This trip takes place on 8/21/15 with my longtime childhood friend Aaron R. who I hadn’t been backpacking with in 20 years.
With a few text messages to one of my oldest friends about some much needed trail time (or trail punishment as I put it), we had a plan. Broken Top Loop Trail it was. Funny thing was, he had been looking at the same hike all summer and was looking for the right time in our ever busy adult lives to make it happen. My family was heading out to the beach for a few days to see my mother-in-law and I felt it was time to get after an adventure. Having been to Broken Top many times in the last 20 years and always a longtime favorite afternoon hiking spot of the family, I’d never hiked much on the North or West side of the mountain and felt it was about time to make a weekend of it. After reading my trusty 100 Hikes in Oregon book by Douglas Lorain that my wife had given me for Father’s Day at least a dozen times, I settled on the best route to take and where to camp. We decided to hit the trail on Friday night the 21st after work. Aaron, who lives in Portland, had a nice two and half hour drive compared to my 20 minute drive from Bend to meet up in Sisters, Oregon. From there we dropped my Subaru at the Sisters city park and headed to the Three Creeks trailhead about 20 mins out of town in Aaron’s 4 Runner. As time was running late and we were getting to the trail around 5:30 in the evening, we had a plan to make it to Golden Lake camp. We decided to park at Park Meadow trailhead to shave a mile or so off the 8 mile hike to Golden Lake camp. With fears of hiking in the dark to a spot we had never been to before we needed all the help we could get.
We hit the trail around 6pm with full packs and high hopes to making it to Golden Lake and we were off. I had read the trail was pretty easy for the first few miles and they were right. We made great time and knocked out the 7 mile hike in just over 3 hours, seeing some amazing sunsets shots and a few river crossings along the way.
Aaron had found some great alternative ideas for camping just above the lake on YouTube and they were so right. Having seen two other groups camping at the lake we were looking for something less crowded and found it just up the creek.
After a nice breakfast, we filled our water bottles and hit the trail with a full day of hiking and a few side trips planned. Our stoke for the day was at an all time high. First was to scramble up to check out what was above us and see if we could find where the water source was coming from. As it turns out, we found some more amazing camp spots and some great views in every direction.
We hit the dusty trail and pointed it towards Green Lakes and the South Sister before the sun cooked down on us.
From there we started down the descent into the Green Lakes basin and got our first sight of day hikers. Green Lakes is one of the most hiked spots in Oregon and a gem of Central Oregon day and overnight campers. It’s beauty is amazing and anyone that’s ever been there can contest that it’s a must visit if you’re a weekend hiker.
After a nice lunch and a little swim, we were back on the trail. As nice as Green Lakes was it was nice to be back on the trail and away from all the day hikers. The other great thing about backpacking a multi-day loop is you start to see a few groups of people who are hiking the same loop. It’s always fun to keep passing people as we each make stops to get water and take breaks in the shade.
As the day wore on, we crossed in front of the view everyone was here to see…the great view of the Broken Top bowl. I’ve seen it so many times and it always fills me with such a feeling of belonging, always welcoming you home. It had been a few months from my last trip up when it was still covered with snow and we split-boarded to the bowl to make some turns on our snowboards.
From here we followed the trail uphill towards the Northeast side of the mountain and there are a few great places to get water where it comes out of the ground fed by the glacier above. From here we made our way over to Carter Creek and picked up the trail to No Name lake.
No Name is an amazing glacier fed lake that feeds Carter Creek and is a favorite of day hikers looking to get a few miles in or even an overnight camp.
No Name is a busy spot most days and the weekends can get a little overwhelming with families looking to get away for an afternoon. The Saturday night we spent above it had about a dozen tents lining the shore line. From No Name we followed the steep trail up to the ridge for some amazing Northern bowl views that will make you want to sit and watch the sunset.
As we came back off the ridge we chose to cross a small patch of snow and head up to a nice plateau in the shadow of Broken Hand and looking down at at No Name lake. The thought of camping next to so many other people on a backpacking trip was not what we came here for, and the plateau gave us the he feeling we were all alone in the wilderness. The best part was that we got a better view of the sunrise in the morning than tucked in the valley next to the lake.
As the sunrise hit the tent we were staring to feel the last 18 miles of trail and a cold night sleeping at 8000 feet. After a power up oatmeal breakfast we were running low on water, so we headed down to get some from Carter Creek and also checked out a snow cave we had seen from the plateau. Seeing a snow cave in August is a refreshing sight and we just had to get our water from the entrance and check it out.
This was the last creek for water we found (but there were a few snow patches that had melted water if you missed the creek). We then pushed to find the trail to Tam McArther Rim. The trail turns into more of a boot pack at this point, but we headed to the northeast side of Broken Hand like the book had said and we mistook the trail for a ridge scramble. We found out the trail is on top of the ridge but we just stayed just below it. At the end of the ridge we found a notch and at the top we found the trail heading east. From here made our way to the Tam McArther Rim for some more amazing views and one of the better places I’ve ever had lunch.
From here it’s all down hill and a blessing to have a light packs as most of our food and water was running low. The switchbacks took a toll on my tired legs but we pushed on back down to Three Creeks lake. From here we had a mile and a half walk on the road to get back to our car at the Park Meadow parking area.
I have to say this trip was an amazing adventure with non-stop views around every corner. Also, it was great to have so many clean creeks to pull water from so easily. If you’re looking for a great 2-3 day trip, this was at the top of my list in Central Oregon Cascades. All in all we hiked just over 27 miles and had some much needed trail time to unwind and unplug from life, talking about the good old days. Kevin