Imagine sitting in the center of a large alpine meadow at midnight. Looking to the left, you see the silhouette of a large, symmetrical volcano. To the right, another volcano heavily eroded by glaciers still visible in the low light of the night sky. Behind you, a third volcano! Directly above is the Milky Way, arcing across a sky filled with layers upon layers of stars: the most you’ve seen all year. This… THIS is what we walked all day for! Oh, the allure of backpacking.
Our trip started at the Devil’s Lake trailhead at the southern end of the Three Sisters Wilderness in central Oregon. We were seven girls in total: four human girls and three canine girls. We met at the trailhead with the common goal of spending the weekend away from our computers, phones, and everyday life’s distractions in the grounding, peaceful wilderness. Actually, that was the goal of the human girls. The dogs were just happy to tag along! We headed west through the forest around Kaleetan Butte toward Wickiup Plain. Approaching the plain, we got our first views of South Sister: tall and gorgeous!
After crossing the plain, we linked up with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and started walking north. Entering the trees, we enjoyed our first water crossing and met the only other hikers we’d see all day. At the next intersection, we left the PCT and continued north on the James Creek Trail. This trail, part of the historic and very interesting Skyline trail, was built in the 1920s and linked Crater Lake to Mt. Hood. Many areas of the PCT today overlap the former Skyline trail, but this stretch is slightly west of the PCT, allowing us to hike in a semi-loop.
The best reason to hike the James Creek Trail is to check out the James Creek shelter. This 1930’s era shelter is situated on the west edge of a small meadow with a view of the summit of South Sister. Icy cold James Creek runs nearby. It is a great place for lunch and foot bath!
After leaving the shelter, we continued to hike north. The trail featured tons and tons of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes! We also hiked through huckleberry bushes and were treated to the occasional expansive view to the west.
Eventually we decided to start looking around for a campsite. Our criteria: mountain views, water, and trees for my hammock. As we walked farther north, the water crossings dwindled in volume. At Racetrack Meadows, we decided to walk east back to the PCT and then south until we found water again.
Just south of our intersection with the PCT, we found the ideal campsite! A small treed, rocky area in the middle of a huge alpine meadow with views of three volcanoes and a creek running through! The dogs were pretty happy.
The next morning was leisurely and fabulous! We enjoyed breakfast, coffee, and good conversation with expansive views of Middle and South Sisters.
We packed up our gear and hit the trail at the very reasonable time of 10 AM. Heading south on the PCT, we were treated to meadow after meadow, and almost constant views of Lost Creek and Clark glaciers.
The PCT was much busier than the James Creek Trail. We encountered other hikers within an hour of leaving camp. Rounding a corner, I saw that one of the girls from our group was stopped and talking to two people on the trail. Turned out that one of them was a friend of hers from college in Minnesota! He was visiting Oregon and hiking the PCT from Crater Lake to the Columbia River. Crazy, crazy small world! Eventually we reached the intersection with the James Creek Trail and continued south back to Wickiup Plain.
On the south side of the plain, with still over an hour to go, we stopped for our last snack break. One of the dogs passed out in her water bowl. We were all feeling the same way, Kaya!
Two days, 21 miles, and quite a few sore toes later, we made it back to the trailhead! We were all feeling that fantastic combination of physical exhaustion and mental relaxation (I know we were all feeling that way because we talked about it… we are girls, of course!). What a fantastic weekend!
Let’s do it again next year!