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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Sisters Mirror Lake

Thursday had been the wettest day of our vacation week but the clouds began clearing overnight and Friday promised to be mostly sunny. We wanted to get some views of the fresh snow on the Cascades so we headed up the Cascade Lakes Highway past Mt. Bachelor and Devils Lake to the Sisters Mirror Lake Trailhead. We stopped for quick pictures of the mountains along the way.
Three Sisters and Broken Top
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Broken Top
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Mt. Bachelor
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It was damp and a little chilly as we set off on the Mirror Lakes Trail and entered the Three Sisters Wilderness.
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At the .4 mile mark we came to a signed trail. Our plan was to do a clockwise loop hike and return to this junction form the north.
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Beyond the junction the trail passed ponds, lava flows, and Junco Lake before arriving at the Pacific Crest Trail.
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Junco Lake
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We turned left on the PCT then right toward Sisters Mirror Lake after .2 miles.
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We followed trails around the lake to the SW side where the snowy white peak of South Sister was visible.
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After enjoying the view at Sisters Mirror Lake we began to wander off trail visiting the numerous other lakes and ponds in the area and getting better views of South Sister.
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We eventually made our way to Denude Lake where we picked up a clear trail again.
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We followed the path to the next lake which was Bounty Lake.
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After Bounty Lake we came to Lancelot Lake.
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We spent some time at Lancelot Lake. First we explored the area just west of the lake where some ducks were enjoying a cold swim in a small lake/pond.
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Then we wandered out to the rock wall that damned the lake and took a relaxing break in the sun.
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After our break we continued around the lake marveling at the clear yet colorful water of Lancelot Lake.
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We then made our way back to Sisters Mirror Lake and back to the PCT where we turned left for .4 miles passing the trail junction we had arrived at earlier and then leaving the PCT at a sign for Moraine Lake.
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We had expected to have some nice views of the South Sister on this portion of the hike. It looked like we would be passing along the edge of the Wickiup Plain, a pumice flat that we had passed by on our South Sister Loop the year before. As we hiked it became increasingly apparent that the trail would be staying in the forest and not reaching the pumice plain offering only brief glimpses of the tops of the South Sister and Broken Top.
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We could tell we were close to the plain so we made the decision to head cross country through the trees in order to reach the better views of the Wickiup Plain.
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We wound up finding a path which led across the plain so we followed it toward Kaleetan Butte.
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Mt. Bachelor Joined the view along the way.
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We wound up arriving at a familiar trail junction on the far end of the plain. It was the trail we had taken from Moraine Lake during our South Sister Loop. We also noticed a small sign at this end of the path we were following stating it was closed. Had we known we wouldn’t have followed it, but there were no signs at the other end. We turned right at the junction following an old road bed that predated the wilderness designation.
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After a half mile we arrived at the trail junction where we would have come out if we had stayed on the trail instead of heading for the plain.
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We headed toward Devils Lake descending around Kaleetan Butte for a mile where we arrived at another junction.
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We followed the pointer for Elk Lake which would lead us back to the Mirror Lakes Trail in 1.6 miles passing Blacktail Spring and Sink Creek along the way.
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It was really nice to see the mountains with some fresh snow on them after the dry Summer we’d had. The weather that had forced us to change our vacation plans had provided some great scenery for our final hike. Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Green Lakes (Finally!)

If you are familiar with our hiking past you may recall that on 5 previous occasions we had planned to and failed to see the Green Lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Over 20 years since our foolish first attempt we finally made it to the lakes when we could see them. Ironically our visit was prompted by some of the very reasons we had been forced to abandon previous quests to see the lakes. Snow, fires, and the threat of thunderstorms had forced us to cancel our backpacking plans and led us to Central Oregon for a series of vacation day hikes. On Tuesday we headed for the Green Lakes Trailhead, once again attempting to reach the lakes.

