A black, awe-inspiring lava landscape is the welcome mat to our trek into Oregon's iconic volcano reserve. The Three Sisters: Faith/North, Hope/Middle, and Charity/South are ringed by a trail network that includes a stretch on the infamous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The wilderness circumnavigation of these dramatic, dormant peaks challenges hikers to keep their eyes on the trail at every bend.
The big diversion on our journey is the climb to the saddle between Middle and South sisters. The area holds a short necklace of glacial lakes and challenging access through snow and ice. Great accommodations when you need to chill that cocktail at 7,500 feet. Trails up to the saddle are well defined but not maintained or officially marked, making getting lost or disoriented par for the course. The weather in August quickly goes from blazing in the lava beds to long sleeves at altitude. One night I had every bit of clothing on inside my sleeping bag to stay warm.
Lower elevations produce brilliant meadows of lupine and paintbrush this time of year. Water sources are limited, but two "springs" provide gourmet liquid bubbling out of volcanic rock.
This is a moderately strenuous 48-mile walk without the difficult detour to the saddle. The east-side Green Lakes trail has a restricted burn area and is less populated, while the west side PCT portion tends to be busy. Don't let the 5,000-foot elevation gain/loss scare you off. Every step is like walking through geologic time.