Vista Butte Snowshoeing

Our last hike of 2017 was up Vista Butte near Mt. Bachelor.

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Greg and I spent New Year’s in Bend. On the same weekend last year there was snow all over the place. Snow along the streets of Bend, snow along the drive to Mt. Bachelor, lots of snow on the ground at the sno-parks (last year’s trip report from New Year’s Day). This year was quite different. It was sunny and beautiful, for one thing, and there was a surprising lack of snow. We saw a whole lot of bare ground as we drove up to the Mt. Bachelor area on Sunday, and the driving was smooth sailing unlike last year’s white-knuckle crawl through blowing snow.

When we arrived at the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park at 9:30 there was absolutely no parking left. The lot was totally full and the Forest Service employee who was patrolling the area said there were no more legal parking spaces left if we wanted to snowshoe up Tumalo Mountain (unless we wanted to park further away and make a longer hike for ourselves). It was a beautiful day and we wanted views, so we headed back down the highway to the Vista Butte Sno-Park, which is nothing more than a wide spot on the road and easy to miss.

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The trail parallels the highway for a bit before turning towards the butte:

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The trail split and we opted to go right on the Lower Loop. After 1.7 miles we met up with the Butte Trail and turned right for the final mile to the summit. A word of warning if you come here. The snowshoe route crosses an old logging road that is used by snowmobilers. You can hear them and smell their foul exhaust when the trail is near that road. Very unpleasant.

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Almost to the summit we were already getting great views. Mt. Bachelor was right there, almost close enough to touch:

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Final push to the top! (By the way, this butte is unnamed on topo maps, so maybe the Forest Service just slapped a name on it because they needed a named destination in the sno-park.)

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It took us a little over an hour and a half to snowshoe the 2.8 miles to the summit. The summit was VERY windy and therefore cold. But the views were pretty awesome. We had to move around to get all the various views, but we ended up being able to see quite a lot. Mt. Thielsen:

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Kwohl Butte and Mt. Bachelor:

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Tumalo Mountain, our original destination for the day (maybe next time):

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Looking north, with Broken Top on the left:

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A better view of Broken Top (on the right) with South Sister on the left:

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Swampy Lakes (and Tumalo Falls is somewhere out of sight down there):

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Diamond Peak and The Twins:

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We could even see Mt. Shasta! (Nope, I was wrong. That peak is Mt. Scott, not Mt. Shasta.)

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Snowshoeing back down:

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5.3 miles with 670 feet elevation gain. This is a great snowshoe for a clear day! It’s not too long or difficult and the views are pretty great. A note to dog-owners, though: dogs are not allowed here, although that didn’t stop a large group of people that we saw on the summit, who had brought their dog along anyway (and it wasn’t even leashed). Here is the sign at the sno-park:

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Here is our track:

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And here is a map of the snowshoe trails in that area.

Video:

Edison Sno-Park

On New Year’s Day Greg and I went snowshoeing at Edison Sno Park, which is a few miles south of the Cascade Lakes Highway on Road 45. It was a bit of a white knuckle drive due to low visibility, questionable road traction, and several cocky drivers, including a giant jacked-up pickup coming at us in the opposite direction in our lane while passing. Going way too fast and driving way too recklessly for the conditions. Good grief.

Anyway, it was a relief to get out of the car and hit the trail.

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It was a winter wonderland out there with all the snow.

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I’ve never snowshoed on the east side of the Cascades before and I was delighted by two things over there: 1) how the beautiful red ponderosa bark looked in the snow and 2) how fluffy the snow is! Snow on the east side is fun snow, not the awful sticky icy junk we get here in Portland.

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The network of trails at Edison is quite a maze. It’s actually quite confusing. Some junctions are signed and some are not.

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We managed to navigate our way to the Edison Shelter, which had an impressive amount of snow on the roof.

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We sat inside enjoying the warmth of the stove and the view out the door to the snowy forest beyond. Don’t let the people-less photos fool you. We saw over a dozen people while we hung out here.

