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About Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current | View Entire Issue (March 15, 2017)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15, 2017
Life in the
PHOTOS BY WILLIAM SULLIVAN/SPECIAL TO THE STATESMAN JOURNAL
Middle Sister is seen in April from the Park Meadow area.
Three Sisters’ secret
A snowy trek to Jeff View Shelter a beaut in spring
WILLIAM L. SULLIVAN
SPECIAL TO THE STATESMAN JOURNAL
Most of Oregon’s Cascade peaks are
solitary volcanoes, able to overtower
perhaps a quadrant of sky. But the
Three Sisters and Broken Top dominate
a timberline Eden with mountains in
nearly all directions.
Thirty years ago, I admitted in a “100
Hikes” guidebook that the secret spots
of many Oregon outdoorspeople are
hiding in this scenic vortex between
Park Meadow and Tam McArthur Rim.
I wrote that the area would never be-
come crowded because the price of
admission was a dusty 5-mile hike
through tedious lodgepole pine woods.
A wildfire in 2012 burned most of
those woods, making the trail even less
But Bend has boomed. So many rec-
reation seekers have moved to this
once sleepy-timber town that Park
Meadow, Golden Lake and even the
secret, nameless tarns above them are
genuinely crowded on summer week-
ends. Don’t go then.
Here’s the real secret: This Shangri-
La is utterly devoid of crowds if you
dare to go when it’s prettiest, in spring.
Finding beauty in spring’s chill
To be sure, Park Meadow is under
snow in early April. Golden Lake is
frozen. The alpine brooks may not be
not entirely silenced, but they gurgle
from holes in the snowpack or meander
beneath perilous snow bridges.
The mountains are prettier too. The
Three Sisters may look like naked ash
heaps in August, but in April, they are
frosted fairy cakes, topped with rime
frost and draped with powdered sugar
Trekking deeply into the Three Sis-
ters Wilderness in snow requires seri-
ous winter camping gear, survival
knowledge and a group of adventurers
willing to undertake an expedition.
It’s also possible to sample the scen-
ery with a relatively easy day trip on
the well-marked winter trail system
from the Upper Three Creek Sno-Park.
A good goal for a 5-mile snowshoe or
Nordic ski lop is the Jeff View Shelter,
an open-sided log hut that has a distant
view of Mount Jefferson’s snowy pyra-
mid but also has a much closer view of
the Three Sisters and Broken Top.
When to go? Depends on desired
To start, drive Highway 20 to the
middle of downtown Sisters and turn
south on Elm Street which becomes
paved Road 16. After 10 miles, where a
Scott Hovis snowshoes on the north flank of Broken Top.
snow gate blocks the road ahead, turn
left into a big Sno-Park lot. This sports
center is busy from December through
March, and for the day trip to the shel-
ter, this is the season you’ll want to go.
Adventurers heading deeper into the
wilderness should wait until early
April. By then, the Sno-Park lot is likely
to be empty because the snow has usu-
ally melted away at that elevation.
Even with this year’s heavy snows, the
April snowpack may be so patchy here
that you’ll have to carry your skis or
snowshoes uphill a mile before you can
The reason I recommend early April
is not just so you can hike around with
your skis like an idiot. If you are snow
camping, the weather is reliably better
in April, with 13 hours of daylight and
far fewer blizzards. Once you have
carried your skis up past the bare dirt,
the spring “corn” snow is lovely for
road that serves as the artery of the
winter trail system. Signboards and
maps at all junctions make navigation
easy. Keep left for 2 miles, then turn
right to find the Jeff View Shelter.
Almost the entire area between the
Three Creek Sno-Park and Park Mead-
ow burned in a 2012 wildfire – perhaps
20 square miles of lodgepole pine for-
ests. The winter trail system here is
one benefit of that burn. Although there
are miles of snags, you now also have
views everywhere, including at the
The log structure itself was built of
snags salvaged by an Oregon National
Guard battalion as an engineering exer-
cise. A barrel stove inside provides
some cheer, but don’t expect it to heat
the three-walled building. Overnight
stays are not allowed in the shelter, and
it’s designed to discourage people who
The shelter is a good place to stop
for lunch, enjoy the view and turn back.
Hitting the trail, finding the
For the hardcore
From the parking lot, cross the road
and go downhill 100 feet — away from
the snow gate — to find an old spur
Experienced winter campers can
continue without a trail, deeper into the
wilderness. Don’t go alone. Ideally you
should only go in a group of at least
three. That way, if someone is hurt, one
person can stay while the other goes for
I started my planning for this trip
with four people. One canceled with a
bad back, and another with a family
conflict. That left only two of us. We
decided to take a cell phone as our
“third person.” The area has good cell
phone coverage. If something went
awry, we could call for help.
From the Jeff View Shelter, we
struck off cross-country directly to-
ward Broken Top for 1.5 miles. There
we found a snowy bend of Snow Creek
where we set up a base camp. The 8-
foot-wide creek is the wilderness
boundary, but it also serves as a white-
water highway for water ouzels, the
cheery birds that fly up and down-
stream dipping for insect larvae.
The next day, with lighter day packs,
we left our camp and followed Snow
Creek upstream 2.5 miles to its source
in a spectacular timberline snow bowl.
On the left is the cliff of Tam McArthur
Rim. We found even better views up to
the right (the west), where a pass of-
fered a front-row view of Broken Top
and all Three Sisters.
The following day, we set out from
base camp in a different direction,
contouring west from Snow Creek 2.5
miles to Park Meadow, a snowy sheet
with frosted cakes in four directions.
In the middle of the meadow, Park
Creek forks. Our goal was Golden Lake,
so we followed the smaller, west fork
up a steep snow gully for a mile. The
only tracks we found on this route be-
longed to a river otter. It had appar-
ently galloped on a circuit of high lakes
to clean out the winter’s supply of grog-
Golden Lake is breathtaking in sum-
mer, despite the crowds that have dis-
covered this secret spot. But it’s all the
more stunning in April, dressed in
white, completely silent.
As a guidebook author, the most
common question I am asked is, “What
is your favorite hike?” Outdoorspeople
dread this question and its corollary,
“What is your favorite place?”
No one wants a secret spot spoiled
by crowds, so it’s tempting to dodge the
question. I have written two entire
books to assuage people. The book
“Oregon Favorites” describes the best
hikes by month, and “Oregon Trips &
Trails” describes them by region.
But the truth is, there really is a best
place and a best time.
It’s in that trailless wonderland on
the north slope of Broken Top, in early
April, in the snow.