Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 125: Santiam Lake Trail to Shale Lake

Drips of condensation rolled down the interior walls of our tent near our heads. Elsewhere in the tent the condensation had turned to ice in the cold night, frozen in place to wait for the warmth of the sun. A thin layer of frost covered the outside of the tent as well.

Sierra hiked to stay warm while I finished packing up the tent. Following her, I noticed the distinctive tread pattern of her small trail runners, unique among the many tracks in the soft pumice of the trail. I eventually met up with her in a sunny patch on the ridge.

We continued to climb, traversing around the west flank of Three Fingered Jack. Looking back, the tip of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters peaked above a gray, fog like cloud of smoke that blanketed the valley and obscured the base of the mountains.

Rounding the northwest flank of Three Fingered Jack, we crossed a large snow patch, then climbed to a saddle on the Cascade Crest (6,500 ft). Three Fingered Jack, with its rugged, pyramid shaped main peak and jagged lower spires, rose behind us, a ghostly apparition behind a sheer curtain of smoke and haze.

Reaching Rockpile Lake, we stopped to filter water. Smoke had softened the usually harsh midday light, giving it more of the golden hue usually found at sunrise and sunset. The soft light lit the trees that circled the lake and were reflected in it.

Water bottles full, we continued to inch toward the large, imposing south face of Mount Jefferson, which towered over the other mountains in the area and still retained significant snowfields, even in late August. As we drew nearer, we noticed large plumes of smoke billowing up into a huge cloud just east of the mountain.

We camped on a sandy bench overlooking Shale Lake, with Mount Jefferson towering above.

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