Backpacking up Broken Top

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10-Oct, 11-Oct-2015

Saturday, 10-October-2015

As we drove down the highway toward the trailhead, it was foggy.  Or… I think it was foggy.  It may have been raining, or it may have been a cloud (which is technically the same as fog but hush).  Either way, it was a bit worrying, and Dave, Sarah and I started talking about weather and concerns.

But that quitter talk didn’t last long.  It was lightly drizzling when we put our packs on our backs, and the rain stayed with us while we walked past the trail marker and across the wooden bridge onto the main trail.

We had rain gear.  We had good camping gear, food, and energy.  And we’d already bailed off one hike due to rain (Ed Note: see weekend of ____), so we weren’t going to give up without a fight this time.

The rain kept at the pace of a light drizzle for the whole hike, right up until when we got to the main campsite where we’d be setting our basecamp for the summit bid.

Then, it started pouring.  Seriously – the campsite itself seemed to be a locus of power for the storm, and it was just hanging over the whole area.  Sarah had started burning out on the hike in, thanks to me infecting her with the plague, and none of us were feeling particularly dry… so we made moves to find the closest, most tree-covered campsite that we could.

And we found one, after a good while of searching and finding campsite after campsite occupied.  Even found one group with a nice cheery fire going… blatantly against the “dear lord no outdoor fires, Oregon is a damn tinderbox!” rules.  Though seeing as it was pouring rain out, I can’t really see a wildfire starting.  You know, if we’re being honest.  Since this is, in fact, my blog.

We did find a campsite finally, though.  And it was basically ideal – under some heavy trees, but not the kind of tree that we’d be worried would come crashing down on our heads over night.  It was almost a little fort; a bare campsite in the middle of a stand of connifers.

So camp got set up.  Snacks were had.  We pulled off rain layers, warmed up in new dry layers, and slowly got camp set up… as much as we could, thanks to the ever worsening storm.

Most of our gear was soaked through by this point – which would turn into a much bigger issue as the night went on.  While setting up camp though, the main issue was my rain jacket… over time my Cloudsplitter (Ed note: See Ben’s fancy gear review on the Cloudsplitter… and maybe somehow get EMS to sponsor him?) had become less waterproof… it wasn’t quick to soak through, mind you.  It had kept me dry for almost the whole hike, and was still keeping me very warm even when wet.

Four hours in the rain had been enough though, and my poor jacket was saturated.  Thankfully I’d put my pack cover on while we were still at the car, so almost everything else was dry… and let me tell you; dry sleeping bags and pads and socks are basically the greatest thing ever.

So Sarah and I all stuffed ourselves into the two-person tent that she’d brought while Dave set up his bivy sack, and we started heating up a bit of mountain house, along with our random snacks that hadn’t gotten eaten on the trail, as a nice little dinner.  Dave joined us in the tent, then we all spent most of the evening playing a little dice-based hiking game that my folks had bought me a few years back, as a random Hannukah present.  It was fun!

Then sleep – which became a bit more of an issue than we’d expected, when Dave went outside to find that his bivy sack had soaked through, and was completely unsuitable for sleeping in.

And it was getting a bit cold out… we were looking at 34 degree rain, from what Sarah’s mountaineering watch was telling us.

And that, kids, is exactly the kind of weather where people go hypothermic.

But remember – we’re all good at what we do.  While Dave and Sarah are undoubtedly more experienced mountaineers than I, my experience in the back country isn’t anything to sneeze at either.  So we took a few simple, yet super important, precautions…

