Saturday, October 11, 2014

Broken Top

I love visiting the Bend area.  It's open Ponderosa pine forests are so different from the Cascade's western side.  There's lots of cool volcanic mountains to climb.  Sunny, dry weather is the norm.  And best of all, my brother Dale lives here.

Broken Top Mountain

Dale loves hiking just as much as I do.  But, with a job and school-age kids, he doesn't log many outdoor miles.  That all changes when his big sis comes to town!

Horrible road to the trailhead

After reading multiple online trip reports of hikes into Broken Top Mountain's crater, I was itching to get up there.  Lucky for me, Dale was an easy sell.

This sign has a "broken top"

Many trails lead into Broken Top, but the shortest most direct route is to depart from the Broken Top Trailhead.  The hike may be easier, but the drive is anything but.  Reaching this trailhead requires a slow slog on a terrible, rocky dirt road.  My brother happens to have an old 4-wheel drive pickup, and loves driving these kind of roads.  With Dale at the helm, we bounced along on the rutted access road.  Although the going was tough, the fantastic mountain views made it bearable.

Fantastic mountain views all along the trail

Reaching road's end, Dale parked his truck amongst the various other large pickups and SUVs.  Hitting the trail, it didn't take long for Broken Top's craggy crater to show it's face.  See the patch of snow in the middle?  That was our destination.

Crossing the canal

Dale and I followed a well-worn path through a bleak field of pumice.  Occasional clumps of stunted trees provided a little break in the open plains.  After a mile, we crossed an irrigation ditch that diverts water from Crater Creek for irrigation far below.  Dale remarked that it was unusual to have such man-made structures in a designated wilderness area.  We both surmised the ditch must've been established first.

Off-trail through the rocks

Because there is no official path to the crater, Dale and I decided to leave the trail here at the irrigation ditch, and follow the creek upstream.  So cross country we went, following this cute little brook flowing from Broken Top's crater.

Broken Top beckons us on

Broken Top's craggy crater walls rose up from the plain like huge castle spires.  It was an impressive sight.  Everything was brown, except for a tiny patch of green surrounding the flowing creek.  I could hardly believe there was still enough snow in the crater to keep it flowing.

Colorful rock bands on the crater wall

I zoomed my camera lens in on the colorful crater walls.  Broken Top is considered a composite volcano, formed from many layers of lava flows over time.  The multicolored stripes indicate different flows - red cinders, yellow ash, and black lava, all having a hand in building this peak.

Peek-a-boo through the trees

Geologists say that Broken Top, like many of the adjacent Cascade peaks, used to be a smooth-sided typical volcanic cone.  But violent eruptions destroyed the mountaintop, hurling 8-foot lava bombs across the area, and burying what is now Bend city limits under 20 to 50 feet of volcanic debris.  Erosion by glaciers added the finishing touch, further defining Broken Top's jagged profile.

Lunch break selfie

Dale and I continued across the rocky, barren plain, still following our little creeklet.  The crater didn't seem to get any closer.  It was nearing noon, and my tummy began to rumble.  We took a short lunch break alongside the flowing water.

More rock climbing...

Then it was up, up, up again.  The terrain got rougher.  We stuck to the creek bank, which was a little bit less rocky.  We could see up ahead a steeper slope that looked to made be entirely of fine sand and rocks.  Our little creek tumbled through the middle, cutting a jagged slash.

Following the glacial melt stream

Reaching the foot of this steeper slope, the going really got tough.  Although it looked like fine sand and ash from afar, up close we discovered the slope was really composed of large rocks.  We had to be careful where we stepped, as many of the rocks were loose and wobbly.  Slogging up this extremely steep slope, our pace ground to a crawl.

Inside the crater

Dale discovered the footing was a bit more stable adjacent to the water.  So we started climbing in the creek bed itself.  We had to watch for slippery rocks, but at least most of them stayed put.  Slowly we pulled ourselves up through the rocky dam.  And the very top kept getting closer...

Woo-hoo! We made it!

And then finally - hooray - we climbed the final steps over the top pitch, and there before us was Broken Top's snow-filled crater.  A wonderful sight indeed!  The crater walls rose above us, like lofty towers, while below the plains and mountains spread out in a glorious panorama.

Tremendous view from the crater

Dale and I enjoyed a quick water and snack break.  Then Dale climbed up through the snow, exploring a bit more of the crater.  I was amazed to see such a large snowfield still lingering into mid-September (especially after such a hot summer).  I struck up a conversation with a friendly father-son team, who'd followed our route, and arrived several minutes after us.

Heading back down

After soaking in the marvelous views we'd worked so hard for, it was time to work our way back down the rocky creekbed.  Descending was muck trickier than climbing.  It was very easy to lose footing and slide in the loose, rocky soil.  I was thankful for my trusty trekking poles.

