August 2nd-5th, 2021
My wife, Wendy, our 17-pound guard dog, Daisy and I left home base in Portland on Sunday and made the 3 plus hour drive down to Sisters, Oregon. The plan was to begin the Three Sisters Wilderness Loop on Monday morning. It would be just me going out on the trail, but Wendy and Daisy decide after spending much of last year at home that they wanted to get out of the house. Wendy worked remotely and enjoyed what Sisters had to offer, while Daisy spent most of her time patrolling the grounds in-between her lengthy naps. I was super happy to have them both down with me. It was reassuring to know that they’d be close by in case I needed them.
After an essential carbo-load of pizza and beer on Sunday evening, Monday morning didn’t hesitate to arrive. Before my feeble brain knew where it was, I found myself at the Pole Creek Trailhead. Wendy kindly shuttled me out to the trailhead at 6:30am. It was only a 30-minute drive from town, but it seemed longer due to a section of badly, washboarded road.
Pole Creek was severely burned in 2012 when a fire was sparked by lightning. This is readily apparent when you arrive at the trailhead.
I began my journey at Pole Creek for several reasons:
- I was able to secure a permit.
- I read a few articles from other backpackers who suggested this as a start point. (CleverHiker and Hike Oregon)
- It would break up the Pole Creek burn area. Meaning, I wouldn’t be hiking in a burn/no-shade area all day or camping in it.
- It was one of the closest trailheads to Sisters.
The start of the hike was not the most enchanting, but you could see that the forest was underway in its rejuvenation process.
After a bit, the trail transitioned into a sub-alpine-like area that had not been touched by fire. This was a welcome sight. It was also where a few more mountains came into view.
On my first day I had an ambitious goal and was shooting to set up camp at Moraine Lake. This was a 15.5-mile leg. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it that far as my normal hiking range without an overnight pack is around 8-10 miles. In reality, I figured my old ass would end up at Green Lakes. However, I reached Green Lakes and was feeling pretty good. I took a break here and ate some lunch. It was a beautiful area and one of the more popular and populated areas that I uncounted along the loop.
From Green Lakes, I hiked approximately another 4 miles to Moraine Lake. My eyes were happy that I continued. It was a lovely part of the hike and a true stand-out. I was able to secure a designated camp spot. Most of the main attractions along this loop require you to camp within 15-ft. of a post with a tent symbol on it. They are pretty spread out and can be a little challenging to find, but the signs before you approach the camp area have a Lat/Long coordinate if you need it.
At camp, I immediately took off my boots and sweaty socks and slapped on my Xero Z-trail sandals. Ahh, my feet could breathe again. When I looked up, I saw a Marmot rolling by my camp.
Once I had my tent set up, it was time to boogie down to the lake. I didn’t hesitate to go in. The water was pretty chilly, but it was so refreshing after a long day. Bonus points for the lake bed consisting of fine gravel. No icky muck to deal with. I stayed in the water for a bit and took in the view. Later that evening, I sat by the shore and was hoping to get a decent sunset photo, but it was not as epic as I had hoped for. Still, just being there in that moment was more than enough.
Daylight came early and I didn’t sleep very soundly. It was so quiet that night that you could hear a pin drop. It was a little eerie. I kept thinking a Chupacabra might show up and suck out my blood.
With my blood still in my body, I set back out on the trail. My goal today was to make it to Linton Meadows, or better yet, put in a little extra and camp at Eileen Lake. Backpacking Oregon recommended this camp as an alternative. I said my farewell to Moraine Lake.
The morning was filled with some long stretches of open expanses and not one person. In a forested area that I hiked through on my way down to Wickiup Plain I saw a good size doe. She was intensely checking me out. I told her I was married, but that didn’t stop her from looking.
After Wickiup Plain, I was now on the PCT. I began seeing more folks at this point. I probably encountered about 10 PCT thru-hikers before arriving at the Foley Ridge Trail. I took a left on Foley Ridge and made my way to the Linton Meadows Trail where I went right. After another long open meadow traverse, it wasn’t long before I had to decide to take another left towards Eileen Lake or keep straight and continue on to Linton Meadows. I made the decision to head to Elieen Lake. Why not, I mumbled, I wouldn’t be back here anytime soon. Along the way, I saw Husband Lake and another Marmot. I also noticed the sky was beginning to get hazy with smoke. Someone told me earlier on the trail that there was a fire near Oakridge, Oregon. I was like, another fire. Ugh.
When I got to Eileen Lake a group of folks were already camping there. I took a look around but decided to take the loop trail back towards Linton Meadows. As I was leaving, someone from their camp saw me and said we have (4) bottles of wine and some other legal drugs and non-legal drugs if you want to camp. I said, if you have beer, I’m in. They seemed like a fun group, but I needed a decent night’s sleep. I pushed on to Linton Meadows where I found a great tent site and was the only one around. I was bushed. Another 15 miler. The nearby creek helped restore me that evening, or at least make me numb for a bit. It was the coldest water that I think I’ve ever been in. I laid down in the 10-12” deep water two times for maybe 5 seconds to get the grime off. My teeth still chatter thinking about it.
