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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Rainbow Falls and Substitute Point – 07/04/2021

For the Fourth of July we typically pick a hike in the Old Cascades but this year we aimed higher and headed for the Three Sisters Wilderness in the High Cascades. We had two stops planned, a short hike on the Rainbow Falls Trail to the viewpoint of distant Rainbow Falls and a longer hike on the Foley Ridge Trail to Substitute Point. We stopped first at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead since it is right off Foley Ridge Road (FR 2643) on the way to the Foley Ridge Trailhead. Neither of these trailheads currently require a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for day hikes (you are required to fill out a free self-issued permit at each TH though).
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The first half mile of the trail follows an old road bed to a former trailhead.
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We continued along the trail entering the Three Sisters Wilderness before turning along the edge of the steep hillside high above Separation Creek (post)
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IMG_9632One of two phantom orchids we saw along the trail.

IMG_9633Newish looking wilderness sign.

IMG_9634Maples overhanging the trail.

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IMG_9642Madrone trunks

A little under 1.5 miles from the TH we arrived at a rock fin where a short scramble led to a view of distant Rainbow Falls. It was just after 8am which wasn’t an ideal time due to the falls being to the east with the Sun directly behind and still low in the sky.
IMG_9644It’s a pretty narrow scramble so probably not for kids or those uncomfortable with heights.

IMG_9645A lone madrone at the end of the fin.

IMG_9647Looking toward the falls. (The North Sister is back there too but not visible due to the lighting.)

IMG_9654Rainbow Falls on Rainbow Creek

IMG_9651The best I could do with the lighting.

IMG_9652Looking up Separation Creek.

IMG_9658Looking back up along the rocks.

A use trail continued toward the falls, but as far as I know it’s not possible to reach them or to get a better view so we returned the way we’d come. From the Rainbow Falls Trailhead we then drove another 5 miles up FR 2643 to its end at the Foley Ridge Trailhead.
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The 8 mile long Foley Ridge Trail begins at the trailhead and leads into the Three Sisters Wilderness were it eventually ends at the Pacific Crest Trail. We had been on the upper end of the trail twice, once on a backpacking trip around the South Sister (post) and the other another backpacking trip where we explored some of the areas waterfalls (post). Today’s plan was to hike the first 4.5 or so miles of the trail to the Substitute Point Trail and then follow that 0.7 mile trail to a former lookout site atop Substitute Point. We were looking forward to the view atop the point but also interested to see what the area looked like after being hit hard by wildfires in 2017.

The first mile and half of the trail was unaffected by the fire and hosted a few blooming rhododendron and other woodland flowers.
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IMG_9666Pink pyrola

IMG_9669Crossing of Gold Creek which was nearly dry but it hosted a fair number of mosquitos.

IMG_9671Columbine, bunchberry, and wild roses.

IMG_9672An anemone with some bunchberries

IMG_9674Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness

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IMG_9680Beargrass

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IMG_9684Rhododendron

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We soon found ourselves in the fire scar which at least lessened the number of mosquitos greatly.
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The 2017 Separation Fire was started by lighting in August along with dozens of others. The fire became part of the Horse Creek Complex which burned something in the neighborhood of 30,000 acres. It was the same year as the Eagle Creek and Whitewater fires making 2017 a really bad year for great hiking areas. Nearly four years later signs of the slow recovery could be seen in the form of wildflowers and small trees.
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IMG_9695Lupine

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The trail briefly entered an area of older trees that had fared a little better during the fire.
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IMG_9715Twinflower

IMG_9726Leaving the green trees behind.

The trail climbed gently which allowed us to fully appreciate the wildlife and wildflowers, in particular some really impressive Washington lilies.
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IMG_9736They smell as good as they look too!

IMG_9743This one was a monster.

20210704_134302_HDRChest high

IMG_9745Crab spider on the lower left petal.

IMG_9749Penstemon

IMG_9756Earlier in the week I had been reading that the blossoms turn pink after being pollinated.

IMG_9760Clodius parnassian

IMG_9765Pretty moth

IMG_9767Penstemon

IMG_9776Woodpecker

IMG_9778Pond along the trail.

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The trail began to level off as it passed between Proxy Point on the left and Substitute Point on the right. With the trees being burnt we had a good view of the rocky Proxy Point but the angle of the hillside below Substitute Point kept it hidden. Also visible was The Husband further ahead to the East.
IMG_9791Looking toward Proxy Point

IMG_9790The Husband, South Sister, and the shoulder of Substitute Point.

IMG_9801Frog along the trail.

