Ascent of North Sister on 2015-08-28

Climber: Mark Smith

Others in Party:Austin D. Smith
Glenn Campbell
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, August 28, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:North Sister
    Elevation:10085 ft / 3073 m

Ascent Trip Report

Having done the Pole Creek approach from the north on an ascent of Middle Sister, we wanted to try the Obsidian Trail approach from the west. We found the Obsidian approach to be much more interesting. However, the trail is probably a litte longer and requires a $6 access permit from Recreation.Gov. The trail will reach quota in the summer, so reserve well in advance.

Our times were 3 hours from the Obsidian Trailhead to Arrowhead Lake, 7 hours from lake to summit, and 5 hours back to lake. Time to summit would have been shortened if we hadn't wandered about by headlamp.

Approach notes
In August 2015 the trail junction signage was greatly improved. About 3.5 miles from the trailhead, just past the lava field crossing, take the Glacier Way trail (left) to reach the PCT. Upon reaching the PCT, turn right (south) for a short distance to reach the next trail junction, turning left (east) onto "User Trail, Not Maintained." This trail leads to the Collier Glacier on the west side of North Sister. A short distance up the "User Trail" is a short but steep side trail to the south which gains the bluff that cradles Arrowhead Lake. The lake is an ideal basecamp for North Sister.

We left our camp at Arrowhead Lake by headlamp and missed an important trail junction. Not far east of the lake the trail turns somewhat south and angles into a small creek bed. The trail crosses the creek bed and turns southeast and then east. However, a less useful trail continues straight ahead at the creek bed, paralleling the creek and splitting into threads. The straight ahead trail may be an approach to Middle Sister, or perhaps was formed by numerous hikers that missed the creek crossing. Since the left turn to cross the creek is in the creek bed, it is not obvious at night.

The trails in this area thread many times leading to continuous decisions on which way to go. Take note of your path on the way up if you hope to reverse your route on the way out. It is easy to give up a lot time on both the approach and return by ending up where you don't want to be. Also, sections of shale make following the trail challenging.

The Collier Glacier is moderately crevassed. If you don't want to cross crevasses, the glacier can be crossed very high up but at the cost of extra elevation gain and loss. On the approach side of the upper glacier are snow fields that will melt into ponds later in the season, so be careful when crossing earlier in the season.

Once on the South Ridge there are two back-and-forths across the ridge to avoid gendarmes. One crossing that is not obvious occurs about 75 yards north of the Camel's Hump, where you can ascend to the ridge in a red-ish colored chute.

The Terrible Traverse should be crossed either when it holds enough snow to protect with pickets or when it is melted out. On this ascent it was easy to cross since it was fully melted out (late September). However, it was a low snow year with a very hot summer. Four weeks earlier (very end of August) we turned back at the Traverse due to a 40' wide section of thin snow and ice. This leads to the conclusion that the Traverse should be expected to hold snow throughout August in any given year. Since the Traverse holds snow longer than most of the west side of the mountain, if from the highway you see any snow pockets near the summit assume there is snow (or ice from melted snow) on the Traverse.

After the Traverse a steep but easy scramble gains the base of the Bowling Alley. Enter as early as possible. If you follow the well worn climbers trail too far the Alley entrance will appear blocked by a gendarme. Should this occur, immediately cut back to the right to gain the Alley.

Assuming the Alley is not a snow climb, there is no need to face loose rock. From the start alcove at the base of the north side of the Alley, cross the Alley to a section of yellowish rock on the south wall. Make 4th Class (possibly 5.0) moves on high quality rock to gain the arete, then diagonal left following more quality rock. Once started up the yellow rock the route is obvious. Protection is iffy by slinging horns, but the rock is so solid that protection was only needed to keep the rope on track for the second climber.

We found two rappel anchors at the top of the Alley, both equipped with multiple slings and rap rings. We belayed at the lower anchor since it appeared that our 60m rope might not reach the upper anchor. (The standard route up the Alley is more direct and would definitely reach the upper anchor in 60m.) On descent the lower anchor was accessed by a 3rd Class downclimb from the upper anchor, at which point only about 20-25 meters of rappel was needed to reach low angle 3rd Class. Should the slings be missing from the lower anchor, a 60 meter rope should sill be sufficient to rappel down to 3rd Class terrain.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6055 ft / 1844 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6055 ft / 1844 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:light rain, then cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5705 ft / 1738 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5305 ft / 1617 m; Extra: 400 ft / 121m
    Loss on way in:400 ft / 121 m
    Start Trailhead:4780 ft / 1456 m
    Time:19 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5655 ft / 1723 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5305 ft / 1617 m; Extra: 350 ft / 106m
    Gain on way out:350 ft / 106 m
    End Trailhead:4780 ft / 1456 m
    Time:9 Hours 30 Minutes

This page has been served 881 times since 2005-01-15.

Copyright © 1987-2021 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service