South Sister

  • Date: July 4, 2017
  • Start: Devils Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 12.5 miles
  • Duration: 11 hours 25 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Adventure Maps: Three Sisters Wilderness
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Outdoor Project

Although we were still pretty beat from a long Sunday on Middle Sister (and lots of driving before and after), the prospect of a weekday climbing adventure to celebrate Fourth of July was just too good to pass up. Plus, with no glacier travel to contend with, we felt comfortable bringing Cassie along this time! After work Monday night, we packed up the car again and made the long trek back to Central Oregon, arriving at Devils Lake Trailhead just before midnight. We settled into our sleeping bags in the front seats (something we’ve become quite accustomed to this year) and Cassie nestled down in her dog bed for a few short hours of sleep.

Fighting to sleep as much as possible before having to start hiking/climbing, we didn’t get up until 5 am, maybe even a little after. We finally hit the trail at 6:15 am. As expected, we hit snow early on while we were still below tree line. Since we were only wearing our regular hiking boots instead of mountaineering boots, microspikes ended up being particularly useful in gaining traction and keeping a decent pace.

Putting on microspikes

After gaining a little more elevation, we made it out of the forest and were rewarded with our first view of South Sister, dominating the horizon against a backdrop of wispy clouds spread across a blue sky. I never realized how majestic and grand South Sister is until I looked upon her in that moment. Although the mountain is part of the Three Sisters range, she seems to stand alone, far away from the other two Sisters.

A massive snowfield (which, in lighter snow years, has a clearly defined dirt trail) lay before us. We took Cassie off leash here since we’d be able to keep an eye on her with ease in such an open, fairly unobstructed, space. Her excitement bubbled over as she did sprints back and forth across the snow, often times shoving her face straight into it and flailing around in a ridiculous manner. She was definitely stoked to be playing in the snow again. I can’t remember the last time she had the opportunity! We continued on the boot path leading to the mountain.

Cassie licking the snow
Little dog, big mountain

Broken Top

The snowfield was a relatively flat walk. Then, we reached the base of the mountain and the climbing really began. Now that the slope had steepened, we put away our trekking poles and pulled out our axes. Cassie led the way as we traversed left, following several climbers in front of us. During rest steps, I would take a moment to absorb my surroundings, which were absolutely stunning in the clear weather. To the southeast, you can see Broken Top and, further back, Mount Bachelor and Sparks Lake. Mount Bachelor in particular brought a smile to my face because it was my first volcano “climb” back in 2015 and the trip that sparked my desire to climb more.

We continued to give Cassie her freedom in leading the way, but then she ventured further left then we wanted to be, leading us to a rather sketchy scree slope (as opposed to following the snowfield up). She’d consistently been trying to walk on whatever non-snow covered terrain she could find at this point, which is probably why she led us here. I imagine the snow was starting to irritate her paws, but since we were about to walk on sandier terrain, we decided to wait until we were back on snow to put on her Pawz dog boots.

The scramble up this slope was incredibly slow going and uncomfortable. The loose scree not only created a one-step-forward-two-steps-back situation, but it also dislodged larger rocks. We constantly had to check to make sure nobody was behind us and that Cassie remained next to or in front of us so she wasn’t hit by these rocks. After pulling ourselves up and over the surprisingly long hill, we were finally back on trail heading up to the base of Lewis Glacier.

Sketchy scree slope

The ridge next to Lewis Glacier is the final section of climbing before you reach the summit of South Sister. Although it’s a bit of a slog, the views are a beautiful distraction from the endless climbing. The glacier fed tarn at the base of Lewis (commonly confused with Teardrop Lake, which is actually located in the summit crater) was definitely my favorite sight as we continued our hike up.

