Category Archives: Oregon

South and Middle Sisters

Middle and North from South


The Sisters are Bend’s iconic peaks, the three highest of a field of volcanoes west of town supporting a surprising number of large, low-lying glaciers. Being on the Cascade crest, they accumulate a huge winter snowpack that lingers well into Spring. The main access road at the southern end, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, is plowed only as far as the Mount Bachelor ski area in winter, making access to South Sister, the highest peak, longer and more difficult. I had thought to do the peak as a bike-and-ski, but learned to my surprise that the road had just opened to cars the day before my planned outing. This gave me time and energy to do more skiing, continuing to Middle Sister and reascending the South on the return. The outing was about twenty miles with a bit over 11,000′ of elevation gain and loss, with every bit of the descent done sliding on skis.

First view of South Sister

I slept in the small plowed pullout by the sort-of trailhead, then got up early for a reasonable start around 6:00 AM. I had no idea how long South Sister would take, or how soon the snow would soften, so I packed plenty of food but headed out with no particular plan. Starting through the woods, I found myself on the wrong side of a creek, and had to squelch across a bit of wet moss to get back on-route. I then followed a well-established ski- and snowshoe-track toward the mountain, passing a tent down in the forest, and another on the long plateau where the peak first comes into view. It was looking much snowier than when I was here last year, and the line to the summit seemed obvious.

Upper ridge

The snow was hard and crunchy, sticking like Velcro and making it possible to skin directly up remarkably steep slopes. The skin-track looked like it had been made late the day before, so it was well-incised but icy. The final switchbacking climb to the south ridge was somewhat desperate skinning, and it probably would have been faster to take my skis off and kick steps. I met a group of four guys at the base of the final ridge who had done just that. I was still moving well, so I left them behind as I continued skinning up the ridge. I finally gave up this silly game near the top, kicking steps up the final, wind-carved slope to the summit crater. I had not brought crampons, but the snow was just crunchy enough to give me a bit of purchase in my ski boots. Falling might not have been a great idea, so I didn’t do that.

Broken Top, Bachelor, and a fire

From the summit I could see a wide panorama of volcanoes, with Jefferson and the other Sisters to the north, Broken Top and Bachelor nearby to the east and south, Diamond and possibly McLaughlin farther away, and a number of lesser ones like Washington. It had taken me something like 3-1/2 hours to skin up, and the snow was still obviously too hard for fun skiing, so I decided to continue to Middle Sister, whose south face looked like a good ski. I knew nothing about how to get down the north side of South Sister, but figured that it was a volcano, so how hard could it be?

Sketchy descent

I transitioned and tipped off the north side, making slow, chattering turns on the icy snow until I reached some rock outcrops. The northeast side, descending to the Prouty Glacier, looked way out of my league. Poking around a bit, I spotted a line left of the north ridge that would get me back to the ridge lower down if I wanted. The problem was that the top of this line was icy and steep, with a cliff band beneath it; being on skis always adds ten degrees, but CalTopo says the slope is 45-50 degrees. I dithered a bit, then slid through a gap and carefully side-slipped toward the ridge, then down along its base. I thought of crossing to the sunny side, but decided the open slope on the northwest side looked better. I side-slipped until I had a clear line, then made some inelegant, chattering turns into the bowl, my quads complaining at the effort.

North, Jefferson, and Hood from Middle

I started having more fun as the angle eased and the snow softened lower down, traversing back east toward the highest saddle between the two peaks. The terrain between the peaks is a torn-up wasteland, with surprising pockets and steep sections, but I managed to slide to near the point of inflection before switching back to skins. Unsurprisingly Middle Sister sees much less traffic than South, but the line was clear enough that I did not miss having a track to follow. I saw another person ahead of me on my way up, and made some effort to catch him but, perhaps seeing me, he kept his lead. I later learned that he was a skimo racer with ultralight gear, which made me feel better about my failure.

I switched to booting near the top of the face, then continued that way along the ridge toward the summit. The snow was still hard and wind-sculpted, and the ridge narrow enough that I was not looking forward to the descent. I saw tracks on a proud line on the steep east face, as well as the debris of a sizable wet slide from the day before, reminding me that I am only a middling backcountry skier. I met the skimo guy on his way down, then two taciturn, bearded bros doing the Sisters traverse from the north. Like most skiers, they had skipped North Sister’s true summit, a difficult mixed scramble this time of year. The peak’s south side looked like a miserable ski in any case, so I was glad to be doing an out-and-back instead.

I watched the bros side-slip the ridge as I transitioned, then headed for home myself. I managed a few turns on the ridge, but the top was mostly an unpleasant, chattery side-slip. Lower down I found softening snow and decent turns on the crest, then headed far left to the sunniest aspect in search of softening. While I found some fun parts, I had to contend with both wind-sculpting and rounder waves probably caused by uneven melting, making it a bit like a bump run in places. I returned to where I had transitioned on the way north, stopping to put skins back on to head back up the north ridge. The other two guys slid by to the west, toward some lower saddle; they probably knew the “right” path, but I knew the ridge would go.

