Broken Top Loop

Once again, our plans to head to Jefferson Park were thwarted. Despite a string of cold wet weather, the wildfire north of Mt. Jefferson had a closure in effect that would have kept us out of the Park Ridge area. So we headed to the Three Sisters area instead. We chose the 23-mile Broken Top loop as described in Doug Loraine’s 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon.

We drove out to Three Creek Lake after work on Friday and set up camp in the dark. The sky was clear and we could see a million stars. If not for the cold (it was about 37 degrees out, according to the thermometer in my car), I could have sat out there for awhile admiring them. They were very very cool.

In the morning we set off on the loop. Loraine recommends going counter-clockwise, but because we wanted good morning light for photography on Tam McArthur Rim – which would have been at the very end of the loop on the second day if we did it counter-clockwise – we decided to go in reverse.

The last time we hiked up Tam McArthur Rim, the weather was wretched. There were no views and it actually snowed on us a bit. This time the sky was clear as a bell and we had fantastic views.

Tam McArthur Rim and Three Creek Lake

The views get better and better! Middle and North Sister, as well as Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack

That really discouraging and steep sandy hill you have to climb. This picture does not do it justice.

From Tam McArthur Rim, looking north over Little Three Creek Lake to Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood

Middle and North Sister, dusted with snow. Apparently they had several inches of snow in this area the week before.

At Tam McArthur Rim, this little chipmunk came right up on the rock which my pack was on, about one foot from me. He was so tame and bold that he didn’t run away when I got out my camera and started taking pictures.

From Tam McArthur, we followed the trail over to Broken Hand. Along the way, we had our first view of all the Sisters together. Stunning!

A little bit before reaching Broken Hand, we encountered Drew, a wilderness ranger. He was cool and friendly, reminded us to only camp in designated sites at Green Lakes, and told us that the area didn’t really have bear problems but that if we could hang our food anyway he’d appreciate it.

Doug Loraine’s counter-clockwise directions for getting around Broken Hand were vague at best: “Head east-northeast around the south side of Broken hand to the sketchy boot path at the top of Tam McCarthur Rim.” Well, the boot path from Tam McArthur Rim takes you up ONTO Broken Hand, where the path dead-ends, but it almost sounds like he’s directing you to go around the base of Broken Hand. Has anyone done this loop (in either direction) that can shed some light on this?

In any case, once the boot path from Tam McArthur dead-ended at Broken Hand, we followed a sketchy “path” around the east side of the hand. Until you’re on it, you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

We got around to the south side and we could see our trail heading south. But we did not see a good way down from Broken Hand to even get TO that trail. So we traversed the sketchy slope on the south side of the hand, then made our down the sloping ridge, and glissaded on the sand the last bit to flat ground (see the third picture below). Um yeah….off-trail cross-country backpacking: SO. NOT. FUN.

Broken Top and the glacier meltwater lake at its base, as seen from Broken Hand.

Looking south from Broken Hand. Mt. Bachelor in the distance, and our path down to the Broken Top Trail barely visible in the valley below us.

We filtered water at the creek flowing out of the lake. By now it was 3:00. What with the wasted hour of geocaching on the way up to Tam McArthur (didn’t find any either, since we didn’t have the GPS) and the time it took to get up/around/down Broken Hand, it had taken us WAY longer to get to this point than we thought it would. We had been hiking since 9:30, but still had nearly six miles to go before reaching Green Lakes. Thank goodness, at least, for the favorable weather. It was sunny and warm, but not boiling hot.

It’s just a faint dotted line on the Three Sisters Wilderness map, and doesn’t show up at all on the topo maps, but we followed a very well-traveled trail alongside the east side of Broken Top until we met up with the east-west Broken Top Trail that heads to Green Lakes. We passed through A LOT of open meadowy areas, but everything is dead and brown and sad-looking this late in the season.

Heading south alongside Broken Top, with Mt. Bachelor in the distance

Walking through a patch of autumn-colored leaves

Looking south to Sparks Lake

Walking through yet another dead meadow, with South Sister finally in our sights

We finally arrived at Green Lakes at 6:40, but didn’t find a campsite until about 7:00. Thank God Greg had a brochure/map of the area showing where the campsites are. Some of them are tucked back in the trees and you’d never know to look for the campsite marker back there unless you had the map. I was exhausted, cold, hungry, sore, and grumpy. I hate rolling into camp at dusk in this condition. We filtered water, made dinner, set up the tent, and were in bed by 8:30.

Green Lakes at dusk.

