Home Pacific Crest Trail PCT: Mackenzie Pass

PCT: Mackenzie Pass

by Lisa

Day 12
Lava Camp Lake to Minnie Scott Springs – 6.8 miles

I had walked over 150 miles of Oregon by my twelfth day on the PCT and I was headed for one of the most beautiful sections of the state – the Three Sisters.

I enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Big Lake Youth Camp and finished packing up my bag with my resupply. I was giving up a planned day off at the camp to jump a little bit ahead and hike with my friend, Erin. I can’t lie, I had a nudge of regret as we drove away but I was definitely excited to enjoy some company over the next few days.

The barren lava field landscape

It was a 40-minute drive to reach the PCT trailhead about eleven miles south of Big Lake Youth Camp. The section I was skipping was a pretty unappealing (though fascinating) and incredibly exposed walk through burnt forest and over miles of dark lava rock without any available water. I felt better about skipping ahead when I got a good look north from a lookout tower near the trailhead. It was a stark landscape.

Turning south, I had a fantastic preview of the mountains I’d be hiking past – the North, Middle, and South Sisters.

Two of the three Sisters peaks with lots of lava rock between
Entering Three Sisters Wilderness

We were out on trail a little after noon, with a plan to hike about eight miles. The landscape was incredibly different from what I’d been hiking through the day before. There was so much dark lava rock around and the trees were much smaller, clinging to life among the rocks. Many of them were burnt.

Halfway through our miles we reached a beautiful little lake. Erin and I agreed that we both needed a break from the hot sun. We waded barefoot into the cool water then found some shade to relax in. We had a great chat with some local hikers and ended up staying at the lakeside for a couple hours. It was hard to pull ourselves away but we knew we had to put in the miles, which included some more elevation gain.

Erin enjoying a relaxing float in a lake
Snow, lava, and distant peaks.

Not long after we got moving we came to some great viewpoints and surprisingly a bit more late-season snow! Oregon had really gotten slammed that winter and the tales from the trail were that there had been two or three feet of snow in the area up until only a week or so before I was there.

We hiked another couple of miles, gaining about 600 more feet before we decided to call it quits. It was already getting on towards evening and we were both feeling a bit worn down.

The Three Sisters in full glory

I was feeling worn out from the hot sun and the elevation gains. I also realised that I was still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the constant social contact of the past couple days. Even at home I spend a lot of time by myself and was craving a bit more quiet. Erin hadn’t had much of an opportunity to acclimatize to the 6,600 foot elevation, or to a heavier pack on her back.

Thankfully we found a lovely campsite not far from a fresh, cold and lovely spring. It didn’t take us too long to set up camp and eat some dinner. We’d set up our tents close to each other so when all our chores were done we could tuck into our warm sleeping bags and keep chatting.

It had been a busy and slightly overwhelming couple of days. I was looking forward to the next day which would be a full day of backcountry hiking, working our way south past the Three Sisters.

Sunset at our camp

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.