South, Broken Top, and Bachelor from Middle

I skinned for awhile, then put my skis back on my back for 1500 feet or so of hiking and step-kicking. My boots were already well-used when I got them, and their liners are basically just thick socks at this point, so the plastic was starting to chew my ankles and shins from all the booting. As I had hoped, I found bits of a summer trail in the exposed volcanic rubble, reassuring me that the underlying terrain was no more than class 2. I finally rejoined my outward path where I had side-slipped to the ridge, with only a bit of very easy scrambling. Above, I stayed close to the ridge, kicking steps up the steep snow and experimentally wandering to find where it was softest. I traversed left at the top to get through the short cliffs, then plodded up the final slope to the crater rim.

After a final transition, I was ready for some good skiing. There were a half-dozen or so people loitering around the rim, with more still skinning up. I dropped in through the icy fins, still finding the snow surprisingly firm; apparently the wind and low air temperatures had delayed its softening. I traverse to the sunnier ascent route left of the ridge, where I finally found good snow and was able to make looping GS turns. Traversing again back into the bowl to the right, I found more fine skiing before finally reaching the plateau. From there on it was heavy, though not sticky, slush for the long pole and skate, then the slow tree-ski to the road. Reaching the car mid-afternoon, I ate lunch and dinner rolled into one, then sat dazed in the car while my stuff dried outside. Another storm was coming in the next day, but I had driven all the way from town, so I decided to stick around and try to do something short in the morning before retreating to the rain shadow.

Smith Rock

Central Smith Rock


Smith Rock is a well-known cragging area about a half-hour northeast of Bend. Being low and east of the Cascade crest, it is warmer and much drier than areas west of town, with the best times to climb being Spring and Fall. It lies on the boundary between basalt flows presumably from the Newberry Crater and older John Day welded tuff, with the climbing being on the latter. The rock is sharp, sticky, and pocketed, with most routes being sport-bolted and single-pitch. This is not the kind of place that normally draws me, but I was nearby and in the midst a sort of crash project to improve my climbing, and Jason was local and free for the weekend. With a late start on Saturday, and a race going on, we were unable to park in park, instead stopping at an intersection outside the broad “no parking” zone and jogging a mile or so past the tricked-out Sprinters sprouting expensive cell boosters.

Scrambling Round River

The first day was for scrambling, so we hiked and jogged over to Round River on Koala Rock, at the right/east end of the park. Since it was only 5.4, I decided to head up in my trail runners. It had been awhile since I did any real scrambling, so I was slow and tentative, but this was necessary practice to get back into scrambling headspace. Jason had it worse: he is better than I am at getting free stuff, and that stuff included some Hoka-style clown shoes which he had decided to wear. As expected, they were not much good for scrambling, so he had to work a little harder. We topped out, then went around the loose, steep climbers’ trail down for another lap. I felt much more in my element this time, thoughts of slipping and bouncing no longer crossing my mind.

Instead of returning down the climbers’ trail, we continued to the top of the “peak” so I could get a point, then continued down another use trail to rejoin the main trail system. Rather than return to the trailhead, we took a gradual, switchbacked trail down the back, which was perfectly graded to open up and practice running at a 5-something pace. After circling around the back of the park to the west, we climbed back to the summit of Misery Ridge (another peak point!), then took the tourist trail down.

Passing by the bottom of Super Slab, we hesitated for a bit, then decided to scramble it. Since it was 5.6 and had “slab” in its name, we opted for rock shoes. The first pitch had little to do with slabs, climbing a ramp/corner/crack to a fat ledge. I scampered up, then watched another pair on the second/third pitch while waiting for Jason who, after awhile, decided he wasn’t feeling it and told me to go ahead. I continued across an exposed traverse, then started up the last pitch, which was indeed slabbier. The other party was unfortunately still there, the leader taking his time on his first trad lead. I tried to pass a couple of times, but the slab to the left had fewer features and more lichen, neither of which I liked. After I hung out at a couple of rests, the guy found a spot where he could pull off and let me pass. The final moves were a bit thin, but I had rock shoes and my head was back in the right place, so they didn’t give me much trouble. I had more trouble with the top-out, which descends into a gully and climbs a gritty dryfall, then traverses again to climb a weird chimney. Maybe I should have left my rock shoes on a bit longer.

I jogged back down the trail to meet Jason, then we returned to the trailhead. The final bit of trail climbs away from the river, with a paved portion that it is “traditional” to sprint. I didn’t have fast-twitch muscles in my 20s, and time has not improved that situation, so I was thoroughly trounced. After dinner we headed to Redpoint Climbers Supply, a combination coffee/gear/beer place that caters to every phase of a typical climber’s day. I am not one for late nights or hanging out, so I sat around mostly checked-out for awhile, drinking a kombucha, until it became socially acceptable to sleep.

Sunday was rope day, so after another late start, Ashley dropped us off at the trailhead with the gear before parking back where we had the day before. The sunny moderates were all full, so we kept going to the much more pleasant shady side of Asterisk Pass to do a few 5.8s. I led them, then we took turns toproping. By the end, I had a good feel for Smith’s rock: grippy and pocketed, but sharp and potentially quite painful. I would probably not enjoy crack climbing there, but I felt ready to do more scrambling or harder leading if I get a chance before I move on.

