Climbing up towards the Southwest Ridge of Broken Top in May 2004, following a winter of poor snowfall in the Oregon cascades……
My buddy Andrew was back in town visiting from Idaho and we decided to head out towards Broken Top to see what conditions were like even though the winter’s snowpack had been pretty dismal. It was raining when we left the valley, but as soon as we reached Santiam Pass things started improving. Mt Washington was visible to the south, as were the Middle and North Sisters. We made a quick pit stop in Bend for some breakfast around 7:00am, and were able to drive to the Todd Lake Trailhead without crossing snow. It was pretty amazing to see such a poor snowpack, given that the Cascades Lakes Highway usually isn’t even open until Memorial weekend. We quickly loaded our packs and set out along the trail heading north towards Broken Top. The first 30 minutes or so of trail hiking were snow free, but before long we reached the snow. The day was quiet and it was good to be back out in the mountains again.
Soon we were hiking along the large flat with the mountain in full view. This part of the climb always goes by pretty slow, and it can get quite hot. The snow heading up the lower pitch of the SW ridge wasn’t too bad, but hadn’t frozen overnight and was a bit mushy. Eventually, we gained the saddle around 8100 feet and stopped for a rest and to admire the views of the Three Sisters to the west and north.
From one angle, there was a cool opportunity to “grab” the Middle Sister, so we fooled around a bit and Andrew snapped the below shot of me with the Middle in my hand…..
We continued hiking, briefly down from the point and into the saddle, then back up the SW ridge towards the main point below the SW Ridge summit. The weather started to build between us and Mt. Bachelor and at one point there was significant thunder. We toyed with heading down, but waited for a bit and things improved. Up higher, the wind picked up some and made things a little more pleasant.
We reached what we thought was the high point, only to see that the real summit of the SW ridge was beyond where we were standing and further north. At this point, we were pretty tired but nevertheless continued onward, finally arriving on the summit, which was just big enough for both of us. The drop off the east into the Crater Bowl was pretty gnarly, so paying close attention was necessary. The views were spectacular – we could see Diamond Peak, the Sisters, Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, and Mt Adams. Sitting high up on Broken Top definitely gives a unique view of the Oregon Cascades.
After hanging out on the summit for a half hour or so, we started down. Since we foolishly left our snow riding gear at home (for some reason we thought we’d just go for a hike), we were forced to downclimb. Not to worry though, we were able to enjoy the great views all the way down the mountain, and do a little glissading as well.
Needless to say, by the time we got down to the saddle at 8100 feet, both of us were getting a little tired. However, it was still a beautiful day and great to be out. To the west, we could see the clouds rolling in and covering the west side of the Sisters.
Finally, we were down off the mountain and slogging out across the flats below. After another hour, we reached the car in one piece and loaded up the gear, drove across the street and set up camp for the night in the horse camp with nobody around. We cracked open a couple of Cinder Cone’s from Deschutes Brewing Co, and drank them with a very nice full view of the actual Cinder Cone a few miles away. Sleep came easy that night, and the next morning we stopped at Mt. Bachelor before heading home. We talked to the only person we saw in the parking lot, who worked for the mountain. He said he couldn’t remember such an early closing and remarked about the poor snowpack. Even though we had a great trip, I had to agree that the snow was pretty thin this year. But, no matter the year, it always pays to get out and enjoy the snow when you can!