We’ve had a pretty epic few days.
Our pals, the Bloems, are moving to Chicago (which makes us terribly sad, but let’s not talk about that right now). We wanted to get in one last round of awesomeness before they left, so we went on a camping trip/hiking adventure together.
Our first stop was just an hour or so out of Eugene at Belknap Hot Springs. You may be familiar with our last hot springs experience, but rest assured that this one, while less natural, was 100% more relaxing. First of all, the water from the hot spring is pumped into a big pool here, so there’s no slimy rocks to step on. (And they add chlorine, which gives that glorious summer by the pool smell that I honestly love so much.) Secondly, bathing suits are required (no nudies allowed). And third, the weather was much more appropriate for a hot spring. It was 50-something and drizzling, which made that 100-something-degree water feel spectacular.
We paid a $7 fee to enjoy the pool for an hour (it’s $12 for the whole day), and then perused the property a little. And by perused the property, I mean we ate the VooDoo Donuts the Bloems had the incredible foresight to know we’d need, while walking over the river. The McKenzie River runs behind the pool, but you can’t really see it when you are actually in the pool (possibly because you are so busy relaxing and not worrying about a bunch of nudies hopping in to spoil your mood).
From Belknap Hot Springs, we needed to get over to Bend, so we took the scenic McKenzie Pass, which is only open from late June through October, depending on the weather. It wasn’t as scenic as it could have been, since it was drizzling the entire time, but it’s still a beautiful drive through the forest. The summit of the highway is entirely lava rock, and there’s a pretty crazy observatory there (also made of lava rock) with pretty spectacular views of the Cascades. Unfortunately, this was the view when we arrived:
But as soon as we crossed the mountain range, it was sunny skies and glorious mountain views. There was quite a bit of chill in the air though, so we stopped at Sisters Coffee to caff up and warm up. We gave into the very fall feeling of the day and enjoyed some lovely chai lattes and cider. Sisters is the best.
Unfortunately, the temperature kept dropping as we got closer to our campsite at Devils Lake Campground. (To get there, take the Cascades Lakes National Scenic Byway about 28 miles west of Bend. It’s about 7 miles west of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.) But this place was awesome. We picked it because the hiking trail we planned to do the next day starts at the campground. There are only 6 campsites, and they don’t accept reservations, so I don’t know the likelihood of snagging a spot there during prime South Sister hiking season, but we had the place to ourselves for the night. The campground is free, but you have to pay a $5 fee to park (unless you have your trusty Northwest Forest Pass). We were also pretty excited to see that the campground had two toilets and a dumpster. Hooray for feeling a little less yucky while living in the woods.
We picked what I believe was campsite 3 (they weren’t super well-marked). We could see Devils Lake from our spot, and we had a nice rock formation near the fire pit for sitting, drying out wet clothes, and separating us from the rest of the world. We quickly bundled up and got to work setting up camp and preparing dinner.
The most hilarious thing about this whole trip was the cat. Since the Bloems are driving across the country, they have their pets with them, which meant Edward got to come out and enjoy the great outdoors. Clearly, he wasn’t digging it.
After a very, very chilly night (frost on everything in the morning), we made a delightful warm breakfast with lots of coffee. Our go-to camping coffee is Starbucks Via. We put 1 1/2 packets in a travel mug, add some boiling water (we use this kettle), and resist the urge to pour the hot coffee on our freezing bodies.
Megan pulled out all the stops with camp breakfast, bringing bacon, eggs, and supplies for some tasty protein shakes to keep us going all morning. It was awesome.
Now, our plan was to camp and then hike to the top of the South Sister (one of the only big peaks around here you can climb without technical gear). Our campground was at the start of the South Sister Trail, so we’d be all set. However, we’d been checking the trail conditions and started to think this might be a bit above our skill level:
“South Sister Climbers – Trailheads accessible with trails likely blocked by snow above 5,700’. Climbers trail is mostly under 2-8’ of snow and you are following an unmarked snow route. The summer trail/climbing route is not marked for snow travel. Have a map and navigation equipment, compass/GPS. Booting alone may be challenging as “postholing” is likely at some point in the day. Have the backcountry skills for recognizing/assessing avalanche, ice fall, cornice, rock fall and other spring backcountry dangers. Avoid crossing frozen lakes and watch for dangers in snow bridging across streams.”
Realizing that we probably wouldn’t be able to summit, we opted for our backup plan: Green Lakes. This trailhead was just down the road from our campsite (once again, you pay a $5 fee or display your Northwest Forest Pass), and at 8-miles (roundtrip), we knew it would still provide a pretty intense hike. The hike was even more intense with the addition of the cat, which had to come with us for fear of dying in the car on such a sunny day.
The trail spends a lot of time following Fall Creek, which is just as lovely and clear as all the other beautiful Oregon creeks. We quickly ran into a ton of snow (we’re estimating about 90% of our 8-mile hike was through snow), and if it weren’t for some footprints leading the way, we never would have found our way to the end of the trail. There aren’t any trail markers on the trees or anything, so unless someone has ventured out before you, you’re kind of out of luck. (Perhaps this is why they recommend hiking this near the end of the summer, when the snow has had time to melt.)
Eric and I have done quite a bit of snow hiking over the past 2 years, but this was certainly the most intense. We were sinking pretty far into the snow, and I even managed to fall through the snow and dangle helplessly over a rushing river twice. Luckily, my super strong husband came to my rescue each time.
I’m not sure I can overstress the importance of waterproof hiking shoes on this hike. I finally caved and bought some last week, and they have already proved to be worth their hefty price tag. We hiked through so much snow that would’ve left my feet completely soaked. Unfortunately, we started sinking so far into the snow at one point that snow was going over the top of our shoes and settling nicely into our socks, which led to some pretty waterlogged feet by the end. It seems that shoes made to keep water out don’t have the ventilation to release the water once it gets in there.
I’m also going to stress the need for sunscreen. With sunshine and snow, the multiple sunscreen applications were a necessity.
We got thrown a bit off track by following some equally lost footprints, but we planned ahead enough to buy a handy map of the area, so we knew the general location of the Green Lakes we were looking for (as in, we should be on the right side of the creek by the end). It was helpful enough to get us where we needed to go. And we eventually arrived at the Green Lakes, nestled between the South Sister and Broken Top mountains. The lakes were completely frozen over, but it still made for a pretty spectacular view.
By the time we made it back to the trailhead, we’d been hiking for about 7 hours (including a nice lunch break by the lake). We headed into Bend for dinner at 10 Barrel Brewing Co. (pizza and burgers are a must after a long day of hiking), and settled into a nice s’mores induced sleep when we got back to camp for the night.
We bid the Bloems farewell in the morning, and Eric and I headed back through Sisters for coffee and breakfast at Sisters Coffee (I’m telling you, it’s impossible for us to drive through there without stopping). We took the scenic drive home through the McKenzie Pass and stopped for a much clearer view of the Cascades from the Dee Wright Observatory.
All in all, it was a pretty spectacular trip. We’ll miss you, Bloems (even you, Edward)!