- Elevation: 5,000 feet
- Distance: 12 miles RT
- NWFP required at trailhead
South Sister is similar to Mt St Helens in that it doesn't require any technical climbing to summit. This was a goal for about a year to climb, but we just needed the right weekend. This weekend finally presented itself in the summer of 2015. We had had a really busy spring leading into a busier summer (planning for our wedding on July 25th), but the stars aligned and we had a free weekend in June. I compiled the dream team of a hiking group: PJ, Nate, Aaron, Kate and myself. PJ was in Oregon for a summer internship at the clinic I work for, and, because he is built like a gladiator, I knew he could complete the haul. I had done some hikes with Kate and knew she would be up for the challenge. Nate summited MSH with Aaron and me last summer, and Aaron always gets to come along by default. PJ, Kate, Aaron and myself met up at Aaron's work and drank a beer in the parking lot while waiting for the insanity of Friday-Summer-Portland-Traffic to dissipate. We drove through Detroit Lake, which is really only a pond at this point since Oregon is in a bit of a drought itself this year (thanks Obama). By chance, we happened across the most spectacular sunsets any of us had ever seen.
We arrived at the campground pretty late on Friday night, around 11:00 pm. Karen and Nate had snagged a spot earlier. It was huge that they got there early enough to get a spot since this campground is also the trailhead for the summit climb. The campground is Devil's Lake. It's free and has 10 walk-up sites. We set up camp and pretty much hit the hay. We had a 5:00 am wake-up call. We hit the trail on time for the most part. After crossing the road, the trail dips into the forest and begins to climb.
We emerged from the forest and began to see the magnificent mountain before us. Actually, if you don't have the energy to hike the mountain, a nice option would be to hike up through the forest and get the views from there. You can see Mt Bachelor and Broken Top without putting too much work into it.
After enjoying the views while walking through the relatively flat meadow, the real climbing begins. I don't remember thinking that anything was particularly steep, but it just keeps going up and up. (After I wrote this I reviewed the hike from several forums and everyone is commenting about the steepness which provides no switch-backs to comfort hikers). After several hours of hiking, we made it to Oregon's highest lake: Teardrop Pool.
After Teardrop Pool, the final push to the top commences. At this point, the scree is a beautiful red color and you can see the fellow climbers making their way, slowly, to the top. I would imagine that typically there would be a lot more snow on this mountain. From pictures I have looked up from other hikers, it looks a lot different than our hike; including the view from the summit. In the photo below you can see the last push to the top (where a glacier remains the last hurdle to the summit). From where the photo was taken to the apex of the convex portion of the mountain took us about an hour and a half to climb. I mention this because it always looks like you're almost the top- when it's deceivingly hours away.
The picture above shows the group traversing the glacier on the top. The actual summit is located at 12 o'clock in this picture: the tiny point in the distance. We got to the top at 12:30 pm, making our summit time 6.5 hours. The views are great up there; you can see North and Middle Sisters, Broken Top, Mt Bachelor, Mt Jefferson, and Mt Hood. On a clear day, you can see even more. We enjoyed lunch and beers up there, and, Kate enjoyed a nap!
The thing about hiking up 5,000 feet is you have to hike down 5,000 feet. This is quite the daunting task when you've already expended so much energy- specifically from your quads. We began the decent and the sun rose higher and hotter in the sky. I believe the forecast called for a day of high 80 degree weather. By the time we reached back to the initial meadow, we really began to feel it. I ran out of water, Kate's feet were suffering from her new hiking boots, and I think the whole group was ready to be done with the hike. Unfortunately, we still had several miles left. We shared our resources and encouraged each other all the way to the bottom. It was a great group to hike with and a very fulfilling hike. It was one of the most difficult physical challenges for all of us. We spent that night drinking whisky around the fire and the next day enjoying Bend: beers, ice cream and a soaking pool.
After dealing with the stress of finding a new place to live and coming up short all week, a vacation to Central Oregon was more than welcomed. We hit the road around 4pm on Friday and the drive was smooth sailing once out of Portland traffic (Which is made up of 2/3's bad drivers. Mary has lived here 2 weeks and she can confirm this). We took 26 over Mt Hood and through Madras. This was all new territory for Mary and she was able to enjoy the views of Mt Jefferson and the Three Sisters as the sun was setting.