Tarn at the base of Lewis Glacier

The wind hit us hard when we finally reached the crater rim. So much for those calm conditions we experienced on Middle Sister two days earlier! At least we weren’t in a cloud. We skirted the edge of the rim instead of cutting across the snowfield to reach the true summit on the northeast end of the crater. At 12:15 pm we stood atop the highest of the Three Sisters and the third highest peak in all of Oregon. A very exhausted Cassie (who obviously didn’t care that she’d just summited her first Cascade volcano!) curled up behind some rocks for a well-deserved summit snooze while Mack and I took in the views and captured them on camera.

Summit snooze for Cassie
Family photo!
Middle and North Sisters

Teardrop Pool is still snow covered

We’d hoped to have lunch on the summit, but the wind was too much of a nuisance. Back down the ridge we went! Cassie happily led the way, probably very excited to be escaping the wind and heading in the direction of the car.

Leading the way down

The little tarn we’d passed on the way up seemed like the perfect spot to break for lunch. After completing the ridge, we descended into the small basin holding the tarn and settled onto the rocky shore to enjoy some food. It was also the perfect place to refill our water bladders. Nothing better than glacier water to keep us hydrated and refreshed on the way back down. Cassie went back to sleep while we ate. She was so tired that even the ground squirrel constantly trying to sneak in to steal food didn’t phase her.

Lunch break

Lunch break nap

The rest of our descent was fairly uneventful. We did get in some good glissading on the snow slopes though! Mack usually went first, so it was fun to watch Cassie chase after him, trying to figure out what he was doing. We would’ve made pretty good time getting down to the flat snowfield section, but then the zipper on Mack’s hardshell pants malfunctioned and we ended up having to stop for awhile so he could fix it.

Now that the sun had been heating up the snow for a few hours, we came back to a field of suncups as far as the eye could see. If you’ve ever hiked through suncups, you know it’s not fun and makes it difficult to move quickly. Total exposure to the hot afternoon sun didn’t help either. The edge of the forest was a welcome sight. We descended back into the shade, shed some layers, then booked it down the trail to escape the hoards of mosquitoes trying to eat us alive.


Attempting to fix the zipper on his hardshell pants

The forest section passed quickly and before we knew it we were back at the climber trail sign with only a quarter mile left to hike. After crossing the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and meandering through one final forested section, we entered the parking lot at 5:40 pm. Before completing the sufferfest of a drive back home, we treated ourselves to dinner and drinks at Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters, capping off the most incredible Fourth of July we’ve ever had. Wonder if we’ll be able to top it next year?

Just a quarter mile back to the car!
Another picture of Cassie sleeping

Middle Sister

  • Date: July 2, 2017
  • Start: Pole Creek Trailhead
  • Duration: 14 hours 25 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Adventures Maps: Three Sisters Wilderness
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Outdoor Project

After thorough review and practice of glacier travel and crevasse rescue with Timberline Mountain Guides back in June, we wanted to put our skills to the test. We have our sights set on Glacier Peak in late July (and maybe Rainier in August?) but wanted to get a practice run in on another mountain beforehand. Our instructor suggested we climb Middle Sister via Hayden Glacier to review climbing as a rope team. Two weekends later, with clear skies and no wind in the forecast, we set out for the Pole Creek Trailhead to make our summit bid.

After a restless night sleeping in the car, we hit the trail just before 3:30 am. The majority of the approach to Hayden Glacier is through a burn area (from the 2012 Pole Creek Fire). Similar to the approach hike on Mount Adams, the trail was dry and dusty. The clouds of dust getting kicked up by Mack, who was leading the way, left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. At least the sun wasn’t baking us yet. After about 1.6 miles on Pole Creek Trail and 0.7 on Green Lakes Trail, we crossed Soap Creek and headed up the Camp Lake Trail. We still had a ways to go before reaching the glacier.

