Mount Bachelor stands alone in idyllic central Oregon, surrounded by the explosive Cascade Range and shimmering lakes.
Name: Mount Bachelor
Height: 2,763 m (9,065 ft)
Location: Cascade Range in central Oregon, USA.
First Climbed: Unknown
Climb Time: 4 to 5 hour return
Best Time to Climb: July to September
INTRODUCTION TO MOUNT BACHELOR.
At the head of a long chain of volcanoes, this mountain stands across from two of the more interesting mountain complexes in the area: the Three Sisters and Broken Top.
With its volcanic history now in the past, the area has become famous as a prestigious ski destination. With ski lifts carrying patrons up to the summit in winter with skis and summer with mountain bikes, this is a mountain which foregrounds the thill of adventures.
With arguably some of the best views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains, and stunning wildflowers lining the trails, don’t let Mount Bachelor be aloof in your adventure plans.
HISTORY OF MOUNT BACHELOR.
The name Mount Bachelor refers to its separation from the Three Sisters, with whom this peak shares many characteristics (see below). It was also known as Brother Jonathan or Mount Brother, but these fell out of use early in the 20th Century.
According to the myth of the Three Sisters, Mount Bachelor was quite happy to remain on his own. He was, however quite the object of attraction for the High Chief’s daughters. These desires boiled over amid the competitive sisters in the form of volcanic eruptions.
Before 1983, when it was named Mount Bachelor, this peak’s official name was Bachelor Butte. In fact, many official records still refer to it by this name.
To be precise, a ‘butte’ is an isolated hill with steep sides, often used to refer to the vertically-sided towers that are typical to the Arizona desert. A french word, it simply means ‘small hill’. This is probably a fair description of Mount Bachelor. After all, its neighbours stand taller and its summit that is almost reachable by ski lift.
Before the name change, the mountain had been nicknamed Mount Bachelor for a number of decades. This was largely PR motivated and encouraged by the local ski resort that had opened 25 years previously and felt Batchelor Butte might not be the most enticing name for thrill seekers.
After all, skiing down a ‘butte’ is little off-putting, whichever way you spell it!
GEOGRAPHY OF MOUNT BACHELOR.
Mount Bachelor is the largest mountain of a 25 km (15.5 mile) long chain that consists of multiple cinder cones and three shield volcanoes Located within the Deschutes National Forest, this chain covers 250 sq km (100 sq miles), largely to Mount Bachelor’s south.
20 km (12.5 miles) east-north-east is the town of Bend, Oregon – the nearest population centre to the peak, known as a retirement haven.
The mountain’s outer rock type is Mazama Ash. This covers much of the area following the enormous eruption that imploded Mount Mazama almost 7,000 years ago, now a popular lake found far to the south-west of this chain. Below this is are typical volcanic rock forms: basalt and basalt andesite.
Two Types of Volcano.
Mount Bachelor is a stratovolcano on top of a shield volcano. This odd amalgamation of volcano types is repeated a number of times in this area, both in the Three Sisters (see below) and Tumalo Mountain (358 m/ 1,175 ft), which stands to the north-east.
That this is odd may simply be a matter of skewed definition,that exposes the flaws in trying to define unpredictable Mother Nature.
The chain of mountains that Mount Bachelor stands at the top of are a series of shield volcanoes – wide, flat, shallow-sloped peaks consisting almost entirely of lava flows that crawled along to a stop. Dotted on top of them are stratovolcanoes, but it would be more accurate to consider them as cinder cones or vents of a shield volcano,
These vents are typically short-lived, explaining their modest elevations. Many were active for less than 3,000 years. The fiery chain is thought to have last erupted over 5,000 years ago.
While highly symmetrical (except for a glacial basin on the north-west side), Mount Bachelor’s summit has three small peaks that circle each other. The high point is the one to the north-west, though the differences between them is negligible.
They protrude up to 10 m (33 ft) above the summit plateau and are most likely the former rim of the volcano’s narrow crater. This was eroded over thousands of years of inactivity, mostly by the glaciers which once lay over the summit.
On the north-east flank of the mountain is the only significant indentation on an otherwise serenely symmetrical summit cone. From slightly below the summit flows the mountain’s only glacier, stretching down to around 2,408 m (7,900 ft) and is utilised by the ski resort.
