July is one of Oregon’s most glorious outdoor months when it comes to the mountains in Oregon, and with the 4th of July holiday upon us, we decided to head out and enjoy the predicted sunny warm weather from the cool reaches of the Oregon Cascades. Every trip we go on usually involves some kind of adventure or misfortune that we can laugh about later, and this took shape almost immediately after heading out of Portland. Barely 30 miles on the highway, a rock got thrown up by a passing truck and sailed into the windshield. Smack! But at least we got this part over with quickly….the rest of the trip was great!

(Photo: Dawn and her 40-pound pack navigate a stream)

Dawn and her 40-pound pack navigate a stream.

After staying the night in Redmond for an early jumping off point the next day, we drove to the quaint town of Sisters and headed south towards Three Creeks Lake. Sixteen miles down the road, the pavement ended and we took a right onto a more primitive road pointing towards the Park Meadow trailhead (Located in the Deschutes National Forest, Sisters Ranger District ). We bumped down the alternating sandy and rocky track, our Subaru making the 1.1 mile side trip a piece of cake. With the sun now overhead, we strapped on our backpacks (dogs and humans) and headed up the easy trail. Almost immediately, the soapy scent of hot pine needles enveloped us as we headed deeper into the forest, and I heard the call of Swainson’s thrushes nearby in the canopy. Ah, heaven.

The trail itself was fairly painless- a brief rocky section turned into a wide and sandy trail used by pack animals , and which led up to a small creeklet. Shortly afterwards, we met up with the Sisters Wilderness boundary station and filled out the requisite paperwork. The dogs enjoyed a brief sip in the water before we continued on our way. Several creek crossings dotted our path, approximately every mile and made for great stops to refresh ourselves. The crossings themselves were large logs hewn so the top was a flat surface, but no railings made getting across the water a bit of a balancing act, but definitely do-able. After about 4 miles, we came upon Park Meadow, a vast grassy expanse ringed by low ridgelines and the outstanding summits of Broken Top, the “>Three Sisters Mountains and the lower profile of Tam McArthur Rim. It was breathtaking, and we immediately started reaching for our cameras. But this was not the view were here for, Brad assured me. There’s much better to come so onward we went. At this point, the trail got a little steeper and after a climb, it leveled out for awhile.

(Photo: Broken Top Mountain)

Broken Top Mountain

The trick to this trail’s surprise is a lesser known and poorly marked side trail that goes up to Golden Lake. An incredible alpine jewel, Golden Lake is crystalline and delicate amid the towering peaks nearby. We found our way there and took refuge from the ever present sun under a stand of dwarf pine trees, and were quickly joined by mosquitoes who thought that this was a good idea too. This prompted us to get moving again and we made the decision to camp up above the lake following the creek. We climbed up past the falls and continued until we reached another meadow dotted with melting snow drifts and wildflowers. It was eerily silent except for the wind soughing in the tree tops and an occasional bird call. Alpine mountain serenity had been achieved! At this point, this was fairly un-traversed territory with the exception of a fairly faint trail which we followed for awhile. But at this point, I was beginning to feel the affects of altitude, sun and thirst, not to mention the 40 pounds in my backpack, and made a plea for a stopping point. Brad scrambled up a steep incline and then shouted, “Up here!” and up I went. A flat sandy spot with a bird’s eye view of the surrounding mountains seemingly an arms length away met my gaze upon reaching him. It was glorious!

We quickly unpacked and set up camp. A nearby snow drift served as a water source and as a refrigerator for items that had been previously frozen and carried next to our Camelbacks – it was delightful… up until the neighbors moved in. Small, pesky and ferocious, hordes of mosquitoes suddenly found dinner served in the form of our bodies and I frantically set up the bug tent as refuge. Soon, two dogs and two humans were huddled under the netting with the whine of many mosquitoes hovering outside. But the views lessened the misery of the insects and we simply enjoyed the warm breezes and fresh air from the safety of the bug tent. That evening, we made a small campfire and watched as the sun set over the mountain tops. Since it remained so warm out, the decision was made to put the dogs in the regular tent and to appropriate the bug tent for our sleeping that night out under the stars. As the night sky rose above us, I hardly slept. Every time I opened my eyes, the Milky Way was painted above me in a swirling dance of light. An occasional satellite sailed across this vision, silent beacon in the heavens above. The moon rose shortly afterwards, and bathed the mountain tops in a soft blue glow, with the light reflecting off of the glaciers. It was like they were sentinels in the night, with their silhouettes standing guard. At one point, I was startled out of that half-consciousness that one achieves when sleeping outdoors. There was a loud crash, and it got louder and louder and sounded close by. I sat up, and as the sound gathered speed, my heart started beating quickly. It sounded like a boulder falling and heading our way. I tried to figure out the direction it was coming from. It was coming from Broken Top Mountain, still quite a distance away, but it was indeed a large rock fall and was most likely caused by melting snow releasing winter’s grip on the mountains. Even in the middle of the night at 7,000 feet up, it was still warm and I was snug in my sleeping bag. Usually, that’s not the case when backpacking up in the mountains. I usually look forward to some part of my body being cold (usually my head) and frost rime on the tent in the morning. And not to mention the invariable need to empty my bladder at the coldest part of the night. Not this time! It was delightful and after the rock incident, I settled back down and was able to see a bat glide by, just grazing past the top of the bug tent but hopefully close enough to snag a mouthful of the loathsome mosquitoes!

The next morning, Brad and I, amidst a growing cloud of humming insects, decided that the rest of the day would likely be spent huddled in the bug tent and not much beyond that. The bite count was escalating (we would later come up with 23 bites on Brad and 49 bites on me, despite our valiant efforts to spray ourselves with DEET) and we’d had enough. After lazing around as long as we could in the bug tent, it was time to pack up. With the temperatures lower down predicted to be close to 100 degrees F, moving out soon became a priority. Getting started earlier than the previous day helped us escape the extreme heat but the return trip and subsequent rest stops along the creeks were welcome respites again.

Six hours later, we were again home in Portland after our hike out, a quick bite to eat and the three hour drive back. Despite the mosquitoes, I can say that this backpacking trip was truly an amazing journey into the heart of the Oregon Cascade mountains and provided spectacular views and great memories of pristine alpine scenery.

~ Dawn Tryon

Editor’s Note: For more Central Oregon hiking options, check out our hiking page.

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