the Whitewater Trail, Jefferson saying hello
The first real hint of the beauty to come, that sense of approaching the high alpine, comes after crossing Whitewater Creek. From here (now on the PCT), the trail switchbacks up and up, suddenly leveling out at Jeff Park. It almost catches you by surprise.

And then the world just opens up.

One of a hundred tarns, aka mosquito breeding pools

It’s an area made for wandering, for napping, for soaking in sunlight and flowers and space and sky. The park has a well-earned reputation for one of the most impressive wildflower displays anywhere in Oregon, complete with sandy-bottom lakes perfect for wading and swimming.

All this water also gives Jeff Park the very well-founded reputation for being ground zero for the mosquito apocalypse if you visit in high season. I was hoping we were early for the mozzie hatch, anticipating the park still being about 50% snowbound.

Nope. Nope and nope.

Mozzie season has begun. And the park is 100% melted out. Unheard of. Usually it is still nearly inaccessible until July.

This. Is. An. Odd. Year.

True to form, Scout and Bays Lakes were swarmed with people. Andy and I chose a low-impact site away from both the trail and hoards and set about on the serious task of taking an afternoon nap in the sunlight. The best naps are taken while backpacking. (And you can [almost] always outnap or outrun mosquitoes if you walk fast enough or snooze in the tent long enough).

After dinner, the mosquitoes dying off with the cooling temps and increasing breeze, we took off exploring down the PCT, passing newly melted out meadows, heather blooms and soon-to-vanish tarns.

PCT and heather blooming

Jeff Park evening light

PCT runs thru it

Proof I was here

Russell Lake was abandoned by all except one group. Uh….

Cue Andy and I tromping back to our campsite, breaking it all down, and hoofing it back to Russell Lake in the dying light. If there is one thing I love, it’s waking up to views of the mountain over an alpine lake.

And the dying alpenglow light, and stars over mountain glaciers at night.

alpenglow = soul therapy

this is the stuff my dreams are made of

Once the sun hit our camp the next morning, the mozzies began enforce, which led to us breaking down tent and hitting the trail by 7:45. The still early light through the park was mesmerizing, so we took our time exploring little side trails along the way out.

wake up and stuff

Jefferson from Russel Lake campsite

Home, it’s back to reality: packing, logistics and coordinating a move and new house reno projects within the next week…but I’m thinking Jeff Park may have just made the mid-week, fall trip list. It’s been too long, and I had almost forgotten how absolutely lovely it really is.

heading home

Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Oregon
14ish miles with off-trail/lake wanderings, 1900 feet elevation gain

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