Tag Archives: buck meadows

Three Sisters Wilderness Days 3 & 4

I am combining the final two days of our Three Sisters Backpacking trip because the last day was simply a 7 mile hike back to the trailhead along portions of the Louise Creek and Separation Lake Trails that we had done on the first day.

The day after our successful off-trail exploration of Linton Creek it was time to pack up camp and move on. We woke to find that the clouds had finally won out overnight and now covered the Three Sisters.
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We were once again visited by the deer who stayed back in the trees this time as they made their morning rounds. We packed our things and ate some breakfast then headed back toward Husband Lake. The frog situation around Eileen Lake seemed to have worsened with the arrival of the clouds. There were even more frogs on the trail and the going was pretty slow.
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We discovered that tapping our trekking poles on the ground in front of us got the frogs to start getting out of the way sooner so we tapped our way through the frogs and past the lake. The frogs weren’t the only animals out as we had spotted several different types of birds by the time we’d gotten to Husband Lake.
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We topped off our water at Husband Lake and then headed for the big trail junction where we would be looking for the Separation Creek Meadow Trail which would take us down to Indian Hole Falls. We had not seen the trail when we were at the junction on the first day and when we got back there we still didn’t see it. Heather thought it might be just a bit up the trail toward the James Creek Shelter and went to investigate. She was right and just over a little rise there was an unsigned but clear trail heading down to the right.
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The Forest Service described this trail as “a primitive trail that may be hard to find at times.” That sounded a lot better than the impassable due to heavy blowdown description of the Separation Creek Trail. There were a few downed trees but the path was easy to see and some trees had been blazed to mark the trail.
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The trail met Separation Creek in what must have been a spectacular field of lupine. Now it had all gone to seed.
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It had also been invaded by grasshoppers.
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As we walked they would all jump in unison and make all kinds of noise. I would have liked to get a better look at them but there were also plenty of mosquitoes present and whenever I stopped they landed. We were just about to Separation Meadow and we hadn’t had any issues following the trail up to that point. Then the trail just disappeared. We knew it was to the right of the creek and we noticed a tent set up at the far end of the meadow so we simply aimed for the trees between those two things.
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We had to hunt for a couple of minutes to find the trail again once we arrived at the trees. We managed to follow it fine after that all the way to a trail junction with the trail from Buck Meadows. This junction was also unsigned but it was marked with a rock cairn.
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We turned left at the junction and began to descend toward Cole Chuck Meadows. Views included Sphinx Butte and The Wife.
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The trail went around Cole Chuck Meadows without ever entering it then headed steeply downhill. There was a large meadow below to our left and we could hear Separation Creek roaring in the distance. The trail had loose rocks and dirt and it also passed below the Indian Holes, springs that flowed across the trail and down toward Separation Creek.
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The trail then entered the large meadow at a narrow point. The grasses were tall enough to hit us in the face as we passed through. We then entered another treed area before arriving at Separation Creek.
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The creek was much wider and deeper than it had been in Separation Meadow. Several other creeks and springs had fed into it since then. We crossed on an old log and and quickly arrived at another unsigned trail junction with the “impassible” Separation Creek Trail.
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We could hear Indian Hole Falls from the junction. It was only a couple hundred yards to the top of the falls. This was another impressively massive waterfall. An upper viewpoint allowed for a close up view of the top portion of the falls while a steep scramble down along the creek led to a lower moss covered viewpoint where the entire cascade was visible.
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The Three Sisters Wilderness had managed to wow us again and we sat on the mossy ledge of the lower viewpoint in the cool breeze of the waterfall. We climbed back up from the lower viewpoint and decided to head out the the upper one.
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After checking out that view we headed back up to the trail to pick up our packs. It was my turn to get stung by an angry yellow jacket. Just as I was about to step back onto the trail I felt a sharp pain on my ankle bone. It took me a minute to figure out what was causing it but once I realized what it was I was able to knock it out of my pant leg. I took a moment to be a bit of a baby then we resumed our hike and head back toward the creek crossing.

