Sunday, September 2, 2007

North & Middle Sister

This weekend Logan Mitchell and I traveled to the Sisters Wilderness to attempt Middle and North
Sister. We decided to leave Saturday night and camp over at the Obsidian Trailhead.... This turned out to be a problem as the gate on the road was closed 5 miles below the trailhead due to fallen trees on the roadway. We had the other option to drive another two hours over through Bend to the Eastern Trailhead but decided a 5 mile hike on the road was the better choice so we camped at the Alder Campground 30 yards from the closed gate.
After waking up at 6:30am we took a look at the map and decided we could actually cut off a bit of the highway by just walking straight up the mountain instead of following the road switchbacks. A trail crew guy drove by saying he was opening the gate then and we asked for a ride back to the car so we could move it up to the correct trailhead but he was a by-the-books guy and said it was against company policy... oh well. We then cut backcountry across the face of Sims Butte onto a lava flow that took us past beautiful
Spring Lake to the trail we needed to be on. I thought it would be a hard bushwack but it turned out to be through open trees and over lava rocks of the flow with beautiful views of the peaks in the background. We made terrific time through the beautiful forest covered in Old Mans Beard (green hair looking growths on trees whose height marks the snowline in winter, easily 12 feet high) and by late morning we found ourselves crossing the PCT and heading above treeline. On the way we passed over a large lava flow (same one we had followed earlier), and then through some unbelievable beautiful meadows with wildflowers and the Sisters towering above us in the distance. We camped at 3,700 feet
and needed to get to 10,000 feet by the end of the day so we had a long climb ahead of us. We passed by Obsidian Cliffs and came to a small outcrop off the trail across a stream of pure obsidian glass which definitely was fascinating to us Geologists. After many hours of rock hopping (literally... hours of possible ankle twists on large andesitic lava rocks) we came to snow. We crossed several snow fields and found ourselves trekking up steep ridges of loose rock that came down in landslides under our feet. We take three steps and come back one... this went on for quite some time. Finally, after
descending a very treacherous hillside we came to the very large Renfrew Glacier and followed it's edge up to the ridge on Middle Sister. We could see the trail headed up Middle Sister and it appeared to have a lot of exposure (exposure as in if you fall you die). But, once we dropped our bags in the col and started up it didn't seem that bad. It was steep and the rocks were loose under our feet but there wasn't too much danger of sliding off a cliff anywhere. We easily made it up the last 800 feet or so to the summit at just over 10,000 ft and hung out there for a while. There was a very large fire at Black Butte in Santiam Pass that we could see on the hike up but from the summit it was amazing to see. Blue skies everywhere except for
Santiam pass which was engulfed in a massive smoke cloud that moved east and
settled over Bend in the distance surely choking out the residents there. As we sat and watched from over 10k we could see many planes and helicopters dumping water on the fire which was encroaching on the slopes of Mt. Washington and countless expensive homes I'm sure. Every time we saw a black puff of smoke we guessed it might be the tar on the roofs of those homes lighting up. We stayed at the top for over half an hour in the sun out of the wind taking photos and videos. The views of the Sisters wilderness were absolutely amazing! After a very quick descent we headed off over the ridge
towards North Sister and found a great Bivy site at around 9,000 feet. Check out the photo the right of our search for a bivy site in the rocks... It looks like a big rock mountain but there is a white speck in the upper center - logans pants... I
had been climbing at altitude for a week so I felt fine there. Logan seemed to be ok himself, or hid it very well. We set up our bivy's under the setting sun and cooked up some veggy lasagna (ironically we both had the same Backpacker Pantry flavor with us) and melted some glacial snow for water. We watched the sun set under a very cold breeze then headed to bed at dark. I watched some stuff on my ipod then stuck my head out at about 10:30pm to check the stars. The Milky Way was clear as day right over my head and I'm sure I saw at
least 10 shooting stars while watching the sky. Middle Sister just appeared as a large dark mass to our our south blocking the moon and making the stars even brighter. I then fell asleep with a hat on and was warm for the most part throughout the
entire night thankfully.
In the morning we woke up to see the shadow of Middle Sister (see photo) stretched over the land all the way to the Coastal Range with the sun rising to the East. We ate some breakfast, then headed over the rocky ridge towards North Sister only to come across a very large cliff band we had to skirt for 20 minutes. At the base of the cliff band we found ourselves on the edge of the massive Collier Glacier on some very cold ice from the night before so I put on my new helmet, and crampons and whipped out my brand new ice axe to use as well. We traversed down the glacier to the East until we came to a col at the base of North Sister. We dropped our packs there and headed up with water, food, map etc.
North Sister was difficult. It was my first truly technically challenging mountain I believe and at 10,000 feet in height it was nothing to be taken lightly. We started climbing up and the rock under our feet was just
rubble making it a slow slog up the very steep ridge. We then came across some very steep and jagged towers of rock we had to climb down and negotiate... still hundreds of feet from the summit. Getting close to the summit ridge I decided
to drop my poles as I then needed both my hands to secure myself on the rock below some very high ledges. I had my shell on and it was very hot on the East side in the sun, but as soon as we poked our bodies around corners visible to the west we were blasted by winds which thankfully cooled me off. We traversed the west face of the peak for a while until we came to a very steep section. Logan and I ascended about 60 feet up this section until we got to a point where both