Willamette Pass Peak, Maiden

Maiden from ski area


My legs were a bit tired, and my shins a bit beaten up after eleven hours in ski boots. But the weather was good and I was in the area, so I looked around for a suitable shorter objective and found Maiden, a P2K (peak with 2000 feet of prominence) behind the Willamette Pass ski area. I drove back to the pass, found a spot off the Odell Lake Road where it seemed I would not get towed, then got ready and hiked back along the highway with skis on my shoulder to start at the closed lodge. The ski area is oddly designed, with runs on all sides of Willamette Pass Peak including the south one facing the highway. Despite there being plenty of snow in woods on most aspects, plants and rocks were showing through on these, so the ski area had closed for the season. I stepped off the highway, then skied ironically across its empty parking lot.

Diamond, Success

Not knowing the area’s runs, I skinned straight up under the lift, switchbacking up the headwall between the basalt and manzanita. The trees were again covered in rime and, looking back, I saw Diamond gleaming in the morning. While today would have been a more scenic day for my long ski, the previous day’s clouds probably kept snow conditions better given my late start. I stopped at the top of a black diamond called “Success,” wondered if its neighbors were named “Delusion” and “Insatiable Emptiness of the Soul,” then continued across the ridge to the higher, northern lift and summit.

Diamond from Maiden

Here I got my first clear view of Maiden, still almost three tree-covered miles away. I transitioned near the lift, then took my only good turns of the day down a backside run leading nearly to the saddle. I switched back to skins to follow a blue-diamond-marked cross-country ski route for awhile, took the turn toward Maiden Lake, then left the markings at a flat area to head directly up the conical peak. The slope was mostly gentle and tree-covered, but it was warm and the sun had been up for awhile, so the snow began glopping on my skins. I periodically knocked them against a tree or ski pole, and was rewarded when one pole finally broke near the summit. This is the inevitable end of repeated conflict between poles and metal edges, but these poles were less than a season old. Luckily I had paid good money for them at REI, and was headed through outdoorsy Bend, where I could warranty the shoddy things.

Bachelor and Sisters

Reaching the summit on one pole, I admired a clear view of about ten volcanoes, with the Sisters and Bachelor to the north, Paulina and Diamond to either side, and the Crater Lake area to the south. There was much snow to be enjoyed if it would only stop falling from the sky. The reward of a fast ski down was denied to me, as the fresh snow had all turned to sticky glop, even in the shady trees. Ski poles seem silly for going downhill, as you flap them at the ground and slide past in an instant, but it feels surprisingly awkward to ski without one. That, the trees, and the unpredictably sticky snow made the descent frustratingly slow.

I shuffled back through the woods, then returned up the backside of the ski area before transitioning once more to cautiously stick and slide down the front to the highway. I noticed a few more fresh tracks, but saw no other skiers, and only a couple of cars parked near the highway. Back at the car, I laid out my wet gear on the hood to begin drying, then took my time preparing food before heading into Bend. Weather and ski boot-related injuries would make skiing daily for a month unpleasant, but I had other plans.

Diamond

Peak at last!


At last it was time to go skiing again. To survey the surrounding snow-clad peaks, then huck the cornice and schralp the gnar. To be pitted in blower pow, carve sick turns on a rad line, take face-shots on fat sticks, then harvest corn like John Deere… Who am I kidding? Skiing has almost as much ridiculous dude-bro jargon as weightlifting (e.g. “yoked,” “shredded,” “swole”), perhaps because both sports generate enthusiasm and lack complexity. But I am not that kind of skier, and Diamond was definitely not that kind of peak. Skiing, in its original form, is mostly walking with hunks of wood, plastic, and metal on your feet to keep you from sinking into snow. Sometimes you hike with those hunks on your back when the snow is missing or ill-behaved. Occasionally you slide on them and try not to fall. The last part can be thrilling, but comprises less than a tenth of the overall activity.

Skis from the car!

Recent and previous plowing had left most parking along Willamette Pass blocked by snowbanks, but the sno-park just to its west was open and, it being May, no longer required a special permit. I slept there, availed myself of the outhouse, then started off toward the peak, skiing right from the parking lot. Coverage was a bit thin for the first few hundred yards, but there seemed to be several feet of snow in the woods above 5000 feet. I followed an old skin track along the PCT to Midnight Lake, then took off generally uphill where it ended.

Yoran Lake

Thanks to the dense woods and flat terrain — typical Oregon — I could see none of my surroundings. I also soon lost the trail in the snow, but fortunately did not matter, since the woods were mostly open and I could skin wherever I wanted on the gentle slope, occasionally looking at my phone to make sure I was still going in a straight line. Even when skinning across the relatively large Yoran Lake (alas, poor Yoran!), some combination of woods and clouds blocked my view of the summit.

