Team Injinji’s Andrew Miller has an impressive background having grown up in Corvallis, Oregon where he learned to run trails alongside his mother at a young age. Inspired by her, Andrew ran his first ultra at 14 years old, The McKenzie River 50k but it wasn’t until his second ultra that he considered himself hooked on running.
As Andrew continued to train and build the skills necessary to run even longer distances at faster paces, he won the Western States 100 in 2016, solidifying himself as a burgeoning elite athlete at 20 years old.
Andrew is now a Salomon trail athlete and continues to race while coaching at Ridgeline Athletics where he helps runners who have longer distance running goals. Not only that, but Andrew is also an avid backpacker with extensive experience hiking around the Pacific Northwest. He regularly shares stories of his adventures on his blog and this year, after his annual hike and ski trip to the Three Sisters in Oregon, he wrote this guest post for the Injinji blog, recollecting his experience.
Our Memorial Day backpacking trip was pushed back 4 weeks this year, which left us a little unsure about what kind of snow conditions we would find by the Three Sisters. These summits are closely spaced volcanic peaks located in Oregon and part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, just west of Bend. Mom, Dad, and I were optimistic that the cool rain in May and June had left some fresh snow on the mountains. But, we would be starting nearly a month later than usual so we were afraid there might not be much snow left.
As sunny days started rolling in at the end of June, we could see there was definitely some snow on the Three Sisters. With no sign of rain in the forecast, we decided we’d better head up to the mountains soon because the hot sunny days would quickly melt whatever snow was left.
Hiking up the trail from Pole Creek, North Sister looms large on the horizon. The snowy slopes and black rock outcroppings are often hidden by the mass of dead trees burned in the 2012 Pole Creek fire, but the mountain is always there. Sometimes there are clear views of the snowy slopes above, other times only glimpses.
On the way in, we began to come across a blowdown that had recently been cleared from the trail. Blowdown has been a chronic problem since the 2012 fire, but this was the first time that we had arrived after the winter blowdown had been cleared. A mile into the hike, we passed the trail crew on their way back to the trailhead. The 10 volunteers had cleared the trail all the way to Soap Creek, about 2 miles from the trailhead.
After Soap Creek, the trees were not cleared and the easy walking was soon replaced with high steps over and detours around the many down trees on the trail. Fortunately, most of the trees were small, and combined with the lack of snow, which made the hiking faster than previous years.
As the trail began to disappear under patches of snow, we decided to leave the beaten path behind and make a beeline for our campsite near the bottom of the Hayden Glacier. The Hayden Glacier leads up toward Middle Sister which is where we intended to ski the next day.
While the snow had been minimal for much of the hike in, we encountered more as we left the trail, and could see there was still quite a bit left higher up on the mountain. As we set up camp for the night, we were optimistic that we would find good skiing conditions the next day. If nothing else, there would at least be more snow than last year!
Thanks to hot temperatures rolling in, there was no morning cool, so we quickly lathered up in sunscreen. After a quick breakfast, we put on our skis and started out toward Middle Sister.
The snow was a little hard, especially in the shade, but this was anticipated. As we broke out from the trees and began climbing up the snowfields, we encountered slightly softer snow. More importantly, it was very smooth. Last year the lower snowfields were badly sun-cupped which made for lousy skiing conditions.
Climbing up the lower snowfields I got a little bit ahead and decided to take a short run down the mountain to test out the snow conditions. They were great! I ski about once per year (the Memorial Day trip), so it was a thrill to head downhill for the first time in over a year.
Now far behind Mom and Dad, I began climbing again. The wide open snowfields allowed us to ski anywhere we wanted which led to each of us choosing a different path up. Slowly we began to regroup as we made our way to the Hayden Glacier. When we reached the saddle between Prouty Point and Middle Sister, we were together again.
We stopped at the saddle for a brief snack, then left the skis behind and continued on foot toward the summit of Middle Sister. This year, there was more exposed rock which made the initial climb easy. When we reached the crux of the climb, the exposed rock no longer worked in our favor. The crux is a steep snowfield which can either be climbed vertically or traversed. The long snowfield which usually exists below the crux was much abbreviated. Instead of soft snow, there were a lot of rocks below.
Stepping onto the snow, it was pretty icy. We spent a few minutes scoping out the best route, but since nothing looked very promising, we decided to forego the summit and head back to our skis. Some years we make it up to Middle Sister, some years we don’t. This was one of the years we didn’t make it, but that just meant that we had more time to ski!
Arriving back at the saddle, we decided to ski off the west side of the saddle down the Renfrew Glacier. The snow was completely untracked and these ideal conditions were too much to pass up! The descent down the glacier was awesome! After the first few turns, I was quickly caught up in the joy of flying down the mountain.
Unfortunately, the downhill goes by very fast on skis and soon I was at the bottom looking back up. Climbing is always surprisingly efficient on skis. On the open snow, you are not forced to follow a trail which allows you to ski anywhere you want, picking the most efficient route as you go.
Once we were all at the saddle again, we headed back down the east side. The conditions were equally good here and we had fun covering the unmarked snow with turns.
Leaving the bottom of the Hayden Glacier, we headed back into the trees and made our way over to our campsite. The hard snow in the morning was still firm in the shade of the trees, but much easier to ski than the first time we crossed it. Back at camp we set out our boots and gaiters to dry, ate dinner, and headed into the tent for an early night.
The next morning we got up early to get in a little more skiing by North Sister before heading out. The morning snow leading up toward North Sister was a little hard in spots, but the snowfield has a gentle slope which offset the icy conditions.
We climbed up to the top of the snowfield near the base of North Sister, then left the skis behind and did a short excursion on foot up the southeast ridge of North Sister. We scrambled up the rocky ridge, until we reached a rugged section where that would require us to leave the ridge to continue upward.
Like previous years, we decided that this was a good turnaround point. After spending a few minutes taking in the views, we headed back down to the skis. The descent to our packs wasn’t long and soon we were loading up the skis and preparing to head out.
With packs on our backs, we began the descent back to the trail. After about half an hour of hiking on snow, we hit the trail. Once on the trail, the hike out was pretty quick. There were still plenty of trees to hop over, but now heading downhill, the hike out was much quicker than coming in.
Upon reaching the car, we all agreed that the trip was a success! We were uncertain that we’d have enough snow to ski as we had headed in nearly a month later than usual, but the late rains in May and June had left just enough snow up high for great skiing.