of us felt pretty uncomfortable. We were literally clinging to the face of the peak at about an 80 degree angle above a good 100-150 foot fall to jagged rock. The rock we were using to brace ourselves and support our movements was sheering off the mountain in slabs (see picture of loose rock). I'd say that one out of 4 holds that I put my hand on to support myself just pulled right out of the crumbly rock with ease. We decided to descend back down VERY CAREFULLY and look for other options. Logan spotted what looked like a possible route back the way we had come. We had missed seeing it. After backtracking for 30 minutes we started up the correct route and again found ourselves at the base of an 80 foot climb that both of us would call 5th class. There were belay lines strapped to the rocks for
people to rope up with coming down (climbing down is always twice as hard as going up). Logan and felt confident in our abilities on rock and started up, thankfully on very secure rock with terrific hand-holds this time. We easily scrambled up the rock and made it up to the summit pinnacle in no time. The top of the mountain was
literally an area of about 15 feet around with cliffs upwards of 1,500+ feet all around us. I got a bunch of photos and actually got some great videos of us climbing and chucking a rock over a cliff but something happened to my camera card and I lost the videos. It had taken us about 3 full hours to find our way up the very steep mountain but thankfully we had made it and took our time on this summit as well.
After a very slow and careful climb down from the summit pinnacle I found my poles again and had a very fast "ski" down the loose rock on the ridge back to my bag in the col. We again headed out over the Collier Glacier (this time without crampons because the snow had softened in the sun) with our ice axes out in case of a fall and need for self-arrest. We passed by huge crevasses gaping wide in the glacier and my boots became wet in the glacial water running down the snow from the hot sun. We stopped at one section and I filled up my nalgene with crystal clear glacial water to drink. Fantastic! On our descent we again passed by the obsidian wall Logan loves so much and stopped to collect some rocks to bring home. Logan spent a good amount of time looking for a really cool, smooth one to use as a tap handle for a kegorator. After descending over 5,000 feet we finally made it back to the road at the Obsidian trailhead but had over 5 miles of road walking to do still. Luckily we bumbed a ride from a passing hiker who brought us all the way back down to the car saving our knees and feet a lot of pain after the 25 mile, 8,000ft+ climb we had just done. It was then a 2 hour ride back to Corvallis. On the way we picked up a hitchiker for good karma because we had been picked up as well. He had a funny story about hitch-hiking in Florida with a kid in a stolen car and having beers at a potato factory with an alligator after the engine heated up only to have a gun pulled on him by a cop thinking he had stolen the car... gotta love the interesting people and stories you come across in life. It was a fantastic hike and I can luckily now say that I've successfully climbed 5 Cascade Volcanoes this summer on my first attempts! Hope the good luck lasts. AGAIN, CLICK THE TITLE OF THIS TO SEE AN AMAZING SLIDESHOW OF PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP!

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