Numerous lakes populate the terrain particularly to the west and north-west, where the largest are the Elk, Homer and Sparks Lakes. Many were formed by (you guessed it!) the surrounding volcanoes, none moreso than the Lava and Little Lava Lakes. These all lie in the space between Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters.
Three Sisters and a Broken Top.
To talk about Mount Bachelor without referring to the Three Sisters would be to ignore a significant geographical and mythological connection.
The Three Sisters is a single complex volcano that consists of three peaks, all over 3,000 m (10,000 ft) and extends for 32 km (20 miles) north to south. The highest is the South Sister at 3,157 m (10,358 ft), closet to Mount Bachelor.
These peaks are also vents of a large shield volcano. The middle peak is the main vent of the more gently sloped volcano, while the steep-sided peaks to its north and south were shorter-lived cinder cones.
They stand north-west of Mount Bachelor, are the third, fourth and fifth highest peaks in Oregon, and are also part of the explosive Cascade Range.
An older volcano, whose last eruptive activity was over 100,000 years ago, is Broken Top. This mountain is found due north of Mount Bachelor and is marginally taller at 2,797 m (9,177 ft).
It is so named because it has been eroded from what may have been a very fine height in the distant past, by the two large glaciers that still lie across it. The Bend and Crook Glaciers have created such destruction on this mountain that it appears like its centre has been scooped out. In this way it looks similar to Mount St Helens.
It is particularly valuable to volcanologists as it offers extensive access to its history through the massive sections of its core that have been exposed through this erosion.
WILDLIFE OF MOUNT BACHELOR.
Looking at Mount Bachelor on a topo map, you’d be forgiven for believing that its flanks were largely devoid of flora. But this is not so.
Around its base is a forest of mountain hemlock and pines, typical of the wider Deschutes National Forest. It is not a dense forest, particularly as you begin to climb towards the summit, and so offers great views of the surrounding peaks as you climb.
Beyond the trees, the flora of Mount Bachelor is categorised as volcanic talus flora. Simply put, these are plants that can grew between volcanic rocks.
Given the mountain’s low total elevation, these flowers are found dispersed from the tree-line to near the summit in the height of summer/ The long-lying snow does make them more scarce and shorter-lived higher up.
Just above the tree-line you’ll find a large population of lavender-flowered Davidson’s penstemon while the white flowers of Drummond’s anemone stand out against the black volcanic rock. Also very common to this part of the US is the oddly-named cobwebby Indian paintbrush, whose colours range in a spectrum from a vibrant yellow to dull red.
As you climb higher, the strikingly bright yellow of dwarf alpinegolds take over, followed by distinctive Mt Lassen whitlow-grass. This mustard plant is endemic to the Cascade Range and only grows above 2,000 m (6,560 ft).
In contrast, nearby Tumalo Mountain is covered in coniferous forest almost to its very summit, though to call this peak a mountain is also quite generous.
Mount Bachelor’s most iconic creature is also one of its fastest.
The pronghorn is similar in appearance to a deer but is actually a type of antelope. Its distinctive horns are thick at the bottom and backward-curving with sharp tips. It’s most impressive attribute it its top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph), enabling this creature to escape effectively from all predators but the hunter’s bullet.
Another unique inhabitant is the pygmy rabbit, which stands apart from most rabbits in its own genus: Brachylagus. The mountain quail, distinctive for its tall, thin quiff and red and white wings, can also be seen on forested slopes. It is hunted here by the majestic Cooper's hawk and northern goshawk. The rabbit and quail are both in decline across Oregon, so sights of either should be treasured during your adventure.
The bird population is a real highlight of the fauna population around Mount Bachelor, with numerous birds of prey, water-based birds and songbirds found here. From the red-eyed vireo to the common crow and from the black-backed woodpecker to the burrowing owl, a walk through the Deschutes National Forest is one that will be filled with birdsong, especially during summer months.
In the rivers and lakes scattered around Mount Bachelor in the Deschutes Basin, salmon, steelhead and other fish populations are plentiful.
Of the larger animals, deer and elk populate this mountain’s surrounds, as is a common feature of the wider region.
FIRST ASCENT OF MOUNT BACHELOR.
