Broken Top Crater Hike
The fall season has been winding down here in Bend, so I decided to take one last day off to get up in the mountains before the snow arrives. My initial plan was to get out on the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood but as Friday approached the first major storm was supposed to arrive. The day before was nice and sunny but Friday was forecasted for temperatures in the low 40s and dropping throughout the day. This was to be couple with rain and winds gusting up to 55 miles per hour. Not the ideal conditions to be up high into the mountains. The Timberline Trail gets up over 7,000 feet and spends a majority of the time above tree line. The other issue is that most of the trail is out of cell phone reception and does not have any good exit points. Watching the weather I finally decided the day before that timberline was not a good idea, and that I would instead head up into the Broken Top Crater.
Broken Top is only about 20 miles from Bend and therefore, gets my attention quite often. If you remember it was only a couple of weeks ago that my buddy John and I climbed it.
The mountain is an old volcano that has 2/3 of its rim intact with the other 1/3 missing from erosion and possible eruptions. I actually do not know the full history of Broken Top, but I am sure I could look it up if I had more time. The summit is 9,175 feet tall while the crater is more in the 8,300-foot range. To get up in there it is not terribly difficult as you drive up to the Broken Top trailhead and then only have about 2 ½ miles up. It sounds easy, but weather can be a factor.
Friday morning was not too bad out when I woke up. Looking out our bedroom window you could see lots of clouds in the mountains but Bend was dry and had occasional sun breaks. I packed up my gear and brought some extra stuff, in case I wanted to go on a run instead. The road up to the Broken Top trailhead is closed much of the year, so I was making sure I was prepared in case it was closed already for the winter. After breakfast, I headed out and drove on up. At about, Mt. Bachelor the rain started to fall lightly and the farther I went the more it came down. From Mt. Bachelor, you head two miles to Todd Lake and turn on Forest Service Road 370. Follow that unmaintained road in a couple of miles and turn onto Forest Service Road 380, which ends at the trailhead. All these roads are unmaintained past Todd Lake and take some time to navigate. They have large rocks, holes, dips, and even a little mud. The Rav4 makes it no problem as long as you take it slow. It takes about the same amount of time to drive the 25 miles to Mt. Bachelor as it does to do the 4-5 up to the trailhead. On my way in I passed a couple of trucks that I assume were hunters and there were two other cars at the trailhead when I arrived. Interestingly enough in the 5 minutes it took to get everything ready; a Police Officer also arrived at the trailhead and then took off, Good to know they are keeping an eye on things.
On the Glacier Moraine
At the trailhead the rain was still coming down, and the wind was blowing fairly strong. I was now up in the clouds, so I knew it was going to be a day of little visibility. You can tell by the pictures that there was not much to see. I still wanted to get out so I went along with my original plan to hike. With the storm arriving and more on the way I figured that snow would be covering the whole area that night, and I would not have a chance again until next year. I headed out on the trail and quickly started getting cold. The rain, wind, cold, and flat trail meant I was not generating much heat, and it was a biting wind. After about a ½ mile I stopped in some trees to throw on another layer while trying to keep everything as dry as I could. At 1 mile, I reached the Crater Ditch intersection, and this is where I planned to follow up into the crater. The trail followed the ditch for a short way before the ditch gave way to a more natural creek. From time to time, it became a little difficult to follow as the trail had been washed out over time. I once again gained the trail and followed it up into the unknown. At this point, visibility was less than 100 feet, and the wind was starting to grow. The trail started to enter the rocks the higher it went and the only thing to follow was the occasional rock cairn along the way. I even ran into another solo hiker who was on the way down. He told me he had turned around just a little higher up as he could not follow the trail/cairns any more. We talked for a couple of minutes, and he left saying, “this seemed like a good idea” in regard to the hike. It made me laugh, and I said I was still going to try.
After talking with the other hiker I immediately saw what he was talking about. The rocks became bigger, and it was impossible to tell where to go. The wind also now was starting to really pick up. The gusts were becoming strong enough to knock me off balance. I continued on my way, now off trail, and tried to traverse up the hill. I imagine it is easy to see where to go when visibility is good, but now it was tough to tell so I just used my GPS to guide me. After traversing some steep sections of loose rock, I was happy to get some more stable footing when I reached a dry streambed. I followed this up until I got to a large block in the way. It turns out this makes up western beginning of the crater rim, and even though I did not know it yet I was just outside the crater. It was also here where I saw my only wildlife of the trip. Up against this large block was a porcupine huddled up to stay warm out of the weather. I felt bad for him but there was no way I was going to try to help a porcupine. I kept my distance and finished off the short hill to the east of this block.
This last hill was the glacial moraine for the Crook Glacier that resides in the crater. Once on top I could see the Glacier and realized I had made it. I also was not getting the full force from the wind which was really strong now. Looking at the glacier I could hear the occasional rock fall from the cliffs around so I decided not to head in as I did not want to be in the line of fire, especially when I could not see it. I instead dropped down to the creek that exits the crater and took a break to eat my snack and shelter a little from the wind. I was now having to ring out my gloves as they were soaked through and my jacket was following close behind. Knowing that the descent was going to be into the wind and rain, I decided to follow the creek down figuring it had to be easier than the way I took up. It turns out I was right, and the descent was much simpler. It was not long, and I lost the faint trail that was along the creek, but I knew the general way and just stayed close to the creek on the way down. Heading into the weather I started to soak through so I decided to pick up the pace and ran some short sections to generate a little more heat. Once I got lower the wind let up a bit, and warmth was not an issue again the rest of the way.
Eventually, I reached the main trail slightly to the west of where I originally went up, so I had a little over a mile back to the car. This section of the trail is somewhat uphill and did not take too long to cover. I even passed to girls out on a hike in the rain. It turns out I am not the only crazy out there; there are at least 4 of us. Hiking back to the car had the wind and rain at my back, which was appreciated after getting blasted on the way down. The trail was much wetter than when I hiked in a couple of hours earlier but still is easy to follow. The hike ended up being 5.09 miles roundtrip and took just under three hours. I imagine it would be shorter and faster if visibility were better. I still had a good time; I just wish I could have seen more. It definitely is a cool mountain as you can see from when I summated; the pictures from this trip do not quite do it justice. I will hopefully get up in there again next year on a clear day with Melissa. As always, your mileage may vary.