Not skiable

After yet more woods, I finally emerged under Diamond’s northeast bowl, and my route became only slightly clearer. The peak is normally skied from the west, but that way involves much more driving, and bread is cheaper than gas. Coming from the northeast, one is faced with a long, undulating ridge leading to the summit, and a long east spur splitting that face. I skinned up the bowl, then chose a non-corniced place to reach the the ridge, where I hoped to find easy travel.

Scrambly bits

Unfortunately, what I found was a cold west wind and a mixture of scoured ground and slick rain-crust. I carefully skinned south as far as I could, then put my skis on my pack to boot up to the first bump on the ridge, a collection of choss-pinnacles covered in rime. This turned out to be a shorter version of my Shastina struggle, clomping up, down, and around what was probably class 3 rock in ski boots, kicking at highly variable snow to see what offered firm steps, and what was either impenetrable ice or unsupportive powder.

Typical views

I eventually made my way up and over, and put on my skis to skin the gentler ridge, only to find that the snow remained highly variable and wind-sculpted. Worse, the clouds had descended, so everything was gray and I had no depth perception. I tried to follow the ridge as best I could, looking for the faint black shapes of protruding rocks as indicators of solid ground, and otherwise trying to keep one ski on either side of the snow-crest. I poked ahead with my poles to find both this crest and the frequent dips across the ridge, neither of which I could really see despite uselessly bending over and squinting. Once I even slid off the left side, then spent a few minutes tossing my skis back on top and doing a “beached whale” to regain the crest.

I considered turning around, but conditions were frustrating rather than threatening, and I had my phone’s map and GPS to guide me. I thought of leaving my skis several times before finally ditching them only a hundred yards or so from the summit, from where I seemed to have a clear line down the east face. From there, I wallowed along the crest to the Peakbagger app’s red dot, turned it green, and turned around. Such is the peakbagger’s transcendent communion with Nature.

Clearing on the traverse

Even having passed only a few minutes before, I had a difficult time following my tracks back to my skis, as they were partially filled-in and invisible from more than about ten feet away. I transitioned, clicked in, and made a trial ski cut across the east face. The heavy, gloppy powder was not going anywhere, so I made my way down in slow, careful, awkward turns, unable to ski confidently without depth perception. The clouds thinned as I descended, and as soon as seemed reasonable, I started on a high traverse north, hoping to cross the east ridge high enough to return to the Yoran Lake drainage.

Tired old USFS

I made quite a bit of distance on my traverse, but not enough to reach my outgoing path without some climbing. Fortunately the terrain is all gentle, the woods open, and I had a map and GPS. I spotted another trail following Trapper Creek back to the west side of Odell Lake, and set off down a side-creek to join that, and thereby return to the pass. While it was not quite sunny, it was warm and bright enough to make the snow sticky, and my route was generally downhill, so I progressed best by shuffling along with free heels and boots in “walk mode,” but without skins. This was long and tedious, and I dared not play music lest I kill my phone battery and hence my map, but I needed to plan, so the forced lack of distractions was helpful.

Tracks within tracks…

I finally picked up the trail just above where the creek turns east, and followed it to where there used to be a bridge. A sign said that it had been washed out and that the Forest Service, in its dotage, would be unable to repair what it had once built. Past this sad sign, I continued to the train tracks, then skinned up between them for awhile, defiantly listening to podcasts rather than for approaching trains. I fortunately had no run-ins, and left the tracks just before a tunnel to cross Pengra Pass and return to my private sno-park. At twenty-some miles and over eleven hours, this was the longest thing I had done in awhile. I enjoyed the feeling of a day well-spent, but as I hung various bits of wet gear to (fail to) dry inside my car and shoveled in food, I realized that this was unsustainable for more than a few days.

Paulina

Caldera lakes


Paulina is the highpoint of the Newberry Volcano, an area southeast of bend that Wikipedia describes as “a shield-shaped stratovolcano.” What this actually means is that there is a higher-elevation wooded area east of the main Cascade Crest with one decent-sized mountain (Paulina), two large lakes in a crater to its north, and a bunch of smaller basalt cones. It has silly day-use fees during tourist season, but is free to use while gated for the winter. It looked like another good bike-n-hike candidate from the highway, with the division of activities dependent upon snowline given the road to its summit.

End of the ride

Expecting the snow to start high, I headed out with a modest amount of food in my jersey pockets and one bottle of water. I found the gate at a snow-park about ten miles in, then began to see worrying fresh snow on the road above that. The snowpack increased alarmingly quickly as I climbed: by the time I reached the entrance station, I knew I would only be able to ride on plowed roads. The turnoff to Paulina was clearly signed, but just as clearly unplowed, so I leaned my bike against a tree and set off for an unexpectedly long snow-slog.

Plod, plod…

I hiked the road to the trail, then thought I might cleverly save myself a mile by taking this more direct route. This worked until the trail traversed a steep, north-facing slope, where the snow was less compacted and I began postholing. I retreated and contoured around to follow the road which, because it sticks to the south side and is more open to sunlight, had less and firmer snow. It was still a slow slog, prompting thoughts of turning around, but I knew I would probably never return to this obscure mound, and the views kept me engaged. The trees were again covered in a thick layer of rime, and I could see the Sisters and Diamond to the west and north, covered in a fresh coat of white. I planned to ski them soon, so this was an encouraging sight.