Lovely Central Oregon scenery

After successfully downclimbing the steep portion of our route, Dale and I decided to strike out directly across the trailless plain.  We could see ahead to our destination, and knew as long we continued downhill, we'd eventually reach our original trail.  Besides, I had my gps, and if all else failed, I could point us toward the trailhead.

We ended up following an old jeep track through the scrubby pumice plain.  A nearly snowless Mt. Bachelor anchored the horizon.  It was our beacon, guiding us back to the trail, and Dale's truck.

Mt. Bachelor looms big on the horizon

Upon completion of a successful hike, there was just one thing left to do.  After bumping back down that dusty, terrible road (we actually saw someone pulling a camping trailer up it!), Dale and I rewarded ourselves with a cold beer at one of Bend's fabulous breweries.

The area around Broken Top is wonderfully scenic.  It's definitely going on my "must explore further" list for next summer.  And hopefully Dale will join me again.

Stats for the day:  5 miles round-trip, about 1000' of elevation gain.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.


  1. Gorgeous scenery! I always enjoy your posts about your hikes. Have a lovely Sunday!

  2. Linda, another wonderful hike.. The crater walls are awesome and I like the multicolored stripes.. Beautiful views and photos.. Have a great day!

  3. What a gorgeous area. Loved your post and all your beautiful images. Thanks for taking us along!

  4. I liked seeing this unusual area.

  5. That last image is simply hauntingly beautiful. The landscapes are breathtakingly stunning and your hike, even though challenging, turned out to be very rewarding.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  6. How wonderful to be able to share the walk with your brother. The terrain looks tough on the feet though.

  7. Absolutely gorgeous, Linda, and your first photo especially!!! Wow!

  8. gorgeous scenery. thanks for sharing it with us. bet you were glad for your hiking buddy.

  9. fantastic region to a great off with sunshine, a perfect hike
    greetings Frank

  10. Another great TR. Didn't you just run a marathon too?

  11. This looks like "broken Leg" territory! What fabulous distant views from the top. We were hoping to visit Bend when we made a spring trip to OR several years ago. However, we got tired of rain so headed back home. I'd love to make another trip - is fall the best time?

  12. I'm not a hiker but I admire those that can. It looks like a great time you had with your brother!

  13. I can't tell you enough how impressed I am with this trek you made with your brother. You must be very fit. I have a feeling they would be flying me out of there in a helicopter! Good to know a GPS works out there too. You guys must really know what you are doing. Again I am so impressed. Great photos and fantastic scenery.

  14. I was surprised to see so much snow this time of year too.

  15. That crater is beautiful. Yes there are lots of ditches in this area, not sure about that one but the ones here were established around 1900. So, grandmothered in.

  16. Why do I live in Illinois? Another great hike! Hoping to make it to Oregon in Sept. 2015!

  17. Hi! All of your photos are very beautiful. I like the first photo and the colorful Bands photos very much. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Fascinating landscape! What a world with volcanoes and lava fields and craters!, nothing remotely similar around here!

  19. Hi Linda,
    Checking in to see how you are doing, it has been awhile.
    What a great hike you all had, interesting terrain.
    You are so fortunate to live in such a great State!

  20. I did so enjoy reading about that hike. The effort would be beyond me, but I enjoy seeing what others get out and do. It's a beautiful area.

  21. wonderfull reportage scenics landscapes,greeting from Belgium.

  22. What a great hike and lovely views.

  23. Wonderful views especially of the colourful rock bands on the crater wall!

  24. Yet again another 'I want to do this' hike. So different but so beautiful. I loved the shot of the rock bands. There must still be quite a depth of snow in the crater with that force of water tumbling down the stream.

  25. Such beautiful scenery, and fantastic images. The photograph that you wrote "Colorful rock bands on the crater wall" really caught my eye. What an incredible perspective. And the one that says "Inside the crater" is equally as stunning. Your brother standing in it brings scale to the image, and portrays just how large that area is. Wonderful photography!

  26. Broken Top is an apt name! Good to get your brother out of the house:)

  27. Another great hike - I would definitely want my hiking poles on that descent. Lovely photos!

  28. Very impressive. I have trouble convincing my husband to even take a short walk.

  29. You do put some miles into your legs.

    I need to have a decent walk soon - but school aged kids ……………

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  30. I love Broken Top. My brother should move to Bend too!

  31. LOVED this! I adore the area around Sisters, Bend (where we have family too) and Sunriver! Really, really enjoyed this post--now if only we had a really old, rusty 4W drive vehicle:)
    Blessings, Aimee


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