All Diller No Filler: Skiing Middle Sister's Diller Glacier Headwall

 The Line: Diller Glacier Headwall, 1,000', 40-45°

The Mountain: Middle Sister, "Hope", 10,046', Oregon Cascades

April 20, 2024

The Diller Headwall catches the afternoon sun. We skied the illuminated chute that slants looker's left from the summit. 

Despite the title of this post, there is going to be some filler, because what's the point of writing a blog post if I can't run my mouth however I choose? 

North and Middle as seen from near my job in Tumalo. The arrow points to the Diller Glacier Headwall. 

There are few things better than skiing a big line that you can see from town, even better if its an obvious slash through a band of rock. So when Zach and Axell (from here on out to be referred to by their celebrity couple name, Zaxell) asked if I had any interest in skiing the Diller Headwall, I said yes, even though I knew I already had plans to ski Middle Sister the day after with my dad. 2Chainz was right: Sleep When U Die. 

My alarm went off at 2:50AM. Those bastards had waited until after I had committed to tell me the rendezvous time, which was probably a good call on their part. I rallied over to their place and we carpooled out to Sisters. 

Photo: Axell Beskar

Axell's scouting mission the day before had revealed a decent bit of snow on the road about a mile from the trailhead. Getting over it while it was frozen would have been easy, but getting back in the heat of the day could be another story. Zach and I once unsuccessfully tried to help an entire family in an F250 who had gotten stuck on that very road after the snow had melted in the afternoon sun and sent them all the way down to the mud. The mud and snow refroze,  trapping them there overnight and for-God-knows-how-much longer after our joint effort to dig and pull them out was unsuccessful (an offer to give them a lift back into town was turned down). Zach and I still laugh about the guy's claim that he had a buddy with a "badass four wheel drive" that would pull him right out, despite his own badass four wheel drive just getting him very, very stuck. Anyways, the point is that we're now overly cautious on melting snow.  

There were a few other cars parked where the snow began, with few more sprinkled across the road part way. Stopping early had added a mile; it was 5AM when we got to Pole Creek TH proper. We walked a little ways on the summer trail before the snow coverage looked solid enough to skin, and we were off! We left the summer trail soon after and took a fairly direct route up Pole Creek towards North Sister. First the horizon began to glow orange, then the Sisters took on a brilliant red glow, and finally a sliver of the Sun began to peak out. 

Fiiiirrrreeeeee, fire on the mountain....

I didn't quite understand Axell's routefinding, but he seemed confident and I was too groggy to ask questions. Eventually we cut left, just under the southeast ridge on North Sister, and side-hilled our way into the basin between North and Middle. I lagged behind, only due to too much enthusiasm for photography and not at all a lack of speed. 

Diller Glacier Headwall Sisters Oregon

Full daylight streamed into our east-facing position, but the icy surface didn't seem to notice. Our skins were still getting plenty of grip as we moved up onto the subtle bulge of the Hayden Glacier. I haven't been up there in the summer to see what the crevasse situation is, but the SOP for everyone I've ever seen is to be to head up the spine of it unroped, so we went along with it.


On the Hayden Glacier, Prouty Point in the background.

Winds from the west began blasting us full-force as we reached the notch between Prouty Point and Middle Sister. The situation didn't improve as we strapped skis to our packs and started booting up the north ridge. The sting of ice crystals on my face on a bluebird spring day felt out of place. In my book, there are two types of days: one where you wear your buff as a balaclava to bundle up against stinging wind and snow, and the other where you are practically required to wear it as a headband to avoid being blinded by sweat. Rarely have I seen it flip so dramatically from one to the other, but such is the spring. 

Check the volcano lineup in the distance. Photo: Zach Smith

The snow climbing was easy and secure, but steep enough to be fun. I was already looking forward to sharing it with Dad the next day. The summit brought just a twinge of the elation that more difficult summits give me, but even so, it felt good to be on top of something again. I knew the dose of happy chemicals I was looking for would come on the way down. 

Photo: Axell Beskar

A frozen crampon strap led to a transition so slow, Zaxell wondered if I had become a splitboarder all of a sudden. A few taps with my axe eventually freed it, and I met the guys at the top of the line. From a distance, it looks like the best entrance into the Diller Headwall would be about halfway down the ridge, but in reality the terrain allows you to enter from just a few feet below the summit. The first peek over the edge certainly elicited a small gulp, but a recent experience getting in way over my head made this seem far more reasonable than it would have at the beginning of the season. Maybe I'd even look good doing it. I posted up above the fall line of the wide chute to snap some photos as Axell dropped in. 

Diller Glacier Headwall Sisters Oregon

He absolutely tore it up, linking jump turns and carves all the way. He eventually disappeared behind the wall to the left, our agreed-upon rendezvous point, and soon he came over the radio to invite us to join him. Zach was the next to make it look good. This time, I remembered how to work the camera from the beginning. 

Diller Glacier Headwall Sisters Oregon

Just as the earth turns winter to spring, eventually it was my turn. I traversed left to where they dropped in and started making turns, finding confidence in the soft corn. 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what a great line. Consistently steep, wide enough for big turns, aesthetic, just so damn fun to SKI! The only thing interrupting the flow was the sluff, which demanded periodic breaks to let it run on by. I rejoined Zaxell below the cliff for a round of hoots and pole taps. The bergshrund below quickly grabbed our attention, and we drew up a few options to get over it. We sussed out a way to ski over it with just a small drop; no air time required. 

Just past the 'schrund.

From there on out it was all one big party lap. We sailed across the rest of the Diller Glacier to a rocky point and took a break to celebrate the holiday. Maybe that had something to do with it, but the next turns were some of the best of my life. Sometimes I catch myself breaking out in an involuntary grin while I ski. Here, I found myself stuck with the biggest, goofiest, mouth hanging open, almost drooling smile possible. The cause: nothing but the world's most perfect corn; acres and acres of it ready for harvesting on a perfectly tilted glacier with my friends. 

After chasing each other over ridges and dips for a few thousand more feet, we regrouped. As we hit the trees and began the deproach phase, the genius of Axell's earlier skintrack was revealed to me: he had plotted a course avoiding almost all of the small ridges that litter the area, so we wouldn't have to throw skins on at all for the remaining 4 or so miles. There were plenty of log skiing shenanigans and some anaerobic skating, but the skins stayed stashed all the way back to the trailhead proper. 

Photo: Axell Beskar


Skiing with Dad the next day!

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. Dad did great on all the snow climbing and we had a blast skiing down. We ditched our skis at the Prouty-Middle Sister col and booted up and down the north ridge. The only surprise of the day was the couple that had a dog--not a metaphorical one, I'm afraid--tied into their running belay on the ridge. The pooch's scared whining reminded me of how I feel on many alpine climbs, but I'm assuming they'll do what I do and cut that part out of the Instagram post.  



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