Broken Top, Oregon


A long 'tour' and an exciting ridge climb, Broken Top offers incredible views of the Three Sisters.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

I went to grade school in Sisters, Oregon, where we could see the Three Sisters out the living room window. Since that time, I had wanted to climb all the local peaks. Although I have since climbed most of them (and most of them several times), I had not climbed Broken Top. So this one was special for me. The story:

It wasn't going to be a very cold night, so we planned on getting up at 3:30 and rolling by 4. From Brian's house in Redmond, it's about 20 miles to Sisters and then another 18 to the trailhead at Three Creeks Lake. But the sun gets up early around here, so we had plenty of light as we got near the lake.

The road was open until a few hundred yards short of the trailhead, where we found a half dozen cars parked. Snow as like an anvil. Awesome.


And we were on our feet right at 5:15.

We easily found the trailhead sign and followed some day-old ski tracks for a bit. Then we lost the trail and it got steeper. So we just slapped on the 'poons and followed our noses cross-country for a while. When we popped out on top of the rim, we were on the ski tracks again for easy navigation.

That's Three Creeks Lake below us, with the North Sister in the background.





As advertized, Tam McArthur rim provides wonderful views of the Three Sisters and surrounding terrain.

Three Sisters

As we climbed past Broken Hand, we found ourselves staring over the edge of a huge cornice drop blocking the start of the descent to the Bend Glacier. So we did a bit of backtracking until we again found ski tracks.

That's Broken Top on the left with the South Sister in the background.

View from the cornice

Once on the glacier, it was a fairly direct stroll toward the saddle of Broken Top's northwest ridge, the standard route.

Except that is where the sun lay, slowly roasting the east-facing slopes. As we got on those slopes, the snow went from firm to sloppy to deep. And then steep.

Bend glacier
It was a struggle, but we finally got to the saddle and had some real lunch. All the while, we were looking up the ridge in anticipation of the Class 4 section and the Catwalk. In snow. Note the steep slope on the left. Lower route

Most of the snow climbing wasn't really steep, but the exposure two steps away was horrendous. Someone had left recent footprints and our assessment of the exposure was confirmed when we found an arrow scribed in the snow pointing toward the abyss with the word "Steep".

Mid route
I was trying not to look over there as we progressed up the ridge.
Upper route

We had packed a rope but found that instead of making the Class 4 icy, the snow had simply buried most of it. So we only had to make a few easy moves in our crampons.

Upper route

From there, you get to dance the Catwalk. The lower portion was easy and only slightly exposed.

This is looking at the Catwalk on our descent; on the way up I was too focused for photography.

Upper route

Then we had to wade through some slush and graham crackers (the red part just behind Brian- HUGE exposure here) to gain the final few moves to the summiit.

And yes, still in crampons.


Looking down

Really amazing summit.

And yes, that is a bicycle helmet. I had flown to Portland so had a very limited amount of room for gear, and we were also mountain biking and rock climbing. I was already doing my best Imelda Marcos imitation with 5 pairs of shoes for 4 days of outing.

Really amazing view. We could clearly see Mt. Hood. And I'm not sure what that really white peak was way, way to the south. Can you see Shasta from here? Three Sisters

Then back down the ridge, except now my crampons were starting to ball.

When we got back to the saddle, all the snow was knee-deep slurpy. The lack of slide paths anywhere, on any angle, eased my concern somewhat, but I was still relieved to get down to the flats.

Instead of re-tracing our previous route, we opted to continue the adventure. The map seemed to indicate a fairly flat traverse lower down, so we went for it. It turned out to be really cool terrain, with only 6 or 700 feet of additional gain involved.


Rough map of our route.


Postscript: As it turned out, we did not go rock climbing at Smith Rock, but instead just went for the grand tour hiking. And this is how we found that white boys CAN jump.


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