I left camp that morning under smokey skies and headed out and up the Linton Meadows Trail where I hooked back up with the PCT. My next camp spot destination was South or North Matthieu Lake, also known as Scott Pass. This would take me through the Obsidian Limited Entry, which included Obsidian Falls. This was the only large waterfall on the entire loop that was right off the trail. It’s a great place to cool off and fill up on water, which you’ll need for the rest of the trek to Matthieu Lakes. Alternately, there is one more shallow creek about 1 mile north of Obsidian Falls named Glacier Creek that’s another water option. I saw a few folks filling up there and enjoying the beautiful wildflowers. It wasn’t long after Glacier Creek that I found myself in an old lava zone. It was beautiful, but also hellish. It was hot with no shade, the trail was covered with small, volcanic rock which slowed your stride, and a few of the climbs were draining, especially near Opie Dilldock Pass.
The rest of the trail to my 3rd and final camp was pretty much open and sparse. I was excited when I got to South Matthieu Lake and found a camping spot. There are only about 3-4 designated spots at the South Lake. The North Lake has more, but is a little further. I put down my bag, strapped on my sandals, and went into the lake. It felt so good! Later that evening (3) guys showed up looking for a tent spot. All of the sites were taken, but I still had plenty of room at mine and said they were welcome to set up. They did. I learned they were just returning to the PCT after a few days in Bend. One even cracked a beer which made my eyes and mouth perk up. If only I had a beer. I went to bed early and listened to my radio and them talking. It was funny at times. They all had different personalities. You had the stoner-sounding guy, the analytical guy, and your average type guy. They talked about using different leaves to wipe their bottom side if they were out of TP. Their favorite leaf was from a Big Leaf Maple. I also heard the term ‘Hiker Midnight’ for the first time, which they said was 9 pm, the time hikers should be in their tent and going to sleep.
The final countdown (sing it).
This was my last day. I knew I had a fun time ahead. I read many reviews that the trail from Matthieu Lake/Scott Pass to my return point at the Pole Creek trailhead sucked. I can confirm this statement as true. As mentioned, most of this area was entirely burned in 2012 making for a stark landscape. On top of that, I read that there was a long, laborious section of trail which involved going over downed trees.
About halfway back, I crossed paths with a group of three who shouted out “a human” when they saw me. The dad and the son in the group were super cool. Both had Grateful Dead shirts on which made them even cooler. We talked for a bit about where we had been. They warned me of the downed trees up ahead and asked if there were any more where I came from. They were happy to hear that my answer was, no. As we passed on the trail to continue the dad said, “keep on trucking”.
The log hurdling soon began and so did my unlimited cursing. At one point I lost the trail because it was covered with so much debris. Fortunately, my Gaia GPS app helped me easily get back on course. I should’ve listened to the several articles that I read saying to skip this part. I even saw a pair of Backpackers doing the loop in the other direction. I saw them earlier on my trip between Pole Creek and Green Lakes. We ended up meeting again on the PCT before the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. We chatted for a bit. They even suggested that I skip the last section. They said it was hell. I thought about bailing at Matthieu Lake and heading out to the Lava Camp area/Hwy 242. My wife could easily grab me there, but being the stubborn fool that I am, I wanted to complete the loop.
Eventually, the Pole Creek trailhead intersection arrived. I was almost done. As I was walking back to where it all began, I thanked the Three Sisters Wilderness for having me and looked up towards the sky and thanked whoever might be up there listening for safely getting me back. I texted my wife Wendy and she drove out to pick me up. As we were leaving, a Forest Ranger drove up and was checking permits. I happily showed her mine. I told her I didn’t see as many people on the trail as I anticipated. She said a lot of people get the permits but are no-shows. I told her I was happy to see the permit system in place to help protect these unique and beautiful areas. On that note, I waited to get my permit until the last minute as I was unaware that they started requiring them this year. Fortunately, I was able to secure one using the 7 days in advance system.
It was great not having to drive all the way back to Portland and just 30 minutes to Sisters where we stayed one more night. Pizza and beer were once again in the forecast that evening…that, and a real bed. It was nice to be back with my amazing wife, Wendy and our super entertaining dog, Daisy.
Permit Required: Yes (Obtain here)
Loop Direction Traveled: Clockwise
Miles Trekked: 53.2
Elevation Gain: 7,062 ft.
Moving Time: 24:27
Stopped Time: 52:23
Total Time: 76:59
People Seen: +/-100 mainly around Green Lakes and the PCT portion.
Injuries: Misc. scrapes on legs from going over logs and a blood blister on one toe
Major Critters Seen: 1 large deer, 3 Marmots, 1 Grouse
Favorite Dehydrated Meals: Good-to-Go Thai Curry
Favorite Snack as usual: Country Archer Turkey Jerky
Favorite part of the trail: Moraine Lake. However, there are many unique areas and landscapes along the way that are magnificent.
The hardest part of the trail: Opie Dilldock Pass area (old lava flow region).