The first part of the hike – 5.1 miles to the beginning of the climber’s trail – went smoothly, and I completed it in a little over 1.5 hours. I stopped to fill my canteens at Glacier Creek, wasted a little time looking for the trail up over the rockfall from which the creek emerges, and then proceeded. The trail was quite steep even at the beginning, which I expected – it was also rather rough. When I crossed the first ridge above the beginning of the climber’s trail and broke out into the valley leading up to Collier Glacier, I faced a strong and gusty headwind, which plagued me all the way to the summit. At times it felt like the gusts were actually going to blow me over, and it also felt like the wind added 25 or 30 pounds to the effective weight of my pack. Another annoyance that I hadn’t anticipated – the equinoctial sun was at almost exactly the same elevation in the sky as the slope of the mountain, and it was directly in my face. Even seeing the trail ahead of me was difficult; taking pictures of the trail ahead impossible.
Other than these two inconveniences, the hike up the valley to Collier glacier, then on up the glacier, was a lot of fun. I decided to climb the moraine next to the glacier and deferred putting on my crampons and walking up the snow, a decision I regretted. The adjustable crampons work like a charm, and once I was on the glacier I found walking on the snow much easier than stumbling over watermelon-sized rocks and slip-sliding through loose gravel and fine sand on the moraine.
At about 1000 feet below the summit, however, I had no choice. I came to the end of the glacier and ran out of snow – just when the slope grew steeper. The ground was no firmer – my impression is that Middle Sister is just a huge pile of rocks and sand; even the top is just a huge boulder, about the size of a large refrigerator, undistinguished in any way except that it is a bit higher than the surrounding boulders. The route turns southward at the top of Collier Glacier, and obligingly, the sun also wheeled on around, so it was still directly in my face as I peered upward at the trail ahead. After an hour or so of sand-pile walking (two feet up for every foot of actual elevation gain) I reached the top at about 1:15 and sat down for a sandwich and a bit of scenery. I had begun with the idea that, if things went well, I might give the north route up South sister a try that same afternoon, but reaching the top that late was not “going well,” so I gave up on that plan.
I took a
few pictures but it was a very hazy day – a forest fire had started
Oakridge, adding to the thick pall of smog from the
The way down, along the ridge that stretches out to the south and east, looked a lot like what I had just scrambled up. It is blocked by a large rock outcropping, but otherwise looked fairly easy to get down. The wind, which had plagued me the entire day, died as a started down the ridge. When I reached the outcropping, I followed what appeared to be the trail, missed where it turned back up toward the ridge, and ended up following a secondary descent that drops pretty well straight down the fall line. That way appears to be considerably steeper; much of it is over unstable heaps of rock that require constant testing and unrelenting caution. Once I realized I had taken the wrong trail, I considered scrambling back up the ridge trail – and later wished I had, since the direct descent was misery the entire way. The descent took at least half again as long as the ridge trail would have taken, and I didn’t reach the level of the saddle between the two peaks until nearly 3:30. I hiked on down to Camp Lake, about 500 feet below the saddle, found a level stretch for my sleeping pad, and sat down to take my boots off and enjoy a snack of some salty peanuts. With no tent and no campfires allowed, even if I were inclined to have one, setting up camp is a pretty minimal exercise – a good thing, because I had pretty minimal energy.
As I gazed
at South Sister, tracing what appeared to be the best route up, and
it with another hiker who was camped at the lake (planning to climb
Sister the next day) I decided that it
looked doable, and I should at least give a try. So
I decided I would get up early the next
morning, forego the opportunity for a second leisurely pot of coffee,
it a go.
Route South Sister