The annual hut trip to Tam McArthur Rim with Three Sisters Backcountry never disappoints, and even this record breaking low snow year was no exception. Day 1 started out as you would expect, with our crew meeting up in Eugene, loading copious amounts of gear into the cars before heading up McKenzie Pass and over to Sisters on our way to Three Creeks Snowpark. This year, unlike the previous five, we were greeted to sunny skies and exactly no snow. Not to worry, Shane and Jonas had everything under control, and before long, all our stuff, including us, was loaded into the pickup for a four mile drive up the road….
Four miles of bare pavement later, we reached the waiting snowmobiles and did a quick transfer of gear from the truck to the trailers, and continued on our journey. A couple miles later, we reached the huts. A meager base of about two to two and a half feet of snow covered Three Creeks Lake and the area surrounding the huts. After unloading our gear and getting situated, we headed out for a tour. Our objective was the western side of Tam Rim, with the goal of either finding corn on the south facing slopes or possibly soft snow on the north faces.
We skinned quickly on the firm surface through the trees, eventually breaking out onto Little Three Creeks Lake. John headed over to check out the north faces of the Rim, while a few others, myself included, climbed with crampons up to the notch above the south face. After our climb, we were rewarded with an excellent view of the Three Sisters….
The ride down on the soft(ish) snow wasn’t quite to our liking, and it didn’t appear it would get warm enough on this day for good corn, so we headed over to climb the Rim proper and follow John’s bootpack. As he came down on his first fun, I knew we’d be in for some nice soft snow. Booting up the steep slope, I was surprised how soft the snow was given it hadn’t snowed in over two weeks…..
One thing about this winter — generally speaking the avalanche danger has been low, but it’s allowed for quite a bit of riding on lines that would otherwise be unstable. After reaching the top, we admired the views north to Mt Hood and Adams, and then dropped in for some sweet turns on the 45 degree slope. Dan dropped first…..
I dropped in after Dan and Joe. I stopped below the crux of the slope to snap some photos of the others, including John with his beard in full effect…..
The snow quality was really good, so Joe and Dan went back for another run. Brian, John and I decided to traverse over to the Horseshoe Bowl and check out the options. Though a portion of the bowl was slid out, we found suitable snow on the eastern side, sheltered from the sun.
Several chutes presented themselves, and we found one left of center that looked worthy. Climbing up, the slope steepened to somewhere around 45 degrees, and eventually we topped out to some excellent views. John dropped first, slipping his way through a few rocks and ice, and into the nice snow. Brian dropped next, and headed right down the gut, finding good snow the entire way down. Below, Dan and Joe joined us again and booted up our bootpack….
We made turns back down through the trees, eventually exiting at Little Three Creeks Lake with a great overall view of the Horseshoe bowl and some of the many lines…..
A quick skin on the icy snow along the flats brought us back to the huts, where cold beer awaited. Laurie and John cooked up a sweet spaghetti and salad dinner, and we settled in for the evening. A few of us sat out around the fire pit — one of the fire pits from the summer campground was exposed due to the pathetic depth of the snowpack —- and enjoyed the usual bs. Once the stars came out, I slipped away for an hour or so to shoot some night shots of the Rim and lake…
Day 2 started out early, with a breakfast of sausage and eggs. The objectives for the day were the south and east faces of Broken Hand and Broken Top, located about 4 miles from the huts. After an icy skin up through the trees and Playground area, we popped out on the flats above the Rim with good views of the mountain.
This would be our best day to catch some corn, and I could feel the temperatures climbing as we skinned south. By the time we skinned past the east facing lines on Broken Hand, the snow was just starting to soften….
As we worked our way into the amphitheater on the northeast side of Broken Top, the lines started to reveal themselves and I felt small compared to the vastness of the mountain, and was stoked to be back here in February, having last visited the north side in July.