The forecast called for overcast skies but there was no threat of thunderstorms and the snow wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later that night. We arrived at the trailhead as the sun was rising. The mountain peaks were fully visible under a high ceiling of clouds.
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We set off on the familiar first 2 miles of the trail along Fall Creek passing its series of waterfalls.
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After passing the trail junction to Moraine Lake we were on unfamiliar trail. We had hiked this section before but it was by headlamp on the way out of the wilderness after mistakenly thinking a fire and started nearby while we were camped at a tarn below Broken Top. We had packed up at dusk and hiked out in the dark missing the lakes and the scenery along the trail. Fall Creek was much calmer along this portion of trail flowing between the trail and a lava flow.
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After hiking another 2 miles the trail entered the southern end of the Green Lakes Basin.
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Several trails shot off in different directions and we veered left toward the day use peninsula of the middle and largest of the three Green Lakes.
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The views from the day use area were great and we watched some ducks enjoying a morning swim on the lake.
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We resumed our hike passing along the east side of the lake heading toward the third and final lake. This lake truly lived up to the Green Lakes name.
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The Green Lakes Trail continues past the lakes climbing .7 miles to a pass between Broken Top and the South Sister before continuing down to Park Meadow. We headed for the pass to check out the views we’d missed on our night hike. We discovered an interesting landscape including some rocks showing the signs of long gone glacier.
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At the pass the views extended down into Central Oregon and north to Mt. Hood.
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After doing a little exploring (and picking up another balloon) we headed back down to the Green Lakes.
The balloon in the trees.
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We were interested in checking out what appeared to be springs feeding into the third Green Lake and followed a path around the north shore only to discover a small “Area closed for restoration” sign less than 10′ from the springs. We couldn’t figure out why the forest service didn’t put a sign where the path split off from the main trail instead of clear back by the spring, but we obeyed the sign and turned around after taking a picture of what we could see.
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It was a little over a mile from the third lake to the first lake which we had skipped earlier when we headed directly to the day use peninsula on the middle lake. We explored the area around the first lake before picking up the Broken Top Trail which came from the east to join the Green Lakes Trail just south of the first lake.
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The Broken Top Trail makes it possible to turn the hike into a loop and we took advantage of this and headed east on the trail.
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The trail had some nice views of Broken Top and also offered glimpses of Mt. Bachelor, Sparks Lake, Cowhorn Mountain, and Diamond Peak.
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After traveling a little over 3 miles on the Broken Top Trail we arrived at a familiar junction.
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The trail from Todd Lake which we had used on our visit to Broken Tops No Name Lake joined on the right and we turned down it for .9 miles to another junction where we turned right again on the Soda Creek Trail.
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We got a bit sidetracked on our way down this trail. We began searching for waterfalls along Crater Creek when we spotted what looked like prime waterfall terrain. After a little off trail exploration we discovered a pair of pretty little falls.
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The falls were a little low on water but looked like they would be really nice with a higher volume of water. Later I discovered there were a couple of other falls in the area along Crater Creek while doing a little research on waterfallsnorthwest.com.

After regaining the trail in a meadow where we startled a pair of deer we began to switchback down toward Soda Creek. Corner Falls was the only fall marked on the map in our guidebook which was located at the corner of the final switchback. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the falls on Crater Creek and we were unable to get a clear view due to another “Area closed” sign at the path leading away from the switchback.
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The trail then gradually descended another 1.3 miles to a crossing of Crater Creek where we found another nice little waterfall.
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The forest turned to drier lodgepole pine and passed through some old lava flows in the final 1.5 miles before popping us out at the Green Lakes Trailhead parking area.
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We had felt a few drops of rain over the final half mile or so of the hike, and as we were changing at the car we began to notice a few small snowflakes mixed in the rain.
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Later when we looked at the GPS information it showed a distance of 19.1 miles for the day. We hadn’t meant to go that far but there is something about the Three Sisters Wilderness that makes it really easy to wander. Happy Trails!

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Crater Lake Area High Cascades Hiking Mt. Theilsen/Mt. Bailey Area Oregon Trip report

Mt. Scott (Crater Lake National Park) & Tipsoo Peak (Mt. Thielsen Wilderness)

After a semi-rest day (Sparks Lake) we headed to Crater Lake National Park for our third visit hoping this time to actually be able to see the lake. In 2012 smoke had made it nearly invisible and earlier this year clouds had completely blocked the view. This time we were not disappointed.

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June 2014
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October 2014
Crater Lake in the morning

Our plan was to hike to the former lookout tower on Mt. Scott, the highest point in the park at 8938′ and then head north on Hwy 138 to the Tipsoo Peak Trail and also summit that 8034′ peak. The two hikes combined would be just over 11 miles with a combined 3000′ of elevation gain making them very doable in a single day.

The Mt. Scott Trail sets off along a broad plain at the base of the mountain giving a clear view of the entire peak as well as the lookout tower on it’s northern end.
Mt. Scott

The trail climbs around to the south side of the mountain and then up to the long ridge along Mt. Scotts summit. Not only were the skies clear above Crater Lake but we were able to see mountain peaks from Mt. Shasta in the south to Mt. Jefferson up north along the way. The views started early along the trail and just improved was we climbed.

Mt. Shasta, Mt. McLoughlin, and Union Peak to the south.
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Crater Lake
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Crater Lake from Mt. Scott

Mt. Bailey
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Mt. Thielsen and Diamond Peak
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The Three Sisters
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Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack
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While we were traversing the ridge over to the lookout tower we spotted a hawk soaring high above the park.
Hawk soaring over Crater Lake National Park

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After checking out the tower we headed back down to the car to start the drive to the Tipsoo Peak Trail. We had to make a couple of stops just to take in the beauty of Crater Lake.
Crater Lake

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We left the park and drove up to the Tipsoo Trail where we were surprised to find a much nicer forest than we had expected. Our previous trips in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness had been through lodgepole pine forests which are not exactly eye candy.
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We were also surprised by the number of mushrooms we spotted.
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The climb was very gradual making it fairly easy going as we approached the summit. Near the top the trail passed by the edge of pumice filled Howlock Meadows where Howlock Mountain, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Bailey were visible.
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Red cinder covered the top of Tipsoo Peak and the 360 degree view revealed several mountains and lakes.
View from Tipsoo Peak

