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50-Mile Trek in the Mountains of Oregon

Discussion in 'Nature' started by sparklehorse, Aug 31, 2010.

  1. sparklehorse

    sparklehorse Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 4, 2010
    Portland, Oregon
    My dog Kirah and I hiked the approximately 50-mile loop around all three of the Three Sisters mountains in central Oregon last week. We started and ended on the north side of the mountains near McKenzie Pass. The first three days of our six-day trek were baking hot, followed by an intense thunderstorm, then glorious cool weather after that. The loop is awesome, especially the west side. It's easily some of the finest backpacking I've done.

    The Three Sisters are the third, fourth, and fifth highest peaks in Oregon, each exceeding 10,000 feet of elevation. Here's an aerial shot of the three mountains courtesy of the USGS:


    We began our journey on a scorching Sunday afternoon. Temps in the valleys were nearing 100 degrees and here in the high country it was about 85. I really don't care to backpack in that kind of heat, but you take what you get on a trip like this. Before too long though we had made it up to the very pretty South Matthieu Lake, with North Sister in the distance:


    We drank our fill of water, then headed east in the heat toward our destination for the night.

    Along the way I saw a neat little horned lizard near the trail, the first I'd ever seen:



    I made the mistake of filling only one water bottle at the lake and was nearly out of water by the time we made it to the junction with the Green Lakes trail. By then Kirah was starting to have a hard time with the heat. We took a break at the junction, sipped a bit of the remaining water, then I carried her pack the last couple of very dry miles uphill to Alder Creek, our camp for the night. Once there I guzzled the sweetest tasting liter of water that has ever passed my lips!

    The next day was a hot, and rather un-remarkable, nine-mile hike to a place called Park Meadow. The views are few and far between here, and sadly many of the trees in this area have been killed by beetles. Early on Kirah hurt her foot crossing a stream, and so I carried her pack the rest of the day. In fact I wound up carrying her pack about half the day each day for the rest of the trip, just to make life a little easier for her, and hopefully help keep her healthy.

    One of the little stream crossings along the way:


    By late afternoon it was so hot it felt like we were hiking through an oven. When we finally arrived at Park Meadow it turned out to be a cool oasis though, and gorgeous to boot.

    Nearby Broken Top mountain in the evening light:



    After breakfast the next morning I left camp briefly to attend to my morning constitutional. I made the mistake of leaving my food bag out, and when I returned I discovered that some woodland creature had had its way with my Fig Newtons. Little devil.

    Broken Top in the morning light:


    I was glad to see the puffy white clouds that morning, but little did I know they would evolve into some nasty weather by the end of the day.

    Heading out on the morning of Day Three:


    Between Park Meadow and Green Lakes the trail climbs up into alpine country that's very scenic, with great views of South Sister:


    Dropping down into the Green Lakes basin, Mt. Bachelor in the distance:


    South Sister from Green Lakes:


    Yowsa, it's busy around here, even mid-week apparently:


    Plenty of horse traffic too:


    Gloom gathers, and thunder rumbles, as we head on toward Moraine Lake:


    The weather had really turned by the time we reached Moraine:



    The thunder closed in rapidly as I ate my dinner, but the clouds only managed to spit a little now and again. Typical summer thunderstorm in the Cascades, or so I thought. Later, just as I was doing a bit of laundry, the weather turned truly evil. The cool breeze that I had welcomed earlier became gale force, and the rain began to pour in a biblical way. I jumped in the tent, curled up with Kirah, and lay watching as the sky sparked, the thunder cracked, and the rain flew sideways. My little tent flapped incessantly in the wind, and the rain formed rivers on the ground that threatened to run under the tent floor. At times the thunder was deafening, and it scared the bejeepers out of Kirah. She shook like a leaf for the duration of the storm, which lasted maybe an hour and a half, though it seemed much longer. It was easily the worst thunderstorm I've weathered on a backpack trip, and I've been in quite a few.

    Eventually the rain subsided a bit and I drifted off to sleep. I woke several hours later to find the storm had completely passed, replaced by a strange, eerie kind of quiet. It was that aftermath quiet, where you can actually hear a pin drop, but then the silence is jarringly broken by a wet pine cone hitting the ground, or a giant drop of water striking the tent, or a tree branch falling to earth. It made for a very uneasy night's sleep.

    I slept in late the next morning, and to my surprise woke up to glorious sunshine and little cotton candy clouds:


    Drying out:


    Moraine Lake as we hit the trail:


    Kirah all bootied up, ready to tackle the gritty Wickiup Plains:


    Self portrait crossing the pumice plains:


    Looks like a Borax commercial:



    Here on the Wickiup Plains we turned north onto the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2600 miles from Mexico to Canada. I met a couple of PCT thru-hikers here. Nice guys, 30s I'd guess. They'd started at the Mexico border back in April, and were really enjoying the Oregon section of the trail. The scenery was great and the travel much easier than it had been for them in the snowy Sierras. They were averaging 28 miles per day now. Double Dee and Redhead were their trail names. I didn't think to get their picture. After chatting a few minutes they left me in their dust. Literally. Lean, mean, hiking machines they were.