As we were passing back through the tall grasses of the meadow we heard some strange noises ahead. It was a family of grouse. The adult stood watch as the young made their way into the safety of the trees.
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She stood guard until they were all safe then headed into the trees herself.
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We climbed back up the steep trail past the Indian Holes and went straight past the rock cairn. Our plan was to stop at Honey Lake to fix an early dinner and fill back up on water for the final day since we knew there were no sources from Buck Meadows on. We weren’t sure what we’d find at Honey Lake because none of the maps or the Forest Service showed a trail going to the lake but we had seen the pointer for it at the junction by Buck Meadows. As we were looking for the mystery trail we spotted various wildlife along the way.
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Sure enough we came to a side trail with a pointer for Honey Lake.
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We momentarily had second thoughts about our plan when we saw how far below us the lake actually was.
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We knew we needed water though and the lake looked very pretty so we headed down the steep path to the lake shore. It really was a pretty lake and larger than we had been expecting.
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We noticed a tent back up in the forest on the far side of the lake and headed around the lake counter-clockwise looking for a good spot where we could set our things down and cook dinner. We found a pair of spots where people had obviously camped, fire rings and all, both of which are illegal within 100 feet of water in the wilderness. One of the fire rings was full of cigarette butts. Yay for people, not 😦 We took off our packs and wandered out to a little peninsula where the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.
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We took a nice long break at the lake and felt recharged after having our dinner and we were ready to tackle the climb back up from the lake.
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The climb back up turned out to be a lot easier than we’d expected and we were soon back on the trail to Buck Meadows. We stuck to the trail this time when we arrived at the meadows and wound up going right around the area we had considered camping in. Once we saw that we had passed it we decided to just keep going and we’d look for a spot further along the meadows. The view from the meadow was changed a bit from our first day with clouds now hiding The Husband.
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There wasn’t a viable spot to camp anywhere else along the meadows that we saw so we just kept going keeping our eyes open for an acceptable site. About 1 1/2 miles from the junction at Buck Meadows we came to a dry pond. On the opposite side of the trail was a flat area perfect for setting up camp.
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We woke up so early the next morning that we needed our headlamps as we began packing up. We ate breakfast at the edge of the dry pond and then set off down the trail. The 2 man trail crew had done a fine job clearing the trail and we were making great time since we’d just been on this trail a few days earlier and weren’t distracted by many new sights. There are always some new things to see though and we noticed a few flowers we’d missed on the first day.
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We reached the Separation Lake Trail a few minutes before 9am and according to our Green Trails map we then had 1.2 more miles to go to the trailhead.
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We figured we’d be back at the car around 9:45 based on our normal pace so we were surprised when we saw a familiar wooden bridge that we remembered being near the trailhead sooner than we expected.
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We actually wound up back at the car before 9:15. We were moving pretty fast but not that fast. Checking another map it showed the distance from the trailhead to the junction as 0.9 miles which made a little more sense. We were happy to be able to change into some clean clothes and different shoes, but we were also sad to have the trip end. We were already thinking about our next backpacking trip, wondering what new adventures awaited us. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157654071670793

Three Sisters Wilderness Day 1 – Separation Lake Trailhead to Eileen Lake

We just started backpacking last year and we really enjoyed it so we were looking forward to our first outing of the year which we recently completed. I plan on covering our trip over three entries starting with this post featuring our first day.

We had originally planned on spending a long weekend in the Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wilderness areas, but with the early snow melt in the mountains we changed our destination to the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had been wanting to check out the waterfalls along Linton Creek since seeing a trip report that was posted on Portlandhikers.org in 2013. There is no official trail to any of the falls along the creek and in most places there is no trail at all. The few reports I found on the area all began their hike at Linton Lake along Highway 126 and climbed up toward Linton Meadows. In the report on Portlandhikers they had hiked up the creek then over to Eileen Lake for the night then returned to Linton Lake the next day. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of carrying our full packs while bushwacking uphill so I came up with a different plan.

The solution was to start the exploration of Linton Creek from Eileen Lake where we would already have established our campsite. This would allow us to explore down stream as far as Upper Linton Falls using daypacks. I began studying our maps trying to plan the trip. The three closest trailheads to Eileen Lake are the Obsidian Trailhead, the Foley Ridge Trailhead, and the Separation Lake Trailhead. I quickly settled on the Separation Lake TH since it was the closest to us, didn’t require a limited entry permit, and offered a couple possible return loops.

We had been to the Separation Lake Trailhead in May 2014 when we hiked to Separation Lake so we were familiar with the trail when we slung our packs on and set off into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
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This time we took the Louise Creek Trail when we reached the junction just under a mile from the trailhead.
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Our plan was to follow the Louise Creek Trial for 7.2 miles to another trail junction at Buck Meadows then continue up to the Foley Ridge Trail which would take us to yet another junction. From there we would take the Linton Meadows Trail to a final junction where we would head for Husband Lake and our ultimate destination of Eileen Lake.