Around this time, my stomach kindly reminded me that it hadn’t eaten anything since our early-ish dinner the night before. I pulled a Luna bar out of my pocket and began munching on it as we continued hiking. On the second or third bite, I felt my fake upper lateral (held in place by a very outdated bridge) wiggle. Uh oh. I’d just gotten this tooth put back in place six days earlier! (Sidenote: It had fallen out after nearly ten years and, as a result, I’m now scheduled for implant surgery at the end of this year) I stopped dead in my tracks. Mack asked, “How loose is it?” I reached into my mouth to press gently on it and find it. It popped out onto my hand. Mack just stared in disbelief. “That loose,” I replied. Perfect. Just another thing to stress about on Monday. I placed the tooth in a Ziploc and we continued on. I was naturally pretty pissed off about the whole situation, but at least it didn’t interfere with my ability to climb. Just another part of the adventure I guess.

As expected, we hit snow a couple of miles in. From here we followed Whychus Creek through the forest and up to timberline. As we made our way through the remaining trees, we finally got our first glimpse of Middle Sister and Hayden Glacier that day.  Sunrise had come and gone by this point and the landscape before us glistened in the early morning sunshine. Despite the tooth mishap, it was going to be a beautiful day.

Taking a break next to Whychus Creek

We traversed the snowfield and made our way to the base of Hayden Glacier, looking around every so often to gaze upon the slew of majestic peaks around us, including North Sister, South Sister, and Broken Top. Central Oregon sure is a fantastic place for bagging volcanoes! At the base of the glacier, we dropped our packs, traded trekking poles for ice axes, donned our crampons and helmets, and, for the first time ever, roped up as a two person team! I’m not gonna lie, I felt pretty badass with my kiwi coil wrapped snug around my chest, while wearing a harness dripping with slings, carabiners, and other gear.

Approaching Hayden Glacier

As I mentioned way back in our Mount Baker/Alpinism 1 post, I’m not a fan of climbing on a rope team. Although it wasn’t as tedious with Mack, it was still frustrating to not be able to move at the pace I wanted. We both aspire to climb more glaciated and technical mountains though, so roped climbing is something we need to become more comfortable with. We didn’t really find our rhythm on this climb, but I’m sure we’ll continue to improve with more practice.

We stayed to the right of the basin where most of the crevasses seemed to be. In fact, roping up probably wasn’t necessary at all where we were climbing (and with how much snow there was)! We took a break at the saddle on the left of Prouty Point. Now that the glacier travel portion was over, we unclipped and untied from the rope and coiled it back up for pack storage. It was time for the steep snow climbing (and scree) portion!

“Scree and loose rock is my favorite terrain to climb in!” said no one ever. It’s especially sketchy while wearing crampons. You’re just a misstep away from breaking an ankle or blowing out a knee. At least it wasn’t very crowded when we scrambled up the ridge, so rockfall, though still a concern, wasn’t stressing us out too much. Despite the unpleasant nature of the terrain, we had an incredible view of North Sister. One day…

Crossing the saddle from Prouty Point
North Ridge of Middle Sister
Looking out at North Sister

The final push to the summit plateau was on steep snow. My favorite! However, since our approach hike was longer than what we’re used to (and we started a bit later in the morning), the sun had turned this slope into a slushy hillside by the time we started up. It wasn’t too terrible though. We were still able to kick in solid platforms and use the boot path/staircase carved out by previous climbers. It was definitely easier than walking on scree!

Final traverse

By the time we were traversing the plateau to the summit, the father-son duo ahead of us was packing up to leave. At 11:20 am, we had this beautiful summit all to ourselves! The weather was perfect, too. There was absolutely no wind blowing us off the top and freezing our extremities like there has been on our last few summits. We were actually able to hang out, soak in the gorgeous views (including our next objective: South Sister), take lots of pictures, post Instagram stories, and refuel with snacks. We were probably on the summit for at least a half hour (if not longer).

View from the summit

View of South Sister and Broken Top from the summit

Down climbing the steep snow section went fairly quickly. It’s amazing to see how much our footwork has improved since we started mountaineering last year. I actually felt comfortable plunge stepping and side stepping a lot of it this time around. Down climbing the scree filled ridge was a different story though. We were so relieved when we finally made it back onto snow.

