Ascent to Broken Top-North Tower Shoulder on 2011-06-11

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:David Musser <3607> and Guide Rodney Sofich
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, June 11, 2011
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Snowmobile
Point Reached:Broken Top - North Tower Shoulder
    Elevation:8870 ft / 2703 m
    Remaining Elevation:305 ft / 93 m (15% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Last climb of our one week exploration of Oregon. After climbing several mountains along the Columbia River on both the WA and OR sides; climbing Mount Hood; trad rock climbing in Smith Rock State Park; it was time to end on a more technical snow climb on an interesting volcano.

Still anxious to try my LaSportiva Alpine boots, our guide Rodney allowed me to use his crampons which fit perfectly with my bright red boots and they worked fine. After only a few hours of sleep each night, the guide suggested we get up later at 2:30 AM and break our camp and drive from Smith Rock SP to Bend and over to Mount Bachelor and we stopped at the Dutchman Flat Parking area. We loaded gear and he snow mobiled David 4.5 miles to the Wilderness Boundary of the Three Sisters. He then came back and brought me to David who was still filming the sunrise over the nearby mountains.

At 5:15 AM we left.The crampons held well to the neve snow which was 31 F degrees at the parking lot at 6,200 feet but was around 28 F degrees at the trailhead at elevation 7,200 feet. Soon we passed Moon Mt., Broken Hand, and Ball Butte. We roped up in the Crook Glacier and decided to try the 9 O'Clock Couloir. The 11 o'Clock had a nasty cornice on it and looked dangerous. Evidence of many recent slides were all around but we were pumped to see the smaller 9 O'Clock open and clear.

Rodney had David and I rest on a snow fissure where an 8 foot vertical wall of snow had bound up where the slope break steepened from 35 degrees to up to as much as 55 degrees above. Rodney ascended and set protection as I wondered what a mess it would be if the 8 foot wall of snow slipped and pushed us down the couloir.

Soon I was told to "climb" and I began my first ever steep snow ascent. The snow was at first very firm and the ice ax and crampons held easily. Nearing the top I noticed the snow became softer and had to reset my ax often to make sure it had a good hold. We summitted the shoulder between Broken Top North and South Peak at around elevation 8,870 and enjoyed amazing photos of the 3 sisters and other nearby volcanos. A beautiful day. Looking up we saw our summit only 300 feet above us and the nasty cornice above 11 O'Clock on the other side of us. We became concerned that the sun was out and the snow was getting soft and the descent we came might not be safe later.

Rodney scouted the peak and informed us that the snow was steadily getting bad and we would have to traverse around the peak and then up and he suggested that would take 3 more hours then 2 hours back to this shoulder. We calculated that the time down safely on the west slopes would be another 3 hours back to the shouth ridge and a total of 11 to 12 hours back to the parking lot. WOW! and we still had a 4 hour drive back to Portland that day and had to be at the airport by 5 AM the next day. Realizing we started too late and the snow was only going to get worse I went ahead and said to abandon the summit bid 300 hundred feet short but that would gain us at least 5 hours.

As it turned out the west slopes were softening fast and we began to traverse the SW direction and began breaking thru the crust on the 40 degree slopes and began both slipping on icey material and post holing both which was difficult and un-nerving looking down the 1500 feet. A safe burried T-belay was no longer safe and Rodney used rocks and later a sitting bench belay and we descended 4 pitches of 200 feet of rope and then was down on 30 to 35 % slopes and began our traverse to the south. We stumbled a lot with the lighter team members floating better on periodic crusty snow from recently avalanches and snow slides to full on above knee deep post holing. As we got lower and the sun got hotter (probably around 55 degrees) it became very tiring. Finally we made our way around back to Ball Butte and rested and realized we made a good decision to bail out earlier on the shoulder.

Now it was time for snow shoes. We used MSR plastic shoes and they floated perfectly on the rolling slopes of less than 20 degrees and we walked back to the snow mobile. David rode back with Rodney to the parking lot and I continued another 2 miles in snow shoes on my own down to elevation 6,780 where Rodney picked me up and returned to the parking lot. We got back at 3:10 PM. By turning back on the summit our day trip took 10 hours. If we had summitted and attacked the slopes back in even softer deep snow it would have been 15 to 16 hours and we would have been driving back to Portand at 8 or 9 PM exhausted.

It appeared that we started about 2 hours too late or the snow would have held long enough to make it a reasonable trip but the snow deteriorated quickly as the sun broke through after about 8 AM.

A very intersting learning adventure for David and I. Far harder than the Mount Hood trip earlier this week and helping us better understand the unpredictability of snow conditions and how it can make simple mileage quite difficult.

The views were amazing and I would do this trip again but leave earlier, or in a colder month, or when more snow melts out.

David and I learned a lot from Rodney Sofich of Timberline Guides. He is an excellent instuctor. 503-803-7578 for anyone interested in using their services.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1860 ft / 566 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2280 ft / 694 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.6 mi / 12.2 km
    Grade/Class:1, 2, 5
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Guide
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Beautiful day 29 F to 55 F
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1720 ft / 524 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1670 ft / 509 m; Extra: 50 ft / 15m
    Loss on way in:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    Route:Crook Glacier to 9 O'Clock Couloir
    Start Trailhead:Dutchman Flats to 3 Sisters Wilderness Boundary  7200 ft / 2194 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2230 ft / 679 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 2090 ft / 637 m; Extra: 140 ft / 42m
    Gain on way out:140 ft / 42 m
    Distance:5.1 mi / 8.2 km
    Route:Western slopes to southern traverse
    End Trailhead:same  6780 ft / 2066 m

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