  • We organized where we slept.
    Dave and Sarah both had extremely nice mountaineering sleeping bags – down-filled, which make them very warm and very light.  However!  Down looses most of its insulating ability when wet; their bags were water resistant, but that would never stand up to the rain we were dealing with.
    I, on the other hand, had a heavier sleeping bag made of synthetic fibers.  Just as warm, but over twice as heavy… But with the bonus that synthetics stay quite warm even when soaked.
    So, making use of this, I took the wet side of the tent.  It wasn’t leaking, per se, but the wind had been whipping rain up under the rainfly on one side.  So we positioned my sleeping bag (and myself) as a shield to catch any rain coming in.
  • We layered sleeping pads.
    Dave’s pad had been soaked through, which meant that anyone sleeping on it would effectively be sleeping in water… So we layered it below Sarah’s and my pads, minimizing the surface that anyone would be in contact with it.
    To further protect ourselves, we also layered my emergency bivy sack (basically a rolled up heat blanket) on top of the sleeping pads, to make sure that any water that leaked under the pads would be kept away from us as we slept.
  • We had plans.
    Always be ready for a worst-case… and camping is no exception.  We had some spare body warmers stashed, along with two full meals and a full fuel tank for my little Jetboil stove.  Everyone knew to keep a wary eye on their body temperature – if anyone started shivering during the night, the plan was to wake up, and heat themselves a warm meal to bring the temperature back to where it should be.
    As an absolute backup, we kept most of our gear safely packed up and ready to go.  That way, if it came to it, we could quickly and easily pack up camp and head back to the car if the weather took a major turn for the worst.

Sunday, 11-October-2015

By the time we all woke up and detangled the mess of having three people stuffed into a two person tent, the rain had stopped and the sun had started to peek out from the clouds.

The night hadn’t been bad – my only annoyance had been the baguette that we’d put in a side pocket had been smacking me in the face all night as the wind pushed the tent walls around.  I’d stayed warm, partially due to the sleeping bag, partially due to three people’s worth of body heat, but mostly due to Sarah basically perching herself (and her sleeping bag) on top of me to make room for everyone in the tent.

And when I looked around, once we’d all extricated ourselves?

The views are a major reason why I love the Pacific Northwest so much.  When I did a 360 degree turn outside the campsite, I saw some of the best views yet.  The rain had turned to snow halfway up the peaks surrounding us, covering Broken Top and the Three Sisters in a blanket of white.  It was gorgeous.

Of course, the snow and ice on the trail that we had planned on taking ruined our plans.  We had good gear, but hadn’t packed equipment for ice travel… and the steepness of the slopes I was looking at made it abundantly clear that ice equipment would be 100% necessary where we were going.

So instead, we put all our gear out in the sun to dry, and took a short walk around the lakes that we’d camped by.

We walked, explored, and nearly got jumped by a dog that was a little too zealous with guarding its owners campsite (which was maybe 1/4 mile away… keep your dogs under control, people).  We met more than a few groups of people, but overall the vibe in the area was quiet and relaxed, a nice post-storm feeling.

Then we packed our assorted (some of it even dry!) gear into our packs, and descended back toward the car and civilization.  We did take one nice stop to explore an obsidian moraine (a huge wall of obsidian rock, pushed down the slope by a glacier eons ago), which was pretty amazing.  I found what I’m pretty sure is the entrance to a boss dungeon… a huge spire of dark black stone.  I didn’t know the correct incantation though, so no sweet boss-loot for me, I’m afraid.

Then we just trucked – hiked back with nary a rest to be had.  Packed the car, and headed into Bend for coffee and nachos.

Because after bailing off an ascent, again, is depressing.  And the cure for that is nachos.

3 responses »

  1. Man, trying to figure out how to organize and keep things dry when its pouring and you’ve been hiking all day is the hardest. We hiked the wonderland trail this summer and it poured all day one day. When we finally got to camp it poured even harder and not a single tree was providing protection. We ended up eating a very wet dinner, all of us shivering and then stripped naked and jumped into our tents so that everything in them stayed dry. It was a challenge… but it has pushed my fiance and I to invest in a very lightweight cuben fiber tarp so that if we ever get stuck in that situation again we can rig it up to cook and change under. Bravo for figuring out how to fit three people in a two person tent! What an adventure!!

    • Thanks! It was definitely interesting… in retrospect a tarp like that would have been amazing, especially in the little copse of trees that we ended up staking out.

      What kind of tarp do you have? And more importantly, how heavy is it?

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