Camp Lake/Chambers Lake Hike, Central Oregon
Labor day weekend hiking trip to Camp Lake, located between the Middle and South Sisters in Central Oregon.
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 05 September 2005


We decided to go hiking in Central Oregon over Labor Day Weekend. Aimee tried to rally the troops and make a group outing out of it, but everybody had other plans already. Except for Zack, who happened to be planning a trip in the area, but more on him later.

We had a leisurely start on Saturday morning, including a stop at REI to pick up some fuel for my new stove. REI was having a huge Labor Day sale, so we stayed for a while and picked up a bunch of stuff at 50 percent off. Woo hoo! Aimee talked me out of buying a Metolius crash pad that was only $50 -- I'm still second guessing that decision :-)

The drive down to Sisters was uneventful, putting us at the Pole Creek Trailhead around 5pm. Realizing that we had quite a few miles to go in order to reach camp, we lit a fire under our sneakers and made a pretty brisk pace. It was nice, cool hiking weather, with clear skies and hardly anybody else out on the trail.

We made good time to the second creek and decided to make the final push for Camp Lake, even though the purple hue of the sky portended the quick arrival of nightfall. The hike to Camp Lake was a lot farther than we thought and we were quickly walking in darkness, but navigating by the starlight wasn't too bad while we were on the trail.

Once we got to Camp Lake, the trail became more treacherous and I stopped to put on my headlamp only to discover that my batteries were almost dead! Needless to say, this made finding a suitable campsite considerably more difficult, especially as the darkness, wind, and cold seeped in from all around.

After some ambling about, we finally settled in on a nice, flat place up above the lake. In order to get some modest protection from the wind, we backed the door of the TarpTent up against a tree, which would later turn out to have unintended consequences. We were both really cold at this point and put every single piece of clothing we had on and ate PB&J sandwiches in our sleeping bags rather than cook hot food as we had planned.

Camp sleep is never truly restful for me, but that night was exacerbated by Aimee's constant waking up and grousing that something was in the tent with us. I groggily brushed off her concerns as paranoia until the third or fourth time, when she turned on her headlamp and discovered that something had chewed a hole through the mesh door of the tent! We thought our food bag, stowed between our heads, was safe, but upon closer inspection, discovered several rodent sized bite marks out of the food in the bag! The next day, the probable culprit was exposed when I saw a portly chipmunk scurrying around in the tree.

I never quite recovered after that, and when the intense rays of the morning sun collecting under the tent eventually forced me up and out, I stumbled around groggily for a while, until I eventually grabbed my sole piece of entertainment (a four-year-old New Yorker magazine), sat on a rock, and read for about an hour until Aimee got up too.

We lolled around camp site for a couple of hours, eating breakfast, talking to through hikers, taking in the views and the sunshine. This camping trip was the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, that we really didn't have an aggressive schedule, so the extra time felt luxurious.

After breakfast, we went on a brief side trip up to the Chambers Lakes. There was no real path, so we just headed across the rocky terrain in the direction indicated on the map. The hike was fun (although I oscillated between too cold when the wind blew and too hot when I cooked in the direct sun) and the lakes were an interesting blue color but otherwise unremarkable. We hung out a bit at the lakes, pondering the summit of South Sister and wondering if Zack were up there at that exact moment (if you are prompted for a password, e-mail Zack).

On the way up the rocky scree, I felt the call of nature... urgently! It was less than ideal conditions up there, both in terms of privacy and loose soil for a cat hole, so I drew upon my mountaineering training from Mazamas and Freedom of the Hills and experimented with the smear method for the first time in my life. It was pretty disgusting and took a long time, but it worked. And even though I know that this is an accepted method of low-impact backcountry sanitation, and even though I diligently spread out my poop into the thinnest possible veneer over the rocks... it still felt kind of wrong.

Before the trip, Zack had indicated that he was going to climb all three Sisters back-to-back. He was going to head down a day before us and try and rendezvous at Camp Lake on day two. Unfortunately, we didn't sync up on our plans before we left, although I did leave several messages on his voicemail telling him our itinerary and camping location. As we found out after the trip, Zack ended up departing the Pole Creek trail head several hours after us and had successfully soloed the North and South Sisters, but then was unable to continue, primarily because he didn't bring a headlamp and it got dark, and probably because he was running short on time as well. Zack has a full account of his adventure on his web site (e-mail him at [email protected] if you need the password).

We returned from the Chambers Lakes and enjoyed mac and cheese for lunch and then took a brief nap to try and recover some of the lost sleep from the night before. Aimee was more successful than I, and I ended up sitting on the rock again reading the New Yorker. Aimee got up around 3:30pm, at which point we decided to start hiking out. Being unfamiliar with this more leisurely style of camping, we had not come prepared with things to do and were feeling bored. Also, the sky was collecting clouds and the wind was picking up even more than the previous night, so we figured descending would be a good idea.

At first, we were just going to hike to one of the main trail cutoffs and possibly camp down there, but we made such good time that we decided to make the push for the car before sunset. We were within 30 minutes of the trailhead when I noticed that I had lost my $35 sun hat. Hoping that it wasn't too far back, we stashed our packs in the bushes and started backtracking at full speed to find the missing hat. As luck would have it, some friendly hiking citizen had found the hat and put it in a visible place on the trail and we safely recovered it with only a 2-mile total side trip.

Back at the car, it felt good to wash the dust off our feet and change into civilian clothes. Aimee was up for driving home right away, even though it meant we got home quite late at 11pm. I'm glad she did, because it did feel good to get a shower and spend the night in bed at home.


Wore sneakers, which were comfortable, but didn't provide any protection against the dusty trail. Will add gaiters next time, and maybe some moisturizer and/or handy wipes for the feet.

First time sleeping on my new tubby thermarest (luxury edition, 2" thick) -- great sleep, well worth the extra weight!

Also tried my new Pocket Rocket stove for the first time, I am never going back to the MSR white gas stoves again. The iso-butane stoves light quick, burn hot, weigh much less, and are just plain easier and cleaner than white gas stoves. What's not to love?!

Only complete gear failure was my LED headlamp (my fault for not checking the batteries, which hadn't been changed since I bought it over 2 years ago). I plan on packing extra batteries now in my hiking "essentials" bag.

It was also much colder than we had planned for. I plan on taking my down jacket next time so I can be toasty warm at camp.

Some nice to have items would have been a light day pack (like a GoLite), more reading literature, and perhaps even a small kite to fly in the windy conditions. Some strong tea and/or coffee for jump starting after a restless night would also be good.

Definitely to sew some sort of critter-proof bag to keep out chipmunks and other rodents. A loquacious fellow we ran into recommended an Ursack, which does indeed seem awesome, but it is a bit expensive and appears to be unavailable due to backorder right now.

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