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Going to Great Heights 

High-elevation hikes in the Cascades


Well, it's that time of year; the kids are back in school, the leaves are changing color, and there's a pleasant nip in the air signaling that indeed fall has arrived. For many, this means it's time to hang up your hiking boots and dust off your ski gear. But wait, not so fast! Now that the crowds are gone, it's the perfect time for a last-minute climb to one of the area's highest peaks.

South Sister

Oregon's third-highest peak draws crowds from all over the world, and from the top, it's easy to tell why: On a clear day the views are unbeatable, you can see half the state. Though the climb isn't technical, it is difficult. It's more than 11 miles round trip, and about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. You can access the trail from Devils Lake Trailhead, which is off the Cascades Lakes Highway, approximately 27 miles from Bend, and seven miles from the Mt. Bachelor turnoff.

Diamond Peak

Set slightly farther west than the other mountains in the Cascades, carved by glaciers, and pinnacles by lava peaks, Diamond Peak is well worth the climb. Although there are several ways up the mountain, the shortest is along the south ridge. It's about a 12-mile climb round trip, and just under 4,000 feet of elevation gain. To get there, just east of Oakridge on Hwy 58, turn south at the sign for Hills Creek Dam and bear right onto Road 21, which you will follow for about 30 miles. Just beyond Indigo Springs Campground, turn left on Pioneer Gulch Road 2149, then right on Rockpile Road 2160, and head to the Rockpile Trail to start the hike.

Broken Top

This climb won't quite get you to the top of the mountain, but instead to a beautiful turquoise pool in the midst of the crater, with views of all three Sisters. The hike is roughly 14 miles round trip and about 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Although there are shorter ways up the mountain that require a four-wheel drive vehicle with significant clearance—the road is not for the faint of heart—the easiest way to hit the trailhead is to turn right at the sign for Todd Lake, off the Cascade Lakes Highway, just past the Mt. Bachelor ski area, and take the trail from the parking lot.

A word of caution: When planning any high-elevation hiking, but particularly at this time of year, you must watch the weather forecast carefully, and only attempt to hike in good conditions. No matter what the forecast, always be prepared with layers of appropriate clothing (hopefully it goes without saying that cotton is a no-no), plenty of water and food, and a map and compass or GPS. The weather can change very quickly at elevation, and what you thought might be a hike in 70-degree weather can end as a trudge through snow and blowing wind. That being said, there's still time to take advantage of these high-elevation adventures, so have fun, but be careful out there!

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