The trail curved around the base of Substitute Point where we got a view of Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson.
IMG_9805Proxy Point, Scott Mountain (post), Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_9808Bleeding heart

We came to the junction with the Substitute Point on its NE side.
IMG_9813The Husband from the junction.

The Substitute Point Trail didn’t appear to have been maintained, possibly since the fire, but it was easy enough to follow as it headed uphill.
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IMG_9825This was sort of a mean trick, the trail entered these green trees then almost immediately switched back into the burn.

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The climb wasn’t particularly steep until the end as it approached the rocky spire where a lookout once sat. As we approached it was hard to believe there was a trail to the top.
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There was in fact a nice trail that wound up the west side, although a single downed tree did require a hands and knees crawl along the way.
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IMG_9838Mt. Bachelor from the trail.

IMG_9841Proxy Point

IMG_9843Some unburned forest and a view of Diamond Peak.

IMG_9844Diamond Peak (post)

IMG_9845The Little Brother and North & Middle Sister behind The Husband with South Sister to the right.

IMG_9917The trail leading up.

The view at the top was at the same time spectacular and sad. We could see that much of the area that we’d explored on our previous backpacking trips had been burned badly by the fires.
IMG_9851The summit of Substitute Point

IMG_9855Scott Mountain, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Belknap Crater (post).

IMG_9861Proxy Point and Scott Mountain.

IMG_9869The Three Sisters, Little Brother and The Husband

IMG_9863Mt. Bachelor, The Wife, and Sphinx Butte.

IMG_9865Kidney Lake

img src=”https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51292219058_ec3f2f67bc_c.jpg” width=”800″ height=”600″ alt=”IMG_9866″>South Sister

IMG_9877Mt. Bachelor and The Wife

IMG_9868North and Middle Sister behind The Husband

IMG_9872Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington

We took a nice long break at the top watching butterflies soar around us.
A swallowtail and two whites (maybe clodius parnassians) in flight.

After our break we headed back. We’d had the hike to ourselves but were now passing a handful of hikers heading up the trail. We stopped a few times to watch butterflies (in hopes they would land) and to smell the occasional lily.
IMG_9931Clodius parnassian in a blossom.

IMG_9933Moth and a parnassian.

The hike here came to 10.3 miles with 2000′ of relatively gentle elevation gain. With the 2.8 miles we did at Rainbow Falls it came to a 13.1 mile day and a great way to spend the 4th of July.

Track for Substitute Point

While we were sorry to see how badly much of the area was burned it was encouraging to see the trails were in relatively good shape and that there was new growth coming. We fear that hiking in recently burned forest is only going to become more common in the years to come but hike we will. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Rainbow Falls and Substitute Point

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Three Sisters Wilderness Day 1 – Separation Lake Trailhead to Eileen Lake

We just started backpacking last year and we really enjoyed it so we were looking forward to our first outing of the year which we recently completed. I plan on covering our trip over three entries starting with this post featuring our first day.

We had originally planned on spending a long weekend in the Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wilderness areas, but with the early snow melt in the mountains we changed our destination to the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had been wanting to check out the waterfalls along Linton Creek since seeing a trip report that was posted on Portlandhikers.org in 2013. There is no official trail to any of the falls along the creek and in most places there is no trail at all. The few reports I found on the area all began their hike at Linton Lake along Highway 126 and climbed up toward Linton Meadows. In the report on Portlandhikers they had hiked up the creek then over to Eileen Lake for the night then returned to Linton Lake the next day. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of carrying our full packs while bushwacking uphill so I came up with a different plan.

The solution was to start the exploration of Linton Creek from Eileen Lake where we would already have established our campsite. This would allow us to explore down stream as far as Upper Linton Falls using daypacks. I began studying our maps trying to plan the trip. The three closest trailheads to Eileen Lake are the Obsidian Trailhead, the Foley Ridge Trailhead, and the Separation Lake Trailhead. I quickly settled on the Separation Lake TH since it was the closest to us, didn’t require a limited entry permit, and offered a couple possible return loops.

We had been to the Separation Lake Trailhead in May 2014 when we hiked to Separation Lake so we were familiar with the trail when we slung our packs on and set off into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
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This time we took the Louise Creek Trail when we reached the junction just under a mile from the trailhead.
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Our plan was to follow the Louise Creek Trial for 7.2 miles to another trail junction at Buck Meadows then continue up to the Foley Ridge Trail which would take us to yet another junction. From there we would take the Linton Meadows Trail to a final junction where we would head for Husband Lake and our ultimate destination of Eileen Lake.

