leisure skin tour | three sisters hut ski traverse
May 6, 2021
25 mi . 3800 ft gain . 8000 ft high
What’s better than a leisurely ski tour with sunny weather? A bougie ski tour with all the amenities at each hut! When Kylie first talked to me about doing a week-long ski trip for this spring (we were both coming from different states), I thought about how uncomfortable I’d be in wet boots and snow camping for that long. But then we looked at the Three Sisters Traverse in Oregon, and then we looked more and found out that there’s a hut system there too! Unfortunately, they’re quite far from the actual Three Sisters, some 9-10 miles each way to reach any summit, but we thought that if we had the energy and stoke, we could try it!
The Three Sisters Backcountry is super well run and they have both the hut system and yurt system. The hut system is a traverse over 3 days in 2 different huts and is best done as a xc ski traverse since it is relatively flat. It runs from south to north (from the Dutchman Sno-Park to the Upper Three Creek Sno-Park). The yurts are a bit less stocked and runs at a flat rate (best if you have a full house), but you do get a sauna and a ride to the yurts by snowmobile and maybe a bit more geared towards backcountry touring with one base camp! But the huts have food provided and makes most sense for a traverse. All we had to bring was our own sleeping bags and food for the first day before reaching the hut! Pretty awesome set-up!
day 1: skin, skin, skin
The first day started with a shuttle from the end to the start (included in the cost of the huts). We met Anna (co-owner of the huts) and she went through all the important details with us. The best was the laminated map, large so you can see the topographic map clearly and broken up into the 3 days. And enough detail to see where you could go off trail and explore around.
Our destination for the first day was No Name Lake. Growing up around Bend, Claire had a good sense of the fun spots to go to near Broken Top (the closest volcano to our huts). We were worried about how soft the snow would get, so we crossed off Broken Top from our list and changed it to No Name Lake, just beneath the east slopes of Broken Top. For some reason going those 2000 feet was a bit of a struggle for all of us! Maybe it was just the Oregon air haha.
We’d follow the snowmobile tracks and then sometimes would find the custom trail the Three Sisters Backcountry put together, but truthfully, we just took a bearing and headed straight towards the lake. Between Kylie’s intuitive navigation and Claire’s memory, it was an easy traverse. I think we were on trail for less than a mile out of the whole 6-7 miles they had marked. Eventually we started to make new tracks towards the lake and thankfully the snow was pretty firm! The higher up we got, the more of Mt Bachelor we saw and how craggy Broken Top looked.
At the lake, we took a nice break to enjoy the enclosed views. With the gloomy clouds, it felt a tad eerie to be standing on the frozen lake. But the feeling that we were the only ones there surpassed that gloom and it was so cool to experience Broken Top this way. Claire always had stories about when she’d come in high school during summer breaks and even when she came back from college. What a neat place to have as your backyard! Only a 40 minute drive away – much closer than most mountains to Seattle.
As the clouds rolled in, we decided to leave. It was simply following the creek all the way down to the hut. In retrospect, we probably could have just skied, but we thought the decline was too shallow so we left our skins on. It was a traverse after all! Getting closer to the snowmobile tracks again, we could see how melted out the slopes were. Something that’s probably unique to the eastern cascades this time of year! At least the snow coverage was pretty good.
Nearing the hut, we followed the double flags that lead to the end. Apparently 2 flags meant that you were only 10 minutes away – so “don’t give up!” Perhaps there have been people in the past who’ve struggled for the last quarter-half mile on this traverse. Variable snow conditions can make it hard and I think we lucked out on this! The hut was really cute! Custom built and had a wolf metal design on the door. Inside, there were plenty of hooks to hang all our wet things and we quickly started a fire in the wood stove to get the hut nice and toasty.
Not surprising, I tasked myself to be on food duty. Claire wasn’t feeling too great, so the rest of us got things ready. Colie was always on top of the snow melting every day! And the rest of us took turns with everything else. For day 1, our dinner was pasta and we topped it with artichoke hearts and olives. And my plate had some bread from Ken’s Artisan in Portland. I had been munching on it all day and it was nice to have butter to finish the rest with dinner.
Overall, we kept everything clean and tidy so it would be easier to clean up later. We got a pretty good system down for melting snow. Buckets to bring in the snow, one pot to boil the water on the gas stove, and one to start the melting over the wood stove. Sometimes I don’t boil snow completely, but given the resources here and the amount of traffic, it was definitely necessary to boil it.
After dinner, we planned our route for day 2 and then played a round of Scrabble where Colie dominated us all. And as day turned into night, we were pleased to be able to turn on the LED lights in the hut. I think it’s solar powered! At full capacity, the huts can host 8 people, but 4 was just perfect for us. We each got our own bunk, 2 on top and 2 on bottom. The top was nice because you could somewhat see out the window, although the ladder could be treacherous for those who often get up at night.
day 2: views and downhill
Since we had planned another leisurely day for day 2, we gradually woke up when we felt like it. Check out time was 11am, but we still had plenty of time since the sun woke us all up by 7am or so. And per usual, I started getting breakfast ready! The dehydrated eggs and hash browns were surprisingly good, just as was stated on the website. It was made even better by the Kodiak buttermilk pancakes. It looked like they had sourced most things from Costco or Trader Joe’s!
