I am combining the final two days of our Three Sisters Backpacking trip because the last day was simply a 7 mile hike back to the trailhead along portions of the Louise Creek and Separation Lake Trails that we had done on the first day.
The day after our successful off-trail exploration of Linton Creek it was time to pack up camp and move on. We woke to find that the clouds had finally won out overnight and now covered the Three Sisters.
We were once again visited by the deer who stayed back in the trees this time as they made their morning rounds. We packed our things and ate some breakfast then headed back toward Husband Lake. The frog situation around Eileen Lake seemed to have worsened with the arrival of the clouds. There were even more frogs on the trail and the going was pretty slow.
We discovered that tapping our trekking poles on the ground in front of us got the frogs to start getting out of the way sooner so we tapped our way through the frogs and past the lake. The frogs weren’t the only animals out as we had spotted several different types of birds by the time we’d gotten to Husband Lake.
We topped off our water at Husband Lake and then headed for the big trail junction where we would be looking for the Separation Creek Meadow Trail which would take us down to Indian Hole Falls. We had not seen the trail when we were at the junction on the first day and when we got back there we still didn’t see it. Heather thought it might be just a bit up the trail toward the James Creek Shelter and went to investigate. She was right and just over a little rise there was an unsigned but clear trail heading down to the right.
The Forest Service described this trail as “a primitive trail that may be hard to find at times.” That sounded a lot better than the impassable due to heavy blowdown description of the Separation Creek Trail. There were a few downed trees but the path was easy to see and some trees had been blazed to mark the trail.
The trail met Separation Creek in what must have been a spectacular field of lupine. Now it had all gone to seed.
It had also been invaded by grasshoppers.
As we walked they would all jump in unison and make all kinds of noise. I would have liked to get a better look at them but there were also plenty of mosquitoes present and whenever I stopped they landed. We were just about to Separation Meadow and we hadn’t had any issues following the trail up to that point. Then the trail just disappeared. We knew it was to the right of the creek and we noticed a tent set up at the far end of the meadow so we simply aimed for the trees between those two things.
We had to hunt for a couple of minutes to find the trail again once we arrived at the trees. We managed to follow it fine after that all the way to a trail junction with the trail from Buck Meadows. This junction was also unsigned but it was marked with a rock cairn.
We turned left at the junction and began to descend toward Cole Chuck Meadows. Views included Sphinx Butte and The Wife.
The trail went around Cole Chuck Meadows without ever entering it then headed steeply downhill. There was a large meadow below to our left and we could hear Separation Creek roaring in the distance. The trail had loose rocks and dirt and it also passed below the Indian Holes, springs that flowed across the trail and down toward Separation Creek.
The trail then entered the large meadow at a narrow point. The grasses were tall enough to hit us in the face as we passed through. We then entered another treed area before arriving at Separation Creek.
The creek was much wider and deeper than it had been in Separation Meadow. Several other creeks and springs had fed into it since then. We crossed on an old log and and quickly arrived at another unsigned trail junction with the “impassible” Separation Creek Trail.
We could hear Indian Hole Falls from the junction. It was only a couple hundred yards to the top of the falls. This was another impressively massive waterfall. An upper viewpoint allowed for a close up view of the top portion of the falls while a steep scramble down along the creek led to a lower moss covered viewpoint where the entire cascade was visible.
The Three Sisters Wilderness had managed to wow us again and we sat on the mossy ledge of the lower viewpoint in the cool breeze of the waterfall. We climbed back up from the lower viewpoint and decided to head out the the upper one.
After checking out that view we headed back up to the trail to pick up our packs. It was my turn to get stung by an angry yellow jacket. Just as I was about to step back onto the trail I felt a sharp pain on my ankle bone. It took me a minute to figure out what was causing it but once I realized what it was I was able to knock it out of my pant leg. I took a moment to be a bit of a baby then we resumed our hike and head back toward the creek crossing.
As we were passing back through the tall grasses of the meadow we heard some strange noises ahead. It was a family of grouse. The adult stood watch as the young made their way into the safety of the trees.
She stood guard until they were all safe then headed into the trees herself.
We climbed back up the steep trail past the Indian Holes and went straight past the rock cairn. Our plan was to stop at Honey Lake to fix an early dinner and fill back up on water for the final day since we knew there were no sources from Buck Meadows on. We weren’t sure what we’d find at Honey Lake because none of the maps or the Forest Service showed a trail going to the lake but we had seen the pointer for it at the junction by Buck Meadows. As we were looking for the mystery trail we spotted various wildlife along the way.
Sure enough we came to a side trail with a pointer for Honey Lake.
We momentarily had second thoughts about our plan when we saw how far below us the lake actually was.
We knew we needed water though and the lake looked very pretty so we headed down the steep path to the lake shore. It really was a pretty lake and larger than we had been expecting.
We noticed a tent back up in the forest on the far side of the lake and headed around the lake counter-clockwise looking for a good spot where we could set our things down and cook dinner. We found a pair of spots where people had obviously camped, fire rings and all, both of which are illegal within 100 feet of water in the wilderness. One of the fire rings was full of cigarette butts. Yay for people, not 😦 We took off our packs and wandered out to a little peninsula where the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.
We took a nice long break at the lake and felt recharged after having our dinner and we were ready to tackle the climb back up from the lake.
The climb back up turned out to be a lot easier than we’d expected and we were soon back on the trail to Buck Meadows. We stuck to the trail this time when we arrived at the meadows and wound up going right around the area we had considered camping in. Once we saw that we had passed it we decided to just keep going and we’d look for a spot further along the meadows. The view from the meadow was changed a bit from our first day with clouds now hiding The Husband.
There wasn’t a viable spot to camp anywhere else along the meadows that we saw so we just kept going keeping our eyes open for an acceptable site. About 1 1/2 miles from the junction at Buck Meadows we came to a dry pond. On the opposite side of the trail was a flat area perfect for setting up camp.
We woke up so early the next morning that we needed our headlamps as we began packing up. We ate breakfast at the edge of the dry pond and then set off down the trail. The 2 man trail crew had done a fine job clearing the trail and we were making great time since we’d just been on this trail a few days earlier and weren’t distracted by many new sights. There are always some new things to see though and we noticed a few flowers we’d missed on the first day.
We reached the Separation Lake Trail a few minutes before 9am and according to our Green Trails map we then had 1.2 more miles to go to the trailhead.
We figured we’d be back at the car around 9:45 based on our normal pace so we were surprised when we saw a familiar wooden bridge that we remembered being near the trailhead sooner than we expected.
We actually wound up back at the car before 9:15. We were moving pretty fast but not that fast. Checking another map it showed the distance from the trailhead to the junction as 0.9 miles which made a little more sense. We were happy to be able to change into some clean clothes and different shoes, but we were also sad to have the trip end. We were already thinking about our next backpacking trip, wondering what new adventures awaited us. Happy Trails!