Backpacking Green Lakes and South Sister

On July 19-21 I headed off into the Three Sisters Wilderness for three days and two nights.

Day 1 – Hike to Green Lakes

Starting from my neighborhood, I hiked to Tumalo Falls and took the Bridge Creek Trail to the Brokentop area.

I took the Crater Ditch trail to Brokentop and across to Green Lakes. Crater Ditch is a lesser known trail but I always enjoy it. It follows a Bend city water collection ditch. I know, I’m making it sound great.

The Green Lakes area was beautiful as always. There were a bunch of tadpoles and a frog. I found a campsite and set up base camp.

This is the first year of the Central Cascades wilderness permit system, and I’m a believer. There were noticeably fewer people at Green Lakes than I used to see. Green Lakes is highly impacted from years of overuse, and it’ll take quite a few more years for the area to recover. Fortunately we’re giving it a chance now.

Day 2 – Run South Sister Circumnavigation

Time to wake up early for the big day! Today’s plan was to run a circumnavigation of the South Sister with a possible summit. Spoiler, the idea of tagging the summit turned into a definite “no thanks” pretty soon into this run.

That said, I took things pretty easy and stopped often for breaks and to look at the scenery. I ran into stomach issues toward the end – I was feeling generally nauseated – but I managed this better than I have in the past by hydrating and taking in electrolytes.

I prepared my running pack, left my main pack and base camp behind, and took off. I started off along Green Lakes and went up to the saddle between Brokentop and South Sister.

I ran (mostly) downhill to the Camp Lake trail junction, turned left, and ran five miles uphill to Camp Lake. This is a beautiful area right near the treeline between South and Middle Sisters. Following this was a mostly-hiking area above treeline through a lava-blasted area. Along the way I passed two high lakes – the Chambers Lakes – then started heading downhill toward the PCT.

I’m not a big PCT guy – only because it gets more attention than some other awesome trails in our area – but once I turned south on the PCT I was in a beautiful area of meadows, wildflowers, old growth forest, older burn areas, and open views.

I proceeded to the LeConte Crater Trail, which starts to loop you around to the south side of the South Sister. From here I went uphill to Moraine Lake (and definitely did not tag the South Sister summit). A little down to the Green Lakes Trail, and more up to return to my campsite at Green Lakes finished off the day.

It was fun (looking back) and I generally felt OK. If not for the stomach I could have done it faster, but I enjoyed the pace of the day. Running helps move me through the less interesting (but still beautiful) sections, and I enjoyed stopping for breaks at scenic locations. It was a good way to take this loop.

I carried a single trekking pole on this run (actually the entire trip) and I think that’s my go-to now. A pole is helpful when I want to keep moving, but less hassle than two poles. I can stow it away if I need both hands while moving, but can also have a water bottle in one hand while using the pole.

Day 3 – Hike back to Tumalo Falls

I didn’t feel great during the evening on day 2, though I was able to get some salty food which helped. By the following morning I was doing OK but not sure that I wanted to hike all the way home. So I decided to text my wife and ask for a pick-up at Tumalo Falls to save a few miles.

I woke up early and got everything packed up and set off down the trail. After about a mile I stopped and cooked a little breakfast, then continued at a leisurely pace. The view to the south was beautiful and hardly anyone was out. I continued out the same way I entered the wilderness on day 1, and felt better as I went along.

It was a fun trip, a big effort on day 2, and a cool experience.

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