A small, shallow-sided mountain, there are no recorded claims to the first ascent of Mount Bachelor. So take a flag with you when you claim your own first ascent of this mountain!
CLIMBING GUIDE FOR MOUNT BACHELOR.
The easiest route to the summit: take the ski lift to 20 m (66 ft) short of the summit. While this offers access for people who may not want to take on a moderately strenuous hike, and run almost year-round, it’s probably not the option you’d favour as a keen Armchair Mountaineer!
One road feeds the mountain, the Cascade Lakes Highway, and it allows you to drive right up to the start of the ascent. Hiking is mainly a summer pursuit as the mountain gets very busy with skiers come winter. Once most of the snow is gone it can be a delightfully quiet mountain to ascend.
There are two main routes used to reach the summit: the Mount Bachelor Trail and the Ski Area Trail.
Both hikes are half-day hikes, and while neither is technically difficult, the main challenge lies in the strenuous nature of ascending over slippery scree.
Mount Bachelor Trail.
The Mount Bachelor Trail is a 9.5 km (5.9-mile) class-I hike.
It climbs the north-east ridge, circling to the south of the glacial basin. From the trailhead at a car park just off the Cascade Lakes Highway, opposite a sign marked: ‘Dutchman’s Flat’, head out to the trail from the south-south-east corner. Beginning with an easy ascent on stable terrain through forest, the work kicks in around the halfway point.
Tight switchbacks, scree and volcanic rubble means careful foot placement will quickly become important to ensure a safe ascent of the mountain.
The upper ski area acts as a false summit, but the true summit is not far passed this point. With stunning views of the Three Sisters and Broken Top from the summit, and a total route time of under five hours, this is a first-choice trail for enjoying mountain views of central Oregon and Cascade Mountains.
Ski Area Trail.
Also known as the North-east Bowl Route, this 5.8 km (3.6-mile) hike is the steeper option, and is less scenic at first.
From the main ski lodge (again accessed via the Cascade Lakes Highway), the route heads up the Pine Marten ski lift route. There are dirt service roads you can take that make the route easier, otherwise head up the scree to reach the top of the lift area.
Here, an unnamed trail dissects a field of larger rocks and takes you to a point to access the glacier. Here, you can choose to hike up the centre of the glacier (take crampons for this section) or climb the more challenging and unstable rock ridge to gain the summit.
Neither trail requires much prior experience, and the second section of the Ski Area Trail is a great place to get a taster of hiking on ice.
INFORMATION ON TREKKING AND ADVENTURES AROUND MOUNT BACHELOR.
Mount Bachelor is actually best known in the US as a skiing destination. With 101 ski runs up to 6.5 km (4 miles) long, a fifth of which are self-graded as ‘extreme’, this mountain offers plenty to skiers and snowboarders. This is reflected in the almost half a million visitors the resorts receives annually.
It is the highest skiable peak in Oregon and Washington, as well as one of the largest in the Pacific North-west. Mount Bachelor celebrates one of the longest ski seasons in the area (November to May most years). This is in part thanks to the location of the resort, high on the mountain’s north-east flank, with many runs weaving over the glacier.
In 2003, Mount Bachelor was even ranked the fourth best resort in North America, no mean feat in a continent that includes the skiing might of Canada! So if you like a fast descent in the winter, put Mount Bachelor on your wishlist.
And if you prefer fast descents during the summer too, the ski resort transforms into the mountain biking hub once the snow melts. They began developing this officially in 2013, with a number of routes now marked across the slopes. This is the reason the ski lifts now run almost year-round, as adventurers swap skis for two-wheels as they are swept uphill.
But if your sights are set firmly on hiking, you’ll be truly spoiled in this area.
The Three Sisters and Broken Top are home to some wonderful hikes, including scenic trips around shimmering lakes, ascents of blackened mountains and views across the Oregon wilderness.
Some distinct highlights include the Catwalk Route or nerve-wracking East Ridge on Broken Top, and the Sparks Lake Trail. This 31.5 km (19.5-mile) return, rated as moderate, travels north to south (and back) between the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor, taking in the pick of the lakes, streams and mountain views en route. It is also a great opportunity to witness much of the impressive, local bird population (see above).
You can also read a local’s favourite hikes to get inspired for what to do in the days before or after you stand atop of Mount Bachelor.