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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Thayer Glacial Lake – 8/13/2019

For the second hike of our vacation we chose the off-trail scramble to Thayer Glacial Lake. The hike is described in the second edition of Scott Cook’s “Bend, Overall” guidebook. The book is older (ours is updated for 2012) and predates the Pole Creek Fire which happened to take place in 2012. The main change on the hike is that there is a lot of travel through the fire scar so there aren’t a lot of green trees, but there are more views of the mountains.

We had had this hike on our to do list and a recent trip report in a Facebook group prompted us to move it up and do it sooner rather than later. We drove over Santiam Pass to Sisters and took Highway 242 for 1.3 miles to Forest Service Road 15 (Pole Creek Road) where we turned left. We followed FR 15 for 11 bumpy miles to the Pole Creek Trailhead.
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We followed the Pole Creek Trail uphill through the burned forest for 1.5 miles to a junction with the Green Lakes Trail crossing the dry bed of Pole Creek not far from the trailhead.
IMG_5817Middle and North Sister

IMG_5820Dry bed of Pole Creek.

IMG_5822Black Crater, Mt. Jefferson, and Black Butte to the north.

IMG_5825Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness.

IMG_5831A few survivors amid the snags.

IMG_5832Green Lakes Trail junction.

We stayed straight at the junction continuing on what was now the Green Lakes Trail. This trail descended a little before arriving at Soap Creek three quarters of a mile from the junction.
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IMG_5839Broken Top and the South Sister

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IMG_5844Monkeyflower along Soap Creek

On the far side of the creek was a familiar junction, the Camp Lake and Green Lakes Trail junction where we had been on our 2014 loop around the South Sister (post).
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Instead of crossing the creek we left the trail here and headed west. This portion of the hike requires off-trail navigational and route finding skills. There was, at times, what appeared to be a user trail but it was faint and prone to disappearing only to reappear in an unexpected place. In general we followed the directions in the guidebook although our routes there and back were quite different (at least for a 1 mile stretch). The instructions were to follow the climbers trail for 2ish miles then head cross country toward a yellow bulge on North Sister. The lack of green trees allowed for a lot more views of North Sister which assisted in keeping us oriented. We used our topographic maps to help us stick to what appeared to be the gentlest terrain and eventually found ourselves looking at the daunting moraine to the left of the yellow bulge.
IMG_5859Soap Creek

IMG_5863View of the North Sister that would not have been there pre-fire.

IMG_5868Soap Creek and the Middle and North Sister

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IMG_5891Might be a trail in there, might not.

IMG_5894Decent look at the yellow bulge on North Sister.

IMG_5895Broken Top and South Sister

IMG_5896Soap Creek

IMG_5903Meadow where there was no discernible trail apparent.

IMG_5909Typical cross country obstacles.

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IMG_5930Dry creekbed.

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IMG_5946The moraine to the left of the bulge.

We stopped briefly to watch what appeared to be a golden eagle soaring overhead trying to evade a smaller raptor that was annoyed by the larger birds presence.
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We wound up a bit further north than intended and had to veer NW to reach the meadows around the springs feeding Soap Creek.
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IMG_5963A clump of Monkeyflower

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IMG_5986Penstemon

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After a little over two hours and approximately three miles from where we’d left the Green Lakes Trail we found ourselves resting in the shade of a large rock near the moraine.
IMG_6001Our shady spot.

While we rested by the rock we discussed our planned route up the moraine. The steep loose rock would not be easy and we wanted to try and find the safest route to what was hopefully the lowest point along the moraine. After agreeing on a route and picking a point to aim for we set off on the final three quarters of a mile climb to the rim above Thayer Glacial Lake.
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IMG_6015Paintbrush growing on the moraine.

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IMG_6021More flowers amid the rocks.

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After a couple (dozen) course corrections I passed between a pair of large cinder rocks I dubbed “Thayer Gate” and a few moments later was looking at the lake.
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While Heather headed down to the lake shore I detoured up along the rim to the south to check out the views.
IMG_6057The yellow bulge, Mt. Hood, Black Crater and Black Butte to the north.

IMG_6059Mt. Hood

IMG_6037Broken Top to the north.

IMG_6043The rim above Thayer Lake.

IMG_6045North Sister and the Thayer Glacier

IMG_6061Heather near some large boulders in the lake.

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We explored along the lake looking at the remaining ice, one piece resembled a listing boat, and admiring the textures and colors of the volcano.
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The water was frigid but the temperature by the lake was pleasantly cool and we would have liked to have stayed there for hours but we still had to get back so we eventually pulled ourselves away and headed back down the moraine.
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We headed toward the springs feeding Soap Creek and kept working our way north trying to stay to the left of the wildflower lined streams.
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This proved to be a little trickier than expected as we kept coming upon more springs as we went.
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We followed Soap Creek into a narrow canyon which turned out to be a bit of a mistake and had to climb steeply over the north ridge when it became to steep and narrow.
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IMG_6173Starting to get too narrow and the topographic map showed it getting more so further downstream.

IMG_6174Climbing out of the gully.

IMG_6176Broken Top and South Sister from the ridge.

We descended the ridge heading NE using our GPS to hook up with our earlier route up. After a couple of ups and downs over smaller ridges we found ourselves in the general area through which we’d come up. We roughly followed our route back to the Green Lakes Trail without much excitement. The one thing that was different was the creeping wire lettuce blossoms which had opened up to the Sun and dotted the ground in places.
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We then followed the trails back to the Pole Creek Trailhead which was full of cars. It surprised us a bit being a Tuesday, but it’s one of the stated reasons by the Forest Service for the permit requirements that go into effect in 2020 for many of the trailheads in the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, and Mt. Jefferson Wilderness areas.

Cook lists the hike as 5 miles one way, but we wound up with 11.5 miles round trip with nearly 3000′ of cumulative elevation gain. The off-trail travel makes it an even harder hike than those state would indicate. All that being said it was worth the effort and we were glad we’d made the trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Thayer Glacial Lake

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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.
Smoke

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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