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Rip & Go: Broken Top Loop – Deschutes National Forest/Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

Cross ancient lava fields on a lake-filled weekend.

Key Skill: Crossing a snow bridge
Say “snow bridge” and many hikers will conjure up images of delicate snow-and-ice archways that hang over the bottomless crevasses created by grinding glaciers—and the technical know-how and specialized gear it takes to cross them.

Fortunately, the snow bridge over Crater Creek’s 15-foot (deep and wide) gorge requires only balance and caution, but assess its stability before you commit.

Test In recent cooler years, the bridge has remained passable throughout the summer, but don’t assume it will be. Jab a trekking pole into the area just before the bridge; if it’s slushy or soft—or if you posthole at all leading up to the span—descend to the creek and boulder-hop across.

Cross All good? Travel one person at a time, use trekking poles for stability, and stick to the center of the bridge (where snow is thickest). Even in summer, snow consolidates in cooler nighttime temperatures, so target a mid-morning crossing to find the firmest footing.

See This: Where ice met lava
The glaciation that ate into Broken Top’s core exposed layer upon layer of colorful volcanic history. Following a series of eruptions up to 100,000 years ago, Little Ice Age glaciers began carving out the middle of the extinct stratovolcano, gouging great cirques on three sides of the mountain. Subsidence (undercutting) and glacial erosion caused the remaining summit to collapse, creating the jagged ridge visible today and giving the mountain its name. The colorful bands of strata visible within the crater are formed of various rock types: andesites, dacites, rhyodacites, and oxidized agglomerates. Two small glaciers (Crook and Bend) remain within the cirques on Broken Top.

Locals Know

The loop offers tons of views of mountains, but if you want to see the view from a mountain, try bagging 10,358-foot South Sister, Oregon’s third-highest peak. At mile 11.8, instead of turning southeast at the Soda Creek junction, continue south-southwest on the Green Lakes Trail for 2.5 miles to the Moraine Lake Trail and turn west. Pass the Miller Lava Flow and drop into Moraine Lake’s U-shaped valley (with designated campsites) after four total miles. Next day, follow the South Sister Summit Trail 2.5 miles to the terminal moraine of the Lewis Glacier. The last mile follows the ridgeline to the summit crater (complete with Teardrop Pool, Oregon’s third-highest lake). Tip: Pack an ice axe and crampons in the early season.

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