Red Cone
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Howlock Mountain and Mt. Thielsen
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Diamond Peak
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The Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor
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Mt. Bailey and Diamond Lake
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Lemolo Lake
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Miller Lake
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Madieu Lake
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Lucille Lake
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These were a couple of really nice hikes if you are looking for big views without a long or steep hike. Both hikes were on the shorter end (4.6 & 6.5 miles) and both trails climbed very gradually making them very nice options. The access road for the Tipsoo Peak trail was a bit rough and would probably require a high clearance vehicle though. Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Sparks Lake

During our stay in Bend Dominique had his birthday and we planned on spending as much time with him as possible that day so we needed a nice short hike for the morning. We picked the 2.5 mile Ray Atkeson Memorial Loop at Sparks Lake which was only about 30 minutes from where we were staying.
Sparks Lake Trailhead

The weather had cleared up nicely from earlier in the week but that came with a cold front which left the temperature in the upper 20’s as we set off on the trail. The first views of the lake and the South Sister were amazing.
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South Sister and Broken Top from Sparks Lake

There weren’t any people to be seen but there were plenty of ducks, geese and herons present.
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The trail left the lake shore and passed through a lava flow and the Davis Canyon. A narrow lava slot which was an interesting feature.
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Davis Canyon

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A short climb on the back side of the loop produced views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and the South Sister.
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South Sister

After completing the loop we headed down to the boat dock and peninsula to get a closer look at the lake. The sky was blue and the Sun shining but there was still a bit of ice water as the mountains reflected in the still water.
South Sister from Sparks Lake

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A beautifully cold Central Oregon morning. It’s hard to start a day much better than that and ending with a family dinner celebrating Dominique’s 19th birthday was perfect ending. Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Chush Falls and Beyond

Our third hike while in Bend took us back to the Three Sisters Wilderness for a mostly off trail waterfall loop that had been reported on by a member of Portland Hikers in November 2013. The plan was to start at the Chush Falls Trailhead and continue past the falls up Wychus Creek passing two more waterfalls then crossing that creek and Park Creek visiting six more waterfalls on three different creeks before recrossing Wychus Creek and returning to the trail.

We were greeted at the trailhead by some chilly air. We could see parts of the tops of the Three Sisters which were mostly engulfed in clouds. What we could see though showed that a little fresh snow had fallen sometime in the previous couple of days.
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South Sister
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Frosty ground
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The beginning of the trail is on an abandoned road which we followed for about a mile and a half before reaching the former trailhead which was now only marked by a homemade sign.
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The 2012 Pole Creek Fire burned through the forest here creating interesting color contrasts where water was present.
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A mile from the old trailhead we came to a wide flat area with a Trail Ends Here sign. Beyond the sign the top of Chush Falls was visible.
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To the right was a clear path down a steep slope to the base of Chush Falls.
Chush Falls

After returning to the trail ends here sign we picked up another clear trail continuing up Wychus Creek. The second waterfall was just .3 miles up this use trail.

Middle Chush Falls
Middle Chush Falls

We found Upper Chush Falls another .3 miles from the middle falls. This was by far the most interesting of the falls on Wychus Creek. It was also the most difficult to get a good view of because of its location in a rocky bowl and 230′ height.
Upper Chush Falls

Upper Chush Falls

Upper Chush Falls

Upper Chush Falls

My parents, who had started the hike at the same time we had, caught up with us here. They had not spotted the trail down to the base of Chush Falls so we were able to give them that information before we set off cross-country in search of the next fall – Phoenix Falls.

In order to reach Phoenix Falls we needed to be up above Upper Chush Falls and over to the next creek which was East Fork Park Creek. We had unfortunately neglected to bring the maps we had planned on having with us, but we still had our Garmin (and tons of batteries). I had also spent a lot of time pouring over the maps and Google imagery of the area and making notes so we felt fairly confident in the resources we did have. We crossed Wychus Creek below the upper falls and began to skirt around a ridge end in search of a draw that I hopped would be the easiest way up to the plateau above the ridge. We picked our way around the ridge following game trails as best we could until we could see the draw below in between two ridge ends. The draw did indeed look like it would have been a good option but we had crossed the creek and headed around the ridge way above the draw so continued up and around the ridge finally reaching the draw near the edge of the plateau. Travel became much easier once we emerged from the draw. We continued SW toward the location on the creek where we expected to find Phoenix Falls. The South Sister loomed ahead on our right as we went.
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We reached the edge of the canyon in which the East Fork Park Creek was flowing and began following it up toward the sound of a waterfall. Soon we could see the falls we were in search of with the added bonus of Broken Top rising over the shoulder of Phoenix Falls.
Phoenix Falls

To the right of Phoenix Falls were the Three Sisters. The 110′ falls roared down into the canyon creating a good amount of wind up on the rim.
Phoenix Falls

Phoenix Falls

Phoenix Falls

From Phoenix Falls we headed back downstream below the confluence of the East & West Forks of Park Creek and crossed what had become Park Creek. We then made our way along the West side of Park Creek to Middle Park Creek Falls. This was the most difficult to get a clear view of due to the angles of the canyon and a couple of downed trees laying between the canyon walls.
Middle Park Creek Falls

