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While camping at LaPine State Park in Central Oregon, Jason and I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful sceneary and planned a couple hikes. For our first hike, we planned to make a 12 to 13-mile loop, beginning on the Soda Creek Trail #11, continuing to the Todd Lake Trail #34 and then on to the Broken Top trail #10, finishing the loop on the Green Lakes Trail #17 back to our starting point. Our starting point was the Green Lakes/Soda Creek trailhead off the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway (Hwy 46), about 26 miles West of Bend, Oregon. Due to an impassable stream crossing 2 miles in on the Soda Creek Trail, we ended up turning around and hiking 4.6 miles (each way) on the Green Lakes trail, which gains approximately 1200 feet elevation.
We left our camp site around 6:50 AM Monday and traveled on a few Forest Service Roads before meeting the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Along the way, we caught glimpses of South Sister and Mt Bachelor. When we arrived at the trailhead approximately 50 minutes later, there were a few other cars in the lot, most having been there overnight. The skies were partly cloudy with a temperature in the mid 40's F.
After self-registering for a wilderness permit at the trailhead, we began hiking on the well-worn Soda Creek Trail #11. After approximately one mile, we came to an open meadow and soon a creek crossing. In order to cross the small creek, we had to balance on small downed logs and use a stick for support. As we continued on and gained some elevation, we began to hear the rush of larger flowing water.
Two miles into our hike, we came to the very swollen Crater creek and saw no sign of a bridge. It was not safe to cross the swiftly-flowing creek and we wanted to stay dry. At this point, we bushwhacked downstream, following the creek's edge for about a quarter mile, hoping to find a spot to cross safely farther down. We saw a pretty waterfall, but few options to cross. Unable to find a safe, dry crossing, we decided to head back to the trailhead and instead hike the Green Lakes Trail #17 up to Green Lakes and back.
Soon after starting up the Green Lakes trail, we came to a stream crossing, this time with a nice large log bridge (horses and pack animals were directed to ford the creek). We didn't notice any trail markers on the Green Lakes Trail (we didn't see any on the Soda Creek trail either), but the trail was well-worn into the dirt. Within a half mile, we encountered moderate-sized patches of snow. We passed two groups of hikers returning to the trailhead.
After about one mile, the snow increased and the trail soon became completely covered in snow. There was obvious boot track, so we continued on, but had Jason's GPS ready just to be safe. As we hiked over the semi-firm snow, we wished we had worn our waterproof hiking boots (we thought summer trail runners would be sufficient for a mid-July hike) and brought along our trekking poles. We managed fine with what we had. As we continued in the snow, we could see Fall Creek, and crossed it twice via log bridges. We passed a couple waterfalls on the way.
Once the trail left the dense forest, we began to catch glimpses of South Sister. As we paralleled Fall Creek to the Green Lakes area, we saw many deer prints in the snow. We came over a hill and reached the first Green Lake, still frozen and surrounded by sun-cupped snow. Continuing along the trail, we headed to the largest Green Lake, about 4.6 miles from the Green Lakes trailhead.
It took us about two hours to hike through the snow to Green Lakes. We noticed multiple tents on a high point above the largest lake. We talked to a woman camped there who told us that she was with a climbing party set to summit Broken Top that day. Having left her gear at home, she had hiked in with the climbers and stayed back at camp while they climbed on.
The largest of the three Green Lakes, was also not surprisingly snow-covered. From the lake, one could easily see South Sister and Broken Top. The views were gorgeous and this would be a great place to camp once it melts out. The high clouds that hung over us most of the day began to move in on the side of South Sister. There was a slight breeze which felt colder as it whipped up from the snow. We enjoyed lunch on some exposed rocks and decided to start our return trip before the mosquitoes ate us alive.
The sun was intense on the large open areas of sun-cupped snow. The mid-day sun had softened the snow, which made plunge-stepping down some of the hills a little easier. We encountered a few other groups of hikers heading toward us, none of whom seemed excited to be hiking so far in the snow. We passed one group dressed in summer clothing that had turned around and was heading back to the trailhead. When we returned to the trailhead, we noticed that a frustrated hiker had posted a note about the snow-covered trail and complained that the Forest Service should warn hikers about snow. One should always be prepared in the high country and not rely on others.
Though fatigued after hiking around 13.5 miles (much of it in the snow), we were glad to have been able to make it to Green Lakes and enjoy the beautiful views along the way. Snow has worked its way into becoming a recurring theme on many of our adventures regardless the time of year. Our next hike along Paulina Creek should be snow free though.