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A Magical Alpine Yurt Weekend at Tam McArther Rim, Oregon

By Katherine Donnelly on

Nestled deep in Central Oregon - flanked on one side by a small frozen lake and on the other a playground of bowls, trees, and cliff faces - is a quaint little basecamp of assorted shelters. It's not until you're at the doorstep that you realize they are there, the thick trees providing coverage and protection from an otherwise wide open expanse around the lake. But as soon as you step foot into this magical slice of backcountry, you'll soon be smitten with every aspect of your new temporary home away from home. So much so that you'll likely have a hard time leaving once your trip is up. 

Welcome to the Tam Rim Alpine Yurts. Sitting at 6,500' and tucked right below the Tam MacArther Rim near Broken Top, visitors are able to wake up, walk out their doors, and quickly begin ascending into the fun and playful terrain that surrounds them. Choose between longer tours out to the edges of the rim, or spend your time lapping the bowls closer to camp; there's really no bad way to spend your days here. And once your legs are at their limits and you've riled up a massive appetite, all you have to do is point those boards downhill and you'll soon be taking your boots off fireside and watching as your friend lays out the charcuterie spread of your dreams and a beer is tossed your way to cheers the epic day you just had with your buddies. Note: charcuterie and beer not included, choose your friends for this trip wisely :)  

^ Hibbs brought along the camera and made this fun short to encapsulate the trip.

Getting a reservation is the trickiest part, since these two 20' yurts operated by family-owned Three Sisters Backcountry book out fast and are quickly becoming a not-so-hidden treasure to backcountry enthusiasts and outdoor-lovers alike. Accompanying these two yurts is a wood-fired sauna, a fully-stocked wood shelter, and an outdoor fire pit to tie it all together - making this an idyllic spot to recharge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But if you do luck out and get the chance to rest your head in either the Raven or Owl Yurts, make sure to take full advantage. For when you make the trip back out to your car and begin driving home, all you will do is pine for the place you just left and the incredible experiences you just had. 

Our yurt weekend, in photos

Words can only express a fraction of what this trip meant to me, so I will turn to my photos from the weekend to help me fill in the gaps. Accompanying me on this adventure was Hibbs, our TREW Video Guy; my husband, Ian; and Lauren, an incredible friend and the very same charcuterie-spread aficionado I mentioned above.

Please enjoy, and I hope that these photos will help me do justice to the very real magic that surrounds this special place. You'll quickly find that I take a lot of pictures of people, and their faces in each of the photos below do most of the talking.

For more pictures of the actual yurts and basecamp, just head over to Three Sisters Backcountry for some of that classic yurt porn. 

Arrive at the trailhead parking lot at 9AM, suited and booted. We were a little late, but after wolfing down some McDonalds and triple checking our bags we were all ready for the trip up to the yurts.

The sled is loaded, everything is strapped down, and it's time to meet our guid for the day. Three Sisters Backcountry offers the option to add-on guiding onto your trip, and we chose to have a guide on our first day so that they could show us around. Gabe (on left) was the coolest, and we had an absolute blast following him around all day long.

With the weather looking a bit ominous for our trip, we made sure to pack some extra beverages just in case we spent more time fireside than skiing. Worth it.

Just a 6-mile sled ride standing between our cars and the yurts. The ride was gusty and blustery as Gabe towed us and our gear up to camp, but we were able to save our legs for skiing rather than having to hike in. Ian and Hibbs took the front seats on the trailer, blocking Lauren and I from the bulk of the wind gusts -- thanks, guys!

Skipping ahead a bit here, as I was too busy unloading and unpacking once we reached the yurts to take the camera back out. Our yurt had to get cleaned and air out after the previous group left that morning, so we quickly got our gear in hike mode and followed Gabe into the woods. The snow was starting to really come down; here's Lauren looking out over the zone 'Playground' before transitioning for the descent.

Like I said, that snow really started to come down. And just in time for our first turns :) and this being my first run of the season, I stowed the camera away and enjoyed it. Don't worry, there are some good shredding shots later on - just not from this run.

I followed Gabe down, and soon Hibbs and the rest of the crew came down after me. To say Hibbs was stoked on the run might be an understatement. We are so damn lucky to be able to do this sport we love so much.

Possibly my favorite thing about this trip: lunchtime. Sandwiches were eaten fast and we enjoyed some snacks and adult beverages by the fire before heading back out for some more pow.

Heading back up after refueling at the yurt, this time following Gabe up to the top of East Peak. Hibbs and Ian are scoping out some fun drops and terrain and making plans for the way down.

GABE! What a standup guy, and always smiling. We were all so impressed and excited about our day with him, and would 100% recommend paying a bit extra for a guide at least one of your days up there. You will not regret it.

Obligatory nature picture. 

The Owl Yurt, home sweet home. As a big owl person myself, I can't tell you how awesome it was to stay here. And all of the wood and metal work was done by the owners of the operation. The small details and handcrafted character throughout camp really made this place feel cozy and charming. 

After a long first day, the sunlight finally gave out and we built up a big fire outside to share with the other group staying in the Raven Yurt. Once this fire died out, we all made our way to our respective yurts and got our wood stoves cranking to stay warm through the night. The moral of the story: there's no shortage of fire and warmth up there, and it was easy to keep warm in this winter wonderland. Also, I love taking pictures of fire - it's just so cool!

Day 2 and we're on the up again. Here's Hibbs simultaneously enjoying his new tech setup and the surrounding scenery. 

Blue steel?

Let's be honest, we've all been there. Hibbs has some binding kinks to work out on the skintrack, but after just a short pause we were on our way agian.

