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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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Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

South Sister & Moraine Lake

After a great hike along Tam McArthur Rim it was finally time to tackle the South Sister. At 10,358′ the South Sister is the third highest peak in Oregon behind only Mt. Hood (11,235′) & Mt. Jefferson (10,497′) and the only one of the three that doesn’t require technical climbing skills. We had tried to do this hike a couple of times in 2012, but the Pole Creek fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness kept us from being able to do it. We had been looking forward to this hike all year and most of our earlier hikes were chosen in part to help us prepare for the demands of the climb.

We knew this was a popular weekend for a popular hike so we expected a large crowd would be joining us so we got to the trial head at Devils Lake early and were ready to go just as the Sun began to rise.

South Sister's summit from the trail head parking lot.
South Sister’s summit from the trail head parking lot.

There was just enough light for us to not need to use our headlamps as we set off across Tyee Creek and the Cascade Lakes highway and entered the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Entering the wilderness.
Entering the wilderness.

The first mile and a half of the trail climbs through the forest in a narrow valley before cresting on a large plateau. Brief views behind us revealed Diamond Peak, Mt. Bachelor and distant Mt. Thielsen but it wasn’t until we reached the plateau that we could see our target, the South Sister.
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Travelling along the plateau was an easy walk with gentle rolling hills and mountains on three sides. The South Sister loomed ahead while Mt. Bachelor sat behind and Broken Top welcomed the rising Sun to our right.
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After nearly 3/4 of a mile we spotted Moraine Lake in a sandy bowl below us to the right. A trail joined here and we decided that we would head down there on the way back if we felt up to it. To our left a large lava flow covered a portion of the plateau.

The first 1.8 miles along the plateau had only gained 500′ of elevation putting us at 7200′ when the trail began to climb with a purpose. We were 2.2 miles from the summit and still over 3000′ below it. Not only did that mean a steep trail but the trail consisted of sand and loose rocks making footing challenging. To add to the challenge was the clear view to the top reminding us of just how much further we had to go :).

Looking up the South Sister
Looking up the South Sister

The first section of steep climbing was amid larger gray rocks. There seemed to be an endless number of possible routes braided among these rocks, but sticks and rock cairns marked the correct path. A ridge blocked the view to the east, but to the south the Cascade range was unfolding and lakes dotted the forest. To the west the Willamette Forest stretched beyond the lava mesa.
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The first section ended atop a sandy saddle at the base of the Lewis Glacier. Below the saddle was Lewis Tarn, a pretty glacier melt lake. I had arrived at the saddle before Heather so I headed down to the lake to get a couple of pictures and feel the water (yes it was cold).
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Broken Top was now visible to the east as we sat at the saddle to take a break and get some food before the final ascent.

The rock composition changed here and now we were traveling along a red cinder ridge between the Lewis & Clark Glaciers. The Lewis Glacier had some interesting crevasses.
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The trail was just a little steep here, but the footing was better making this section a little easier than below the saddle. The views were also even more spectacular as we were now looking down across the Lewis Glacier all the way to the peaks surrounding Crater Lake to the south.
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Upon reaching the lop of South Sister’s rim a vast snowfield filled the crater on top of the mountain.
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Across the snowfield was the high point and actual summit of the South Sister. Even though it wasn’t a perfectly clear day, where a view of Mt. Shasta would have been possible, we could see all the way to the tip of Mt. McLoughlin in southern Oregon. In addition to the over half dozen mountain peaks to the south many lakes were clearly visible dotting the forest.
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The trail continued around the rim to the right on it’s way to the summit. Along the way views to the east improved revealing the Green Lakes below the Prouty Glacier between Broken Top and the South Sister, Paulina Peak to the SE, and Tam McArthur Rim where we had hiked the day before. The best views still lay ahead though.
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As we continued around the rim we toward the north side of the mountain the most dramatic views began to unfold. Lined up was a parade of Cascade peaks, the Middle & North Sister, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams. Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams were only barely visible even with binoculars due to haze but they were there like ghosts on the horizon. Below the South Sister lay the Chambers Lakes in a multitude of colors, from brown Carver Lake to blue Camp Lake like an artists palette.
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Several of the Chambers Lakes
Several of the Chambers Lakes

We’d finally reached the summit!

Heather at the summit
Heather at the summit
My summit pic
My summit pic

We decided to try and continue around on the rim loop after noticing what appeared to be a well worn path. Mt. Washington was hiding behind the Middle Sister and I thought we might be able to find the missing mountain from the western edge of the rim. The path turned out to be much less of a trail and more of a scramble as we climbed over rock piles along the edge of the mountain. A strong wind was blowing across the snowfield making us feel like we could be blown right off the edge. We did manage to get a glimpse of Mt. Washington’s spire over the shoulder of the Middle Sister and got views of of the Lost Creek and Eugene Glaciers as well as several creeks and lakes below the Husband, but I don’t know that I would take that portion of trail again.

Mt. Washington over the left shoulder & Three Fingered Jack over the right of Middle Sister
Mt. Washington over the left shoulder & Three Fingered Jack over the right of Middle Sister
Lost Creek Glacier and the Husband
Lost Creek Glacier and the Husband

After a short stint on the snowfield below we managed to complete the rim loop and arrived back at the climber trail which had become much more crowded. A line of hikers could be seen making their way up as some of the early hikers were making their way back down.
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Surprisingly the descent was much easier than we had anticipated. Despite the numbers heading up there was plenty of room on the braided paths and the deep loose sand helped keep the descent under control. The views were just as impressive going this direction. In fact Broken Top looked even better now that the Sun had risen over head bringing out the colors of the old volcano. On the way down we got a little separated. Heather ended up falling in with two young ladies that shared a similar pace. They quickly formed a trail bond looking out for each other. In her shyness, Heather failed to introduce herself or get their names, but she was very thankful for their company and the feeling of camaraderie. It was nice for her to enjoy the company of women on the trail for a change, even if it was only for a short time.
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When we reached the junction for the trail down to Moraine Lake we decided to head down. I blame the lack of oxygen for that decision. Actually the lake was lovely and only added about 3/4 of a mile and 500′ of additional elevation gain. We sat at the edge of the lake across from the South Sister and had another snack. I think we both would have been happy to stay there, but we would have gotten a little cold that night.
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We pulled ourselves away from the peaceful lake shore and returned to the climber trail via a trail that had come to the lake from Green Lakes and continued on to Wickiup Plain. The intersection was very close to where the climbers trail first crested the plateau so we were quickly back in the forest heading down the final 1.5 miles back to the trail head. Now that it was light we could see this portion of the trail much better. A nice creek ran beside the lower portion of the trail and we spotted some aster blooming in a meadow along side it. After crossing the highway we reached the bridge over Tyee Creek which was lovely.
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Then we were back at the large parking area where we had started. It had been a beautiful day, and we really couldn’t have asked for any more out of this hike. We got one last look at the South Sister before loading up the car and heading back into Bend.

Parting shot of the South Sister
Parting shot of the South Sister

Happy Trails!

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