We sorely needed rain this October, but I decided to take advantage of the warm sunny weather to do a late(ish) season fastpack of the Three Sisters loop.
The Three Sisters Loop is approximately 44 miles long, but there are no vehicle-accessible trailheads directly on the route, so you have to access the route from one of several different spur trails.
Since I live relatively close to the loop, and I wanted some extra mileage anyway, I went from my house for a total of around 73 miles.
My plan was to cover the route in three days:
- Home to Mesa Creek, 25 miles
- Mesa Creek to Golden Lake, 31 miles
- Golden Lake to home, 19 miles
However, I ended up changing my plans for a number of reasons.
Day 1: Home to Glacier Creek, 35 miles
Highlights: Green Lakes, Moraine Lake & South Sister, evening on the PCT, Obsidian area
Lowlights: Wickiup Plain
I left my house and ran to Tumalo Falls, then took the Bridge Creek trail up through the Bend city watershed. Bridge Creek is one of my favorite lesser-known trails, with beautiful meadows, lots of wildlife, and big old-growth trees. I've seen a bear and an elk at different times on this trail, and on this trip I saw a couple wild turkeys running away from me on the other side of one of the upper meadows. Definitely not what I expected!
I kept it at an easy pace early on. My biggest goal for this trip was to keep it as "Type 1 fun" the whole time. I'll admit that at certain points (especially the end of day 2) I slipped a bit toward "Type 1.5" or "Type 1.8".
Once I reached elevation at the top of Bridge Creek (2000 feet in 9 miles), I took the Crater Ditch trail towards Brokentop and then across the Brokentop trail to Green Lakes. I hit Green Lakes at mile 15.5 and took a lunch break.
After this, it was time for the last major uphill of the day, from the Green Lakes trail up to Moraine Lake and crossing the South Sister climber's trail. Again I kept it easy and felt good the whole way.
The southwest corner of the loop crosses through Wickiup Plain, a large open space with big views of the South Sister and some surrounding minor peaks. The views are great but the trail isn't real interesting and there's quite a bit of sand.
Around mile 23, I hit the Pacific Crest trail and went a couple miles north to Mesa Creek, my planned campsite at mile 25. I got there around 3pm (6 hours), still feeling great. Since it was early, I decided to push the next section of trail. The evening golden hour along the PCT was beautiful with the sun setting on my left, and the mountains on my right.
I arrived in the Obsidian area, going by Obsidian Falls and to Glacier Creek, where I camped (and saw the first people on the entire PCT during the day). The Obsidian area is a beautiful stretch of trail between Obsidian and Glacier Creeks.
I was definitely done for the day after 35 miles. I set up camp and ate some food and went to bed.
Day 2: Glacier Creek to home, 38 miles
Highlights: Opie Dilldock Pass, Park Meadow and Green Lakes Pass, Brokentop Trail in the evening
Lowlights: The burn area
The night was colder than expected, so I didn't rush to get up. Since I had banked some miles yesterday, I knew I could take my time this morning. I also figured I could push a couple extra miles to Green Lakes to camp instead of Golden Lake (which I do love) to shorten my third day.
Once I did get up, though, breakfast and packing went fairly quickly and I was on the trail by about 9am.
I was sorry to leave the Obsidian area, it was one of the most beautiful stretches of PCT - but fortunately it launches you into a bunch more awesome trail as you circle around the northwest corner of the loop.
From the Obsidian area, I had a fairly big climb up to Opie Dilldock Pass, an open lava area with big views all around.
After circling around the north end of the loop, it's time for the infamous burn area. The burn area is pretty and there are some great views, but it's kind of "same-y" and water sources are sparse. I stopped for lunch at Soap Creek, at mile 16. I knew I had a nice short afternoon, only 9 more miles to Green Lakes. I cruised uphill, out of the burn, and to Park Meadow - one of my favorite spots with a great view of Brokentop.
But then it happened. I was climbing to Green Lakes Pass, and I thought, "Hmm Aaron, it's still fairly early. And I'm feeling good. And the night was colder than I expected. And I don't really like the campsites at Green Lakes (ground is too compacted). Maybe I should just push back to Tumalo Falls and get a ride home to skip the last 3 miles?"
And I decided to do it. Then I decided not to. Then I decided to do it again.
So I stopped to eat a bit at Green Lakes and got some water and arranged Evelyn to pick me up at Tumalo Falls, and off I went.
Again, golden hour was beautiful as I crossed the south side of Brokentop. It got dark and I used a light in about the last mile of the day.
After 38 miles today I was officially done. I hobbled around for a couple days and started recovering soon after.