Sooo many volcanoes! (L to R: Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, Hood, and Adams)
Heading back down the ridge

We kept our harnesses on in the event we felt the need to rope up on the way back down the Hayden, but it was never necessary. There were actually numerous parties hiking up with just trekking poles and hiking boots! I didn’t even see ice axes sometimes! Yikes. The monster crevasses starting to open up below us on our right were a constant reminder that you definitely need proper gear on this climb. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions about these other people’s abilities though, so I’ll stop before this turns into a pedantic LNT Plan Ahead and Prepare rant.

Gnarly crevasses

The rest of the slog down was pretty uneventful. As usual, we became more restless and cranky as the afternoon dragged on and we were still miles from the car. At one point, we lost the trail and had to backtrack to find out where we’d gotten off. I think the heat was doing a number on our brains. Refilling our bladders with ice cold water from Whychus Creek lifted our spirits for a short while. We hit a low point once we were back in the burn area and fully exposed to the hot afternoon sun. We were moving downhill now and able to haul ass (or at least as fast as our overheating bodies would allow). Exhausted, sweaty, and covered in dust, we finally stumbled into the parking lot around 5:50 pm, about 14.5 hours after heading out that morning. Another successful volcano adventure for the books though!

Back on the Pole Creek Trail

McKenzie River Trail

  • Date: May 13, 2017
  • Location: Willamette National Forest
  • Start: Upper McKenzie River Trailhead
  • Distance: 26.4 miles
  • Duration: 5 hours 49 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Map: Adventure Maps: Sisters & Redmond High Desert Trail Map
  • References:

With Spring in full swing, Mack and I are excited to start ticking off some trails we’ve been dying to hit since we started trading hikes for adventure trail runs. We decided to be bold this past weekend and shoot for one of the longest ones on our list: the McKenzie River Trail. In retrospect (since we didn’t realize these coincidences beforehand), it was actually quite a fitting adventure to have in celebration of Mack’s 27th birthday. The trail is just under 27 miles long, and then there’s the name itself, M[a]cKenzie. It was meant to be!

If I’m being completely honest though, I was actually hoping Mack would want to back out and save this run for another day for a few different reasons: 1) it would be our third ultramarathon distance run in the last five weeks, 2) it would be Cassie’s first ultramarathon distance (with her previous longest run being 16-18 miles), and 3) the earliest shuttle pick-up through McKenzie River Mountain Resort is 9:30 am (meaning we wouldn’t be able to start our run until at least 10 am)! The “no earlier than 10 am” factor is what really made me nervous. If we were just running the trail like a race (with no plans to stop), I wouldn’t have been worried, but on our adventure runs, I like to fit in longer breaks, take pictures, and explore side trip opportunities, which tends to add on quite a bit more time. Would we really be able to do that on this run with such a late start? Mack the birthday boy decided it was what he wanted to do though, so I did my best to set aside my worries.

We set off early Saturday morning in order to make our 9:30 am shuttle (which, by the way, is $30 per person and allows dogs). We were the only people hitching a ride that morning, so the 20 minute drive to the upper trailhead was pretty quiet, with the exception of the driver sharing a few tour guide-esque tidbits about the area and checking to see if we had a map. As soon as we were dropped off and got our packs situated, we crossed the footbridge at the trailhead, headed into the forest, and began the long trek back to the car.

Less than a mile in we came to the Clear Lake Trail junction, opting to stay on the MRT rather than taking the slightly shorter Clear Lake Trail (which does hook back up with the MRT at the south end of the lake) just to say we ran the trail in its entirety. According to our shuttle driver, there are numerous preserved trees standing underwater in Clear Lake due to the cold temperature of the water. The lake was created about 3,000 years ago when lava flow created a dam at the south end, allowing water to fill the area. Of course you can’t see these trees despite the clarity of the lake, but it’s an interesting anecdote about the area. We also got a small taste of the vibrant topaz colored water (which Tamolitch Blue Pool is known for) when we passed Great Spring on the eastern side of the lake.

