>Tam McArthur Rim and our resonance with Nature


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

~ John Muir

There is a stunning geologic formation within the Three Sisters Wilderness known as the Tam McArthur Rim. I took my daughter Lily on her first backpacking trip there this past weekend. Although Lily had some small trouble getting used to the pack (as do most kids) she was a real trooper and had loads of energy, plus she had a lot of fun. I am so proud of her hanging in there and then finding real joy in the experience. Kids, I have learned, are made for the outdoors.

The rim is a fault scarp that produces cliffs over five hundred feet high and views of the mountains and valleys that are virtually unparalleled. The whole area is mostly the creation of volcanic activity, which give it a special quality. We hiked up through the alpine forest onto the upper plateau, then on to the major viewpoint, then beyond to a fairly secluded spot for our camp. Because it is a designated wilderness no mechanical vehicles are allowed, including mountain bikes.

I don’t think there was any part of the trip that wasn’t, in some way, stunning. The views are magnificent from the rim, the alpine setting is gorgeous and so different from our valley, the air is thin and clear, and the ground is at times almost a moonscape with its volcanic history. There are unique alpine flowers and plants everywhere. The trees are twisted and gnarled from the harsh conditions.

Our hike began roughly as the trail immediately went uphill and Lily’s pack, which is brand new to her, was bothering her greatly. We slogged slowly up the path, frequently letting day hikers pass us, until we arrived at a spot overlooking Three Creeks Lake, a popular car camping destination. We decided that Lily could wear her pack without the waste belt, which isn’t as efficient, but doesn’t bother her as much. We also transfered a number of items from her pack to mine – something I anticipated doing. After seeing the view of the lake, and a better view of our destination, and then stopping in the woods to look at the lupine, we were more energized and moving better up the path. We also stopped for a lunch/snack at another viewpoint from where we called home and Lily played on a patch of snow. After that we hiked on to the major viewpoint.

The highest point on Tam McArthur Rim is 7730 feet in elevation. That’s higher than many mountains in Oregon, or the U.S. for that matter. From the car that also represents an elevation gain of 1180 feet and about 2.5 miles of hiking. This can be quite a hike for an 8 year old, but Lily was a trooper, and as long as she was having fun (read exploring or sliding on snow) she didn’t even notice the effort it took. The view is amazing, and the experience is well worth the effort it takes to gets there. Words, and even pictures, don’t capture the true nature of the place.

Our humble camp was along the rim, not far from the cliff’s edge. We could see several mountains from our camp (Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, Hood, the top of North Sister, and Broken Top). We could also see the valley floor with its lakes and rollings hills. In the clear morning we could see smoke from camp fires near the lakes below. Our plan was to sleep out under the stars, but by 6 PM the winds were picking up and it didn’t seem appropriate to be outside the tent. A couple of times I went outside to either tighten the guidelines on the tent or bring items inside so they wouldn’t blow away. By two in the morning the winds had died down. The morning was calm and clear. The sun came in through out tent door and warmed us.

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!

~ John Muir

The Three Sisters Wilderness was established by the U.S. Congress in 1964. It is part of both the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. The designated wilderness comprises 286,708 acres. Its most noticeable features are the mountains, which I have climbed years ago, but it has a lot more to see. I started visiting the place when I was a kid. My favorite location then was Sunshine and Obsidian Falls on the west side of the North Sister.

Although I am familiar with the Three Sisters Wilderness, I had never been to the Tam McArthur Rim area (that I can remember), so this was an adventure for both me and Lily. To get there one drives about 18 miles south of the town of Sisters to Three Creeks Lake. The trail head is well marked. We saw a lot of day hikers on the trail. It is a popular hike. We only saw one other couple with backpacks though. We also saw them on their way out on Sunday.

By the end of Saturday I noticed we were getting low on water. There are no lakes or streams on top of the rim, so we began rationing. I wanted to make sure we had enough water for Lily and for hot chocolate the next morning. This meant that be the time we got back to the car on Sunday I was rather dehydrated. For dinner we tried freeze dried meals, which were fair. Most of the time we ate trail mix and cliff bars. I have determined that the next trip we will camp near a stream or lake. I don’t like running out of water, or carrying a lot of water.