Just down the creek was the next fall – Howlaak Falls.
Howlaak Falls

We left Park Creek at Howlaak Falls and headed cross-country again toward yet another creek – South Fork Wychus Creek. The final three falls we hopped to visit were on this creek. We had to traverse along another ridge end to find the creek and this time Heather took the lead picking up a good game trail which wound up leading us almost directly to Columnar Canyon Falls, the first of the three falls we were looking for. A short steep trail led down to a rocky overhang which allowed for a good view of the falls. Not a spot I’d recommend for anyone nervous around heights.
Columnar Canyon Falls

We then began following the creek down a ridge listening for the next fall. We heard Mosaic Falls before we spotted it. In fact getting a decent view of this fall proved to be as frustrating as I had read it was in the earlier trip report. It wasn’t too difficult getting down to the creek below the falls but there was no view of the falls from where you were able to get to the creek.
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In order to see the falls I made my way along the edge of the creek shown above. It was slick and full of thorny gooseberry bushes and complicated by a large boulder that was in the way once the falls came into view.
Mosaic Falls

I managed to get around the boulder just enough to get a fairly clear view of the falls but even then the spray from the falls made getting a picture difficult.
Mosaic Falls

I rejoined Heather who had smartly stayed behind and then we headed for our final fall – Shelter Falls. We had to hop back over the ridge away from the creek in order to continue downhill. The ridge at this point was quite narrow though so we were never far from the creek. When we could we angled back toward the creek and were able to find the site of an old shelter.
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Just a little further on we found Shelter Falls.
Shelter Falls

Having successfully found all the falls we were looking for (there are others out there) it was time to make our way back to the trail. This proved to be the most difficult part of the hike in terms of route finding. Wychus Creek was close by and the confluence with the South Fork was nearby. We crossed over to Wychus Creek to look for a decent crossing but the opposite side looked too steep to climb. Not wanting to hike back up the creek we headed down stream. Near the South Fork the ground on the opposite side of Wychus Creek leveled out giving us our best option for reaching the trail on the other side. We had managed to stay dry up to this point but now there was no getting around the need to wade across the creek. We found a good crossing where the water was only mid-calf deep and crossed the creek. From there it was a short climb up out of the canyon. We re-found the trail about 10′ from where we popped up over the hillside. It had been a successful hike despite the forgotten maps. We relied on the GPS, my notes, and the research done beforehand which was a good reminder to always be prepared. Happy Trails!

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Bull of the Woods/Opal Creek Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Twin Lakes & Battle Ax Mountain – Bull of the Woods Wilderness

As we transition into Fall our hiking destinations begin to shift away from alpine views and wildflowers in favor of lower elevation viewpoints and lakes. It is a great time for these hikes since the mosquitoes that plague many of the lakes have thinned out and the vine maple and huckleberry leaves have begun to change color. Our most recent hike combined both of these features.

We made our first trip to the Bull of the Woods Wilderness for a 15.4 mile hike visiting Twin Lakes and the summit of Battle Ax Mountain. Before we could set off on the hike though we had to make the drive to Elk Lake which meant enduring five and a half miles of awful gravel roads. We parked at the Elk Lake Campground and once I managed to pry my hands from the steering wheel we made a quick trip down to the lake to have a look.
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From the campground we had to walk back up the entrance road .4 miles and then continue another .4 miles on road 4697 to the start of the Bagby Trail #544.
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The Bagby Trail wound beneath Battle Ax Mountain passing several ponds and crossing a number of rock fields in the first two miles.
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Battle Ax Mountain

At the two mile mark the Battle Ax Mountain Trail joined from the left (our return route). Views of Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and the Three Sisters began to materialize as we continued along the Bagby Trail.
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We traveled on a ridge for another 1.5 miles to a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail 573. The Bagby Trail was closed here due to a small fire smoldering in the wilderness between Bagby Hot Springs and this junction. We were headed toward Twin Lakes though so we turned down trail 573 and began the 1.9 mile section to Upper Twin Lake.
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The colors and reflections of Upper Twin Lake were impressive.
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Upper Twin Lake

We passed around the lake and headed toward the former trail 573A that used to go to Lower Twin Lake. The trail was overrun by the Mother Lode Fire in 2011 and was subsequently left unmaintained by the Forest Service. We located the old trail and began following it the best we could. As we approached the lake the fireweed was profuse and although most of it was finished blooming it still made for an interesting sight.
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Although the side of the lake we were on had burned in the fire the far side had been spared.
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Lower Twin Lake

We noticed some flagging tape when we were ready to leave and hoped it would lead us to a better path back to trail 573. Instead we found an old toilet.
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We then came to a dry creek bed which the map showed leading back to almost the same point we left trail 573 so we decided to try following it back up to the trail.
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As we made our way up the creek bed we began to encounter some water and some of the local residents.
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The water increased just as the creek was squeezing between two hillsides which forced us to abandon that route and head cross country up the hill on our left. We managed to relocate the abandoned trail and follow it back to 573. We then headed back the way we’d come until we reached the Battle Ax Mountain Trail. At that point we forked up hill to the right and began the fairly steep climb to the former lookout site.
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One of the reasons we saved Battle Ax for the return trip was to allow the Sun to move overhead which would hopefully give us better views of the mountains to our east. That plan paid off and as we climbed we added more and more mountains to the view.
Mt. Jefferson:
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Mt. Hood behind the lookout tower on Bull of the Woods:
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Mt. Rainier behind Silver King Mountain:
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Mt. Adams behind Pansy Mountain and South Dicky Peak:
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Eventually we had an unobstructed view of Mt. Hood with the Washington Cascades in the background.
Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier from Battle Ax Mountain