We wanted to catch sunrise the next morning, so we were up at 6:30 for that, heading down to a little point of land that sticks out into the biggest lake. Turns out we didn’t need to be up so early, since it took a LONG TIME for the sun to come up and over the ridge behind us. Until that happened, the lower half of South Sister was in shadow. In any case, it was a GORGEOUS morning. Not freezing cold, no mosquitoes, peaceful and quiet. Just lovely.

We shot pictures until a little after 8:30. Then we had to eat breakfast, filter water, and pack up. So we hit the trail pretty late at 10:30, heading north on the Green Lakes Trail to Park Meadow.

We gained elevation leaving the lakes basin, but after a little while, we were losing it again. We kept our eyes open for the unmarked trail to Golden Lake, and took a side trip to this beautiful little gem, which not only has views of Broken Top, but of Three Sisters as well.

<Broken Top again

Golden Lake

We reached Park Meadow at 2:00 under a blazing sun. The meadows are pitiful-looking right now, sad, brown, and dead. I’d love to see them when they’re flourishing, even if it means coming during mosquito season.

Park Meadow

Presiding over the meadow

We headed east on the Park Meadow Trail and the views we’d had all day long pretty much ceased, with the exception of a nice view of Broken Top from a beautiful little stream.

We were getting pretty tired and sore by this point, but we kept pushing on, although I stopped taking pictures. We reached a four-way junction. Straight ahead to Three Creek Meadow was the fastest way out, but that’s not where we were parked. So we headed south and east on a longer trail that went near Little Three Creek Lake and ended up Three Creek Lake, where the car was. This section of trail, which was 3.5 miles long, was DREADFUL. I don’t think it’s maintained. There was quite a lot of blowdown and pretty much all of it had established trails going around the fallen tree because the Forest Service hadn’t removed it. Much of the trail was rocky and the whole 3.5 miles was very very dusty. My nose and throat hurt for days afterward from inhaling all that dust. As if that weren’t bad enough, this trail had a lot of elevation gain, which was an unpleasant surprise. In hindsight, we should have just hiked out the short way to Three Creek Meadow and walked back to the car along the road.

I forget what time we got back to the car. I think it was about 5:45. We were both pretty exhausted and hastily made our way to Sisters for dinner. We had been envisioning pizza and beer all day long, but to our dismay the pizza place was closed on Sundays. Seems pretty strange for a tourist town, especially during a big festival weekend. So we went to the brew pub and enjoyed a delicious meal with beers before the long drive home to Portland.

Because I had Monday off, we had originally planned to car camp Sunday night and do a day hike on Monday. But we both agreed we were way way too tired and sore. My feet, especially, were very very sore. I wasn’t walking, I was hobbling. It felt like a waste to not utilize that gift of a Monday free from work, but no sense in pushing ourselves and causing some injury.

Despite the difficulties we had near Broken Hand, and the last few miles on the second day, we still had a good time. The scenery was absolutely amazing, and we really lucked out on the weather. This was our last backpacking trip of the year, so it was nice to have such good conditions. I’m already looking forward to next year’s backpacking season. I hope it’s longer than this year!

Three Lakes

My sister and I were supposed to go backpacking in the Goat Rocks over Labor Day Weekend. But the dismal weather forecast forced us to change our plans and choose a hike that didn’t have views. We decided to hike the Laughingwater Creek Trail up to Three Lakes, which is in the SE corner of Mt. Rainier National Park. About 6 miles one-way, 2,800 feet elevation gain.

We drove north after I got off work on Friday, planning to camp overnight somewhere near Packwood. We knew that Ohanapecosh and La Wis Wis would be full, so we headed up Road 4510 to the Summit Creek Campground. That tiny campground was full too, but we found a flat spot to pitch the tent alongside the road.

After picking up our backcountry permit at the Ohanapecosh Visitor’s Center in the morning, we hit the trail a little after 10:00.

It was mostly sunny, but chilly. Fortunately, we kept plenty warm hiking up that trail. The first two miles are thigh burners, then the trail mellows out for a few miles, then the trail steepens again. The trail crosses many seasonal creeks, and we had heard that these are dry in late summer, which proved to be true. But we had plenty of water and it was not a hot day. As for the creek for which the trail is named, we saw it from a distance a couple of times, and only once did the trail get near enough that we could bushwhack over to take a closer look. We had the trail pretty much to ourselves; we only saw two trail runners and two different couples who were hiking down.

We arrived at Three Lakes around 2:00. There is a pretty nice-looking patrol cabin here. It was renovated in 2005, so it looks pretty sharp. Has a decent view of the lakes too.