We headed straight to Paulina Lake Campground and reached our destination around 9pm. After setting up camp, Aaron tracked down the camp hosts for firewood. The hosts were a sweet, older couple with a giant RV with the vanity plate "Jesus". We had all underestimated how cold it would be at night in the campground. Paulina Lake and East Lake lie in a collapsed caldera that is 5 miles wide. This is similar to Crater Lake. The campground is at about 6,000 feet elevation. So even in the middle of August, it gets cold at night. Just ask Mary.
Mary and I woke up at 5am so that we could drive to the top of Paulina Peak to watch the sunrise. Fortunately, there is a road straight to the top. For the more ambitious, there is a hiking trail which sounds quite strenuous. We waited as the sky went from darkness/stars to a purple and finally the sun appeared. And yes, it was shining like a red, rubber ball. Paulina Peak is the highest point in the area (7900 feet). This spot is ideal for great views. In fact, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt Shasta in California and Mt Adams in Washington!
We went back to sleep until 10am and then enjoyed breakfast and coffee. We took the quick drive down to the Big Obsidian Flow. This is an easy (1 mile long) interpretive trail that is great for the family. Even though it is easy, wear a sturdy/protective shoe. Obsidian is glass, so the trail is literally made out of crushed glass. We came across several bleeding humans on the trail. The Big Obsidian Flow is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. We ran into a group of Wisconsites on the trail!
After the mini-hike, we stopped in at the Visitor Center and then did the short walk to Paulina Falls from there. We all concurred that this hike is a 1 for difficulty and 7 for payoff. You follow along a creek the entire way, never really losing or gaining elevation, on a well beaten path that suits even the creakiest of knees. This "hike" is 1 mile round trip.
After the falls, we took a drive into Bend to have a beer and get a bite to eat. We got back to our site around 8pm and had a fire. We decided that we would likely not go to the hotsprings in the morning. And, instead, do a hike in the McKenzie Pass. The reviews I read on the Paulina Lake hotsprings were all good. However, a park ranger insinuated that they may have algae and that they are very shallow pools. We decided that we didn't want to risk the 3.5 mile hike one-way to the springs as it would then be a full-day commitment.
We packed up camp and hit the road again. First, we drove up to Paulina Peak to get a day-view of the surrounding area. Then, we headed home. To get to the McKenzie Pass Hwy, you go through Sisters and then take a left when indicated. This scenic by-way adds time onto your drive, but it is well worth it. The road is only open a few months out of the year so it's important to take advantage of this option when able. I've been told that early in the summer, the road has only one lane plowed and is open exclusively for cyclists. If I was any sort of a biker, I would do this for sure. About 10-15 miles into the drive, you'll happen across Dee Wright Observatory. This is a really neat building made out of lava rock that has little labeled peep holes to view the surrounding mountains. There is also an easy interpretive trail here that is paved.
Just past the observatory is a trialhead on the right-hand side of the road. This trail is a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. We hiked out on it for about and hour and then turned back because of the time of day, considering we had about 4 hours left of driving to get back to Portland. We passed a lot of backpackers here. I intend to come back to complete this trail to Belknap Crater. This trail is predominantly hiking over lava rock. Wear good shoes to avoid any injury. We ate dinner in the car and headed back to Portland, arriving at 9pm.
We did this hike as a part of our "Bend Weekend." We did Smith Rock the day before with friends, Maria and Jake, and ventured here on Sunday. To get here, drive 20 minutes west of bend on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway (towards Mount Bachelor). Park at Dutchman Flat Snow-Park. We displayed our NW Forest Pass, but I'm not sure that was necessary. Let me preface this by saying the mountain was covered in snow, and we didn't know where we were going. We just followed trails up and passed a few snow-shoers, so we figured we must be onto the right path. It took a few hours to reach the summit, mainly because I am a slow hiker and stop to take lots of pictures. The last push was pretty steep, but all in all this was a fairly easy hike (however, you are gaining elevation the entire time).