    Once across the dry Wickiup Plains things became much more lush and green. Lots of gorgeous meadows and wildflowers on this side of the mountains, and the weather had become mercifully cool.


    After a great day of walking we arrived at our destination for the night, lovely Reese Lake:


    The mosquitos at Reese were a bad crowd. You know the type. Whiskey-drinkin', chain-smokin', tatooed, and potty-mouthed. Each with a rap sheet a mile long and a penchant for trouble. Nothing to do here but stay covered up, spritz on some bug spray, and eat with considerable haste.

    The next day was another gorgeous wildflowery, meadowy hike, with a waterfall tossed in for good measure:



    Obsidian Falls:


    I got a peek at Diamond Peak, the only mountain to the south I noticed the whole trip:


    Before too long we reached the beautiful Sunshine Meadow, our home for the night:


    This is within the Obsidian restricted use area, which I had obtained a permit for prior to the trip.

    Moonrise over Middle Sister:


    Kirah keeping warm while I break camp the next morning:


    The last day was easily the most scenic, with massive lava flows to cross, and expansive views of the mountains to the north. It was also the hardest day for Kirah as her feet were getting pretty tender from all the gritty terrain we had covered. I kept her booties on for most of the day, and carried her pack the whole way. That seemed to help, and she made it out tired and sore, but otherwise OK.

    Leaving the meadow in the morning:


    Approaching Opie Dilldock Pass:



    The pass is named after a cartoon character from the early 1900s.

    Along here I met another PCT thru-hiker, this one headed south bound. His trail name was 8-mile, after a street in his home town of Detroit. He'd started at the Canadian border and was headed for Yosemite. Nice guy, lives in Vancouver, WA now.

    I did get his picture:


    Moving up the pass:





    Pano near the pass showing the Collier Cone (click to enlarge):


    Between the pass and the Yapoah Crater I saw a smoke jumper plane drop some streamers a mile or so out ahead of me.



    Later the plane circled around, flew in very low, and dropped a couple of packages that were dangling from parachutes. Target practice, I thought, because I could see no fires in the area. When I reached the meadow where the drop occured I saw a couple of smoke jumper guys packing up the chutes and working with gear:



    I spoke with them briefly. Turns out there was a small, lightning-caused fire burning to the west of the meadow and they were dispatched to deal with it. They had been dropped from 1500 feet above the ground, but somehow I didn't see that part of the operation. Their gear included axes, shovels, food, shelter, and 5 gallons of water. I'd guess each of them must've been hefting 60 or 70 lb packs when they headed out. I thanked them for their hard work, and left them be so they could do their jobs.

    A few minutes later I could see them in the distance, with all that gear, heading almost straight up a cinder cone:


    Continuing on, we circle around desolate Yapoah Crater:


    A final look north toward Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood:


    Kirah found a new burst of energy as we hiked the last three miles back to the car. I'm sure she knew we were finally headed home.

    "Come on dad, I'm dreamin' of a cheeseburger!"


    Photo gear: GH1, 14-140mm, 7-14mm, Oly 35mm f/3.5 macro w/adapter.

    Awesome trip!

    • Like Like x 13
  2. chuckgoolsbee

    chuckgoolsbee Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 6, 2010
    Bend, Oregon
    Thanks for the tour!

    I'm moving just east of this area in a couple of weeks.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. great story, great pix.

    thanks for sharing it with us here.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Jamus

    Jamus Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 18, 2010
    Peter Jamus
    Lovely adventure, thanks for sharing! Your dog seems like a sweetheart.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. neilvan

    neilvan Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 31, 2010
    Coquitlam, BC, Canada

    Thanks so much for sharing your hike. I thoroughly enjoyed all the photos!
    • Like Like x 1
  6. flyby

    flyby Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 14, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    What a treat! Great photo's and a story to boot! Thanks for posting..what grand surroundings. I just love the mountains. By the way your Kihra looks like an exact replica of my dog Callie..when she was a bit younger. Callie is now 15 years old and her hiking days are long gone.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    What a fantastic trip beautifully told with your photographs. My early morning cup of tea has gone cold and in the meantime as I look out of my window I can see the next heap of shower cloud building up to the west, oh for your clear skies even if broken by a thunder storm. Many thanks for your thread.

    • Like Like x 1
  8. timo

    timo Mu-43 Rookie

    Apr 2, 2010
    Amazing photos and a great photo tour, thanks!
    • Like Like x 1
  9. JoepLX3

    JoepLX3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 13, 2010
    Nice tour, I long back to Oregon, wanting to show it to my daughters, but probably have to wait a couple of years...
    -Thanks for sharing your experience!!!
    • Like Like x 1
  10. ricseet

    ricseet Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 20, 2010
    Great adventure and GREAT set of pics.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. tonys05

    tonys05 Mu-43 Rookie

    Aug 17, 2010
    absolutely superb! and it warmed my heart to see the good care you took of Kirah :) 

    • Like Like x 1
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