More rime

Much slogging later I reached the summit, which had an outhouse, buried parking lot, and interpretive sign. I was disappointed that it lacked the usual Oregon cell towers and fire lookout, but the views and reception were still acceptable. The Newberry Caldera contains two lakes at similar elevations, and I was surprised to see the western one completely melted while the eastern one was still almost entirely covered in ice and snow. The endless forest, divided into green and white by a sharp snowline, was a jarring contrast to the drought and ongoing fire back in my native New Mexico. With snowpack surviving less into the historically windy Spring, and forests primed for burning by mismanagement and bark beetles, the Southern Rockies’ future looks orange and bleak.

The descent was almost as much of a slog as the climb at first, but I was able to jog lower down as the snow became thinner. It may have been sunny, but it was still cold out, and once moving quickly and off the reflective snow, I had a tolerably cold ride back to the car. I had some decisions to make, so I headed back to La Pine for internet at the library. Looking at the forecast and considering my options, I decided to backtrack a bit to Willamette Pass for some skiing in a sort-of weather window. I found bored teenagers and dog turds in the nearby park, but locked restrooms and no open spigot. Feeling like somewhat of an unwelcome invader, I grabbed a few things at the Grocery Outlet, then drove up to the pass to camp at a snow-park.

Swimming in the P-trap

I do it for the views


“Peak-ness” is like pornography: as Potter Stewart said, you know it when you see it. The Matterhorn and Rainier are clearly peaks; so are North Maroon and Mount Morrison, rising above Maroon and Convict Lakes. Impressive though it is, Castleton Tower is not. Shiprock? It’s hard to say. While a peak is intuitively a notable highpoint, trying to quantify that intuition is not easy. Elevation alone is clearly not enough: the town of Leadville lies above most of Washington State, but the North Cascades are far more peak-like than the talus mounds of the Sawatch. Other measures include isolation (distance to the nearest higher thing), prominence (rise above the connection to that thing), and combinations of those two. Then there are even more elaborate ones like Reduced Spire Measure, the integral of angle from the summit to all surrounding points.

Watching the definition of a seemingly-simple concept spiral into endless complexity is a delight to philosophers, but seems overdone for something trivial like peak-bagging. When it comes to lesser peaks in unfamiliar areas, I find prominence sufficient: it favors large solitary mountains and range highpoints. Unfortunately it has the weakness of favoring volcanoes and small ranges, i.e. Oregon and Nevada, so chasing prominence leads to what one could call the “P-trap.”

After Shastina, I found myself faced with an extended period of bad weather in the northwest, and therefore took a dive into the P-trap of northern California and southern Oregon. This area at least has trees, so it’s not as grim as Nevada, and many prominent peaks have roads leading to antennas and/or fire lookouts on their summits, making them attractive bike-and-hikes. Here are some of the summits I scaled in this brief effort to improve my “P-index.”

Black Butte

Black Butte is Shasta’s mini-me, a basalt cone next to the highway to its west. It is a nightmare of loose volcanic talus, but fortunately it had a lookout, and therefore a trail. Only the concrete foundation remains of the former, and the latter is slowly being reclaimed by the rubble, but it is still an improvement over the peak’s original state, making it a good short objective. As I ascended, I watched Shasta being swallowed by clouds, grateful that I had skied (most of) it the day before. It was cold and windy on top, so I did not stay long before hobbling and jogging back to the car.

Goosenest

Goosenest is another old volcano north of Shasta on the way to Klamath Falls. It would ordinarily be a good bike-n-hike from the pavement, but it was afternoon and raining off and on by the time I reached it, and I did not want to get my bike dirty and did not have enough daylight. I was worried about the dirt forest roads, but they were well-packed and not yet saturated, so my sorry vehicle had no trouble reaching an intersection a few miles from the summit. From there, I took the direct route, hike-jogging a road to an old quarry on the south side, then following a trail from there to the summit. The upper trail had some big snowdrifts, and it was snowing with no visibility on the summit, but it was worth just as many peak points. I jogged the descent, then continued to Klamath Falls.

Stukel

Lying well on the rain shadow side of Oregon, Stukel is another classic Oregon ride to radio towers. To make it a bit more challenging, I started from town, taking the canal bike path to a rail trail heading east of the city. The rail trail continues remarkably far out of town, but I turned south on some farm roads, then located the gravel road to the summit. This was challengingly steep at first, and I barely managed to keep my rear wheel from spinning out while toiling up in my lowest gear. Fortunately the grade eased beyond the first couple switchbacks, and I had an easier time the rest of the way to the summit. I once again had a magnificent view of clouds where Shasta and McLoughlin should have been, with clearer skies to the south and east.