To the SE was Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack.
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The ridge began to flatten out as we neared the summit with views all around. From below it hadn’t looked as long and flat on top.
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Working our way south along the ridge Elk Lake became visible far below.
View from Battle Ax Mountain

Finally Mt. Washington, Broken Top and the Three Sisters joined Three Fingered Jack in the view to the South.
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We could also see smoke from the 36 Pit fire near Estacada, OR but the wind was blowing it to the East and there hadn’t been much of a plume until a little after 1:00 when it suddenly picked up.

Smoke from the 36 Pit fire prior to 1pm:
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Plume around 1:30:
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Smoke plume from the 36 Pit fire and Mt. Hood

We learned later that the fire had jumped across the South Fork Clackamas River due to the strong winds.

After a nice rest at the old lookout site we began our descent down the South side of the mountain.
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The trail switchbacked down through open, rocky terrain, with plenty of views of Mt.Jefferson.
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Mt. Jefferson

After a mile and a half descent we arrived at Beachie Saddle.
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From the saddle trails lead to Jawbone Flats in the Opal Creek Wilderness, Mt. Beachie and French Creek Ridge in that same wilderness, and back to Elk Lake on an abandoned road which is the path we took.
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Back at the campground it was hard to imagine the long summit ridge looking back up at Battle Ax Mountain.
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It was a good early start to our Fall hiking season and it put us over 500 miles for the year. Now we just had to make it back out over the horrible gravel roads. Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

South Sister Loop – Day 3

After not being able to fall asleep in the wake of an amazing second day the third day of our backpacking loop started way to early. I woke up just after 5am needing to empty my bladder. Looking out our tent to the East I could see an orange glow through the trees indicating that the Sun was coming, but not for awhile. I threw my headlamp on, grabbed my camera hoping to get a shot of the horizon, and started to walk toward the edge of the plateau that Demaris Lake sits on. I was scanning the forest with my light when I noticed a pair of glowing eyes about 50yds to the left of our tent. They were fairly low to the ground and I couldn’t tell what it was. Since I didn’t know what kind of animal was staring at me I wasn’t sure if I should get big or slowly back away. Not being fully awake my solution was to take a picture using the flash to see if I could figure out what it was. That may not have been the best idea, but when the flash went off I could see that it was a deer that was bedded down.
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She got up after I took the picture and began walking along the ridge in front of me so I stopped heading that way and thought I would loop around behind to get my horizon picture. Apparently she didn’t like that because when I looked back in the direction she had been headed she had turned around and was now walking toward me with her head down.
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She stopped when she realized I’d spotted her and I backtracked down to the lake shore and tried taking a wider loop around a rocky outcropping to get my picture. I got to good viewpoint and after scanning for the deer I set about trying to get a decent picture.
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After taking a few pictures I suddenly had a strange feeling. Glancing to my right there was that crazy deer again staring at me with those glowing eyes. I headed back down to the lake and hurried back to the tent site to grab my poles and wake Heather up thinking that maybe the presence of a second person would deter the stalker deer. It must have because we didn’t see her again and were able to watch the sunrise light up the mountains and trees above the lake.
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After a deer free breakfast we returned to the Camp Lake Trail at the North Fork Wychus Creek. A nice little waterfall lay just downstream from the creek crossing.
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Soon we entered the area burned during the 2012 Pole Creek Fire.
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The forest is only starting to recover from the fire so there wasn’t much to see as we made our way to the Green Lakes Trail and Soda Creek.
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We turned right on the Green Lakes Trail and headed south toward Park Meadow. The first section of trail remained in the burn area but we were now headed back toward the mountains so we at least had a view.
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After recrossing the North Fork Wychus Creek and then crossing the South Fork Wychus Creek the trail passed between a pair of ponds at the edge of the burn. The large pond on the left was empty while the much smaller pond on the right was filled with ducks.
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After leaving the burn area our next marker was the West Fork Park Creek in Red Meadow.
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There weren’t many flowers in the meadow but a hawk provided some entertainment as it watched us from a nearby tree.
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From there it was just under a mile to our next trail junction located in Park Meadow.
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After taking a quick look at Park Creek we continued on the Green Lakes Trail passing through Park Meadow. The meadow was quite large with a good view of both Broken Top and the South Sister. Although it was fairly dry many gentian flowers dotted the ground along with the occasional aster.
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We were looking for a side trail about a mile from Park Meadow that would take us to Golden Lake. There was no sign marking the .7 mile trail to the lake but as we made our way toward the lake we did see signs announcing the areas restrictions.
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It was easy to see why this was a popular spot.
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Golden Lake2

