Pass-to-Pass 2014: Day 2

On day 2 we woke up and embarked on an epic hike. To begin with we hiked down the hill a few hundred yards to a meadow with Glacier Creek running through it. This meadow is known as Sunshine. There used to be a shelter here, but it was torn down in the 70’s:


After Sunshine, we hiked up onto the Obsidian plateau. This photo is looking over the source of Glacier Creek. It flows out of the base of the cliffs on the right. Those cliffs are the source of the obsidian that this area is so famous for. They are also the source of several other springs that gather to form Obsidian Creek (we’ll get there in a minute). In the photo you can also see the North Sister (left) and the Middle Sister (right).


Native Americans used this area to gather the valuable stone and it was traded far and wide, reaching as far as the east coast of the US. Obsidian forms when lava of a specific composition cools quickly with minimum crystal growth. Pure obsidian looks like opaque black glass. It can be polished smooth enough to make a mirror, and it can be flaked to produce an edge on 3 nanometers thick, resulting is a blade much sharper than any scalpel. Naturally it was seen by the native Americans as an excellent material for arrowheads, blades, and other cutting tools. It is also quite beautiful.

This area is one of the most beautiful places in our state, and as such used to be subject to heavy use. Because the alpine meadows in this area are extremely fragile, it is now a protected and restricted area. Normally entering this area requires a limited use permit (max 50 hikers and 30 over-nighters per day) and they are all gone well in advance. But because we were hiking through on the PCT, stayed within 300 feet of the PCT at all times, and didn’t camp here, we did not require the permit. This was the reason for camping to the north of Sunshine – that put us just outside the limited use area.

Not all of the obsidian is shiny and black on the outside. Much of it has a rough exterior. But everywhere you look you can find it. Many areas look like gravel lots, but all the gravel is obsidian. This image shows a large exposed lump:


Hiking about 1,100 feet south we saw this small lake to the west. If you look closely at the right edge of the lake you can just see another hiker bent over their map (white hat with a pink-ish shirt):


As it turns out, it’s pretty difficult to get a picture of all the obsidian laying around that really shows you what it looks like. In this next picture you can more or less see the shine. All the rocks on the ground, all the rock piled against that cliff, and even the entire cliff itself is obsidian. That’s Jody up head of me on the trail to the right:


Just past that we crossed a large patch of snow that was melting and becoming a pond. In the previous picture it’s the patch of white just to the right of Jody. There was something beautiful about the melting edge. The white snow is on the surface of the water and the blue is on the bottom, with a large gap in between:


About 400′ further along the trail we started across a fragile meadow area. On our left this spring flowed from the cliff wall. There are 3 or 4 more such springs along the base of the cliff:


They all merge as they cross the meadow, forming Obsidian Creek. At the far end of the meadow in this pic the creek bends right (west) and heads for the edge of the plateau:


Here, after the turn, you can see the last few hundred yards before the edge. Jody is hiking back toward me looking for a better place to rock-hop across the creek – the plateau edge is behind him:


Obsidian Creek then tumbles over the plateau edge as Obsidian Falls. I would guess it’s about 75′ tall. The creek then heads west, but our trail winds south. This is the end of the Obsidian area:



  1. What a wonderful trip! We are all enjoying living vicariously through you and Jody’s adventure. :) Love you!

  2. Hi, thanks for the posts. My husband and I are about to embark on a 4 day trip into the 3 Sisters via Obsidian area and were interested in what you had to say and your photos. Regarding the flower: it’s Snow Buttercup, Ranunculus eschscholtzii

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