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Broken Top

Broken Top (9,175‘):

   Broken Top, like its more famous cousin to the North, Mt. St. Helens, forms a very rough horseshoe.  The similarity ends there.  Mt. St. Helens is a young volcano whose shape is the result of a massive explosion.  Broken Top is a very old volcano whose shape is the result of an implosion and the subsequent collapse of the summit.  Despite its geological age, Broken Top looks surprisingly young.  Ummm… I’m not exactly sure what that was supposed to mean but all mountains look relatively the same age to me – old as shit!  Anyway, geologists theorize that the mountain is still standing because of its position East of the Cascade crest.  With less snowfall, there has been correspondingly less erosion over the years.  Nevertheless, all of the South side and much of the interior of Broken Top are gone.  With the inside so easily visible, it is one of the better examples of how volcanoes build themselves with alternating layers of pumice, ash, and lava flow.  There are 2 glaciers on Broken Top, the Crook glacier within the crater, and the Bend glacier on the North side. 


    The only recommended descent in Summer and late Fall is down the Northwest Ridge or the scree slopes of the West Face.  The best descent in Winter or Spring is a traverse South along the base of the rock forming the West Crater Rim, to the top of Eleven O’Clock Couloir.  Downclimb the 50-degree gully for 500 feet, and walk South out of the crater to Dutchman  Flat Sno-Park or Todd Lake.  If Eleven O’Clock Couloir looks dangerous or too steep, continue down to Nine O’Clock Couloir and descend it.  Under no conditions should you descend the couloirs when they are bare of snow! 

Northwest Ridge:

   The Northwest Ridge is the most popular climb on Broken Top because it is technically easy and the rock is solid when it has to be.  Hmm…  what about when it doesn’t have to be and I still want it to be?  Approach from Green Lakes, or USFS 370 and 380.

   From Green Lakes, hike due East and follow a trail which leads to a saddle on the Northwest Ridge just below 8,000 feet.

   Use USFS 370, USFS 380, and the trail to Green Lakes which skirts around the South side of Broken Top, if you are looking for the fastest approach to Broken  Top’s Northwest Ridge.  The trail is slightly longer than Fall Creek Trail, but it starts 1,000 feet higher.  USFS 370 and 380 are not opened until the snow has melted and the roadbed is dry.  Sometimes this does not occur until August!

   From the saddle in the Northwest Ridge, follow the trail up the ridge to the Northwest corner of a 15-foot rock band.  Climb a large crack on good rock just left of the Northwest corner, or a dirty groove about 20 feet South of the Northwest corner.  The climbing is short and easy, (fourth class or 5.1), but some may prefer the security of a rope.

   Move up and right over a terraced scree-and-boulder field to a vertical wall that forms the base of the summit pinnacle.  Follow a sloping ramp South along the wall.  The ramp rises gradually, and the wall shrinks in height.  About 60 feet South, turn the South side of the vertical wall, which is now little more than 6 feet high.  Follow the ramp North and scramble up horrible rock to the summit.  Time from Green Lakes, 2-4 hours.

   A variation includes a layer of hard rock, which caps the Northern end of the summit pinnacle of Broken Top.  It also forms a ridge on the Northwest corner of the summit pinnacle, which provides a delightful 50 feet of easy fifth class (5.2) climbing with just the right amount of exposure.