Clear Lake
Cassie eyeing the ducks in the water
Great Spring

The MRT is known for sections of volcanic rock, and the eastern side of Clear Lake is one of those sections. Although it wasn’t very difficult for Mack and I to run on, I was a little nervous for Cassie since the rock is sharper. We didn’t bring any sort of paw protection for her, but she seemed to do fine and never showed any indication that she was bothered by the rough terrain. It was around this time that we started getting pelted with sleet, too. Less than three miles in and we were already soaked! Re-entering the forest near the southern end of the lake provided some shelter and relief.

Lava fields along Clear Lake

There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground before and after Clear Lake. I knew it would clear up eventually based on recent trip reports, but it did result in some pretty slow miles and even a little navigating to find the trail. It was hard to believe it was actually mid-May as we sunk into these ankle deep mounds of snow! Once we reached the junction with the Waterfalls Loop Trail and crossed the footbridge to stay on the MRT, the trail was clear. Now that we were running alongside the McKenzie again, we could admire the fiercely aqua blue tint of the water as it raged and tumbled downstream.

Crossing McKenzie River after passing the junction with the Waterfall Loops Trail

This next section between Clear Lake and Tamolitch Blue Pool encompasses the heart of the MRT. It’s also the most popular. Thankfully, due to the less-than-ideal weather and lack of sunshine, there were hardly any people on the trail (or maybe they were on the Waterfalls Trail on the opposite side of the river). Our first stop, and my absolute favorite part of the entire run, was Sahalie Falls. We scrambled down a short, steep side trail, traversing slick, rocky terrain and ducking under downed trees to reach the base of the 100-foot raging falls. We admired Sahalie for only a brief couple of minutes. The heavy mist blowing off the waterfall had us shivering almost instantly. Cassie didn’t seem to enjoy this part either.

Back on the trail, we came upon Koosah Falls soon after. We thought about finding a way to get down to the base like we had for Sahalie, but we still had many miles to run and it was already noon or so. We opted to admire the falls from a ledge above instead, then continued on to the next destination: Blue Pool.

Sahalie Falls

Koosah Falls

Now that we weren’t running on snow or volcanic rock, the next few miles passed quickly. We finally ran into some mountain bikers (just two) as well. Since the MRT is a well known MTB trail, we were worried that we’d spend most of our day dodging cyclists, but these two were the first we’d seen since we’d started! Maybe the weather kept many of them away? Whatever the reason, we were happy for the solitude. Of course, once the trail opens out above Blue Pool, that solitude immediately disappears.

Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t too ridiculous when we arrived. I imagine it’s an absolute nightmare in the summer or on any bluebird weekend. On this semi-gloomy day though, we managed to snag a rocky ledge overlooking the pool and enjoy the spot for a short time while we snacked and took pictures. The next mile or so took us over more volcanic rock. It was slow going again, and we were running into more people now because of our close proximity to the trailhead for Tamolitch Pool.

Tamolitch Blue Pool

McKenzie River

Eventually, the rock gave way to cushiony singletrack as we descended to the level of the river. Now that we had passed the main highlights of the trail (Clear Lake, Sahalie and Koosah Falls, and Tamolitch Pool), we quickened our pace and made fewer stops. For the remainder of the trail, we got to soak in the beauty of the Willamette National Forest, with its lush old growth areas and a forest floor blanketed in green.

After passing the trailhead for Tamolitch Pool and another trailhead at Trail Bridge Reservoir, we hit our longest stretch (somewhere between 7.5-8 miles I believe). I think there were even a couple of uphill sections through this stretch. Nothing that strenuous though. The sun had come out by this point, so we enjoyed being shaded by the trees while still absorbing the warmth of the sun.

Cassie about halfway through our run

About 10 miles left!

Once we made it to the Frissell Crossing Campground (with about six miles left to the car!), we took a slightly longer break (like 10-15 minutes) to eat some snacks, feed Cassie (who just wanted Goldfish as opposed to her own treats), and stretch out our legs before the final section. After that long of a pause, getting up to run again was difficult. It’s only when you stop that you start to notice the stiffness and soreness.