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It was unclear which trail we needed to finish our loop back to the parking lot, so we followed a sign that said 1.5 miles to the sno park. Along the way passed this massively weird snow mound. I’m guessing there’s a pile of lava or boulders under there.

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I think we did about 3.5 miles or so and I couldn’t tell you which trails we took. Next time we’ll bring the GPS. The map on the Forest Service page is only so-so, but there’s a better map here.

We enjoyed some beer in Ben before heading back to our cozy Airbnb cabin.

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BTW, we had an interesting time getting home on Monday. We had considered doing the Tumalo Falls snowshoe before heading home, but Greg had a committment in Portland in the evening and we didn’t think we had enough time. Turns out we were right. It took us just under six hours to drive from Bend to Portland via Highway 20/22. Most of the time we were going about 30 MPH due to the heavy traffic and the snowy conditions. Sure was a beautiful drive, though, with the fresh snow on the trees.

Snowy landscape

Our AutoSocks did great, although after so many miles (we put them on near Black Butte and took them off just after Detroit Lake) they are starting to show wear. Might only get one or two more uses out of them.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Whychus Creek waterfalls and beyond

Greg and I went camping at Three Creek Lake (near Sisters) last weekend. We hoped it would be cloudy enough so that we could visit the waterfalls along Whychus Creek and get some good photos. We almost got more than we bargained for. It rained so much Friday evening that when we arrived at the campground after dark, we had to wait in the car for an hour before the rain stopped enough for us to put up the tent. Sheesh.

Fortunately it did not rain on Saturday, though it was very very overcast. So he headed to the Whychus Creek trailhead. It’s not very far in terms of mileage, but we had to deal with the awful road coming out of Three Creek Lake and the equally awful road to the trailhead. We were in my little Honda Accord, and scraped bottom a few times, but the car seems to have come through okay! We saw a Trip Report describing other waterfalls in this area, so it was our goal to reach most or all of them on Saturday.

The trail to Chush Falls is short and easy. Of course, the “official trail” ends at this totally lame viewpoint of the waterfall.

To get down to the base, you have to scramble down the hill because the Forest Service couldn’t be bothered to build a trail down there. It’s worth the scramble though.

There are two more waterfalls upstream of here, again with no official trail to them. But there is a very nice unofficial trail. Very easy to follow and well-graded. Soon we came to The Cascades, which we photographed from the cliff above. Just below this waterfall is where Park Creek joins Whychus Creek. It’s along Park Creek that several of Bryan’s discovered waterfalls lie.

The unofficial trail ends at the base of a really impressive-looking waterfall: Upper Chush Falls. The rocky cliff area area around here doesn’t look like Oregon. Here is a shot of it with Greg in the frame for perspective.

We ate lunch there and then headed back downstream so we could cross Whychus Creek. The creek was just a tad too wide and deep for us to get across in our boots. There were no rocks sticking up on which to step. So we waded across in our sandals and then headed cross-country to find Park Creek.

We eventually found Park Creek and made our way down to it. Without a GPS, we weren’t sure if we were upstream or downstream of where we needed to be, so Greg did some scouting around. After awhile he spotted a waterfall upstream, came back for me and the gear, and we made our way to it. At first we thought it must be Howlaak Falls, but we compared it to the various Park Creek waterfall pictures from the waterfall website (we had printed out all the information) and realized it wasn’t any of the ones there visited.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a GPS, but we suspect that we were downstream of Howlaak Falls. Since we were running out of time, daylight, and energy, we did not look for any more of the Park Creek waterfalls, so we can’t be sure. But we’re going back again at some point with a GPS so that we can (hopefully) find and map this undiscovered waterfall and find the others too.

We spent a little time photographing the waterfall and then bushwhacked back cross-country to Whychus Creek. At some point, we discovered later, Greg lost one of his water bottles. Somewhere out there in the forest is a bright blue Nalgene that will slowly become a mossy part of the landscape. We waded across the creek and hiked back to the car. We hadn’t seen another soul all day, but saw at least three other sets of tire tracks at the trailhead that hadn’t been there in the morning.