We finished stuffing ourselves with breakfast and coffee so that we would only need to snack during the day. The hut had a huge tub of snacks to choose from. This might change throughout the season/year but for us, we found things like meat sticks, Bobo’s, Clif bars, and other standard bars. Bobos were a new thing for me and they’re basically a less dense, less sweet Clif bar.
About 5-10 minutes after leaving the hut, we passed a snowmobiler. The only one we’d see all day. Another 10 minutes later, he came back, stopped the snowmobile and applauded us for having cleaned up the hut so well!Good thing we left before 11am, haha. He zoomed away and we continued on the snowmobile tracks, which is part of the original traverse. At the junction for the Tam McArthur Rim trail, we broke off and picked our way up the ridge. We more or less followed the summer trail, but the whole area was flat and open enough that it didn’t matter too much. We continued all the way to the top of a view point where Claire pointed out all the things to see, such as Smith Rocks (we climbed the day before the trip), and even where her house was in the distance. All three Sisters were visible, though you can’t get a clear view to all of their bases.
The viewpoint was blustery, so it didn’t take long before we decided to head back down. This was probably going to be the best skiing we were going to have the whole trip so we enjoyed what we could. Going east on the ridge, we found a way to avoid the cornices, although we neglected to see a cliff that we had to backtrack around. After some consultation with our GPS and maps, we got back down to the Three Creek Lake. It was a bit of a luge track near the end, where probably most people had passed through recently, creating a slick path for us. But it was sort of exhilarating once we popped back out to the open, knowing that we had safely avoided all cliffs.
A short skin later, we arrived at the second hut. It was a joyous occasion as we were all somehow worn from the day! In a way, this hut was nicer because of the views it offered and because the snow had melted out around the hut, making it easier to walk outside without having to put on ski boots. Inside, the configuration is exactly the same as the first hut, bunk beds, the main table and the wood stove. But today, we’d feast on tacos instead. And learned that heating up a can of refried beans directly in the can produces weird results!
We weren’t entirely sure what the policy was on chopping wood and replenishing the wood stock. So Kylie tasked it upon herself to chop up some blocks so they’d fit in the stove and also created little pieces as kindling. I think she fairly enjoyed herself, practicing a skill she had recently acquired. Plus no one else showed any interest in trying to swing a heavy axe. It was sure fun to watch though!
No games tonight, just chilling and enjoying each other’s company before sleeping under the starry night sky.
day 3: road skiing
For our last day, we just planned to straight out since we already toured the Tam McArthur Rim the day before and we wanted to keep the whole trip chill. Kylie and I were playing the marathon game of conserving energy so we’d have our best shot at Rainier the next couple days after. So again, we took a lazy morning at the hut. We really milked our money’s worth at the huts! I woke just as the sky lit up and quickly ran around the hut trying to get alpenglow pictures as best I could in between all the trees. Thankfully, Colie had started the wood stove and the hut wasn’t too cold!
When I came back in, we started to heat up water for coffee before Kylie and Claire woke up. My mind was already on food, but at least I could get a warm drink in my body first! We forgot to write in the guest book in the first hut, so I made up for that in the second hut. It’s super fun to read what people wrote (or drew). Some mentioned how difficult the undulating path of the second day was and others talked about how they’d make it inside 30 minutes before a storm.
Breakfast was the same as before, but I can’t complain because it was that amazing! For not having fresh food, this stuff was exactly what I needed to get going in the morning. Maybe add some bacon too. By 10am, we had packed everything to go and made the gamble to ski out from the hut without the skins. In the morning, the snow is still firm enough that gliding on skis isn’t too difficult on flat or even slightly uphill sections. Again, we skipped the original marked path because we were told the snowmobile track would hold the most snow.
We skied all the way down the road with gorgeous views of the North Sister as we made it closer to our cars. Eventually, we had to transition to booting or walking in our Chacos and Crocs. But at least it was only a half mile or so of easy road walking! Not too shabby for a mid-late April traverse here. Well I definitely will be back again, maybe 3rd time’s the charm for actually getting somewhere closer to the volcanoes!
This is probably best done earlier in the season to maximize the exit ski out
Nice thing about huts is that you don’t have to worry about weather as much as just snow camping. You can dry out everything before the next day! So booking it in advance is pretty okay if you’re wondering about weather.
Bring extra food if you want to fancy up the meals even more, but what they provide is super solid already. In the notes, people have suggested to bring things like salad for the pasta, or avocado for the tacos.
The kitchen is fully stocked with everything. Plates, bowls, mugs, utensils for eating and cooking. Multiple pans too so you can cook on more than one burner.
They even are stocked with first aid and other essentials in case you don’t have any or if you need to tend to a blister for example. In each hut they’ll have emergency snow shoes/skis if someone needs them during the trip.
Bring camp shoes like down booties for extra comfort. I brought sandals which was great for the hike out.