Hogback

Hogback is Klamath Falls’ Atalaya, a “workout peak” with 1500-2000 feet of elevation gain and many routes leading to its summit. It was a good target for a morning of miserable weather. After looking around for awhile behind a closed and gated church, I took the wrong path for a bit before getting on the direct route to the summit, an unofficial trail that is relentlessly steep at first. I crossed the road from the other side, tagged the lookout, then quickly retreated in a storm of ice pellets. If I lived in Klamath, I would no doubt put in dozens of laps and loops on this peak.

Walker

Walker is another lookout and comms tower, east of the highway between Klamath and Bend. It would normally be a moderate ride, but snow turned the last couple miles into a hike. I biked from the highway, taking a well-maintained main road to the turnoff, then following the lookout road until the snow became too continuous to make pushing the bike worthwhile. This road had some interesting rubber water bars, which were several inches high, but just flexible enough to make it almost unnecessary to bunny-hop them. I checked out the lookout and its outbuildings, examined the weather stalled on the Cascade crest to the west, then returned to my bike for an unpleasant, hand-freezing descent.

Odell

Odell Butte is a near-perfect cone near Crescent Lake. I had been hoping to ride the road to the Oregon standard lookout and antennas, but the storm arrived in earnest the night before, so I ran it from the car, about 6 miles each way. The snow began as a dusting, which gradually turned into moderate postholing, with a large old drift blocking vehicles at the “road closed to tourists” sign just below the top. I got a brief view of Crescent Lake on the way down, but was mostly in the clouds, with only the nearby rime-covered trees for distraction. I turned up the speed a bit on the final, more runnable road, and enjoyed some time at an actual running pace; it had been too long.

Broken Top, Bachelor

Sunrise over Broken Top


Like North Sister, Broken Top is a Cascades volcano with a scramble finish, though it is both a shorter hike and an easier finish. Bachelor a ski area with a trail to the summit in summer, and a ski lift in winter. It is not especially interesting, but it is a short hike close to Broken Top, suitable for taking up the rest of the day.

Lava beds

I camped at the Green Lakes trailhead, then took my time getting started; the cold air had pooled along Fall Creek, and there was frost on the ground. I signed the trail register, then quickly put my gloves back on for a quick hike upstream. The trail eventually emerges from the woods near some lava beds that feature some cool obsidian boulders. I left the trail at one of the camp sites just before the large Green Lake, following a clear use trail through the woods toward Broken Top.

Sisters from Broken Top

I stayed in the peak’s shadow until partway up the sandy climb to its northwest ridge. The trail meanders to one side or the other to get around trees and steps on the ridge, with views of the Sisters behind, and some small glacier remnants on the north side. Just below the summit knob, it looks like one can go to either side. I thought left looked better, so I traversed around some steep dirt above a glacier, then scrambled some easy class 3 around to the peak’s east side, enjoying the warm sun. After one steep move, a bit more easy scramling led to the summit, with a great view of the Sisters in the late morning sun.

Receding glacier

I made my way back down off the knob and ridge, then passed a couple of other peak-baggers on the jog back to the maintained trails. I was not in a hurry, and planned to walk most of the flats. However, I was spurred to run most of the return by a combination of boredom and passing a young woman running up the trail, making decent speed on the climb.

Back at the car, I had lunch, then drove back to the base of the Mount Bachelor ski area. The ski parking area was gated, but there was room for a half-dozen cars along the road leading to the gate. I put on more sunscreen, then took off toward the summit in the early afternoon heat. The route apparently starts up a jeep road, but there is a faint use trail short-cutting it up one of the ski slopes. Bachelor seems to be a popular workout peak, and I passed a dozen or more locals hiking up and down at different speeds. The terrain above the jeep trail is a volcanic choss nightmare, but fortunately the mountain has been at least somewhat tamed with a lightly-improved use trail. I visited the various possible high points, then returned casually to the car to drive south.

North and Middle Sisters

Middle and North Sisters


[I’m way behind on these, but will try to catch up…]

After getting spanked by rain in the Cascades, and not feeling all that motivated, I headed south with some stops for peaks along the way. I had already done South Sister during my quest for ultra-prominence peaks, but there are several other prominent volcanic peaks in the Bend area. I had been turned around before by poor conditions on North Sister, probably the most technical Cascades volcano. All of the volcanoes are made of garbage rock, so most are non-technical mounds. However, the easiest route up North Sister finishes on a steep, north-facing gully that often holds some amount of snow and ice.

Burnt woods and North Sister

I started out through the ugly, burned forest shortly after sunrise, jogging some of the downhills on my way to Soap Creek. I passed a camp there, turning uphill on a trail that climbs gradually toward Squaw Creek and Middle Sister. Where the trail crosses Squaw Creek, a fairly obvious use trail continues upstream toward the toe of the Hayden Glacier. The trail was dusty and monotonous while in the unburnt woods, and downright unpleasant in the burned areas, but lots of people seem to backpack in the area.

Northeast ridge of North Sister

Following a track downloaded from Peakbagger, I left the fading use trail in a flat area, struggling up a sand-hill to North Sister’s southeast ridge. Once on the ridge, I struggled up through more brush and sand, eventually finding a faint use trail where the ridge narrows. From there, I dodged cliffs and gendarmes to one side or the other, eventually reaching the point where the southeast and southwest ridges join at the south end of North Sister’s summit ridge.

