Trip Report: Broken Top, Three Sisters Wilderness
Trip Report: Broken Top, Three Sisters Wilderness
Location: Broken Top, Three Sisters Wilderness
Conditions: Hot and exposed during the approach, and windy and cold at the summit.
Duration: 7 hours to summit. 5 hours to descend.
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult. 8.4 miles in, 8.4 miles out.
Kid Friendly: No
Pet Friendly: Possibly. Depends on the fitness of your dog.
Usefull links: www.outdoorproject.com
The Full Report:
It was time for my friend Matt and I's annual summer backpacking trip, and this time Broken Top was the summit of choice. I had backpacked other mountains with Matt (Mt. Jefferson and South Sister), but Broken Top had been a bucket list item of mine for a while. Luckily, Matt had hiked and camped at the summit of Broken Top before, so he knew what to expect and gave me an encyclopedic pack prep list, that while informative, seemed to drone on forever. As I would learn later, every ounce of prep would be worth it.
So, after staying the night at Matt's house in Redmond, we awoke bright and early at 6 am to do last-minute pack shakedowns, any leftover meal prep left out from a long night of driving from Portland to Redmond the night before, and a quick coffee run before driving to the trailhead. From Matt's house in Redmond, the drive is about an hour to the trail, and upon arrival we happened upon a group of riders on horseback. The entry trail is multi-use, with other trails originating from the lot (i.e Green Lakes trail) being enjoyed by folks "hoofing" it on horse. After paying for a permit, layering up for sun exposure, showering ourselves in bug spray, and lathering on the sunscreen, we embarked on our ascent with leg muscles that still needed a good deal of warming up.
The first fourth of the hike is dusty sand and gravel trails that slowly creep up in elevation. After a couple miles of hiking through gray sameness, albeit beautiful gray sameness, we were rewarded with a lush and verdant meadow with a glistening stream cutting through the middle. We stopped to snack a bit and hydrate, and while picturesque views gave us a reprieve from the hills, we knew the hike would still be steep and tiring. We continued on, traversing a few small river crossings and rolling hill trails. It was getting somewhat hot at this part of the day (11 am), and while the elevation was starting to ramp up, we were able to hike nearby gorgeous meadows bursting with color. The meadows were full of dense patches of lupine, paint brush wildflowers and hellebore plants. At about the halfway mark 4 miles in, we ate lunch and could start to see Broken Top in the distance with its jagged peaks and shattered-ceramic appearance. The mountain had a rich red and orange tone from iron-banding and oxidation. After breaking for a bit, we continued to hike across a couple more rushing streams where we filled up our reservoirs to filter later at the camp summit.
At the 6-mile point, the elevation gain seemed to continue without many portions of flat trail. There is a 1300-foot total elevation gain with altitude sickness affecting people at heights of 6000 feet. Luckily, we didn't experience altitude sickness and were able to continue trekking on. There was also a lot of snowpack at this point in the trail, so trekking poles with snow barrels were key in keeping footing as we neared the glacier at Broken Top. After trudging through what felt like unending icy snowfields, we finally came to a narrow ascending trail which led to a gorgeous crystal blue glacial lake. Tired from the trek, but internally stoked, Matt and I nodded at each other and fist-bumped before plopping down next to the lake and taking it all in. We had made it.
We set up camp a couple hundred feet off trail, and rested in our tent, exhausted from the climb. After a bit of a nap, we busted out our stoves and made some dinner. Matt and I split a Mountain House meal and ate with a view of the crazy piece of geology in front of us. At around sunset, we decided to scramble up the side of a ridge to get a better view of the Cascade Range and the mountains next to us. As we reached the top of the ridge, we saw clouds rushing in over the valley from South Sister as the sun retreated behind the distant ridgelines and illuminated the outlines of the neighboring peaks.
With little light and temperatures dropping, we headed back down to camp, layered up for the night, and dozed off. Morning came quickly as first light burst into the tent at 5:45 am. Although the wind was jarring, the cold temperatures hadn't bothered us (make sure you bring a sleeping pad with a high R-value for colder temperatures). After running up the ridge to view the sunrise before Matt woke up, we made breakfast and quickly packed up camp to head back. With most of the trail being downhill from the summit, the hike was much quicker and easier to negotiate. We took far less breaks and ended up in the parking lot in a fraction of the time, covered in dirt and grime. We had completed another installment of our adventurous yearly tradition and while we were tired from the trek, we had already began planning for the next trip during the car ride home.