Amy and I greatly enjoyed this hike together. It was just the two of us, and we’d just checked out of our short-term rental in Sisters, OR. We enjoyed the short drive to the Pole Creek trailhead. This area was burned in 2012, so we’d be hiking through some of the burned area. In fact, the fire had destroyed four cars at the trailhead and had campers and hikers improvising other ways out of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Lightning caused this fire on Sept. 8, 2012 and burned about 40 square miles, costing $18 million to put out.
The guidebook describes the first 4.6 miles of this hike as “miserably dusty, viewless miles.” Written before the fire, it was no longer accurate, at least the viewless part. We enjoyed views of North Sister almost immediately through the burned-out trees. The trail did ascend quite a bit through this burned area, and we stopped to marvel at the effects fire has on the forest. Massive destruction to be sure, but to see the life in the landscape - wildflowers and new trees - it was clear that there is a circle of life at work here.
We came to a junction with Soap Creek after 2 miles of hiking, where there was a fair amount of lush greenery and flowers prospering. After another 2.6 miles, we came to a far larger crossing, that of the north fork of Whychus Creek. Muddy and turbulent, this creek is the result of glacial runoff, and we soon saw those glaciers as Middle and North Sister loomed into view.
The demarcation of the fire line was quite sharp. One moment we were among the hulking sentinels of burned out trees, and the next we were in blessedly shaded forest. We took a break for lunch after switchbacking up a large ridge, took a quick lunch break with a great view of South Sister, and proceeded along the ridge towards the Chambers Lakes.
South Sister came into view. A side of the mountain we hadn't seen!
The Three Sisters, All Together
I’ve never been in a spot where I could get a brilliant panorama of all three mountains, but here I was. Just one stretch of trail where the trees parted and I had an unobstructed view of all three peaks. Simply stunning.
We came upon Camp Lake just when we were beginning to doubt the mileage. Camp Lake is the most accessible of the Chambers Lakes. There are more, but our schedule wouldn’t permit us to explore further. Just over 7.5 miles into the hike, the lake stood out as a deep blue patch through the trees. Just a few more minutes on trail and we were there.
There’s a wonderful rocky beach, and we thought that if we lived there longer, we’d walk in with camp chairs, lunch and some good books and spend the afternoon just relaxing in that very spot. The lake was crystal clear and cool, and we sat and took in the view for a few minutes.
Leave No Trace
Two water bottles.
As we arrived at the beach, we saw that some inconsiderate people had left two water bottles sitting right on the shore! We lamented their carelessness, crushed up the bottles and packed them out with us.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re not the type of person that would leave plastic bottles lying around the wilderness. We were happy to be able to help keep this corner of the world clean!
Hiking Through the Pole Creek Burn
I took this panorama on the return portion of the hike, about 2 miles from the trailhead. This is almost a 270-degree view, and you can see what it's like right in the middle of a heavily-burned area.
By the Numbers: Pole Creek to Camp Lake (Chambers Lakes)
I used the Gaia GPS app for my iPhone to track this course, and subsequently loaded it into Strava using the GPX export. Total mileage for the day was 15.32 miles (2,259 feet of gain as reported by GPS) with just over 5 hours of hiking.
This is Hike 50 (Chambers Lakes) in 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades. There's a great description and map in there. Enjoy!