Sketchy old snow

Following a clearer use trail, I contoured around the west side on a mixture of rotten rock and nasty, steep dirt, eventually reaching the base of the steep gully leading to the summit. Here I found a surprising amount of climber garbage, including not just the expected webbing anchors, but a complete 70m rope seemingly left in place for single-strand rappels. Last time I had been turned around by brittle ice on this final pitch. This time, although it had snowed some the week before, not enough remained to defeat me, though what was left was rock-hard and icy. I carefully made my way up the class 2-3 section, stepping on rocks, grabbing one side, and sometimes kicking steps.

North from North Sister

The class 4-5 section was fairly spicy with the old snow. I started on the right, then made a delicate traverse into a corner on the left, where stemming made the climbing a bit more secure. Reaching the easier ground below the twin summits, I found yet more climber garbage in the form of two fixed lines, one to the true (left) summit, the other leading from near the right summit down to the top of the rappel rope. I went left first, tagging the summit before removing the fixed line on my way down. I left it near the top of the route, then went over to tag the other summit, and to remove the other fixed line, the rap rope, and as much of the anchor as I could.

Sketchy slide down to saddle

I stuffed some of the junk in my pack, tied the rest on the outside, then awkwardly downclimbed to the base. The rap rope got caught a few times, but I eventually managed to get it down. With two fixed lines, a 70m rope, and a mess of tat, my pack bit painfully into my shoulders as I traversed back south, then hiked and carefully slid down to the upper Collier Glacier at the saddle between North and Middle Sisters. I had had enough of carrying the tat-pile, so I left it at the saddle before climbing, figuring I could pick it up on my way down.

South Sister from Middle

I found a few footprints on the glacier, and various use trails making their way steeply up Middle Sister’s north side. I had the summit to myself for a few minutes, watching as a group made their way up the south ridge to join me. They didn’t seem particularly talkative, so after a bit of stilted conversation, I retraced my steps toward the saddle.

Starting down Hayden Glacier

The Hayden Glacier looked much more pleasant than the neighboring, nasty volcanic moraine, so I hopped on that before point 9312′. The surface was just soft enough that I could carefully make my way down a ridge on the left-hand side, skirting the crevasses near the middle. I eventually ran into crevasses lower down, and actually had to think a bit to make my way through the crevasse maze without an ice axe or crampons. I eventually ran into some boot-prints making their way up from the left side, and soon thereafter dismounted onto slabs and moraine, finding the upper end of the use trail I had followed in the morning. I passed a variety of backpackers and day-hikers on the way back, including a couple with a dog, bizarrely being carried by the man. I didn’t ask why. I jogged the final, dusty descent to the trailhead, then rinsed off my feet and legs before continuing to Bend for supplies.

Thielsen, Shasta (Clear Creek)

Thielsen and Diamond Lake

Thielsen and Diamond Lake


Mount Thielsen first came to my attention in 2012 when, while being a tourist at Crater Lake, I spied an impressive rock spike to the north. Unlike most of its volcanic brethren, which are mounds or symmetric cones, Thielsen has been worn down to a single pinnacle, with the only easy access from the west. An official trail leads from near Diamond Lake to within a mile of the summit. Beyond there, a good climber’s trail leads to the short class 3-4 summit scramble.

Sunrise on Thielsen

Sunrise on Thielsen

I like to break up my “commutes” between mountain ranges by tagging loner peaks in the drive-through states like Oregon and Nevada. Most of Oregon is endless green blah, but there are enough volcanoes to keep me busy for a few more trips. I was coming off two hard-ish days, and needed to do some chores in town, so Thielsen was a perfect camping spot and morning peak.

Fire near Crater Lake

Fire near Crater Lake

Not needing all the available daylight, I read and enjoyed a mug of hot coffee, then started up the trail a bit after 7:00. It was nice not to be trying for speed or needing to cover ground quickly, and I enjoyed the Sierra-like feel of the cool, dry morning air. The trail climbs gradually until it crosses the PCT, then becomes rougher and steeper as it joins Thielsen’s west ridge.

Choss-thumb

Choss-thumb

The route continues to become steeper as the rock improves, with the final 100 feet a fourth class scramble up the southeast face of the summit pyramid. At its base, I passed my neighbor in the parking lot the night before, an older woman who seemed to be a Thielsen regular, out for her constitutional and in no hurry. The scramble was fun and surprisingly solid, and the view down the sheer east face was impressive (there is even a 5.8 nightmare choss route on it, probably put up by refugees from the Canadian Rockies). I scrambled and jogged back to the parking lot, now filling up with day-hikers, then continued south.

