Broken Top

September 22, 2007.

Northwest Ridge route | 12 miles ? | 3,700′ ele. gain | 9 hours

Located just east of the Three Sisters in Central Oregon, Broken Top is a 9,000 glaciated peak that looks just like it sounds. It is a striking shape on the horizon, but due to a small amount of sketchy scrambling on the top it has remained off my radar since I’d moved here. At last, I was up to the challenging of tackling this peak with Brad to keep an eye on me.
After a lazy morning that included enjoying the comforts of a down sleeping bag and warming up some delicious oatmeal, we decided to hit the Green Lakes trail at the belated hour of 10am. It was crisp, cool, and sunny–a perfect day for climbing.

The approach is one of the loveliest I’ve ever seen. Elevation gain is minimal on the first 4.5 miles or so of hiking. The trail bobs up and down through the woods, along a cascading, blue runoff stream. Eventually, piles of obsidian and pumice rise from behind the stream and South Sister emerges from the distance. The trail reaches a wide, flat junction at the lakes, where we paused to snack and savor the spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. We’d been carefully watched over by South Sister through much of our trek and now she was joined by Middle, whose bumpy top peered over the lake. We continued along the trail just a short while longer, then veered right into the sparse woods up a steep section of earth that led us out onto a gray, open plain.

Here, the sun’s rays felt warmer and warmer as we slogged across the ashy flats. The finer points of Broken Top’s broken top became more and more apparent. A climber’s trail cut left across the dusty scree so we followed that to ease the breathtaking ascent. Altitude’s effect on the flora was easy to see; short, tangled evergreens struggled to survive. Tiny succulents clung hopefully to the transient soil beneath them. The volcanic landscapes of the Cascades never cease to amaze; each region has its own unique, tumultuous past that is artfully displayed for the curious walker to observe.

Soon we ascended to the saddle of the northwest ridge. As we stopped for one last break the wind pelted us from the other side of the rock pile. Now we were able to see as far north as Mt. Adams, with all the major peaks sticking up in between: the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Washington, Jefferson and Hood. The ridge involved some mellow walking and scrambling. We put our helmets on here, mostly due to the prevalence of loose rock. In no time at all, we reached the base of the summit block. We had some options: climb up the Nose, a fairly solid 5.1-ish route straight up ahead or traverse around to the right, choosing a route up a crumbly rock band and follow a ramp to the top. The Nose route was far more exposed so we decided to go for the scramble. It took just a little looking around to find a decent spot and then just a short amount of walking brought us to the very top.

This would be our first summit together…with the exception of Powell Butte :)…and what a day for it! We sat up top for thirty minutes or so, eating delicious summit cookies, taking pictures, and basking in the sun.

Coming off the summit proved to be slightly more difficult than going up. The short, vertical scramble that was describable as sketchy was now describable as terrifying. With the calm, reassuring assistance of Brad I managed to down climb back to the traverse. That took a long 15 minutes, at least. Way too long.

To make up time, we made a beeline for the scree slope. This, we estimated, was a 1500 vertical foot ramp of cooperative scree. Lovely! We bombed down the slope, sending clouds of dust, Pigpen style, billowing behind us. Back on the flatlands, we wandered back in the direction of the lake, taking a different route. The landscape was so open and easy to navigate; it was almost effortless to plot a return to the lake. From there, it would be a cakewalk back out to the parking lot.Brad jumped in the lake and I sat on the edge eating cookies and looking for baby frogs. Not a soul was in sight. We relaxed there for a short time before packing up for the final haul.

As the daylight and my hurt legs slowly began to fade, we followed the trail as it gracefully led us back through the beautiful forest. We stopped to admire the eerie colors of Broken Top’s summit standing above the dark evergreens, to listen to the rushing water careen over the rocky streambed, and to chat with the few backpackers heading up the trail this late in the evening. We made it out to the car just before nightfall; it had been a wonderful day.

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