We hiked around to the far end of the lake and decided to follow the inlet creek up looking for a place to set up our tent far enough from the lake to fit the 250′ restriction. We knew that there were a pair of tarns about a mile up from Golden Lake which we had originally planned on visiting after we had found our camp site and dropped off our gear. We weren’t having much luck finding a site, but the scenery was once again spectacular. Wildflowers lined the creek and the water was as clear as glass. We were headed straight at Broken Top and the South Sister loomed across the creek to our right.
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We eventually reached the beginning of the creek as it flowed out from the bottom of a rocky hillside.
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We began climbing the hill expecting to find the first tarn at the top.
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We were not disappointed.
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The water in the tarn was crystal clear and the views extended to Mt. Jefferson to the North.
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A path led up another hill to the second tarn. It was quite a bit smaller and there was a hiker with a dog splashing around in it so we headed back down to the first tarn and went about setting up camp. We had found our spot for the night.
Second tarn
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South Sister over the first tarn
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Our campsite back in the trees on the far side of the tarn.
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We had views all around from the site.
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The nice part was we had arrived just after 1pm so we had plenty of time to soak our feet (the water was way too cold for anything else) and watch the wildlife that would occasionally stop by the tarn.
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We decided to try and turn in early (or at least take a nap) since we didn’t get much sleep the night before so we laid down in the tent around 6pm. Heather fell asleep but I wasn’t having any luck so I got back up shortly after 7pm and took a few more pictures. It had been hazy to north all weekend but I could now make out Mt. Hood in that direction, and rays of sunlight shot through the gap between the South and Middle Sister.
The Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood at 7:04pm
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Broken Top at 7:07pm
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I went back to the tent and laid back down after taking the picture of Broken Top hoping to finally get some sleep. About 20 minutes later I smelled smoke. Thinking it was a campfire I lay there for a minute wondering if someone wasn’t able to follow the restriction on campfires. The smell kept getting strong so I sat up and looked around. Smoke was filling the basin below Broken Top and when I turned around I could see a line of smoke passing between the Sisters. The whole valley below us was full of smoke and it looked like it was rising up from somewhere on the other side of the South Sister.
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I woke Heather up and we began discussing what to do. Another hiker came up to the tarn and she was wondering what was going on as well. She had a satellite phone and had managed to talk to a friend in Bend but they didn’t have any knowledge of a fire near the Sisters. There were some fires near Oakridge, OR 40 miles to the South but it didn’t seem possible that this smoke was coming from there. Looking at the smoke column we weren’t sure if we would be able to hike out via Green Lakes since it appeared to be rising from somewhere in that direction so we considered our Plan B evacuation route back through Park Meadow to the Three Creeks Campground. We were also debating on if we should try and stick it out through the night of if we should just pack up and try and get out before it got any worse. We quickly agreed that neither of us would be able to get any sleep under these conditions and if the smoke got any worse it would certainly be unhealthy even if we did manage to fall asleep.

We loaded everything up grabbed our headlamps and started back down toward Golden Lake just after 8:15pm. We were watching the smoke column still unable to decide exactly where it was emanating from when arrived back at Golden Lake. No one had any new news at the lake so we decided to attempt to hike out as originally planned past the Green Lakes as it looked like the smoke was coming from the far side of the South Sister.

This was our first experience with night hiking so we didn’t know exactly what to expect. Our adrenaline was pumping as we began climbing the Green Lakes Trail to its high point above the Green Lakes. To our surprise and relief the smoke lessened as we went. By the time we arrived at the Green Lakes area the sky was full of stars and the smell of smoke had all but vanished.
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I managed one picture of the elusive Green Lakes having once again missed seeing them in the light of day.
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We were now committed to leaving though so we kept hiking. It turned out to be quite a bit of fun. We missed out on seeing a lot but the sky was beautiful and we spotted some things we would not have seen during the day like toads and the glowing eyes of many deer.
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We were fortunate that the Green Lakes Trail is well used and easy to follow. By 11:40pm we had reached the trailhead and our waiting car. There was no sign of fire anywhere around and as it turned out the smoke had come from the Deception Creek Complex of fires near Oakridge. The wind had apparently shifted just right flooding the area with smoke. Although it would have been nice to have spent the night by the tarn and been able to wake up to that view we felt like we made the right choice. Experiencing our first night hike was something to remember and it brought our day 3 total to a nice round 21 miles. It truly was a trip to remember.

