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home : health : health May 27, 2016

3/22/2013 10:17:00 AM
Snowshoeing in the Pole Creek Burn
Spectacular mountain views can be seen from Jeff View Shelter inside the Pole Creek Burn, south of Sisters. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
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Spectacular mountain views can be seen from Jeff View Shelter inside the Pole Creek Burn, south of Sisters. photo by Craig Eisenbeis

By Craig Eisenbeis

After a recent higher-elevation snowfall, a friend and I decided to see how some of the forest south of town had fared during last summer's Pole Creek Fire. The first question we had to deal with was whether to travel the backcountry on skis or snowshoes.

After hearing about a steep hill and reported icy, rutted conditions out of the Upper Three Creek Sno-Park, we opted for snowshoes. Although the trip went just fine on snowshoes, most of the time I regretted that choice. I say "most of the time" because of a steep pitch leading south from the parking lot. Here, the track up into the burn is steep, somewhat winding, and fairly narrow, with lots of big, imposing trees if one happens to stray from the trail. So, the snowshoes made a lot of sense to me in that area.

Most of the track, however, is more open and quite gently sloped, with few sharp corners - terrain which left me longing for my backcountry skis. As it turned out, the snow was wet and heavy and clung to the snowshoes, making for slow going - at least for me. I used the big, clunky snowshoes, while my friend wore much smaller ones that were just large enough to prevent post-holing.

As a result, I was pretty tired when we reached the Jeff View Shelter nearly two hours later, while my friend was bounding around like an impatient puppy wanting more. The distance is only a little over two miles, so I was setting a pretty slow pace.

Most of the large trees near the Sno-Park appear to have survived the fire just fine and will probably benefit from what appears to be little more than an underburn. In fact, much of the area near the Three Creek Lake Road was intentionally underburned as part of the firefighting effort to remove fuels and to successfully reinforce the paved road as the firefighting boundary.

Farther along, however, we saw denser stands of smaller trees that had been entirely decimated by the fire. Still other areas showed a mosaic fire pattern that killed some trees but left others still alive. Many of these trees still have needles but most were singed brown. In many cases we were unable to tell if enough of the treetop had survived to permit the tree to bud out in the spring and survive. Time will tell, I guess.

We saw another pair of snowshoers, with whom we shared a lunch break inside the shelter, and two single Nordic skiers. We did our best to maintain trail etiquette by keeping a separate track for skiers. On our way out, however, I noticed that the skiers tended to prefer following in our snowshoe tracks, especially since my gigantic snowshoes had excavated such a nice trench in the deep snow.

The Jeff View Shelter, itself, escaped the Pole Creek conflagration that swallowed up so much of the countryside along the route. The fire came quite close but spared trees in the immediate vicinity. The shelter is three-sided, with the open end facing north. There is a central wood-burning stove, and the shelter was stocked with a modest supply of firewood.

Although the shelter is named "Jeff View," and Mt. Jefferson can be seen from here, the views of the North and Middle Sisters are much more imposing and very impressive.

For the more adventurous, there are many more miles of winter trails here, some of which are shared with snowmobiles. Nearby Warren's Loop and Nancy's Loop provide alternatives along the way; Warren's Loop is considered more difficult. The Snow Creek Loop is a very challenging - and much longer - route. Even Three Creek Lake can be reached farther into the trail system and provides a more distant goal for those seeking an even greater challenge.

Rested and refueled from our lunch break, the trip out was a lot easier. For one thing, it was all downhill! There was also the fact that my big snowshoes had done a darn good job of breaking trail; so the going was much easier, and the snow didn't build up on my snowshoes nearly as much.

In addition to great scenic views from the shelter, there are sweeping mountain panoramas all along the route. On the outbound trek, I also found myself taking more time to study the effects of the fire's behavior.

As we returned and reached the hill leading down to the parking area, I began to look around for alternate ski routes - should I choose skis on a future visit. The idea of avoiding a harrowing, high-speed ski run down this last, narrow, steeper stretch appealed to me.

There are quite a few large trees in this area; but most of the undergrowth and lower limbs have been stripped away by the fire. As a result, alternate switchback routes looked to be quite possible and probably recommended if the established route up is rutted or icy. On snowshoes, however, it wasn't a problem.

The trailhead for this trip is located out Three Creek Road (Forest Road 16), which is also Elm Street within the Sisters city limits. Directions are quite easy, simply head south until the road is blocked by snow and the snow gate; it's a distance of about 11 miles out of town.

Some of the side roads along Three Creek Road, as well as some of the ancillary trail routes, remain closed due to incomplete fire restoration work.

Typically, the road is plowed and kept open to the Upper Three Creek Sno-Park. There is ample parking in the main Sno-Park lot and an overflow area, as well. Occasionally, immediately after a big snowfall, the road may not be plowed, in which case the Lower Three Creek Sno-Park is an alternate destination at about the nine-mile mark. Sno-Park permits are required.

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