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Three Sisters 2011
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Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Three Sisters 2011 on 10/10/2011 23:38:09 MDT Print View

I haven't posted in here for awhile, so I thought I'd do a little cross-posterooney:

Friday morning, I headed down over Santiam Pass, into Sisters, and then up into a raincloud known as Lava Canyon Trailhead.

I knew the rain wouldn't last though—you could see the weather was just lingering over the Cascades from the Sisters. My plan was to do the Three Sisters Loop in 2 days. At just over 50 miles, this was totally doable, but as I would later find out, the snow was a little more voluminous than expected, making my original plan a little dicey.

A lava pile next to some fog.

Lower Matthieu Lake, in all its cloudy glory.

The trailhead is in a large lava flow area with huge piles of lava rock which look as if they were dumped there by a giant dump truck. Very cool. The trail quickly meets the PCT, and, as I decided to go clockwise, quickly leaves the PCT for the east side. There were several areas of snow, an inch or so thick around 5800', however nothing that worried me at the time. Also, it was raining so I was hopeful things would quickly melt off.

North Sister.

The trail descends into a burnt area, and then meanders along with the occasional view of the Sisters. After a few stream crossings, one wrong turn, and a few quick stops, I made it to Park Meadow. This place must be really nice earlier in the season, but everything had dried up by now.

Park Meadow

From Park Meadow, the trail heads up toward a plateau before reaching Green Lakes. However, around 6500' the trail began to experience frequent soft snow, and by the plateau at 7000', the snow was 3-4" deep. This wasn't a big problem hiking in, but to make my 26 miles each day, and seeing over the hill that the snow was present at even lower elevations, my mileage wouldn't be doable. Because most of the west side hovers around 6600' and as 26 miles in 3" of snow would have been a really big chore, I decided to head back down below the snow line, and camp for the night. Even if doable, walking in mushy snow, for hours on end, is really morale busting. On my way, I ran into two rangers who were following some hunters that they were concerned about. Apparently, the hunters were "night hunting." I'm not sure that this is an uncommon practice, but I whistled down the last mile of trail as it got darker, just to make sure. Also, forgetting to wear blaze orange, I pulled a corner of my yellow Cricket out and fashioned it to the back of my MLD burn.

South Sister

Middle and North Sister

The bottom of the picture there is about 6200' and the snow kept going down from there. :(

Le Broken Top.

I found a nice lake to camp at, and turned in around 8. I was pretty tired after 25 miles.

Knowing I only had to cover 17 miles this morning, I woke up around 9:30 and headed back towards Lava Canyon. The weather today was fantastic, and the views from Scotts Pass were great! I opted to take the PCT back instead of the Lower Mathieu Lake route, which offered nice views of the lava piles and the mountains to the north. There were also several day hikers who had come up to the smaller Mathieu lake.

Two cool mounds. Something Crater and Something Butte?

I love lava piles.

North Sister

I can't wait to do the whole loop.

The Three Presidents. (President Washington, President Jefferson, President Three Fingered Jack)

42.0 miles, 4000' gained, 1 night

Edited by ChrisMorgan on 10/11/2011 00:05:29 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Three Sisters 2011 on 10/10/2011 23:58:55 MDT Print View

Nice trip, Chris, very unique area

Sort of late in the year

Let's see, 42 miles, 2 days

I'de take maybe 4 days to do that

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Three Sisters 2011: Take II on 11/02/2011 18:49:29 MDT Print View

I ended up doing a second take, this time, finishing the whole thing in one night.

Here's Kyle's report and some photos, using the "post to forum" feature from

52.0 miles, 7500' gained, 1 night(s)

Saturday, we opted to start on the west side of the mountains due to the good weather, and it was stunningly beautiful. All three mountains stayed visible throughout the day, each collecting lenticular clouds midday. We blazed through the lava flows, over Opie Dildock pass, and made it to the Obsidian limited access area in time for lunch. After a quick break, we continued down the PCT through the easiest part of the trail—a meandering, smooth dirt path through huge meadows.

We arrived at the Wickiup Plains around dusk. If I never see these "plains" again, I'll die happy. They're huge and scenic, but they're not plains! The area is comprised of small rolling hills everywhere, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that surprise hills after 20 miles make me angry.

We hiked through the plains and made it to Moraine Lake just as the black of night arrived in the area. Chris and I wanted to give ourselves a head start in the morning, so we continued two more miles past Moraine Lake to Fall Creek for a total of 27 miles for the day. We set up our tarps, made dinner, and went to bed.

We woke up in a cloud. It was misty and damp everywhere. We broke camp by 7:30 and were back on the move. The Fall Creek area is beautiful—tall grasses and boulders line the rushing creek, punctuated by small waterfalls as we climbed the hill toward Green Lakes. When we arrived at Green Lakes, it was still cold, misting, and the wind picked up. The view of South Sister was obscured by the fog, but it was beautiful and barren. We climbed the final hill to a 7000' alpine area before descending to the east side of the mountains.

And that's basically it. The rain abated for a couple hours, but the majority of the day was a viewless hike through varying intensity of rain. The trail was punctuated with some interesting ponds and meadows of lava sands, but for the most part it was the arid (yet moist) forest familiar to anyone who's been east of the cascades.

We made it back to the car at 5:15 after 25 miles and celebrated with overpriced Mexican food in Sisters.

Edited by ChrisMorgan on 11/02/2011 18:54:33 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Three Sisters 2011: Take II on 11/02/2011 19:08:33 MDT Print View

52 miles in two days! Way to go! I think I took 5 days, but I was in no hurry, and I don't spending a couple extra nights camping.

What's Kyle's problem with Wickiup Plains? I think that area is very scenic, as everywhere around the Three Sisters, and the hills are fairly minor.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Three Sisters 2011 on 11/05/2011 08:19:30 MDT Print View

That Three Sisters Hike is great since there is so much variation. I think that little plateau by South Sister (just above Green Lakes) is especially nice. I did learn that mountains not only make their own weather, but also have seasonal influence on the drainage areas. There was a long stretch on the Wickiup Plain where the map showed creeks, but all that was there were deep, dried-up creekbeds. Very disappointing after the third one.

I didn't know they allowed hunting in a Wilderness Area???