Sunday, October 2, 2011

Collier Cone & Obsidian Trail Loop

With the weather quickly turning to shit in the Pacific Northwest, Emily and I decided to go for one last hike of the season on Sunday into the Sisters Wilderness via the Obsidian Trail.  The initial plan was to do a scramble up Little Brother from our book of Oregon Scrambles but with Chris bringing Kya along and us unable to locate any sort of path up the ridge we had to give up, instead climbing Collier Cone (less than 300 ft shorter than Little Brother anyway) and hiking the Obsidian, PCT, Scott trail loop.  The weather held for us for the entire hike in, during our failed exploration of Little Brother and all the way to the top of Collier Cone with it's amazing views of the Collier Glacier on North Sister.  After we had snapped some amazing pictures from the top of the cone the clouds rolled in, almost on que, as we made our long descent out of the woods on Scott's Trail in rainy, overcast weather.  16.4 miles, 4,000ft vertical, and nearly 10 hours later we were back to the car just before dark, exhausted but happy about another great climb.  Click the link to read more.

Emily and I were both happy after a long, busy work week to sleep in a bit on Saturday before picking up library cards and groceries in the afternoon.  Emily was able to pack up her stuff for a business trip on Monday morning as well before we headed over to Blocktoberfest to meet up with some friends.  We quickly found that Block15 had greatly increased the prices and that unless we had several hundred dollars to piss away on beer and German food we probably wouldn't have a good time.  Thus, we left early around 9pm to head home and chill for the night for an early 5:30am rise on Sunday.

As usual, having planned a Corvallis departure for around 6:15 we didn't actually leave until about 7am.  We drove through rain and clouds most of the way as the sun rose and made it to the Obsidian Trailhead at around 8:45am.  We gathered up our stuff and were on the trail by around 9am.  I had been on the Obsidian Trail 4 years ago with Logan when we climbed North and Middle Sister so I remembered much of the trail as well as the amazing lava flows we passed through.  The weather was mostly cloudy on our hike in and the peaks of both North and Middle Sister were just hugged by the clouds.   Since I was there last a limited use area had been established which required permits to enter but I figured it was Sunday in the Fall with questionable weather and the Ranger Station wasn't open to obtain a permit anyway so we risked it without one.  Thankfully, no one questioned us about having one.

We made amazing time hiking along the well-maintained Obsidian Trail to the junction of the PCT.  We were surprised to still see a large assortment of flowers along the trail as well.  After crossing one of the large lava flows Chris decided to try on the booties he had got for Kya's paws.  Kya was definitely not pleased at first and watching her tentatively walk with the booties on her feet was one of the funniest things Emily and I had seen in a long time!  From the PCT junction we headed to the left towards the west ridge of Little Brother like the book of Scrambles told us to but we were unable to find any discernible route to follow up the steep ridge.  After crossing several ridges trying to find a way up with my gps and crossing several large fields of boulders and scree in which Chris had to carry Kya we gave up on the idea and made our way back down to the PCT after a quick break for lunch.

We had lost about an hour or so trying to find a path up Little Brother so we decided to just do the loop hike for views with perhaps a run up Collier Cone for a close up view of North Sister.  Following the PCT north towards Collier Cone was amazing.  The trail was very well maintained as it passed through both lava fields and glacial moraines on the way to Opie Dilldock Pass and Collier Cone.  Besides a group of trail runners we saw on the Obsidian Trail and one lone hiker near Collier Cone we were alone in the wilderness it seemed.  Near Collier Cone we entered a landscape that looked like something on a distant planet.  All around us was fields of volcanic rock and we climbed for quite a while without seeing vegetation as we ascended an old glacially carved out canyon to the base of Collier Cone.  Along the way we had unbelievable views north towards Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack just below the cloud level and the base of Mt. Jefferson in the distance under the clouds.

As we started our climb up Collier Cone we could see some clouds roll in and it started to sprinkle a little bit. We made great time to the rim of the the Cone and a lookout appropriately named Collier Glacier Lookout where we had a wonderful view up towards Middle Sister and North Sister looming above us to the left.  Below the glaciers was a small glacial lake of runoff and silt that looked pretty freakin' cold.  Kya was doing a great job over the lava rock in her booties as we snapped a bunch of photos and then continued on the loop around the Cone to it's true summit.  On top of the 7,534 foot cone we had enough time to snap photos of each other and take some great video before the clouds quickly moved in.  Kya was getting cold and it looked like it was going to pour (which it did) so we quickly made our way back down to the PCT.  If we had been just 10 minutes slower making it up Collier Cone we would not have had any views as the clouds had completely engulfed both Sisters and the cone by the time we made it to the bottom.

The trip out was a bit of a trudge (albeit a beautiful one) with off and on showers and many miles back to the car.  We had all put on rain gear and the conversation naturally was replaced by an urgency to get out of the woods back to a warm car out of our boots.  There was a side trail to 4 in one Cones which we passed by because we would not have had any views anyway.  On the way out we passed through several more large lava flows before we entered the woods again.  It simply is amazing to see the leading or side edge of a flow that is easily 40-60 feet tall just stop before the edge of the woods.  I can't imagine seeing one actually moving down the hillside in real life... the power of it must be incredible.  I occasionally would stop for photos so I was behind both Emily and Chris most of the way.  Thankfully there was a connection trail near the end which connected Scott's trail back to the Obsidian trail to save us over half a mile of walking back on the road between the two parking lots.

I misjudged the time just slightly and we made it out by 6:45 instead of 6pm like I had hoped for, just before dark thankfully.  It is a good thing we didn't climb Little Brother as we would have had to return via the same trail we came in on and if we had climbed it there was no way we would have had the energy to climb Collier Cone too and make it out of the woods.  We were all exhausted and glad to get out of our boots and get into a warm car for the ride home.  We stopped only once for some drinks to keep me awake for the drive and Kya was passed out cold in the backseat the entire ride.  We made it back to Corvallis by 9:30 and were in bed after some quick food by 10:30 so Emily could get some sleep before having to rise at 5:30am again for her flight.  It was a great climb and I'm glad that we made it up to the top of a peak as well.  I was surprised to find that Collier Cone was just under 300 feet shorter than Little Brother and we had climbed over 4,000 feet of elevation.... and my knee felt great at the end!

No comments: