Recently, we went on vacation up to Bend Oregon with the plan of spending a week having a family vacation then my buddy and I would head out for a five day backpacking trip around the Three Sisters. It’s a loop which is 48 miles long and touches on some mountaineering techniques so it would be challenging from that standpoint. However, when we got up to Bend and we began asking some experienced hikers in the area if that loop was doable they all said that the loop wouldn’t be open till at least mid July. If we attempted to do the loop at this time there would be at least 6′ of snow and we would need a very good GPS. Upon this information and a couple outdoor shops later we were shown a potential 5 day hike from Cultus Lake up the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) to Devil’s Lake on the 46 highway making it an easy pickup point. It was only 38 miles but it would be fun none the less.
Day one we started out by getting dropped off at Cultus lake and hiking North and West to a little lake called Snowshoe lake. I think we hit a pretty good window because the temperatures were pretty mild, 70f during the day and dropping to 45f at night with mosquitoes in check. We knew we would have to pace ourselves because 38 miles wouldn’t last too long. Even though we started off from Cultus at 11:30am we arrived at Snowshoe at around 2:30. The water was crystal clear and because of the rock edge the wind kept the mosquitoes at bay. From the post a couple weeks ago my buddy Tracy tried out his pen fishing rod and gear set recommended by Ron Lacari and was able to catch 3 trout, they were small but above the 7″ state of Oregon limit and were pretty darn tasty. After Tracy caught the fish I made an upside down fire and we wrapped the fish in some aluminum foil with olive oil and seasoning. They steamed on the hot coals for about 10 minutes and the meat fell off the bones. It was a great start to our hike.
Day two was a bit of a long haul. We hiked North and caught up with the Pacific Crest Trail going past Mink Lake. We decided to take a detour and look for a small lake to camp by on one of the off shoot trails but ended up hiking for about 8 miles not finding one camp sight which was suitable and we were getting pelted by what are described by the Oregon Department of Fish and Game as: “A particularly aggressive species of mosquito.” These suckers could carry off a medium sized baby. Even though the mosquitos became hostile hosts we were able to make it to Porky Lake set up camp and jump in to take a bath. Out in the lake the mosquitos weren’t too bad because there was a little bit of a breeze, but the water was pretty damn cold and I only lasted about 10 minutes before getting out and drying off in the sun. We were testing out some of the gear we had accumulated and I’m pleased that it all worked well.
The MSR Micro Rocket worked flawlessly and it’s small enough with a concentrated flame to be used in the vestibule of my tent while I’m safely behind the mesh. I’ve owned the GSI Minimalist cook set for a while, it’s merely a cup which can hold 3 cups of liquid and this is what I’ve done most of my backpacking with, but on this trip I went ahead and added the Soloist cook pot & Cup: This turned out to be a great idea because the minimalist, the cup, my MSR Micro Rocket stove, two spoons and the pot holder all fit inside the pot. If I had gotten the slightly smaller canister of fuel I’m almost certain it would’ve fit in there too thus containing my entire cooking system. It was well worth the money, because with the larger size pot I was able to conserve fuel by boiling one pot once in the morning to make coffee and oatmeal. Before I would have to run the stove twice to make a boil for each item.
I was also able to test out the Gregory Palisade 80 backpack. One thing is for sure Gregory makes a very comfortable suspension system and I was able to quickly fit the pack to me. When loaded correctly this pack moves with your body, not fighting how your shoulders and hips move independently. It’s a great pack, wish the hip pockets were a little larger and wished it would stand up on it’s own when loaded but those are pretty small concerns.
I still love my Western Mountaineering down sleeping bag, it’s worth every penny. This time I brought my full sized Thermarest from 1986, it’s heavy but at 72″ long and with an R value of 5 I was living the dream. Getting a good nights rest is of vital importance. This is the one place where I don’t mind carrying extra weight for comfort.
Day Three we got out of Porky Lake as soon as we could and hightailed it towards the PCT again. after only four hours of hiking we came to a small lake called Dumbell Lake. We decided we’d take a short break to have a snack. After the four hours of hiking and being eaten by what can only be described as blood sucking humming birds we were prepared for the worst. On a ridge just above the lake we dropped out packs…. Something was wrong. There wasn’t a single mosquito. No buzzing in the ears, no biting at the backs of your arms, just silence. After a 10 minute conversation where we each had to convince the other we actually wanted to set up camp here even though it was only 12:30pm just for the simple fact that we may never again have a campsite sans mosquitoes, we were sold. This was paradise. We were on a small peninsula in the middle of a crystal clear lake with an almost constant breeze keeping the mosquitoes away.
Staying here was pure bliss. I had brought along a packet of Ramen Noodles and they certainly proved their weight in gold. For their weight, making a small cup of noodles and having a morale boost is awesome. It will most certainly become a standard pack item.
Our last day was quite the saga. Our plan was to head up the PCT to Sisters Mirror Lake and spend the night there before heading East to Devil’s Lake but things got a little complicated. As we started heading North we began to hit ever increasing patches of snow. The entire trip there had been trail markers on trees every 100 yards apart or so, so if you were ever snowbound you could connect the dots from one tree to another. But instead of following the PCT and to avoid a 1000′ climb we followed an alternate trail which had no tree markers. Here you can see Tracy on about 6′ of snow between clear patches of trail.
At first, navigating was a little tough but it was doable. Then with a sudden rise in altitude to about 5,600′ the snow started becoming deeper and connecting the dots of clear trail soon disappeared to all snow.
There were some moments when I had to pull out my DeLorme InReach and link it to my iPhone mapping software via bluetooth to make sure I was still on the trail. This was perhaps the first time I’ve pulled out my compass and hung it around my neck while navigating in a VERY long time. I was really psyched when several times we were standing on the trail according to the mapping software. It was a score and a reassurance I was navigating correctly. After several hours we reached Sisters Mirror Lake, it was now 3:30 PM and the lake was snow bound in a bad way.
There wasn’t a suitable place to camp, The edges of the lake were marsh and it’d be tricky getting water. We knew we had at least till 9pm for light so after weighing all our options we decided to hike off trail and make a bee line for a saddle between two 6500′ buttes. I was confident that we could navigate towards them and slip through the saddle then continue East and hit the 46 Highway and pop out at Devil’s lake where we would be picked up the next day.
It took about three hours of hiking through the snow. Occasionally we postholed up to our hips because we were still traversing 6-10′ of snow but we made it to a clearing at the edge of a 1000′ butte face. The problem was we were about 1/2 a mile South of the target, where the saddle was. Sitting down we boiled the last of our water and split a lunch. I scanned the maps and decided we would’t hike North but follow the face of the butte to the south and make our way out through two smaller lakes where we could find water and the highway would only be one mile further to the East from the lakes.
This was the edge of the snow field just before popping out at the two lakes to the South. Once we had water we were able to get a cel phone signal, get a ride back to town and had some Mexican food for dinner. In the end it was some great backpacking with a little pucker factor and the need to dust off some old skills to make it an exciting trip.