What I find so interesting in getting away from the comforts of home is how it changes my perspective. I learn about doing without, about how much I take for granted, about who I am and what I truly need, and I learn about the real value of things.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

~ John Muir

On Sunday the we packed up and hiked back to a viewpoint we had not seen before. There we had our hot chocolate and called home. From there we decided (Lily’s idea) to go off the beaten path and descend to the lake cross country. The going was more difficult than we anticipated. I love that she prefers to go cross country rather than follow the path. She is a real adventurer. For parts of our descent I carried Lily’s pack as well as my own because it was so steep going down the rock slides and snow. But then we got to the lake. There we found a little stream and water falls. Lily loved it and played for a while. About 15 minutes later we were back at the car. We stopped a the Snow Cap burger joint in Sisters and then drove the two hours home. Lily slept in the car.

Why is it that we seek out places like the mountains or the sea? I suppose that answer is unique to each of us. But I also suppose there is something universal in that desire. We are all wanderers of one sort or another. Some of my most vivid memories come from my youth when I camped in the mountains. I remember sleeping under the stars and waking in the middle of the night to the most glorious of star-filled skies. I remember hiking into Chambers Lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness with my parents, my cousins, aunt and uncle, and grandparents. I remember these places and experiences because they touched something deep within me.

I recently realized most of my poetry is rooted in a sense of place, and most of those places are in nature. I love vast and awesome areas. If nature is a direct expression of God, then nature is profound.

Even the most mundane aspects of nature speak to us. Some days just leaving an air-conditioned building and feeling the fresh breeze on my face reaches my soul.

Lily loves being out of doors. What a great expression, “out of doors.” What does that say? A door is a point of separation, a threshold from one world to another.

I am learning more and more that kids need nature. Lily loves nature. She comes alive in the woods or near a stream. She exclaimed many times how she loved the view from the rim. She could complain one moment about her pack and then be running for a patch of snow or stop to pick up some lichen to show her mama. I believe there is a connection between the way humans are designed and the way nature is designed. I believe that connection explains, in part, the deep resonance one can experience in the face of nature.

There is a fit, a connection, going on at some deep level between humans and the rest of God’s creation. I realize now that I’ve got to get my family outside a lot more, especially into wilderness. No amount of Discovery channel programs can replace breathing mountain air, seeing the sun rise over a valley, or cooking over a butane stove. No amount of nature books (though I do love them) can stand in for walking up a volcanic slope, picking up obsidian along a path, or seeing wind ripples on a lake far below. Nature, in all its beauty and fierceness, in all its rugged danger and sublime honesty, is a gift.

Even though we were absolutely exhausted when we arrived home, we were already thinking of our next trip. Lily said she wants to go back to the same place, but I know there are other places she will love. Maybe we’ll go to Green Lakes or Chambers Lakes (both by the South Sister), or maybe we’ll hike into the Jefferson Wilderness. What I can say is that we need to get out more than we have.

The mountains are calling and I must go.
~ John Muir

5 thoughts on “>Tam McArthur Rim and our resonance with Nature

  1. >Our first big hike with James was on the Rim, and we’ve been there many times since and camped at Three Creeks Lake. There’s a trail all the way around the lake, which might work sometime for your whole family. I love that area and haven’t been there for a while, so thanks for the pictures! I’m glad you and Lily had such a good time.

  2. >Deanna, thanks for your comments. It’s hard for me to believe that I had never been to the Rim, but I can’t remember ever being there. Most of my camping in 3 Sisters was on the west side. The good news though is that I now have new areas to explore.

  3. >Incredible how big she is already. I still remember the week she was born. Just coincidentally around the last time I hiked Three Creeks Lake and Tam McArthur Rim! Not much of that here in Amman, Jordan. How I miss Oregon! At least I can say in a few days I will be hiking HERE.

  4. >Josh, thanks for stopping by. I can’t tell you how much I would love to see Petra in person. I remember studying about it in college before it became a set for Indiana Jones. Not a lot of ancient buildings or monuments here in Oregon. I hope you hike goes well.

  5. >tucker…i so love seeing, reading about your adventure with Lily girl…how dear and blessed to have these memories with her. you are an amazing father Tucker! I’m so glad you and Lily have each other…it warms my heart.angela

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