Helmet on, goggles down, and ready to roll. I'm not sure Lauren could get her grin to leave her face the entire time we were out here.  

Sometimes you come in a little too hot, and you have to use a tree to stop. Classic Hibbs move right here.

Ian working on getting his ski legs back and looking good doing so. 

 

Lauren wiggling down some of the more tree-confined terrain and showing off her pole plant game. We called it after this run, since we had to save some legs for our third and final day. Luckily, this run off of East Peak meanders through the woods and pops right out at our yurt making it easy to get home and get that fire started.
The third day arrived, and after possibly a few too many beers the night before we were all moving a little slow. But we had to pack everything up and clean the yurt before the next group showed up at 9:30 - and before we could get our skis on and enjoy Tam Rim until our sled out at 2:30. The owners Jonas and Anna, along with their pup Ursa, arrived right on time with the next group of guests - and while the rest of my crew finished up the last items on our check out checklist, I followed Ursa around with my camera. 

Our final time heading uphill, and the sun broke through for a moment to guide the way. Moments like these are why the outdoors are so special to me, and getting to (try and) capture them is always fun. With about 5" of fresh, fluffy snow overnight, we opted to head back up to East Peak for our last run of the trip. 

East Peak did not disappoint, and we ended on a high note with some of the lightest snow I've ever skied here in Oregon. Ian here making easy work of his first tracks down.

Hibbs came bombing down after Ian, and went for the full face-shot. 

If only I could encapsulate sound into my photos, because Hibbs was hootin' and hollerin' all the way down this run. 

After a quick sandwich, Hibbs - as the midwest park rat that he is - took to his impromptu booter and got inverted on his first and only hit. He stuck it (thank goodness), and we quickly had to switch gears and get the sled trailer loaded up for the trip back to the car.

Cinch it down and hope for the best. 

A final gear check and goodbye, and Ursa helped bid us farewell. I put the camera away for the trip back, and the rest is history. We got back to our trailhead, moved all of our gear into the car, and made good time driving back to Portland. If you have ever been on a trip like this, then you know just how hard it is to go back to your day-to-day. I guess that just means that we have to go back out here soon, right?

To round out this article, let's talk a bit about tips and tricks to making a stay at Tam Rim Yurts the best it can be.

First, what and how much to pack.

Three Sisters Backcountry has a great packing list online to start from, and you can make changes or additions to this list based on what you're planning to do out there. Here's a few additional notes that I would add from my experience:

  • Keep the clothing to a minimum, and plan on being pretty smelly after it all. Focus on warm base layers and socks, and align your packing choices with the weather outlook. With the wood stoves in each yurt, there is plenty of time every night to dry off your gear for the next day - so don't feel like you need to pack a whole new outfit for every day. 
  • You have some room to bring some 'luxurious' items of your choice, since you aren't going to have to pack everything in on your back. I brought deodorant, my hairbrush, and a full-size pillow. All things I would never bring on a true winter camping trip, but I was really happy to have all three items - and I think my bunkmates would agree that the deodorant was a good call. 
  • Pre-make your dinners. I can't stress this enough. With two nights and subsequent dinners on our trip, we pre-made two nutritious meals before hand and carried it in. The first night was spaghetti with meat sauce, bread, and a big salad (precut veggies, goat cheese, chickpeas, nuts, etc.); the second night we had chili, with avocado and a nice spread of snacks. The kitchen setup in the yurts is really great, and you have everything you need to make your meal up there - but the clean-up and waste water is where things begin to get a little messy and arduous. Dishes are a lot harder when you have to watch your water use, and when water runs out you have to head out to the spring again for more. Not the worst scenario, but by pre-making our food we were able to keep our waste water to a minimum and spend more time enjoying the backcountry and spending time with each other. 
  • Don't worry about the bathroom situation. In addition to a convenient 'P' tree right beside the yurts for those #1s, there is a forest service restroom next door and it is fully stocked with TP. There's even extra TP in each yurt, as well as a large supply of ear plugs, paper towels, matches, and more. I always have a small amount of TP packed in my first aid kit that I ski with, since you really just don't know what might happen out there, but they had evidently made a recent stop at Costco and had enough toilet paper on hand for a small army. 
  • Have a good pair of hut shoes. I brought a pair of hut booties and a pair of light sneakers, but neither got the job done super well. Lauren brought along a pair of TNF Thermoball Traction Booties, that had lots of cozy down as well as a hard bottom perfect for packed snow, that worked really well for every moment her ski boots weren't on. I highly suggest going with something like these, since the floor of your yurt can get very wet and running outside for any reason shouldn't warrant having to change your shoes each time. As soon as I got home, I bought a pair for myself so that I'll be ready for my next yurt/hut trip.
  • Bring games and books. We brought along some cards and got into some rousing matches of Rummy at night. I wish I had brought a couple of other games as well, but I was worried about weight when I was packing -- which in retrospect, I shouldn't have been. Bringing some good books is a good idea as well, just in case you end up taking an afternoon off or your crew enjoys some page-turning before bed. 
  • Hot tip: knowing that we were going to be sweaty and gross for three days while being confined in a small yurt, surrounded by our stinky boots and very likely enjoying some chili farts throughout the nights, I packed a few air fresheners (Nose Patrol fresheners are my jam). They were more of a joke when I packed them, but they ended up being clutch as we entered our second and third days without changing or showering. Light, small, and packable, I would definitely suggest bringing some along. Candles are also a good idea, and can really set the mood if that's what you're looking for ;)

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