The snack break definitely gave us the boost we needed to push the last few miles. Crossing the river at Frissell put us on the same side as the highway, so peace and quiet weren’t as plentiful during this stretch. Our excitement grew though whenever we passed a landmark that we recognized on the map (Belknap Hot Springs first, then Paradise Campground). Once the guardrail (indicating the parking lot turnout) came into view through the trees, I knew we were done and our marathon day was complete. It had started to pour in the final half mile, so we’d made it back just in time to avoid getting completely soaked again. Cassie, needless to say, was exhausted and willingly hopped into her backseat hammock as soon as I opened the door. We quickly changed into some dry socks, shoes, and shirts and hit the road for the long drive home, stopping for some well deserved ice cream and candy at the nearest gas station. Maybe next year we’ll have to find 28 miles to run somewhere for Mack’s birthday?

Snack break at Frissell Crossing Campground

Last look at the McKenzie from the trailhead

Smith Rock State Park

The second adventure of our weekend in Central Oregon commenced with me missing our alarm (or it failing to go off). Thank goodness we were camped at Tumalo State Park, located a mere 30 minutes from Smith Rock. We packed up and hit the road in under an hour, arriving at the Smith Rock parking lot just after 9 am. We were only one of two cars there. The sky was a dark, moody gray and a mixture of snow and rain was falling. I’d anticipated this since I’d checked the National Weather Service forecast just before we left the previous morning and kept my fingers crossed that the “mostly sunny after 10 am” part came through. We decided to wait it out and use the time to prepare our running packs, don our trail shoes, and get in our bathroom breaks. When I emerged from the restroom just a few minutes into our decision to wait out the weather, I was greeted with a complete cease in the snowy-rainy precipitation and a little bit of sunshine peeking through the clouds! What a turnaround from the previous day at Tumalo Falls! We slipped on our microspikes and headed down Canyon Trail.

After crossing the bridge over Crooked River we came to our first endeavor: the notoriously steep Misery Ridge Trail. I’m still amazed that we decided to start with this, especially since our legs weren’t warmed up at all yet. It was definitely more of an alternating slow jog/power hike than an actual run as we gained 700+ feet in 0.7 miles. The combination of loose rock, ice, and snow didn’t make it any easier. However, the views we gained as we rose higher and higher helped to ease the struggle. We could see across the way to the other big hill we’d eventually tackle: Burma Road Trail.

Heading up Misery Ridge Trail; you can see Burma Road Trail in the upper left corner
Final section of elevation gain on Misery Ridge Trail

We stopped for a few minutes at the top to take in a glorious view of the park, including the iconic Monkey Face. (Guess it was a good thing that I’d missed my alarm or we might have been up at the top while it was still snowing/raining!) During the summer I came here a few times to attend some climbing seminars, but we’d never ventured up this way. I’ve got to say it’s definitely a spot you don’t want to miss if you visit Smith Rock. Totally worth the elevation gain! And, since it was still early in the day and the weather hadn’t completely cleared up yet, we had this incredible spot all to ourselves.

View at the top of Misery Ridge

Monkey Face

Seeing as we were barely a mile into our run, we decided to get a move on after snapping a few pictures. Now, it’s easy to assume that running downhill will be a lot faster than the uphill. Unfortunately, our descent of Mesa Verde Trail was just the opposite. The deep snow and patches of ice made it impossible to move quickly. At least we got a more complete view of Monkey Face (see cover photo)!