Looking down to Clear Creek

Looking down to Clear Creek

It’s hard to miss Shasta when coming at the Sierra from the north, and I had an extra day, so I decided to check out the Clear Creek route, the one completely snow-free way up the mountain. It turns out to be a grind, with most of the time spent on a broad 5500′ slope above a popular camping area. However, the volcanic rubble is better-behaved than on Jefferson, and there is usually a decent trail to follow. I passed a couple people-herds heading down from camp (why?) with ice axes (why?!), but amazingly had the whole upper mountain to myself. Though the register suggested there was plenty of traffic, I saw no one on the summit or the upper Avalanche Gulch route while I hung out around mid-day. The climb was a slog, but most of the descent was a breeze, with a mixture of scree-ing and boot-skiing the soft snow-patches. I even had the trailhead to myself as I ate my mid-afternoon post-hike meal. Strange.

Jefferson (SW ridge)

Jefferson from the forest road

Jefferson from the forest road


Mount Jefferson is the next volcano south of Adams along the Pacific rim. Though shorter than Adams, Jefferson is a much harder outing, with a lower start, longer approach, more cross-country travel, and a bit of steep snow and class 3-4 rock at the top. From Hood River, Google Maps figured out a tricksy way to get to the Pamelia Lake trailhead, linking two long, paved, single-lane forest roads to cut southwest from highway 93 to Detroit. Not having an Oregon atlas, I was a bit nervous following this winding tunnel through the forest for over an hour, but it worked as advertised, and I reached the trailhead at a reasonable hour. Not having read the instructions carefully, I discovered that Pamelia Lake Trail has an obnoxious special permit system. Normally I would just poach it, but there were signs bragging about $250 fines, and a Forest Service truck parked at the trailhead. I decided to deal with this problem in the morning, and went to sleep.

Do not enter

Do not enter

Looking at the map in the morning, I happened to notice a forest road one drainage north that went to within a mile of the PCT, and decided to check it out. After time in the North Cascades, no mere mile of Oregon bushwhacking could be that bad. My plan worked better than expected: I drove a good road to a gate, hiked 1.6 miles of road to its end, then walked a mile through mostly open forest to the PCT. On the return, I found that there is even a faint trail on the ridge south of the end of the road.

Looking down garbage-hill

Looking down garbage-hill

I passed a few through-hikers on my way south, as well as another $250 fine zone sign at the intersection with the normal route. I was undecided about whether to do the southwest ridge or the longer south ridge, but happened to notice the subtle cairn and use trail for the former. The route goes straight up a gully from the trail, eventually reaching a flatter area where the trail disappears beyond a cairn. From there, the best path seems to go up the left-hand side of a shallow valley. I am not sure of the best way to reach the ridge; I simply slogged up a horrid loose garbage-hill. All the volcanoes are chossy, but Jefferson seems to be in a league of its own.

Finally on SW ridge

Finally on SW ridge

Once on the ridge I made better time, following a faint path and occasionally deviating onto the snow. The ridge crest was still loose, but less awful than the sides, and it was worth staying on the crest even when that required a bit of third class scrambling over steps. Much slogging later, I reached the “red saddle” below the summit knob, where the tricky business begins.

Summit knob

Summit knob

From the south, the normal route traverses across a steep, permanent snowfield to the north side of the gray summit knob, where it is less steep and chossy. After my minimalist climb of Adams the day before, I had been feeling a bit absurd carrying my axe and crampons, but was glad I had the axe when I saw the traverse. People had installed a fresh boot-pack over the weekend, so I did not need crampons, but I cautiously planted my axe every other step. If you slip on the traverse, you won’t stop until you hit the rocks a few thousand feet below.

Don't slip here

Don’t slip here

Once past the traverse, I continued all the way around to a gully near the north end of the summit knob, where 10 minutes of class 3-4 climbing lead to the summit. Where a couple hundred people had probably summited Adams with me the day before, fewer than a hundred had summited Jefferson since the register had been placed in 2014. After taking in the view all the way to Rainier to the north, the Sisters and Bachelor to the south, and a decent-sized glacier below the vertical east face, I sat down to snack and enjoy the perfect day.

Glacier with helicopter

Glacier with helicopter

Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a helicopter approaching the mountain, and stuck around to watch. It made a couple slow passes low over the glacier, seeming to pause at crevasse fields, then disappeared around the north side of the mountain. I started down, figuring the action was over, but the chopper returned to pass close enough to the summit that I could see the number, the red crosses on the military bird, and even the pilot and co-pilot. I waved, then continued down.

About to get buzzed near the summit

About to get buzzed near the summit

Crossing the snowfield was trickier in the downward direction, but fortunately my good hand was uphill that way. When I reached the red saddle again, I took off my pack to stow my axe and shove some snow in my bladder. The helicopter buzzed me once again, then went off to search the west face. They were clearly searching for someone, and had no idea where they should be looking. When I got home, I looked it up and confirmed that they were searching for (the remains of) Riley Zickel.

After paying on the slog up, I reaped the rewards of a quick sand descent down the east side of the ridge, then down the garbage hill to the forest, where I stopped to pour gravel and a surprising amount of loamy soil from my shoes. I lucked onto the cairn at the top of the descent gully, then carefully stepped and slid back down to the PCT. I did not pass any hikers as I jogged north, and had the woods to myself for the remainder of an eight or nine hour day.