After a long wait through the winter, the time had finally come to head back to the Three Creeks Huts operated by Three Sisters Backcountry. Andrew had flown in from Hawaii, and we had spent the weekend riding at Willamette Pass as a warm up to our hut trip. After shopping for food and last minute gear items on Sunday, we set out early on Monday morning from Harrisburg. The forecast was for high winds and blizzard like conditions, so we elected to drive south to Springfield and take Highway 126 over to Sisters in lieu of the less frequently plowed Highway 20. Driving conditions weren’t bad on the McKenzie Highway, and we arrived in Sisters just before 8:30 am. 12 miles later, we pulled in to the Upper Three Creeks snow-park where we met Todd, who had spent the night in the lot in his tent. Shane from Three Sisters Backcountry greeted us, along with about 15 inches of fresh snow on top of the near 50 inches that had fallen in the past week and a half. After some paperwork, we had our gear loaded on the sled and were ready for the 6-mile shuttle ride into the huts. Since another group was going in with us, Andrew and Todd rode together on one sled w/Andrew driving while I rode with Shane.
The wind was blowing pretty good and it snowed hard the whole drive in. About a mile from the huts, we stopped to go over the snowpack history and potential avalanche conditions while Shane rode ahead to break the trail in a few rough spots to make it easier for the trailer to get through. The winds were howling on the lake when we arrived, but it was nice and sheltered at the huts when we pulled up. Todd, Andrew and I unloaded our gear in the snow and stowed our gear in the Owl hut. I chose the lower bunk and Todd and Andrew had the top two bunks. There were three other guys in the hut whom we would share the next two nights with, before having the hut to ourselves for the third and final night. I snapped the below photo of the hut reflecting in my goggles shortly after we arrived….
After unloading our gear, preparing our sleeping bags and organizing our food, we prepped our packs for an initial outing. Andrew elected to stay at the yurt for the initial run to give his blister from the previous day a chance to heal a bit (being on rental gear sucks!). Todd and I headed out and soon came upon the party from the Raven hut. We all skinned up through the old-growth hemlocks in the deep powder. We navigated through the trees and below a cliff band, passing through some glades before making it to the top of the hill about 1000 feet above the huts. Todd and I broke trail for the last half of the skin up, and the party from the Raven hut was gracious enough to give us first turns, though the lines down through the trees were endless. The powder was deep, fresh and light, with more falling out of the sky. It was the kind of conditions that you dream about, and all concerns from the outside world vanished with the first turn and resulting face shot.
We stopped about half way down to take a few pictures, and it was clear that this trip was going to be sweet. After several more powder turns, we arrived back at the huts. Andrew was already into the beer (we brought a case of Deschutes Red Chair and a sixer of Green Lakes). I made a turkey sandwich while Todd prepared his lunch, and we studied the map a bit to see where we’d just skied and what else looked good. After about 45 minutes, we had the skins back on and went out for another lap of deep untracked powder. Conditions this time were just as nice, and the snow continued to pile up. Andrew joined us for the third trip of the day, and we skinned up through the trees a bit west of our first two runs. More deep powder followed, and we were back at the huts about an hour before dark.
Dinner the first night consisted of boiled pasta stuffed with spinach and cheese, with a warm alfredo sauce over the top, and it was excellent. The huts are fully stocked with cooking utensils and fuel, something we weren’t aware of last year, so there would be no eating freeze-dried dinners on this trip! Our hut mates had some pretty gourmet food for dinner as well, and had brought in an Ipad with a battery that wouldn’t quit. They were watching Hot Dog the movie while we donned shorts and flip flops and prepped the fire in the sauna. With the sauna blazing, we grabbed a beer (Todd had some Vodka) and proceeded to relax sore muscles in the sauna’s heat. I grew a bit tired (and hot) after about an hour, but Todd and Andrew managed to stay in for about two hours! I ended up reading some of my Bugle Magazine on my bunk, and we all hit the sack around 9:15 pm. Meanwhile, it snowed all night, and we awoke to about 10 inches of fresh snow the next morning, on top of the 15 or so that had fallen the day before. After a breakfast of turkey, cheese, and egg on an English muffin, we shoveled out the stairs to the huts and surrounding area. Then it was time to make turns. We headed up from the huts, but stayed east of where we rode the day before. Breaking trail was difficult, but the reward on the downhill would be worth it. Near the top, the trees yielded to an open slope so we dug some pits to test the snowpack. It turned out we couldn’t really isolate a column to do an extended column test because the column would fail about 18 inches down. Having seen enough, we decided to play it safe and stick in the trees. The ride down was excellent, and conditions were similar to the day before.
Again, we rode back down to the huts, stopping within a few feet of the door. We decided on an early lunch, before Todd and I headed back out to do some more exploring. Andrew stayed behind for run number two. Todd and I headed back out towards the Playground area, staying in the trees to the east of the main bowls. We found a nice gladed run that opened up on the top half to a little bowl that looked pretty safe. Dropping in on the first run, we stayed to the rider’s right in case anything slid, having an easy exit to the trees. The bowl remained stable however, and we enjoyed excellent powder for several hundred vertical feet. We were able to make two nice long runs in the bowl and surrounding trees.
In between runs, the weather cleared for the first (and really only time) on our trip and the snow stopped for about an hour. Upon skinning back up our well placed skin track, I was able to snap the below shot of the Rim and surrounding terrain, with the North Sister peeking through the clouds over the ridge…..
