Backpacking around the Three Sisters in Oregon may as well be the region’s best hidden gem. There is no formal trail, like the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier, Timberland Trail around Mt. Hood or Loowit Trail around Mt. St. Helens. Instead, one must piece together portions of the Pacific Crest Trail and trails on the south slope of the South Sister, with trails on the east side of this complex volcano, when attempting to circumnavigate its three peaks.
The resulting route is a 48-mile loop that snakes through volcanic rock fields, sub-alpine forests, around lakes and meadows, with a strong possibility to travel the entire distance in three days.
Barb and I decided to explore the volcanic nature of the area, while testing our endurance in mid-September, this time bringing Marina ( @marinaprescott ) and Colin (@colin_robinson) to help us pass the time with trail chat. All four conspirators agreed to pack light and move fast, donning trail running shoes, lightweight shorts and shirts, and going stoveless, as per usual. The only adjustment made was bringing proper three-season tents instead of the usual ultralight, bottomless shelters, as the fall air has been getting fairly cold at night.
Our trek began at the Lava Field Trailhead, just south of highway 242, which runs between Eugene and the town of Sisters in central Oregon. From there, we climbed up to the Pacific Crest Trail, traveling approximately 10 miles in the first day, after getting to the trail around two in the afternoon. The first campsite near Obsidian Falls provided a decent resting place before the second day’s proposed big push down along the western slopes of the Sisters, around the southern slope of South Sister, then north on the eastern side of the volcanoes.
On the second day, we circled the mountains’ southernmost point, departing form the PCT and heading towards Green Lakes. We saw a number of people on the wide and nicely developed trail, presuming that this destination is quite popular with day hikers from Bend, OR, located 27 miles from the closest trailhead. We hiked on, getting to Park Meadow at around 5 o’clock, making 21 miles and hoping to get a few more in. That is when disaster, or minor inconvenience to be precise, struck. Instead of heading north on Green Lakes trail, we took a wrong turn, and proceeded east towards the closest trailhead, thanks to a tweaked sign at the trail junction. We realized our mistake almost three-miles in, turned around, returning to Park Meadow in the dark, having traveled a total of 27 miles. Which made for a long day.
This misinterpretation of trail signage meant that we would have to “cowboy camp”, sleeping on the ground, without putting up tents in order to save time in the evening, getting more rest, and in the morning, not having to bother with breaking down camp. Luckily, the night turned out to be warm enough to allow for that. Rising at 6 o’clock in the morning and eating a quick breakfast of chocolate, chorizo and craisins (a surprising alliteration of food left in our backpacks), we hammered out the remaining 17 miles by early afternoon, celebrating our finish at a brewery in Sisters, over well-deserved burgers and frosty beverages.
@poindexterendurance on Instagram
Barb is @wildlifesangria