As we climbed up the Louise Creek Trail we met a couple that were hiking out after having camped at Sisters Mirror Lake. They had come down a portion of the Separation Creek Trail from the James Creek Shelter to Indian Hole Falls and reported that the trail did indeed have many downed trees across it. This confirmed what the information on the Forest Service website which called the trail “impassible due to heavy blowdown”. We had planned on visiting Indian Hole Falls then taking that trail down to Separation Lake where we would camp on our third night but had nixed those plans after seeing the information on the website. The other couple said the falls were beautiful and we still planned on visiting them but by using the Separation Creek Meadows Trail instead.

They also reported that there were a couple of people doing trail maintenance just up the trail and that they had not seen any water along the trail for quite some time. We had plenty of water for the day but it was good information to have for our return trip so we didn’t short ourselves hiking out.

The Louise Creek Trail was indeed dry and most of the flowers had long since passed although a few stragglers could be found here and there. There was also the remains of what must have been an impressive beargrass display lining much of the trail.
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The meadows of Buck Meadows were also dry as far as we could tell. There were some patches of green but no visible water. Purple aster dotted the dry grasses and were popular with the butterflies.
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We got our first look at The Husband from the meadows. We knew Eileen Lake was on the far side of the rocky mountain.
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The final meadow was surprisingly long and we wound up losing track of the trail near the far end and just headed cross county to a small knoll with trees. We were now planning on staying somewhere in the area of the meadows on our final night and this seemed to be a viable spot. We picked up the trail again near the signed trail junction.
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The pointer to the left was for the Foley Ridge Trail and the right was for Honey Lake. Oddly none of our maps or the Forest Service website showed a trail going to Honey Lake, instead the trail passed by on its way to the Separation Creek Meadows Trail. It was also unclear if either or both forks were still considered the Louise Creek Trail. Our two maps indicated the right hand fork was the Louise Creek Trail but the Forest Service showed it as the left fork. Either way we needed to get to the Foley Ridge Trail so we headed left. The trail switchbacked uphill offering a brief view of Diamond Peak to the south before arriving at the Foley Ridge Trail junction.
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It had been a tough climb up for us not being used to carrying full packs so we rested a bit at the junction where we were joined by a hummingbird.
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Shortly after setting off again we passed the first water we’d seen all day, a few small ponds that still held some water.
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We followed the Foley Ridge Trail for almost two and a half miles to the next trail junction.
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Four trails met at this junction. The Foley Ridge Trail we had come up and on its right was the trail to the James Creek Shelter. To the left were two trails one to the Pacific Crest Trail and to the immediate left the trail to Linton Meadows. We had expected to see a fifth trail at the junction, the Separation Creek Meadows Trail, which appeared to also meet here according to the maps. We thought it was odd but it was a question for another day and headed toward Linton Meadows.
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We had been on this portion of trail during our backpacking loop around the South Sister the previous year. The trail passes through a pumice plain which manages to support a good amount of colorful vegetation.
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Just .3 miles from the big junction the Linton Meadows Trail split again. The right fork headed down to Linton Meadows while the left fork pointed to Husband Lake. The left fork then passes Eileen Lake before rejoining the right hand fork at Linton Creek.
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We stopped at Husband Lake for a moment to take in the views before continuing on our way.
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We finally came upon a creek with flowing water between the lakes coming down from The Husband.
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On our previous visit there had been tons of frogs along the shore of Eileen Lake and we had been wondering if we would find the same thing this time. That question was answered upon arriving at the lake.
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There were more this time than before and we slowly made our way around the lake being careful not to step on any of them. We were planning on setting up camp on the far side of the lake where we would be able to set up at least 100 feet away from the water and the trail per wilderness regulations. We found our spot on a small rise with a small meadow behind us and no frogs to have to watch out for.
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After setting up camp we decided to hike down to Linton Creek to have dinner in the same location we had eaten at the year before and to fill up on water from the creek. We tried going around the lake on the other side hoping the frogs would be less but it proved just as challenging and slow. On our way down to the creek we spotted 4 deer also making their way down the meadows.
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We arrived at Linton Creek to find it flowing strongly. It is primarily fed by Linton Springs so the dry year apparently hadn’t effected it as much as the other creeks. The springs also mean the water is cold and we had forgotten just how cold until we tried to soak our feet. The water was too cold to keep them in for more than 10 or 15 seconds.
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After having dinner and filling up on the wonderfully cold water we returned to Eileen Lake where we explored the area behind our campsite then sat by the water watching the frogs along the shore and small fish occasionally jumping from the water disrupting the reflection of the mountains.
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It had been a great start to our trip and the adventure had just begun. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157656374056692

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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.
DSC05500 Stitch

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.
DSC05594 Stitch

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.
DSC05632 Stitch

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.
Camp Lake

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!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157646908180516/
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