Happy (and smoke free) Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

South Sister Loop – Day 2

We woke up early on day 2 anxious to see what surprises awaited us. It didn’t take long for the first one. We had seemingly been the only ones camped around Linton Meadows but when we awoke we found we were not alone.
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The sun was just starting to rise as we packed up and headed to Linton Creek to replenish our water supply before heading back to the Pacific Crest Trail.
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After getting water we headed South on the James Creek trail returning to the 5 way trail junction we had passed the day before. At the junction we turned left on the Foley Ridge Trail and climbed a mile to the PCT.
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We turned right on the PCT and headed toward Reese Lake where we hoped to pick up a climbers trail that would lead us between the Middle and South Sister. There were still some pretty good flowers lining the PCT.
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We turned off the PCT at little Reese Lake. The small lake had crystal clear water and a nice view of the South Sister.
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Working our way around the North side of the lake we picked up a trail leading East which we hopped would lead us to Separation Creek and the climbers trail. We chose wisely and arrived at Separation Creek on a clear path. We had seen Separation Creek back in May when we hiked to Separation Lake https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/proxy-falls-separation-lake/. Crossing the creek was very different this close to its source.
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Separation Creek below Separation Lake in May.
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There was a well worn trail following the creek up toward the saddle between the two mountains.
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It was an interesting landscape. There were numerous types of rocks, wildflowers, and volcanic formations all around.
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After a stiff climb through over a forested ridge we came to the Frazier Upland and the first of the Chambers Lakes.
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We passed by the first lake, crossed a snowfield, and climbed another ridge to find the second Chambers Lake.
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There are a number of lakes that make up the Chambers Lakes each tucked in a depression surrounded by moraines but these were the only two our route would take us past. There was a good sized snowfield near the second lake which we would either need to cross or drop below. Not wanting to climb any more than we absolutely had to we opted to try crossing the snowfield. It was warm enough that the snow was soft and we easily made it across without needing to break out our Yaktrax.
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We had one last ridge to climb before dropping down to Camp Lake and an “official” trail. The final ridge was covered in wind bent whitebark pines. They seemed to be making a gateway to Central Oregon and the East side of the mountains.
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The scenery at the pass was some of the best we’d seen. The contrast in colors of the various rocks, snow, trees, and even some flowers was otherworldly.
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We passed a group of backpackers that had just come up from Camp Lake. They were happy to be finished with the climb and we quickly understood why after seeing what they had come up.
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It was a steep descent but we were happy to be going the direction we were instead of having to go up it. The view at the bottom was gorgeous.
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We arrived at the breathtaking Camp Lake and took our packs off. It was time to soak our feet and give our shoulders a rest.
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While we were resting a couple from Coos Bay, that we had seen earlier going the other direction at the second Chambers Lake, returned and we had a nice conversation before continuing on. Camp Lake offered one last photo op when the wind calmed enough to get a nice reflection of the South Sister.
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We were now on the Camp Lake Trail and headed to the Demaris Lake Trail junction on the bank of the North Fork Wychus Creek. As we continued to descend to the East, the Middle and South Sister were joined by the North Sister and Broken Top.
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When we reached the Demaris Lake junction we turned right and took the .8 mile trail to the lake. We had chosen Demaris Lake simply because it would mean a slightly shorter hike on day 3 and we like to visit as many places as possible if we are in the area. As it turned out Demaris Lake was much nicer than we had anticipated. It had many camp sites, mountain views, and lot of big dragon flies zooming about.
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We were really surprised that there was no one else at this lake. We had seen several groups of people going the other direction on the climbers trail and the couple at Camp Lake, but no one was here except for some wildlife.
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We picked out our camp site and then set about exploring the area.
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Our afternoon explorations led to some totally unexpected discoveries.
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We returned to Demaris Lake re-energized by the discoveries which turned out to be an issue. Neither one of us could fall asleep despite having been awake by 5:30 and hiking 34 miles in two days. Sometime after midnight we finally dozed off but it wouldn’t be for long, Day 3 was coming and it would be full of even more surprises.

Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Broken Top – No Name Lake

We’re a little behind on our trip reports due to spending too much time hiking 🙂 (If that is possible). After being in Washington for our last couple of trips we headed over to Central Oregon to spend some time in the Three Sisters area. We started off with a day hike to a lake we had really been wanting to visit, a lake with no name but a spectacular view located at 8000′ on the east side of Broken Top.

We set off from Todd Lake as the Sun was rising hoping to beat the crowds up to this increasingly popular spot.
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The trail from Todd Lake entered the Three Sisters Wilderness shortly after leaving the lake.
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Then Broken Top made an appearance.
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It wasn’t the only Cascade Peak visible from the trail.
Mt. Bachelor:
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South Sister:
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The trail climbed gently as it left the forest and gained better and better views as it passed by and through open meadows.
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And across wildflower lined streams.
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We spotted several deer grazing in the meadows near the junction with the Green Lakes Trail.
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As we gained elevation the views to the south opened up and we could see Diamond Peak, Mt. Thielsen, and Mt. Bailey beyond Mt. Bachelor.
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As we worked our way around Broken Top we passed several springs which were the sources of many of the green meadows we’d passed.
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It was interesting to note a small section of land that was not included in the Three Sisters Wilderness surrounding Crater Ditch. The ditch channels water from glacial melt-off down into Central Oregon for irrigation purposes and predates the wilderness designation thus remaining outside of the boundary.
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After crossing Crater Ditch the trail headed toward Ball Butte and the end of the Green Lakes Trail at road 380.
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Shortly after crossing a creek an unofficial trail forked to the left heading between Ball Butte and Broken Top with Broken Hand dead ahead.
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We then recrossed the monkeyflower lined creek and followed it up toward the no name lake passing several small but scenic falls.
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The trail turned toward Broken Top and continued to climb toward the east side of the mountain. An increasing variety of wildflowers could be seen as we got closer to the lake and many birds were flying about chirping happily.
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Finally the path reached a snowfield between two moraines. We climbed the snowfield to find no name lake waiting at the base of Broken Top.
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The lake was as beautiful as advertised. The colors of the water and of Broken Top were spectacular.
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We were surprised by several things. The lake was larger than we had expected and there was a surprising number of flowers growing on the moraines surrounding the lake.
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A path around the right side of the lake led to yet more amazing views. Climbing to a viewpoint revealed mountains from Broken Top to a faint Mt. Hood on the horizon with the lake below behind us.
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There was a single tent high up on the rim overlooking the lake but we didn’t see the owner and had had the lake all to ourselves for awhile before another pair of hikers arrived. On our hike out we passed a number of people heading up the trail and were once again glad we chose to get an early start. There is a shorter route to the lake but it involves what has been described as a terrible access road and it would have meant missing out on some great scenery. When we got back to Todd Lake the parking lot was full but the lake and Broken Top remained a peaceful sight and a great way to kick off a vacation.
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Happy Trails!

