This spring Sarah offered to watch our kids for an entire weekend so Curt and I could escape for a getaway. We immediately dug out our “Things We Want To Do in the Pacific Northwest” folder and found a newspaper clipping highlighting a backpacking loop around the Three Sisters Mountains. The loop required a minimum of four days so we finagled an extra night and day away by pulling Peter and Molly into the childcare circus. Hundreds of dollars of gear and months of planning later, we were naively confident that in 3 ½ days we could tackle a 50-mile backpack through the wilderness (including reaching the summit of the South Sister) on our maiden voyage. Feel free to laugh.
Curt bought a detailed map and plotted our course. He found a backpacking blog/social media site and started posting newbie questions. GrannyHiker challenged us to rethink our route and said, “I suggest a couple of overnighters before embarking on such an ambitious trip. Practicing backpacking skills on a few short, easy trips will make your "round the Sisters" trip easier, safer and more pleasant!” An experienced backpacker I met on the Triple Falls trail cautioned, “The most important thing is your footwear. You MUST do a few short trips with your shoes to make sure they don’t give you blisters. There’s nothing worse than getting blisters on the first day and still having miles of hiking ahead of you.” We arrogantly ignored all of their advice and forged ahead with our plans for a grand adventure without cutting mileage or being fitted for proper hiking shoes.
In the end, it was the snow that stopped us in our tracks. This winter was abnormally snowy and as a result, the majority of the trails we wanted to hike were still buried under mounds of snow at the end of July! Two days before we were set to leave, we still had no idea where we were going or how far we’d be backpacking. The Stunning Sisters loop had long since been set aside and the plan we finally settled on was so far down the list that it had to be Plan F or Plan G.
Our carefully researched plans disintegrated before our eyes and neither of us was happy about it. My dream of hiking in the warm summer sun and jumping in mountain lakes to cool off was replaced with the nightmare of miserably freezing in the wilderness for four days. Curt’s dream of leading us through the wild blue yonder up and over mountain passes was replaced with a minimal five-mile hike on a trail he’d verified was clear of snow. We were so busy feeling sorry for ourselves that we lost sight of the original purpose of the trip – a time to connect.
Wednesday night Curt and I laughed and laughed, then laughed some more as we tried to load our packs. We had no idea how to pack them to balance the weight and I piled a minimum of a week’s worth of clothes on the bedroom floor to start. We eventually weeded down the piles to our “must haves” and tried on our packs. We stumbled around the bedroom laughing as we tried to adjust to having an extra 35 (and 45) pounds on our back. It dawned on us that maybe we should have taken a backpacking class to figure out how to use our gear, but hindsight is 20/20!
|at the start of the trailhead|
Thursday afternoon we hoisted our heavy packs in the Jeep, left the kids (and a five page instruction manual on how to care for them) with Sarah, and headed to the Mt. Jefferson wilderness area. The day was picture perfect. The thermometer in the Jeep climbed to a lovely 83 degrees and held steady as we turned off the main highway and started driving into the wilderness on a Forest Service dirt road. We arrived at the Carl Lake Trailhead in the late afternoon. Excitement mounted as we fumbled our packs onto our backs, cinched them tight, and hit the trail.
|a birds eye view of Carl Lake|
Our Dumb and Dumber “We’re doing it! We’re really doing it!” enthusiasm quickly transitioned to heavy breathing, rivers of sweat, and minimal conversation. Ladies and Gentlemen – backpacking is no cakewalk. There is a definite learning curve and we were at the bottom of it. My head felt trapped against the back of my bag and the weight of my pack made me feel like I was tilting forward at an abnormal angle even though Curt assured me I was standing upright. Curt made me feel better about my ineptness when he managed, between deep gulps for air, to complain about the exact same things. It became apparent within the first ten minutes that backpacking five miles would be a challenge. Fifty would have been just plain foolish.
|At Carl Lake|
The trail was obvious, easy to follow and slowly gained 1,200 vertical feet over the course of five miles. We found a rhythm and tackled the trail one footstep at a time. When we finally arrived at Carl Lake, we stopped in our tracks. The scenery was so magnificent that it literally took our breath away. The lake was much bigger than we anticipated and was hemmed in on all sides by snow-covered mountains and a vast canyon overlooking Sugar Pine Ridge. Isaiah 40:12 asks, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” As we stared at the lake, the mountains, the hills, the vast canyon and imposing ridge, the answer was obvious. Our great and awesome God!
