Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

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awildman
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Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by awildman » July 30th, 2010, 2:24 pm

The Summer Vacation / PCT / Backpacking Where There Isn't Snow adventure continues as I solo hiked the Three Sisters Loop, starting and ending at the Green Lakes Trailhead.

Day 1: Green Lakes TH to Mesa Creek (11.5 miles)

A 20% chance of thunderstorms was 100% accurate as I pulled into the Green Lakes TH at noon on Tuesday. Cold fat rain drops pelted me as I scurried over to the registry and filled out my permit. The substantial parking lot was over half full but I only saw one or two people, who were basically running back to their car as I fast-packed up the Falls Creek Trail.

My original plan was to hike to Park Meadows (heading counterclockwise - or as Guy would say "anti clockwise") but I didn't savor the idea of hiking the "pass" between Green Lakes and Park Meadows with the lightning and thunder. So I instead reversed my route and stayed in the relative safety and comfort of the trees on the west side.

The rain let up after 30 minutes, but the thunder and lightning was in full force and new systems seemed to be blowing in from the south every hour. The light was either really flat or really dramatic but in both cases I don't capture the feeling of being chased by an electrical storm across the lava plains.

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cloudy South Sister and Moraine Lake

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this is me, running from the approaching lightning/thunder storm (obviously not scared enough to not take a hammy self-portrait)

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weather over Wickiup Plains

I made it to Mesa Creek in just over 3 hours, which I think qualifies me for some international speed backpacking record. It was raining again by the time I got to camp so I basically just hung out under a tree for a while and waited for it to pass. The storm eventually passed but the clouds hung around until just before sunset. To pass the time, I photographed the wild flowers growing on the banks of Mesa Creek and observed a pack of boy scouts. (They came over and introduced themselves later asking if I needed any assistance because I looked like I had lost something near the creek. I explained that I was just taking photographs and often look like I've lost something, even when I'm not taking photographs.)

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giant lupine at Mesa Creek

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Mesa Creek "meadow" and South Sister

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South Sister from camp

Day 2: Mesa Creek to S. Matthieu Lake (15.7 miles)

I thought that the storm system would move through in the night and give me some nice morning weather for the walk up the PCT, but no.

I did get a mosquito in my coffee, though.

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mosquito does the backstroke

That's my photo commentary on the mosquito situation. I've long given up trying to rate the mosquito problems for people because everyone is different and one person's 5 is another person's 15 (on a scale of 1 to 10). Generally, they were annoying but not insufferable. They seemed like snow mosquitoes, not lake mosquitoes: smaller and less desperate, with a better understanding that their role in this world is to be killed by me.

I broke camp and headed north on the PCT (passing the scout troop along the way - "hike on, sister!" yelled the scout master) and almost immediately hit snow. First, patches. Then, unbroken segments of deep, soft, fast-melting snow.

Again, the light was HORRIBLE for photographs so don't let them scare you away from what is nearly hands down the most scenic part of the PCT in Oregon.

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Middle Sister

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North Sister and the PCT

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Middle Sister

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junction of the Linton Meadows trail and the PCT

Luckily, I have already hiked this section of the PCT in glorious autumn weather so I know what it looks like when it's not buried in snow. The snow walking was - as I noted in my journal - "exhausting, but not emotionally exhausting." The boy scout troop had come through the day before and done a fine job of route finding so I just followed their tracks the whole way.

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Obsidian Falls, gloriously free of snow

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"Sunshine" Meadows

Then, as quickly as it started near Separation Creek, the snow basically ended near the intersection with the Glacier View Trail (or whatever the trail is from the Obsidian TH). And the weather improved - transitioning from cloudy skies to sunny skies to thunderstorms.

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lupine up the wazoo

I climbed Opie Dilldock Pass in the sunshine and luckily skirted between two thunderstorm systems: one that was brewing over the Sisters to the south and one that was raging over McKenzie Pass. I arrived at South Matthieu Lake without getting rained on or zapped by lightning, and I even got a "designated" campsite next to another boy scout troop!

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on Opie Dilldock Pass

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Mt. Washington and Three Finger Jack from the PCT

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north on the PCT (Washington in the background)

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big thunderstorm cell to the north over McKenzie Pass

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Mt. Washington, TFJ and Mt. Jefferson

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Mt. Washington, about a mile or two from S. Matthieu Lake

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North Sister, her rain storm and some nice green veggie lumps

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lava fields and North Sister from S. Matthieu Lake

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S. Matthieu Lake and the boy scouts

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sunset from S. Matthieu Lake

Day 3: S. Matthieu Lake to Green Lakes (17 miles)

The weather cleared up for the evening and, since I was facing east, I was rewarded with a lovely sunrise at 5:30 the next morning. I packed up and was on the trail at 7AM, mentally prepared for a day of walking in the woods. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but this section doesn't need to be repeated. There are better ways.

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sunrise on N. Sister

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North Sister and South Matthieu Lake

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North Sister from the east side

I inadvertently hiked to Yapoah Lake, which isn't worth the detour, but at least I can say that I've been to Yopoah Lake. The woods between the Scott Pass Trail and Camp Lakes Trail are generally open and nice. There are some pumice flats filled with lupine and you occasionally get views of North Sister through the trees, many of which have burned in the last decade.