As we climbed up the Louise Creek Trail we met a couple that were hiking out after having camped at Sisters Mirror Lake. They had come down a portion of the Separation Creek Trail from the James Creek Shelter to Indian Hole Falls and reported that the trail did indeed have many downed trees across it. This confirmed what the information on the Forest Service website which called the trail “impassible due to heavy blowdown”. We had planned on visiting Indian Hole Falls then taking that trail down to Separation Lake where we would camp on our third night but had nixed those plans after seeing the information on the website. The other couple said the falls were beautiful and we still planned on visiting them but by using the Separation Creek Meadows Trail instead.

They also reported that there were a couple of people doing trail maintenance just up the trail and that they had not seen any water along the trail for quite some time. We had plenty of water for the day but it was good information to have for our return trip so we didn’t short ourselves hiking out.

The Louise Creek Trail was indeed dry and most of the flowers had long since passed although a few stragglers could be found here and there. There was also the remains of what must have been an impressive beargrass display lining much of the trail.
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The meadows of Buck Meadows were also dry as far as we could tell. There were some patches of green but no visible water. Purple aster dotted the dry grasses and were popular with the butterflies.
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We got our first look at The Husband from the meadows. We knew Eileen Lake was on the far side of the rocky mountain.
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The final meadow was surprisingly long and we wound up losing track of the trail near the far end and just headed cross county to a small knoll with trees. We were now planning on staying somewhere in the area of the meadows on our final night and this seemed to be a viable spot. We picked up the trail again near the signed trail junction.
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The pointer to the left was for the Foley Ridge Trail and the right was for Honey Lake. Oddly none of our maps or the Forest Service website showed a trail going to Honey Lake, instead the trail passed by on its way to the Separation Creek Meadows Trail. It was also unclear if either or both forks were still considered the Louise Creek Trail. Our two maps indicated the right hand fork was the Louise Creek Trail but the Forest Service showed it as the left fork. Either way we needed to get to the Foley Ridge Trail so we headed left. The trail switchbacked uphill offering a brief view of Diamond Peak to the south before arriving at the Foley Ridge Trail junction.
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It had been a tough climb up for us not being used to carrying full packs so we rested a bit at the junction where we were joined by a hummingbird.
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Shortly after setting off again we passed the first water we’d seen all day, a few small ponds that still held some water.
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We followed the Foley Ridge Trail for almost two and a half miles to the next trail junction.
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Four trails met at this junction. The Foley Ridge Trail we had come up and on its right was the trail to the James Creek Shelter. To the left were two trails one to the Pacific Crest Trail and to the immediate left the trail to Linton Meadows. We had expected to see a fifth trail at the junction, the Separation Creek Meadows Trail, which appeared to also meet here according to the maps. We thought it was odd but it was a question for another day and headed toward Linton Meadows.
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We had been on this portion of trail during our backpacking loop around the South Sister the previous year. The trail passes through a pumice plain which manages to support a good amount of colorful vegetation.
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Just .3 miles from the big junction the Linton Meadows Trail split again. The right fork headed down to Linton Meadows while the left fork pointed to Husband Lake. The left fork then passes Eileen Lake before rejoining the right hand fork at Linton Creek.
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We stopped at Husband Lake for a moment to take in the views before continuing on our way.
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We finally came upon a creek with flowing water between the lakes coming down from The Husband.
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On our previous visit there had been tons of frogs along the shore of Eileen Lake and we had been wondering if we would find the same thing this time. That question was answered upon arriving at the lake.
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There were more this time than before and we slowly made our way around the lake being careful not to step on any of them. We were planning on setting up camp on the far side of the lake where we would be able to set up at least 100 feet away from the water and the trail per wilderness regulations. We found our spot on a small rise with a small meadow behind us and no frogs to have to watch out for.
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After setting up camp we decided to hike down to Linton Creek to have dinner in the same location we had eaten at the year before and to fill up on water from the creek. We tried going around the lake on the other side hoping the frogs would be less but it proved just as challenging and slow. On our way down to the creek we spotted 4 deer also making their way down the meadows.
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We arrived at Linton Creek to find it flowing strongly. It is primarily fed by Linton Springs so the dry year apparently hadn’t effected it as much as the other creeks. The springs also mean the water is cold and we had forgotten just how cold until we tried to soak our feet. The water was too cold to keep them in for more than 10 or 15 seconds.
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After having dinner and filling up on the wonderfully cold water we returned to Eileen Lake where we explored the area behind our campsite then sat by the water watching the frogs along the shore and small fish occasionally jumping from the water disrupting the reflection of the mountains.
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It had been a great start to our trip and the adventure had just begun. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157656374056692