Ascent of South Sister on 2014-09-19

Climber: Samuel Hahn

Date:Friday, September 19, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:South Sister
    Elevation:10358 ft / 3157 m

Ascent Trip Report

South Sister and the rest of its siblings always held a special sort of mystique for me; they were among the peaks my mother bagged in a Pacific Northwest backcountry odyssey during her twenties and the subject of frequent misty-eyed, reverential soliloquies during my youth. So to say I was itching to see what all the fuss was about is an understatement.

After an uneventful flight into Portland, I arrived at the Devil's Lake Campground/trailhead at around dusk and pitched my tent as car campers steadily filled the dirt parking lot. Waking up well before sunrise (thanks to the time difference and joy at finally being back in the Cascade Range), I made breakfast under headlamp and proceeded along the South Sister climber's trail as the sun emerged over the horizon and even more cars full of day hikers arrived for a justifiably popular ultra prominent peak.

Navigation issues were minimal, especially at the onset of the hike as it passes through stands of tall, fragrant conifers, eventually opening up on a broad, High Desert expanse with Wickiup Plains to the west and a descending trail to Moraine Lake to east. The trail up until the base of the mountain is gentle class one over largely sandy tread and intensely scenic--one can see much of South Sister up until its false summit.

The trail deteriorates a bit as the real elevation gain begins, but on a friable, crumbling Cascade volcano, I can hardly complain, as it's still well-defined and the upward slog featured steadily improving views of Broken Top and The Wife up until the false summit, thanks to the cloudless skies at the time. The scree grew softer and my nascent altitude headache became more than just a nuisance, but I eventually reach the false summit about 3 hours after starting the hike. Fortunately, it was only a short walk to the true summit, a truly visually enjoyable jaunt with vistas of the other sisters to the North. Just shy of 3.5 hours, I gained the summit, pausing to study a memorial to recently deceased local climbers and another to the lost sherpas of Everest.

Sobering reminders of the hazards of mountaineering aside, the scene from this wilderness high point were undoubtedly worth the climb. Middle Sister, North Sister, and Broken Top dominated my immediate line of sight, but on this clear day, I was lucky enough to see all the way to Mount Saint Helens to the north and Mount McLoughlin to the south. And though clouds were coming from the latter's direction, it only added a mystical aura to the whole summit scene; climbers resembled specters of themselves as they circumnavigated the summit crater, and I realized that if I accomplished nothing else during this scheduled week of peakbagging in the Oregon Cascades, this hike would at least make the trip well worth the cost.

The descent was largely uneventful. I returned the way I came but not unchanged for the journey. Having seen the best of the High Desert with my own eyes, I finally understood the significance of this part of the world to my mother, and that it too would remain among my favorite places for years to come.

8 hours car-to-car
~5000' gain
~12.4 miles RT
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4987 ft / 1520 m
    Trailhead:5371 ft / 1637 m
    Grade/Class:Class 1, Class 2 in
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles

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