Brian and I had our sights set on a feature I call the “Ramp,” so we separated from the rest of the group that was searching for decent snow in the north bowl above the tarn. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Ramp would be good, getting east sun all morning, so we headed up the ridge. The Ramp is a very aesthetic line that runs for several hundred feet and is bounded by a rock wall on the uphill side and a cliff on the downhill. The skiable snow near the bottom of the Ramp slopes towards the cliff, so it’s not a place one wants to fall. The pitch is steep, especially at the bottom. The below photo doesn’t do it’s beauty justice….
Below the entrance to the Ramp, the climbing gets steep, so at a safe spot we switched to crampons and ice axes, and continued up. My guess is on this trip the snow slopes directly below the Ramp were well over 50 degrees.
We followed an old boot pack which was probably a week or two old, but icy. About halfway up the slope, I elected to make my own boot pack which was much more secure. The shot below shows Brian heading up…..
We worked our way up the slope, worrying a bit that the sun was heading behind the rock wall, shading part of the ramp which we feared might cause it to firm up. A bit more climbing and I topped out, enjoying some spectacular views into the Crater Bowl to the south. As Brian worked his way up, I snapped a few shots of him climbing the final pitch, looking out over Broken Hand and north to Tam Rim….
For a moment, I was tempted to drop into the Crater Bowl on the south side, as the slopes were looking prime, but the Ramp awaited, so we just enjoyed the views out to Mt Bachelor and beyond…
After a few minutes to rest taxed muscles and the views from our perch, we strapped in for one of the better lines of the trip. I dropped first, and enjoyed the nice sweet turns in the sun. Unbeknownst to me, Andy was down lower on the ridge above the tarn with his camera and caught a few shots of me dropping in, including the one below. It’s hard to see, but if you look closely above the crack in the cliff you can see a small dot on the shadow/sun line…..
Halfway down the slope, I stopped and waited for Brian to drop, and snapped pics as he rode by me, ice axe in hand while enjoying the nice turns. We swapped the camera at the bottom of the ramp, and he took a few shots of me as well. A couple pics below….
Once through the steep section, we ripped the corn snow on the east facing slopes all the way down towards the flats below, and then traversed over towards Broken Hand to break for a much needed lunch and beer. Then, a short hike brought us to the others at Broken Hand….
A quick traverse up and around the south face of Broken Hand brought us to the east face, which had been getting sun all day and was in prime condition. Before strapping in for turns, I snapped a pic looking back at Broken Top with the South Sister peeking out in the sun. Then, it was time to rip corn…..
After our run on Broken Hand, we were able to snowboard all the way back to the Rim (except for one section of about 300 feet we walked) since the snow was starting to ice back up on the flats. Cross country snowboarding the 3+ miles back to the Rim beat was pretty quick and beat the hell out of skinning! Below is a shot looking back at our work from the day on Broken Top and Broken Hand….
Once back at the Rim, we had bonus run in soft snow in the Playground, and enjoyed nice turns in the bowl. Then, it was a dicey run down through the trees and back to the huts, where well earned cold beer was waiting. Dinner was pretty sweet, with a combination of salmon fillets, pesto pasta, home cooked chili and fresh salad. I ate until I was full, then ate some more. Like the night before, Todd built a fire and we enjoyed a bit of bs around the flames, and the conversation continued inside the huts as well. As the hour got later, we eventually his the sack in preparation for another great day in the morning.
The third morning of the trip started like the previous one, albeit a bit colder. Today’s objective was the west side of Tam Rim, with the possibility of riding some terrain in Snow Creek if the weather allowed. After a quick skin cross the lake, we climbed up to the base of the Rim and as snow conditions were a bit firm, changed over to crampons.
We climbed up the steep line we’d ridden earlier, which still held soft snow. Once at the top, several of us headed across the Rim to catch the views looking into Snow Creek, which were excellent…..
After soaking in the views and eating lunch, John, Mark and I decided we needed to drop into Snow Creek even though we didn’t know how the snow conditions would be. Dan, Joe and Brian opted to head back to the Rim and ski some nice lines in the snow we knew was good. A quick skin brought us to a suitable place to drop in, and John headed down first……
Turns out the snow was pretty nice, and we ended up skiing around a thousand vertical in the drainage. The terrain was really nice, with some steep sections off the top, then lots of flowy features down lower, including wind lips and roll overs. One section of about 300 feet was still preserved powder.