I stopped for lunch at Soap Creek and met a group of about 10 young people all carrying gigantic packs. I said "hi", "hey", or "hello" ten times. I think they were an Outward Bound group. If not, then one of them needs to get a new t-shirt that says NOLS.

Highlight of the morning: I found a stick shaped like the letter "A". Amazing!

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this little guy was rooting around in a Lunchables container until I took it and put in my trash bag - the trash, not the chipmunk.

I had every intention of visiting Red Meadow, but I think I missed the unmarked trail because before I knew it, I was in Park Meadows. It was nice but basically a swamp during this time of the year, so I carried on up the trail with the intent of spending the night at Golden Lake.

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Broken Top from Park Meadows

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Golden Lake and Broken Top

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Broken Top and the meadow basin at Golden Lake

When I got to the Golden Lake basin, it was the stuff of dreams: a big, lush meadow filled with flowers, quaint lake, waterfalls, cliffs, epic views of Broken Top and South Sister, plenty of camping sites, and no one around. But it was only 2:30 in the afternoon and I didn't feel like stopping that early in the afternoon so I spent 45 minutes or so in the basin and then continued up the "pass" to Green Lakes.

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Broken Top from the "pass"

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Broken Top, my favorite of the three sisters

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South Sister

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Green Lakes and South Sister

I got to the south end of the Green Lakes around 4PM and thought, "You know, it's only 4 miles to the trailhead. I could totally be drinking a beer in Bend by 7:30."

My foe: destinationitis.

But I fought my destinationitis and instead picked Camp 19, which had just enough of a flat spot for my one-woman tent, and a nice breeze cascading through to keep the mosquitoes down. I made camp, cooked up some awesome tuna mac, and then went for a little stroll in the pumice meadow behind my site.

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the resemblance is uncanny

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Broken Top and pumice meadow

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pumice-y Green Lakes trail

Day 4: Green Lakes to Green Lakes TH (4-ish miles)

I knew that the sun rose around 5:30 and that the really good light for photographs started around 5:58. So I made sure that I was up and ready to get some pretty pictures when the sun came over the ridge. It's really easy to get up at 5:30 AM when you go to bed at 7:30 PM.

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And then, of course, Falls Creek.

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So, in summary, if you are going to do this trip soon: wait a while. It will be better when the snow melts out on the west side and the flowers are in bloom. I would guesstimate another two weeks. Also, consider a cross-country route up to Chambers Lakes and down past Camp Lake instead of doing the whole official circuit. From what I heard, Camp Lake is snow-free right now.
Rambling on at Allison Outside

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weathercrazy
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by weathercrazy » July 30th, 2010, 2:54 pm

Wow...I won't begin to pick a favorite picture! They are all very nice! Looks like overall the weather worked out in the end for you, certainly for sunrise and sunset it did!

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fettster
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by fettster » July 30th, 2010, 3:00 pm

Wow, a detail trip report the same day the trip ended, impressive!! That's really cool to see some familiar sights, but slightly altered with the layer of snow. I definitely need to get to that east side, looks awesome! I like that shot of the zigzag of Golden Lake. Nice work on the circuit.

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guernica
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by guernica » July 30th, 2010, 4:05 pm

Love it love it love it! I was glad to see that you posted this report- this a loop that I am considering doing (debate between this and Spider Meadows), and it was fantastic to see this. Such a beautiful area. I agree, based on previous trips, that the area between Park Meadow and S. Matthieu isn't much to get excited about. Camp Lake is a lovely area.

Your blog rambles are great. Really enjoyed reading them.
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awildman
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by awildman » July 30th, 2010, 5:40 pm

fettster wrote:Wow, a detail trip report the same day the trip ended, impressive!!
I have found that when you get up before 5 AM, you can get a lot done in the day. ;)
Rambling on at Allison Outside

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awildman
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by awildman » July 30th, 2010, 5:44 pm

guernica wrote:I was glad to see that you posted this report- this a loop that I am considering doing (debate between this and Spider Meadows), and it was fantastic to see this.
I vote for Spider Gap - and take me with you! :)

Either "loop" will be great, but definitely closer to the end of August. This one is good because of the hundreds of side routes you can take just by scrambling up the shoulders of Middle Sister. I could spend a week on the PCT east of Linton Meadows just wandering around.

Thanks for the nice words.
Rambling on at Allison Outside

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AlexanderSupertramp
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by AlexanderSupertramp » July 30th, 2010, 5:53 pm

Stunning report Allison. Judging by the pics, it looks like there are no regrets about staying that last night out there as opposed to Bend :D

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zepboy
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by zepboy » July 30th, 2010, 6:42 pm

Thanks for sharing, Allison. Love your pictures. The Three Sisters Loop has to be the best backpacking trips in the entire Pacific Northwest. Can hardly wait to see those mountains again in September.

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retired jerry
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by retired jerry » July 30th, 2010, 8:08 pm

Great report!

Great trip!

This will motivate me to go up there.

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awildman
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Re: Three Sisters Loop: 7/27 - 7/30

Post by awildman » July 30th, 2010, 8:12 pm

AlexanderSupertramp wrote:Judging by the pics, it looks like there are no regrets about staying that last night out there as opposed to Bend :D
There was no beer at Camp 19, but the view was pretty good. :)
Rambling on at Allison Outside

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