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Tam McArthur Rim

An extra long weekend brought us to Central Oregon for a pair of Labor Day weekend hikes. We had planned the coup de gras of our hiking season for September 1st when we were set to climb the South Sister, but first we decided to take a “warm up” hike on the 31st on our way to Bend, OR. We chose Tam McArthur Rim which is located about 16 miles south of Sisters, OR at Three Creek Lake. The trail offered an up close look at Broken Top and a view of the Three Sisters to help us get excited for the next days climb. We also had the option of making this a short hike of just 5 miles by turning around at the rim viewpoint, but of course we opted to lengthen the trip. 🙂

The trail offered views from the beginning with Tam McArthur Rim and the North & Middle Sister looming over Three Creek Lake.
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The trail climbed for the first 3/4 of a mile up a ridge to the rim’s plateau. Along the way views opened up across the lake to the north revealing several Cascade peaks. When we reached the plateau the mountains were temporarily lost as we traveled south across a semi-barren landscape. After a half mile the trail bent right and began gradually climbing along the sloped plateau. Mountains once again were visible, this time to the south. Mt. Bachelor rose above the plateau with Tumalo Mountain to it’s left.
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As we gained elevation along the plateau the tops of Broken Top and the South Sister began to peek over the rims edge. The plateau itself was an interesting mix of rocks and sand dotted with clumps of trees. The plants were limited to those capable of surviving windy conditions on little water. Just prior to the final climb to the viewpoint the trail approached the cliff edge where we got our first good look at Little Three Creeks Lake.
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Upon reaching the viewpoint we found that it was a nice wide area with a 360 degree view. At an elevation of 7730′ it was high enough to see a good distance. It was a wonderful spot to take a break and have a bite to eat and would have been an acceptable place to declare victory and turn around. While we sat at the viewpoint we were joined by a Red Crossbill who apparently thought it was a good place for a break as well. Although the view here was good enough to call it a day the trail continued on so we would too.

North & Middle Sister, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack from the viewpoint.
North & Middle Sister, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack from the viewpoint.

Continuing on from the viewpoint the trail stayed fairly level as it followed the edge of the rim toward Broken Top. The open landscape of the plateau meant constant views with Mt. Bachelor to the south, a string of Cascade peaks to the NW and Central Oregon to the east. Between the trail and Central Oregon the plateau was dotted with patches of snow that were still melting feeding silver creeks that flowed down toward the Deschutes River far below. The most prominent of these was the North Fork of Tumalo Creek.

North Fork of the Tum
North Fork of Tumalo Creek

The trail skirted around one of these snow fields and climbed a cinder slope where we could see the final mile of our path before us.
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The final mile climbed a cinder ridge to the base of Broken Hand. From this ridge the views became even grander. To the south beyond Mt. Bachelor was Diamond Peak, Mt. Thielsen and eventually Mt. Scott which resides on the rim of Crater Lake.
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To the north we could see all the way to Mt. Adams in Washington although haze made it difficult to see it well.
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We ate lunch at the base of Broken Hand admiring the colors and shapes of the volcanic rocks of Broken Top and the Three Sisters. We spotted a fellow hiker sitting on the rim of the moraine containing Broken Top Lake, a destination we hope to see next year.
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We spent quite awhile surveying the landscape around us, and I was especially intrigued by what appeared to be a good sized waterfall to the SE of the Middle Sister. It may have been along the outlet creek of one of the Chambers Lakes (possibly Camp Lake).
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We also tried to spot climbers on top of the South Sister since we planned on being up there the next day but couldn’t make anyone out.

On our way back we began running into more hikers and other wildlife too. A silent group of ravens glided by apparently searching for something along the plateau.
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We also spotted an impressive spider which had bright red legs and was just a bit larger than a quarter.
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This was a great way to start a weekend of hiking and really got us excited about our hike up the South Sister. Happy Trails.

Facebook photos: https://www.facebook.com/deryl.yunck/media_set?set=a.10202026938382203.1073741853.1448521051&type=3
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157635322678462/