The sun was setting as we staked a claim on our own private chunk of the lake, directly across from the only other group camping on the entire lake! With two private beaches, trees that sheltered our tent from the wind, and a lookout point, it was the prime campsite. We had just enough time to get our camp established before the cold moved in and the stars came out.
|maybe I have a future in marketing?|
We woke the next day to a spectacular morning. Bright sunshine, blue skies, and a calm lake greeted us as we filtered water from the lake to French-press our Sunbreak morning blend coffee by Trailhead Coffee Roasters. The label read, “best enjoyed next to a morning campfire.” How could we not bring it backpacking? We brought our stools, breakfast, Bible and coffee down to one of our private sun-drenched beaches and sat in awe of God’s creative genius on display all around us.
|our breakfast spot|
Curt opened his Bible and started reading the Psalm of the day. As he was reading, God brought to my mind a verse that fit our trip perfectly. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Curt and I had planned our course, but God determined our steps. He said NO to the long, strenuous conquering of mountain peaks and valleys and said YES to simplicity and relaxation. It was exactly what we needed and nothing that we planned.
|showing off the vast canyon and Sugar Pine Ridge|
As our time together progressed, we continued to see God guide our steps in big and little ways.
• We originally planned to stop two-miles into our trek at Cabot Lake to play and take a break, but we missed the unmarked trailhead and were forced to keep going. God knew we needed that extra time to hike and get to Carl Lake and set up camp before it got dark.
• My shoes were not what I needed for backpacking and they gave me horrendous blisters on the first day. Hiking a long loop would have been really painful, if not impossible.
• The snow on the trails forced us to abandon our agenda-filled, long loop. Our only option was to stay at Carl Lake and relax. We would have missed out on all the exploring, rock scrambling, sun bathing and quick dips in the lake that filled our time and ended up being some of the highlights of our trip.
|the trail disappeared in the snow|
• We had the entire lake to ourselves for a couple hours on the first morning. Tranquil and serene, it was the closest glimpse I think we’ll ever have to the way the Garden of Eden must have been. We felt God whispering, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
• The weather was gorgeous and in the 80’s all weekend long. We hiked over snow banks in tank tops and shorts and I was never cold!
• We brought a radio with us and managed to pick up a Christian Satellite radio station. We tuned in “Friday Night Fusion – worship on the rougher edge,” plopped ourselves on a rock just off the shore of the lake, and watched the evening sun disappear over the mountain ridge.
• I made Curt try yoga on the beach and he made me sit for a minimum of an hour each night watching the campfire before going to bed. We laughed at each other’s discomfort and taught each other a new skill.
|We hiked to the top of a rock|
pile to get a good view of
• Our Jeep (she’s a good ‘ol gal and is 14 years old) got us safely up and down the mountain on terribly bumpy gravel roads. She wasn’t parked in our driveway for more than an hour before she got a flat tire.
• We passed five unnamed ponds/lakes on the hike into and out of Carl Lake. We named them after each of our kids (including Sarah) then used the time we were hiking by them to pray a specific blessing on each of our kids.
• I threw a gallon of water in the Jeep before we left on our adventure. When we packed out of Carl Lake it was really hot and we drained all the water in our water bottles. We were thrilled to see a gallon of fresh, filtered water waiting for us when we finally made it back to the Jeep.
|Curt scoping out the view|
• Our last night (a Saturday), we camped in a campground. We didn’t have a reservation and we knew the odds were not in our favor to find a campsite on the first nice weekend of the summer. But God saved the ONE open campsite in the entire Suttle Lake campground for us. The cost was $16, cash or check. I left my purse at home, so it was up to Curt to pay for the campsite. He opened his wallet and it contained three five-dollar bills and a single one-dollar bill. You can’t make this stuff up!
|the Three Sisters as seen from the top of Black Butte|
• Saturday afternoon, we squeezed in one more hike and summited Black Butte, gaining 2,000 vertical feet in two miles. It was extremely strenuous and the combination of the elevation and heat took a toll on me. I ended up getting lightheaded and needing food and water. Guess who grabbed a daypack full of food and water on the spur of the moment even though we had just eaten a snack? Yep. That’s my man.
• We realized on Saturday that it was the 15-year anniversary of the day we met. We celebrated by skipping freeze-dried dinner at the Suttle Lake campground and headed into Sisters for a delicious burger instead. We got a tip for a great restaurant from hikers we met on the trail and then drove straight to it on a whim, without directions. Even better, we had squirreled away $25 of anniversary money and we used it to pay for dinner!
|Nothing but vast wilderness|
We came home on Sunday to a spotless (and empty) house. Sarah had taken the kids to church. They behaved brilliantly the entire time we were gone (thank you LORD!) and their good behavior earned them a visit to Dairy Queen. We schemed with Sarah and surprised the kids by waiting for them as they pulled into Dairy Queen. After the onslaught of hugs and kisses and four kids talking over each other, we all sat down at a table and shared our experiences of the past few days. It was a lovely way to re-enter Normal Life. Our backpacking adventure was nothing like we planned, but everything we hoped for. Thank you LORD for directing our steps!