From Backpacking to Car Camping

Lesson learned:  Even if backpacking is what you have planned, make sure your car is equipped with plenty of car camping essentials—you never know when your plans might change.

With our bags packed, food prepped, and carpooling organized, our group of six set out for a Labor Day weekend of backpacking and peak bagging. After opting out of an Olympic National Park or Mount Rainier National Park trip due to approaching rain clouds, we settled for our third option: a long weekend in the the Three Sisters Wilderness in Central Oregon. We were psyched to tackle a 21-ish mile loop that would take us up Pole Creek Trail to Camp Lake for an overnight, to the summit of Middle Sister, back to Camp Lake and finally down an alternative trail back down to Pole Creek.

We started on the trail Saturday morning, eager to get to Camp Lake and spend a weekend in the woods. The first few miles of the trail were right in the middle of a good-sized burn from a 2012 wildfire that wiped out a significant section of the Three Sisters, leaving behind a healthy layer of ash and acres upon acres of charred trees. New growth had sprung up since, providing a very cool contrast against the blackened, burnt scene.

After about four miles the rain and wind started. We hid under tree cover for a good 30 minutes before making the collective decision to turn around and drive towards sun. We likely would have persevered if it weren’t for the retreating hikers warning us of 40 mph winds at Camp Lake. The goal to tick off Middle Sister, the fifth highest peak in Oregon, was unfortunately unattainable due to weather.

Over some McDonalds’ french fries and weather research in Sisters, Oregon, we decided to drive south to Crater Lake National Park, where both sun and stunning views were promised. Our three days of backpacking quickly morphed into three days of luxurious car camping.

Crater Lake’s beauty, geology and mystery exceeded everyone’s expectations. We spent a full day exploring the park like true tourists, and although we didn’t get to climb 10,000 feet, we did manage to find the tallest viewpoint in the park at 8,929 ft: Mount Scott.