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Ascent of Three Sisters-North Peak on 2020-02-16

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Willie-Weimaraner Musser
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, February 16, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Three Sisters-North Peak
    Location:USA-Colorado
    Elevation:7760 ft / 2365 m

Ascent Trip Report

Today was the hardest ascent of these pinnacles I have encountered because of winter conditions. I walked Willy up to the main saddle area between Middle Sister and North Sister then with micro spikes proceeded up into the upper saddle area that separates the three pinnacles that make up the North Sister. We recently had 24 inches of snow in Evergreen but that was 2 weeks ago. sunny warmer afternoons melted out much on the trails but not up in the pinnacles. We found limited foot traffic up in the upper saddle but were surprised to see no foot traffic up to the tallest pinnacle. As much traffic that goes by this peak all week long the foot traffic ended up near the big squeeze between the boulders. At the upper most pinnacle all the snow covering the boulders was fresh untouched after 2 weeks! amazing!

Finding the handholds up the first boulder required clearing the snow but when I got to the standard class 3+ boulder climb near the summit all of the hand-holds and foot holds I know so well were covered in 12 inches of snow. I have climbed this 25 times so this was odd. Knocking snow down, I finally found the main hand-hold I use a 4 inch shelf but all of the other finger grips and toe placements were hidden still. I finally wedged in and powered my way up using way more upper body than I have ever had to use and this winter condition route with this much snow was no class 3. In these condition with the exposure and limited places to put hands and feet it was what I would call a winter class 4 and no wonder there were no summits for the past 2 weeks.
Glad to get my FEB ascent of this peak in and getting off the crux boulder was un-nerving because once again I could not find the finger grips needed to back off like normal so I scooted down the snow on my butt till I got one foot on a small ledge then jumped to the snow below. Yikes! Summer climbing is way easier.

Then I climbed down to the tree where I had tied Willy up (who was experiencing separation anxiety from his master) and we slid our way over to the easiest of the three pinnacles on the westernmost side of the formation. Again we followed many tracks in the snow to where the two most common routes to summit this subpeak and both set of tracks ended. The standard slab approach that is usually a class 3+ with the crux move at the bottom to get your toe hold on the slab was covered in snow and above powder everywhere so I did not want to fool with a slab entrance covered in wet slushy snow. I went over to the alternate gully (class 3) and it was free of snow so an easy ascent up to the top slabs that are normally class 2+ but they were covered in powder 12 to 18 inches deep and I could not see where the drops between the boulders were or any of the hand placements making it way more challenging that I imagined. Still no tracks I am the only to do this since the big snow drop?

Unlike the true peak which had total virgin snow and no tracks - I did find one set of boot prints on the top of the easier pinnacle but he had not come up the standard approach that I did so I followed them and he had circumnavigated around the pinnacle to the backside and found a more free from snow slab approach up the backside. I stumbled into that same approach by bushwhacking the western face earlier this year but had no idea it was an easier approach when snow covered the standard routes off the sisters trail saddle.

So leaving a trip report to remember what I learned about a deeper snow summit of this fine formation and bottom line - the climbing is class 4 in winter as you end up having to work the upper body much more to get to the main peak when you can't find the standard hand holds when buried in snow.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:500 ft / 152 m
    Total Elevation Loss:210 ft / 63 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2.1 mi / 3.4 km
    Grade/Class:1,2+,3+,winter 4
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Crampons
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:365 ft / 111 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 290 ft / 89 m; Extra: 75 ft / 22m
    Loss on way in:75 ft / 22 m
    Distance:0.9 mi / 1.4 km
    Route:Sisters Loop
    Start Trailhead:Paved parking off Buffalo  7470 ft / 2276 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:135 ft / 41 m
    Gain on way out:135 ft / 41 m
    Distance:1.2 mi / 1.9 km



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