One of the couples we passed earlier told us that there was a great campsite between the two lakes, just behind the patrol cabin. It was indeed a great campsite, although it was pretty close to both lakes so we were surprised it was a designated site. (We would later wonder if it was indeed a designated site since we had been told there were only three campsites and we found the three designated sites later on.)

We had also been told at the visitor’s center that there was a bear pole on which we could hang our food. But the bear pole was definitely not functioning as it should be, with several parts laying on the ground. We managed to make it work for us….sort of. (There is a notebook log outside the cabin and reading entries from the past five years, it seems that the bear pole has been broken for pretty much that whole time!)

Broken bear pole

The third lake of Three Lakes is a little further down the trail and is actually just over the border in the National Forest. We went and checked it out.

That couple we talked to earlier had also told us they had climbed the bluff by the third lake and had great views, so we gave that a try. But of course, it was too cloudy to see Mt. Adams or Mt. Rainier.


Cloudy view

Despite the relatively sunny weather, it was quite cold, so back at camp we hung out in any patches of sunshine we could find. (FYI, Three Lakes is at 4,880 feet.) After dinner we played gin rummy and watched the lakes slowly disappear into dusk.

We sorely wished we could build a campfire; there was plenty of dead wood around. But no fires allowed. Good thing we didn’t try to have a sneaky campfire, because a park ranger showed up in the late evening with two female hikers. They had hiked down from Chinook Pass and stayed in the cabin that night. We knew that the area didn’t see much in the way of hiker traffic, so we asked why there was this nice maintained cabin up there. He said it was mostly used in the autumn during hunting season. Since the park/forest boundary is just a stone’s throw away, the park likes to keep a ranger presence up there to deter hunters from coming into the park. The ranger offered to store our food in the cabin overnight since the bear pole was so iffy. When we brought our food there and stepped inside, we didn’t want to leave! There was a woodstove in there and it was so cozy and warm! Our glasses fogged up from the sudden and massive difference in temperature between inside and outside. We dropped off our food and returned to our chilly campsite.

After a cold and rainy night, in the morning we awoke to thick fog. We were in the clouds.

Cold and foggy

Breakfast was dry but very cold. I inhaled my oatmeal in three minutes flat because I hate eating cold oatmeal and it lost its heat so very quickly. We retreated to the tent to warm up and soon after that it started raining and continued to rain for five sold hours. Thank God for that deck of cards we brought!

When the rain finally let up around 3:00, we emerged from the tent stiff and sore from being cooped up and cramped in there for five hours. After filtering some water, we decided to stretch our legs and hike the 1.5 miles up to the PCT. Our original plan for the day had been to hike north on the PCT to Two Lakes or beyond, but we didn’t have the time or energy now.

Beyond Three Lakes, the trail climbs steeply and we warmed up in no time. We passed a pretty pond in a bowl below the trail.


To our surprise, the trail passed through a number of awesome-looking meadows. I bet these are gorgeous (and buggy) in August! We were pleasantly surprised to see lupine still blooming.

Late lupine

Lupine along the trail

Deb on the trail

We had read that there were views of Mt. Rainier from up here, but our only views were of the inside of a cloud.

View? What view?

Once we got up to the PCT, we turned around and headed back down. On the way back to camp, we saw two elk in the forest, but they were pretty skittish and galloped away. Dinner was another hurried affair, eating it fast before it got cold. The ranger and his companions had left earlier in the day, but another couple showed up to spend the night in one of the campsites. We played cards outside until we couldn’t stand the cold and then went in the tent to play some more before turning in for the night.

Calm morning

I didn’t sleep well either night, not being able to get comfortable for some reason.┬áIt rained again Sunday night, but Monday morning was cold, foggy, and dry.

Morning at the lake


We saw three people, five horses, and two dogs pass by on their way out from the PCT. Stock is allowed on the Laughingwater Creek Trail, but like all the park trails, dogs are not, and there is a sign at the boundary saying so. We also saw two hikers later in the day with an off-leash dog. Doesn’t anybody read the signs??

After breakfast we packed up our wet gear and headed down the trail. It seemed like the clouds might burn off a little, but they never did. At least it didn’t rain any more that day. We hiked out in about three hours.

We made it!

Very cold wet weekend, with some pretty gray, depressing weather, but it was still great to spend time with my sister! And we are gin rummy pros now.

We hit Grove of the Patriarchs before heading home. Ran into a loud obnoxious group of tourists that kind of ruined the peaceful experience of those big trees, but it was still cool.

One important lesson from this trip: If you’re going backpacking in the cold, especially if you’re going to have a good amount of down time, make sure you’re allowed to build a campfire.