Les Joslin & “The Wilderness Concept”

March 23, 2001

The Three Sisters Wilderness (the second largest and most visited in Oregon) served as a most fitting arena for Les Joslin to develop his thesis on the wilderness concept. The spectacular slides of the landscape that he showed must have evoked a wide spectrum of emotions amongst the potluck audience — from fond memories for the old timers, to one of awe to a couple of newcomers from the Mid-west.

Was it such a landscape that inspired the Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century B.C.) to propose that everything in the world is made from four elements — fire, water, air and earth? And, indeed, Les illustrated how the forces of volcanic, glacial and weathering action shaped this land.

The Three Sisters together with Broken Top are considered to be the most majestic mountain mange in Oregon. The elevation in this wilderness spans from 1850' at French Pete Creek to 10,358' at South Sister (the third highest peak in Oregon). The west slopes are the wet side and the east slopes relatively dry. This all obviously makes for a wide spectrum of ecological zones. It holds one of the larger remaining old growth Douglas fir forests. The South Sister is potentially still active, having last erupted a mere 2000 years ago. But not to worry: one slide showed a large group of hikers relaxing at the summit.

Les showed one slide depicting a very crowded trailhead. He once counted 150 cars! With this kind of use, the need for strict regulation and never ending maintenance is obvious. But more than just maintenance, much effort is also expended to restore these areas to their original pristine state. This latter can be difficult since there is a ban on the use of “motorized equipment and mechanical transport” — even wheelbarrows! On one job, blocks of cement and logs were carried away on mules! As is not surprising, volunteers make a very important contribution to the work force. Our own Vi Johnson came in for special mention.

Les’s book (and the talk) is not intended to serve as a guide to hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness; such is readily available elsewhere. For example, Bill Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” has 43 pages devoted to hikes in the area.

Bep Fontana

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