After getting to the base, we headed back to the Misery Ridge Trail junction on the River Trail. Finally some relatively flat terrain! My legs already felt like jelly and we weren’t even a quarter of the way into our run. Now that we weren’t hugging any steep drop-offs, I thought it would be nice to let Cassie off-leash for a short while. I should mention that the rule at Smith Rock is that dogs need to be kept on leash. I knew this, but I figured a few minutes wouldn’t be harmful, especially since 1) she’s been very good about staying on trail and close to us on past adventure runs, 2) there was no one on the trail yet, and 3) we planned on putting her back on leash as we neared the bridge or if we saw hikers up ahead on the trail. Big mistake. At first, Cassie was behaved and jogged close in front of me. Then, after barely a minute or two, she just took off down the trail at breakneck speed! Crap. As we rounded the bend up head, we saw her run straight into the river after a duck. (Maybe that stuffed duck toy we bought her a few weeks back wasn’t such a good idea?) Ugh. She wasn’t caught in the river’s current yet, but she was still trying to make it out to that damn duck! Mack quickly removed his pack and went in after her, picking her up by her pack’s handle and carrying her out while she flailed her legs in the air. We breathed sighs of relief and put her right back on leash. Lesson learned. Needless to say, she stayed on that leash the rest of our run. And I think it’s time we invested in some obedience training.

Fishing Cassie out of the river

The rest of our run on the River Trail went smoothly. We passed the Misery Ridge Trail junction and continued on the Wolf Tree Trail on the east side of the park. Like the River Trail, this Wolf Tree is mostly flat and continues along Crooked River. After a mile though, we started uphill again to the junction with Burma Road Trail on BLM land. The clouds were starting to part at this point, revealing blue skies and sunshine behind them.

Running on the Wolf Tree Trail
Heading up to Burma Road Trail

Although not as steep as Misery Ridge, Burma Road ended up being far more difficult because of the trail conditions. Not only was there a lot of snow, but the quality of the snow was unpredictable all the way up! Sometimes it was firm enough that you could run over it without sinking. Other times you’d end up post holing a good 7-10 inches. Little did we know that this wouldn’t be the end of our battle with the snow conditions. It wouldn’t even be the worst part. At least the skies were clear now. We could see several Cascade volcanoes in addition to Smith Rock!

View from Burma Road

At the top of Burma Road, we took another short break before starting down the Summit Trail, which would wind its way through the north end of the park and eventually drop us back down on the River Trail on the west side.

View from the top of Burma Road

The trail switchbacks down nearly 1.3 miles before reaching a junction with the Summit Trail viewpoint. Of course, the entire trail was under deep snow. We spent most of this section tip toeing through post holes or side stepping across angled snow slopes. Not sure we got much running in until we made it past the viewpoint junction. Even then the conditions didn’t improve all that much, but the likelihood of slipping and sliding down a long, steep hill had decreased at least. The view at the junction wasn’t half bad either.

Post holing on the Summit Trail
Beautiful view along the Summit Trail

After the top of Misery Ridge Trail, my next favorite spot (particularly now that the sun was shining high in the sky) was the final descent to the junction with the River Trail. Monkey Face, Christian Brothers, and Crooked River all in a single view? Absolutely perfect.

Summit Trail/River Trail junction

We had a little over 2 miles left on the River Trail before reaching the bridge again. It felt so good to actually run again now that we were out of the deep snow. It’s incredible how different the area seemed now that the weather was completely different than when we’d run on the River Trail earlier that day! I hardly recognized it! We didn’t see a lot of climbers, but there were definitely an increased number of people hiking the trail now.

Heading back to the parking lot on the River Trail

After crossing the bridge we had one final hill left: Canyon Trail up to the parking lot. My legs were spent by the time I was half way up (especially after a few days of being sick and not running at all). Mack and Cassie pushed on while I stayed behind and fast hiked up the last section to the parking lot. Not the strong finish I was hoping for. We decided to continue on the Rim Rock Trail for about a half mile to cool down our legs and get one final view of the park. As an added bonus, I got to finish strong since we didn’t end on a hill.

View of the park from the Rim Rock Trail
Running the Rim Rock Trail

Mack, Cassie, and I had such an amazing time exploring this geological masterpiece. Not only was it fun to see it in a different season, but I love that we got to explore so much of it via trail running! It was the perfect end to our Central Oregon weekend adventure. Now we are even more stoked to return in March to do some actual climbing.