After another run of deep fresh powder, we ended up back at the huts for night number two. Dinner for night two consisted of a huge chunk of Alsea River salmon caught this past fall by my dad in our favorite fishing hole, along with red beans and rice. I cooked the salmon in tin foil on the stove, with butter, lemon juice and seasoning salt for flavor. Since the piece of fish was so large, it took quite a while to cook, but it turned out excellent and both Andrew and I agreed it doesn’t get much better than riding the backcountry all day and eating fresh salmon at night! After dinner, I walked out with my camera and tripod to get a few shots of the Rim in the evening hours…..
Andrew and Todd were preparing for round number two in the sauna, while I decided to snap a few shots of the huts with an extra long exposure at night. After fiddling around a bit, I was able to snap the below photos which turned out somewhat clear since the wind wasn’t too nasty……
I had to sacrifice a bit to get shot number two, wallowing through waist deep snow with my tripod since my widest lens is only 18 mm wide, but it worked out….
Eventually I got cold and decided to join Todd and Andrew in the sauna, so I put the camera and tripod away. There’s nothing quite like going from really cold into the warm sauna in the middle of the backcountry – and the beer tastes great in the sauna (I don’t know why this is). After the sauna, there was some more relaxing in the huts where our hut mates were watching Caddyshack! A bit more reading of Bugle, then lights out ready for the next day. Wednesday dawned to more fresh snow (about 3 inches) and enough wind to fill in all the day’s previous tracks. Breakfast was and egg/sausage/cheese/onion mix wrapped into a breakfast burrito. Andrew led the charge on shoveling, making everything around the huts look nice…..
Todd and I set out breaking trail after breakfast, passing up through the old-growth hemlocks and cliff bands that protect the upper slopes above the huts. We decided to tour towards the west again and play in the smaller bowl we made turns in the day before. It turned out to be a good decision. The wind and fresh snow had filled in all our tracks, and we made three excellent laps before heading down for lunch. Back at the huts, Andrew was working on perfecting his snow sculpture, which he had started the day before. This would turn out to be the first of many sculptures on the trip for him….
When we arrived back at the hut for lunch, Shane joined us for a chat before heading out for an afternoon of backcountry skiing. I do believe he’s got the life! After lunch, all three of us headed out to the small bowl for another lap before venturing out to the Playground to test out the bigger slopes. On the skin up, I fooled around with my camera a bit and snapped several photos of Todd and Andrew skinning ahead of me, but out of focus with a wide open aperture….
When we reached the top of the skin track, our tracks were beginning to fill in and there was still ample room to make turns, which we promptly did.
After tracking up the smaller bowl, we toured out towards the playground, with the hopes of cutting a cornice to see if we could get something to slide. As luck would have it, we ran into Shane and three other skiers who had already cut a cornice a few minutes ahead of us. They managed to get the entire slope to slide, with a fracture at the crown face about two to three feet deep. The avalanche ran the entire distance of the slope, depositing several feet of snow in the debris pile at its runout. It would have easily been a killer to an unsuspecting skier or rider if they would have triggered it. After that, all of us moved down the ridge to a spot with a bit mellower pitch and cut another cornice with the rope. This time, we could not trigger anything, so one by one we dropped in and skied the slope, checking out the avy and resulting debris pile along the way. The ride down the steep slope yielded face shot after face shot. Andrew, Todd and I decided against another run, and headed down to the huts. Andrew and I skinned out on the lake where Andrew tried to launch his kite he’d brought with him from Hawaii. The wind didn’t cooperate for him, but I came away with a few shots of the creek entering the frozen snow covered lake….
Before long, it started to snow again, and Todd and I decided one last run was in order. We attached the skins to our boards, and headed off to the east of the huts, gaining the ridge above the lake in about 30 minutes. The snow continued to fall and within a few more minutes we were making our sixth run of the day, through the steep tree shots open glades, eventually weaving our way back to the huts. That night, we ate cheesy mac for dinner and took it relatively easy, having the hut to ourselves. Lots of beer was consumed, with this being our last night….
Andrew worked some more on his master carvings (which was the big snow face on top of the outhouse) while Todd played the guitar a bit in the hut and we listened to some tunes. I pulled out the camera and tripod and snapped a few photos of my board as a prop inside the hut…..
The three of us went to bed around 9:00 pm, after stoking the fire for the night, and outside it was snowing as had become the norm for this trip. We awoke the next morning to about 4 inches of fresh snow and cooler temps. After a hearty bowl of oatmeal, Todd and I set out for one more lap before we had to leave with the snowmo out. We skinned up to a point we hadn’t ridden before, through steep trees, glades and open bowls. The snow was light and I knew the ride down would be excellent. Our legs were weary and tired from the previous three days of riding powder, but we managed to make the top by 8:30 am. The ride down capped off an excellent trip. Steep light powder yielded face shots with every turn, and I couldn’t have asked for more. We snapped a few photos on our way down, and the only regret was that we didn’t make another run or stay for another day.
Back at the huts, we had just enough time to get our gear hung up and start to dry before we heard the hum of the snowmo, and it was time to pack our gear for the ride out. Shane managed to get all our gear on one sled and trailer, and soon we were buzzing back towards Upper Three Creeks parking lot. Todd rode behind Shane while Andrew and I mushed. Within 20 minutes or so, we were back to reality and unloading our gear. We bode Shane a farewell as he went back to the huts to make a few more runs and then headed to Sisters for an excellent breakfast at The Gallery. Back at work the next day, everyone agreed we need to schedule a trip again for next year asap, and we can only hope it can rival this year’s trip in terms of snow, weather and fun! I can’t wait until next year!