Smith Rock State Park is a fantastic place to spend the day. If you leave Portland early enough, you can get there before noon and you can be in Bend by dinner time! The drive getting there is nice. There are several choices but we like to take Hwy 26 over Mount Hood which shoots you right out into the high desert on the other side. If you are a Weisinger, you will want to make a quick stop at the Indian Head Casino in Warm Springs! When stopping there with Aaron and his parents, they taught me a good trick: you can get free coffee in casinos. This is a secret I will most definitely use in the future. You'll take a right onto Hwy 97 and, from there, you take a left turn towards Smith Rock State Park (from here, there are signs all the way there). Once you get there, spend a few minutes in the nature center there (it's in a yurt). It is small but very informative about the surrounding geology. The rock is made from volcanic tuff (consolidated ash). The tuff is 30 million years old. There is ash from Mount Mazana (the volcano that is now Crater Lake) there. There are various colors and the rock formation is dynamic on it's own. I would highly recommend hiking up misery ridge to the top of the rock. It takes about 30 minutes and the views are well-worth the climb. On a clear day, you will see the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Three-fingered Jack, Black Butte, Broken Top Mtn. and Mt Hood. On the backside, you will see Monkey Face. You will know what it is when you see it! It's steep coming down and quite rocky with slippage. You'll then follow the Crooked River around the rock formation until you reach where you started.
As far as camping goes, there is a climbers bivouac just outside the park. From what I've been told and looked up, this is not ideal for camping. You can't have fires and it's really for rock climbers that essentially are living there. It's good if you are literally just looking for a place to crash.
A better option is to drive into Bend and get dinner and have a beer. My favorite spot is 10 Barrel Brewery. Good food and good beer with outdoor seating and a fire is almost always going. It is ALWAYS busy, plan on an hour wait to be seated, but it's worth it.
The Hike (Misery Ridge Loop):
While my dad was visiting in October, we took a drive out to Pendleton to see the underground tour and the town itself. It was good for the one visit but I won't make the trip out there again specifically for Pendleton. It was then the grand plan to make the drive to the John Day Fossil Beds to see the Painted Hills with our end destination in Bend. It's sad to say, that 90% of the drive is dull. However, when you happen upon the start of John Day Fossil Bed, it is even more interesting. This park is huge and we only covered a very small portion. My plan for the next time we explore this area, is to take exit 104 for US 30 East and enter the national monument from the north. It takes 4.5 hours to drive there from Portland, 2.5 hours from Bend. I plan to find a good camping spot in the area so that a second day can be spent there. As for the painted hills, there really aren't any trails. You drive around them, but it is enjoyable to watch them at sunset. There is a trail that you can hike up close and personal to the hills. They look like dry-cracked clay. The reds and yellows really accent each other.
The bottom line is that these are beautiful, unique formations but are a pain in the butt to get to. Make it a trip from Bend or plan to camp in the area, there is no nearby town.
I've just scratched the surface of this geological wonderland. There are several lava flows, the home of Oregon's largest lava tube, obsidian flow trails, lakes, hot springs and mountains. The tough part about this park is that a lot of unique features are only open for but a few months a year. The volcano is huuuuuge and still very active. The caldera is 17 sq miles and the volcano itself takes up 500 sq miles! What we have experienced is as follows:
My "to-do" list:
Crater Lake: the water is really that blue. This lake is formed by a collapsed volcano (Mount Mazama) about 8,000 years ago. The lake is now where the caldera once was. It is the deepest lake in the US and is known for its pristine water. The lake is 5 miles by 6 miles. I took my family here in mid-June. At that time of the year, you can only partially drive around the perimeter. At the end of the summer (later July and August), you can drive around the whole lake. Check the website prior to your travel so you can plan accordingly. The drive there is beautiful, but it is a bit of a haul from Portland.
There is hiking here, but we only stayed for a half-day and did the parent friendly activities (drinking on the patio of the lodge). The drinks are pricey but you are paying for the view.
The day that we were there, there was a classic car caravan also driving around the old caldera. This pleased my father greatly. And it made for some cool pictures. All in all, we were there about 4 hours or so. However, this is easily a full weekend trip if you are hiking and camping. You can also take a boat ride out to Wizard Island. No other motorized boats are allowed on the lake.
The Cove Palisades is a state park near Madras (and Smith Rock State Park) in central Oregon. It's a canyon formed by three rivers. We hiked here on our way home from Bend after hiking at Smith Rock the day before. This park is most utilized for it's water activities: boating, fishing, and skiing. We hiked the Tam-a-lau trail. It's a lava plateau that has views of Lake Billy Chinook and the Crooked River. The hike starts through a field of juniper and large boulders.
The trail climbs up the plateau in one shot. Once on top, walk around the loop trail and then back down the way you came. The hike features sagebrush, juniper and lizards. The description I looked up said there are views of the Three Sisters, it was too cloudy.
I moved to the Pacific Northwest in August of 2012. I quickly identified myself as a hiker. I want to document my experiences so that I can refer to them for myself and others to provide the best hiking experience. I also hope to learn more about hiking from others comments and recommendations.