Tumalo Falls

  • Date: January 21, 2017
  • Location: Central Oregon (Bend)
  • Start: Skyliner Sno Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Duration: 3 hours (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Outdoor Project

Although only a day trip, Tumalo Falls was our first of two adventures during a weekend in Central Oregon. Our original plan was actually to backpack past Tumalo Falls along Tumalo Creek and snow camp somewhere in/near Happy Valley. However, after coming down with a cold a few days prior and realizing we’d be in for two straight days of heavy snow according to the forecast, we decided to turn it into a day hike, then camp at Tumalo State Park before heading to Smith Rock (which will be covered in a separate post) the following day. I was a little bummed at first, but, ultimately, it ended up being a far better idea since we got to explore more of Central Oregon.

We started out from Portland somewhere between 6:30 and 7 am. It usually takes about 3 hours to drive to Bend, but winter road conditions on Hwy 22 slowed us down immensely. We didn’t reach Skyliner Sno Park until 11:30 am. Snow was already falling pretty heavily and the breeze kept blowing it into our faces. We didn’t have our goggles. Of course, the one time we needed them we forgot to pack them. We used our hoods and Buffs to cover up as much as we could and started out.

From Skyliner Sno Park you have two options for getting to the falls: you can continue about 0.4 miles down Skyliner Road to Tumalo Falls Road, which you’ll follow 2.5 miles to the Tumalo Falls Day Use Area, or you can follow the less crowded Tumalo Creek Trail, which begins at the sno park. Usually, we opt for the less crowded trail, but since we were starting much later than anticipated (and the trail option was a little longer), we decided to continue to Tumalo Falls Road.


The hike to Tumalo Falls was, in all honesty, nothing special. Don’t get me wrong, it looked beautiful! In the end though, it still felt like a plain road walk. Maybe I was just grumpy from the long drive. Or maybe it was because the snowy, cloudy weather was basically obscuring the surrounding landscape save the trees on either side of the road. The 2.5 miles were turning into somewhat of a slog. And, unless you’ve got special running snowshoes, it’s kind of difficult to move very fast. I kept wondering if we should’ve just taken the trail instead. At least Cassie seemed to be enjoying herself. Seeing her face light up and her tongue hang out as she charged and plowed through the snow made seemingly dull moments so much more fun.


The snow covered footbridge crossing Tumalo Creek indicated that we were just around the corner from the iconic viewpoint of Tumalo Falls. Despite my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about Tumalo Falls Road, I was completely entranced by the dark blue water of the creek flowing through marshamallowy mounds of snow. A perfect prelude to the viewing of the majestic falls just ahead.


Although we’d seen tons of people along the way, there wasn’t a single person at the viewpoint when we got there! For a few short minutes, we had a magical view of Tumalo Falls all to ourselves. It definitely made the semi-boring walk much more worthwhile.


We continued a short ways uphill to reach the viewing platform at the top of the falls. It wasn’t nearly as spectacular as actually seeing the falls, but it did offer more space to relax, sit down, and (if I hadn’t been snapping pictures the entire time) enjoy a snack or lunch. It was still snowing though and Cassie started to shiver after a few minutes, so we didn’t break long before we headed back down. Tumalo Creek Trail continues up past this point though, and Mack and I are already making plans to come back after the snow melts to get in some long trail running miles while exploring the numerous other waterfalls along the creek!


After getting dinner and snacks at a nearby Market of Choice, we drove back out to Tumalo State Park to set up camp. Our plans to backpack in the snow may have fallen through, but we did get to do a less strenuous form of snow camping at the park campground! The spot was already dug out for us, so all we had to do was set up the tent and make sure everything was staked down firmly in the snow. At least we didn’t have to bust out the shovels. We capped off our evening with a mini boysenberry pie from MOC and a steaming cup of cocoa.