Saturday, May 8, 2010

Broken Top Amazing Ski Descent

Emily and I were invited by Ben to do the Rogue River Wild & Scenic section again this weekend but it would be a 2 day trip leaving friday night and returning on Monday early morning. We both needed to get stuff done on the weekend so we decided to pass. Because of this I wanted to do something
really spectacular for at least one of the weekend days. I remembered how beautiful it was around Broken Top in the Sisters Wilderness when Tiff and I climbed it 3 years ago and with the Cascade Lakes Highway still closed South Sister was out of the question so it seemed perfect. I knew it would be a relatively long trip in so my only plans were to go in and find some fun runs and hopefully get some great photos. The day Chris, Emily and I ended up having may be this years best trip for me because I can’t think of much that could beat it.
Emily and I had a soccer game at 6:30pm friday night so we weren’t able to pick up Chris and leave town until around 9pm resulting in us getting to the Tumalo parking lot around midnight to camp out. On the way I completely forgot
to stop at
a Safeway in Lebanon so I was forced to buy about 25$ worth of crappy snack food for Emily and I for breakfast and lunch on Saturday. The stars were out in full force friday night with very little moonlight. Chris tested out his new bivy while Em and I slept in the Prius.
I got up around 6:30am and switched the heater on which woke Chris up outside. We both started getting or gear ready and making some breakfast. I made Emily oatmal and had a couple bowls of Campell’s chicken soup myself. As usual
it took Emily and little while to rise from the car. After a relaxed effort of gearing up we hit the trail at about 10 of 8am
skinning down the closed road first and then onto the flat nordic ski trails that criss-cross the area. The snow icy at first but gradually softened up making it perfect for our skins which really slid across the tracks easily. Instead of taking the exact route I had mapped out on my gps at home we took a more direct route through the trees to get to the parking area Tiff and I had left from for our hike 3 years ago. It took us about 2 and a half hours to go the nearly 4 miles over
flat terrain to the parking lot. We probably could have been faster but we took our time and Emily had some pant issues to
take care... hehe.
When we got to the base of Broken Top I was simply blown away by how beautiful the day was. We could see South Sister in the distance next to Broken Top and little Ball Butte on our right had tons of possible ski lines. From my Oregon Descents ski book I knew that some of the best lines were on the
SW ridge of Broken Top so after some discussion with Chris and Emily we decided to head in that direction. On our way we saw a group of 3 skiers emerge from the Tam MacArthur Rim side of Broken Top and cross the glacial cirque towards our destination.
I was a little bummed they would have first tracks on the day but at the same time relieved because they
would guinea pig the stability of the steep slopes for us. Hood and northward had received 3-5 feet of snow and there were special avy warnings out for all of Washington but in the Central Cascades of Oregon where we found ourselves there was little signs of new snow and what was there had gone through many freeze/melt cycles so it was pretty stable, but the possibility of wet slush slides on a hot day could still occur. We watched them traverse and then ascend
the ridge and where I thought they would drop in... they kept going... up towards a steeper, narrower
colouir dropping from cornices higher up on the ridge near the top... of course this meant that I would have to follow suite!
Emily and Chris followed me up and into the hot glacial bowl of Broken Top and I let them know that I would be going ahead of them in order to make it higher on the ridge while conditions were still good (and stable). Emily had a little bit of trouble ascending the steep bowl and making turns while doing so but eventually made it. Chris caught up to me once we topped
out on the ridge and both of us spotted a sweet drop-in point for him between where Emily would ski down and
where I would ski down up higher. When we spotted it, the drop in certainly looked steeper than it did coming up and I told my buddy to be careful and to avoid his slough hitting him on the way down. I continued onward up the ridge eventually taking off my skis and skins to boot pack up the colder icy crust,
thankfully following the kicked-in bootpack of the three skiers before me. I had seen them descend on my way up and watched one of them fall from the drop in point but self-arrest themselves with their ski poles. It had also sounded icy up there... all of which made me a bit nervous, yet excited at the same time. I climbed about 800 feet above where Emily dropped in
and about 500 feet above where Chris dropped in, and I was rushing on my way so as to not make Chris and Emily wait too long for me after they descended. At one point on the ridge I got a little too close to the edge or over some rocky outcrop because one of my legs fell into a deep hole. I don’t think I was over a cornice but I was over some sort of rock outcrop because when I looked into the hole I couldn’t see the bottom. Luckily I pulled myself out easily and kept going.
When I got to the drop in point I noticed
I was only about 100 feet from the top of the SW ridge so I decided to run up and have a look. I’m glad I took the 10 minutes to do so because the views I found of South Sister to the true summit of Broken Top were amazing. I got a great panorama shot from my perch at the top. Much like Thielsen I wasn’t sure what was solid at the top and it was very narrow so I plunged by toes and a
hand into the snow for security and snapped a bunch of great photos.
Once back down I tore of my skins to get ready for the descent and waved to Emily down below (just a black speck in the snow) with my ski poles to let them know I was about to drop in so Chris could get some video of me. The drop in was super steep and definitely a “no fall area” because if I lost my edge or slipped it could have meant a 1,000 ft Tomahawk down the couloir to Emily, which wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for either of us. Thankfully,
the hour or so after the three guys ahead of me had dropped in had allowed the sun to soften the snow a bit more which made it no problem for me. Once into the couloir I made a few jump turns down the steepest part and then opened’er up at the bottom to scream down to Emily. My legs were on fire but I pushed it and made the whole descent without stopping, only slowing down once to pick my line. When I got down to Emily Chris wasn’t there and I was worried
he had missed it but then we saw him waiting 50 yards away in the snow blended into the trees behind him with his green jacket. He
had got both Emily and I on film.
From there it was a fun, yet long and mostly flat descent down the mountain back towards the cascade lakes highway. On the way out we stopped at a small hill we had skirted on the way up so Chris and I could climb up it and ski down the backside for a few more quick turns in the sun. When we got back to the nordic trails we decided to put on our skins for a while in the wet,
slushy snow. About a quarter mile from the car across dutchman flats we took the skins off to move quicker but as we approached the Prius exhaustion hit all three of us as the excitement of the day drew to a close.

On the way home we stopped at the Cascade Lakes Brewery for a beer and food which I was thankful for because Emily and I hadn’t eaten much on the hike and later I found out she only drank about 8 ounces of her camelbak.... gonna have to have a talk with her about that.... All in all, this may have turned out to be the most beautiful and exciting trip of the year for me. Much like Goat Rocks last July blew my mind, this trip did the same and I can’t think of much that may top it this year...

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