Day 1…..24 miles…..Near Scott Pass, OR
The 3 Sisters are three beefy volcanos lined up north to south within the Oregon Cascades. The loop we are hiking is roughly 45 miles with then another 10 or so to summit South Sister and back.
Yesterday afternoon we climbed the ski mountain Mt. Bachelor just south of the Sisters then slept in the car not far from the trailhead. We started this morning from the Devil’s Lake trailhead on the South Sister approach trail. This was a good climb for about a mile and a half until it intersects with the Moraine Lake Trail. We followed this for 3 miles until joining the good ol’ PCT.
Going clockwise the next 20 miles was smooth sailing on the PCT. I didn’t think I remembered this section but as I was hiking it all became very real, I could recall people I met and conversations I had while walking this section of trail 5 years ago. Today we passed through the Obsidian Creek area which is very cool but does require some red tape. You’re supposed to get a permit to walk through at $3 pp. I didn’t remember doing this at all in ’15 but then Sara reminded me the PCT covered all these little permits. Anyway there’s some cool waterfalls, an excellent spring, and lots and lots of pieces of obsidian everywhere. Sara explained to me how obsidian is formed and if I listened more carefully I could relay that information to you. It’s basically when volcanic rock cools super quickly it becomes smooth and glass like, I think. Sure does look cool. We walked another 5-6 miles, passed through some lava fields, had great views of not only the Sisters but the other Cascades to the north and then turned off the PCT onto Scott Pass Trail and found a campsite shortly afterwards. Day 2…..22 miles…..near Moraine Lake
Very shortly after breaking camp the trail led us into a huge burn. Good thing we camped when we did, neither of us like to sleep in a burn when there’s a million dead trees hanging around waiting for a stiff breeze to knock them over. The burn lasted about 10-12 miles and the last 2 miles or so we had a bunch of blow downs to navigate around. It wasn’t all that pretty. The rest of the day was nice though. We started on Scott Pass trail and soon took a right on Green Lakes Trail which we’d be on most of the day keeping North, Middle, and then South Sister on our right. Near the end of the day we took another right turn to get back onto Moraine Lake Trail which we had started on.
For most of the day we thought we’d have a shot at summitting South Sister this afternoon but we ended up taking our time. Instead we swam in a couple beautiful mountain lakes opposed to crushing all day and hoping we had enough daylight. We found a campsite just past Moraine Lake off the trail up South Sister very close to where we started yesterday morning. The plan is to summit in the morning then make our way back down to Devil’s Lake Trailhead.
Day 3…..10 miles…..car
In order to go light on our climb this morning we left our tent set up and our sleeping bags inside then crossed our fingers and hoped nobody would mess with our stuff. Nobody did. From where we slept it was 4 miles to the summit with something like 3500 feet or gain. The first 3 miles were a solid climb with relatively easy to follow trail until we gained the ridge. The ridge itself, if you didn’t know any better, may have appeared to be the top of the mountain. It wasn’t. From there you could see up another another 1200+ feet to the summit of the volcano. Looking up there was a massive glacier to the right and a gigantic slope of red sand to the left. There appeared to be a very thin steep trail dissecting these two sections of the mountain and then the trail cut left across the steep red sand slope. It was actually quite steep but nothing crazy.
We had small switchbacks all the way up until it cut left and it was much wider than it originally appeared. Once we crossed the red sand we reached the caldera and easily walked around the frozen lake inside of it to the summit of South Sister at 10,363 feet. From the top we had incredible views in every direction especially to the north where we could see the Cascades in a line all the way up to Mt. St. Helens. There was hardly any wind, not a cloud in the sky, and the smoke from nearby wildfires didn’t seem that bad. A beautiful day. On our way down we passed a million people so it seemed we beat the rush. There was even a wedding party climbing to the top where the couple was to be married on the summit. We gathered our gear that was untouched and walked two more miles back to the car. We drove half an hour to Bend with the gaslight on, ate burritos in town and bathed in the Deschutes River.
This loop was pretty cool. A nice little backpacking trip. ￼
Undoubtedly the highlight was climbing South Sister. I remember when I hiked the PCT I heard some guys went and did this and it seemed like a fun side trip. Probably have to do it again next time I thru hike.
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