Beautiful waterfalls out here! This was my first time bushwhacking, but with Greg’s help I did okay and I’m eager to go back and see the rest of the waterfalls in the area.

Camping near McKenzie Pass

For Labor Day Weekend, Greg and I had planned on camping at Three Creek Lake near Sisters, but we heard the mosquitoes were too abundant so we changed our plans.

We drove up Saturday morning and after setting up camp at Limberlost Campground, we drove up to the Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass. Unfortunately, stubborn clouds clung to the summits of the Three Sisters. It was crazy windy up there, but I guess the wind wasn’t enough to budge those clouds.

We stopped and hiked the short Hand Lake Trail on the way back down from McKenzie pass. It’s just a short half mile from the trailhead to the lake. At the lake we saw lots of these cute little toads hopping about.

Hand Lake was pretty. The water level was incredibly low. There was a huge expanse of exposed shoreline that allowed us to easily walk alongside the lake. We walked to the point where we should have had a view of the Three Sisters, but those clouds were still hanging around.

The mosquitoes were definitely out and about at Hand Lake. Our headnets came in handy. But they weren’t nearly as much of a nuisance as I’ve encountered elsewhere this summer.

Even though Greg drove carefully, I got terribly carsick coming back down Highway 242 to Limberlost Campground. That road is very pretty but very curvy. If you’re prone to motion sickness like I am, take some Dramamine before attempting this highway!

Sunday was gray, cold, and wet. We started off by hiking to Linton Lake. The trail was lovely, short, and easy. The exposed vine maple was already starting to turn.

The trail took us through a beautiful Hemlock forest.

And then we arrived at Linton Lake:

The official trail ends at Linton Lake but if you want to keep going there is a use trail that curves around the lake shore. Unfortunately, we somehow got off this trail and ended up on the hill above it for awhile, trying to negotiate all the blowdown by going up and around the rootballs. Then we made our way back down the hill where we picked up the trail again, negotiating the blowdown by crawling over or under it. Whew!

We ate lunch by Linton Creek before climbing up the steep hill to see the waterfalls. Again, another unofficial trail, although pretty easy to follow. Not easy to climb, though, especially after our hill scrambling earlier. My recently sprained ankle and still-recovering stress fracture in my foot started to bother me. Thus, when we got to Lower Linton Falls, I called it a day and could go no further. So I waited for Greg there and admired the falls while he continued up to Linton Falls. It is rather odd that these huge majestic waterfalls, which are so close to popular Linton Lake, don’t have a proper trail going to them.

After Greg returned, we retraced our steps back to the trailhead. All throughout this, it had been raining off and on. The clouds were good for waterfall photography, but not for my spirits. Hiking in bad weather is more difficult for me mentally and physically than hiking in hot weather. The extra layers of clothing and rain gear make movement more difficult. But the worst part is the affect on my psyche. Since I refuse to give up hiking during our long gray winters, I’m doing my best to work on this. But our wet day of hiking was pretty difficult for me mentally.

Before heading back to the campground, we did the short Proxy Falls loop, where it rained some more. Cold, tired, and frustrated with my tripod, I only took a few handheld shots from the base of Lower Proxy Falls.

And I took a few long-distance shots at Upper Proxy Falls.

Amazingly enough, it had not rained at our campground, and it did not rain on us while we made dinner, ate dinner, and sat around the campfire. In fact, it didn’t rain at the campground until right after we went to bed. Finally, the rain had good timing!

The next day before heading back to town, we made one more scenic stop. There’s a waterfall on the property at White Branch Youth Camp. Camp was done for the summer, so we just hiked in along the gated road and then along the short access path to White Branch Falls. It’s a short scramble up a hill to get to the lovely waterfall, which is very much like Fairy Falls.

And then we headed back to town. Despite some cruddy weather, we had a good time. And we’re going back to the area this coming weekend, camping at Three Creek Lake, where we couldn’t go before. Here’s hoping we have better weather!