Once we’d skied down as far as we’d liked, we made the change over and started the skin back out. Mark skinned the whole way, while John and I booted the steeper section at the top.
Back at the top, we decided the snow was too good not to head back for a second lap. This time, we found a different spot to drop in through a nice steep chute. Before we headed down, I snapped a few photos of the North and Middle Sisters with my telephoto lens…
Mark captured a few photos of me riding the wind sifted soft snow on lap number two, including the one below….
Like before, we continued to work our way down the drainage, milking the fun features and soft snow for another thousand feet. Given that it hadn’t snowed in over two weeks, I was more than pleased with the snow conditions. On the skin out, I caught the below pano shot and Mark snapped a few photos of me as well…..
Back at the top, we skinned over to Tam Rim and prepared to drop in the steep line we’d climbed earlier in the morning. I noticed Brian, Joe and Dan climbing up in the next bowl over, and decided to wait up top to snap a few telephoto shots of them in action Mark and John headed down, and left me to enjoy the solitude atop the Rim in the waning light. 20 minutes later, I could see the guys getting ready to drop, so I raised my camera and fired off several shots…..
Dan and Joe dropped first, and Brian came last. I snapped several pictures of all of them, including one of Brian dropping a nice cliff (which unfortunately didn’t turn out as well as I’d liked). The below shot of Brian was taken moments before he sent the cliff below him…..
I watched the guys ride the lower slopes and traverse off on their way back to the huts, leaving me alone at the top of my line. I dropped in, making some big sweeping turns in the snow. As I entered the crux, the snow had firmed from earlier in the day, so I made a few cautious jump turns and then rode several hundred feet to the bottom, milking the vertical instead of traversing. A half hour later, I was back at the huts with the rest of the crew…..
Another luxurious dinner of salmon chowder, chicken with quinoa and fresh olive bread hit the spot, and as was becoming a trend I ate way too much, but it felt damn good to replenish the calories after a long day of touring. The usual bs followed, and included politics, booze and you name it. The wood stove kept us warm all night long, and I thought to myself I could really fall in love with this routine. We hit the sack hoping for a bit of fresh snow (a few inches were forecast), knowing the next day would be our final one for this year.
The fourth morning dawned clear, and instead of fresh snow we were greeted with blue skies. Not to worry, we decided to check out the snow in the Prow bowl located a bit closer to the huts, as our departure time was mid-day. Like the day before, we toured across the lake in beautiful conditions….
Once across the lake, we continued up through the trees, flirting with views here and there of the Rim and the Prow…
Before long, we were standing at the base of the bowl looking up at our objective. A bit later, after a short skin followed by a boot pack, we were hanging out a the base of the Prow enjoying the views out towards Bend, Smith Rock and beyond. Dan was ancy, and dropped in for a few nice turns. I came down next….
We headed back up for another lap, and this time I made a mistake that was almost costly. Standing at the top of the slope about to drop in, I bent over and forgot my camera case was open. My camera plopped out and started rolling/bouncing down the slope end over end. Not too big a deal except the whole contraption is worth a couple K. I thought it would stop, but it didn’t, so I bee lined it straight down the slope a hundred feet, swept in with a big toe side turn and caught it on the bounce. Luckily it was undamaged.! Below are a couple of shots taken with it after the episode, including one of Mike who was skiing Dan’s skis since his Dynashit binding broke on him a couple days earlier…
Once we were done with our second lap, we slid back to the huts, just in time to down a beer before Shane and Jonas pulled in with the next crew. The transition to load gear on the snowmo’s was quick, and within minutes we were riding mush on the back of the trailers saying goodbye to the Rim for another year. All in all, given how dismal this winter’s been in the PNW, I have to say, Tam Rim didn’t disappoint. Here’s a parting shot from the trip……I’m already looking forward to next year!