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South Sister looking large - Hiking Oregon

The Fat, Bald Sister

Whom Almost Everyone Climbs...and Does

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Elevation: 10,358 Feet

She's rumbling, unsteady and could blow whenever she feels like...could describe most of my old girlfriends.  Especially the part that she's easy enough for most people to climb.  I knew I was going to do this one solo and wanted the path of least resistance.  I asked El Jeffe at work what the shortest hike up the hill was.  He told me it would be the Devil's Lake trailhead, something like five miles.  Five Miles?  That didn't seem right, but this was El Jeffe we are talking about, you don't doubt El Jeffe as he is likely to whip out a bike stem air pressure gauge and stab you.  He figured I could do the entire hike in five hours, maybe less.  But I remembered the hiking book said it was something like a 7 hour hike.  Things weren't adding up, but don't doubt El Jeffe.

The begining of the trail for South Sister leading from the Devils Lake Trailhead

I got up at the crack of ass figuring when I got to the parking lot I would get my pick of spots.  Much to my chagrine, the lot was practically packed.  I got Sammy on a leash and started out of the parking lot.  Of course, we got the Obligatory Dumbass Who Doesn't Leash a Viscious Dog.  This black lab comes flying out of nowhere and tackled Sammy.  Sammy kicked the shit out of the dog and I kicked it a few times before it took off to its master.  The owner didn't even say sorry, nothing!  He simply yelled at the dog, adjusted his "I'm with Stupid" T-Shirt, got into his small penis truck and hit his head on his large gunrack before taking off.

Broken Top from a beautiful vantage point

The trail sign said it was six miles to the summit.  SIX MILES?  El Jeffe was full of crap!  I showed up expecting a five mile hike and I am looking at twelve miles with almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain.  It was early and a bit chilly as we started up the trail.  The first couple of miles were steady and steep.  I was in my Chako's, a move I came later to regret because I didn't take them off soon enough, giving me a fifty-cent size blister on the ball of my right foot.  The entire forest was beautiful and quiet.  We got up to the Alpine meadow beside Moraine Lake and the sun was just starting to get some summer heat behind it.  There were large groups of people congregating around the trail intersections, getting ready to do their own hike.  This was the first real views we got on the hike.  South Sister still looked a long ways away.

Mount Bachelor and a glacier lake on hiking South Sister

Mount Bachelor was sitting behind me, looking rather...large.  Mount Bachelor used to be Bachelor Butte, not a mountain at all.  Now I am not sure how you go about changing something into a mountain, but I could see why it had been.  It was big.  Big enough to be a mountain.  It didn't make the skiing any better to be bigger, because snowboarding on Bachelor is the flattest boarding I have ever done.  It's large, sure, but I would not put it on my top list of places to go.

The scree field near the glacier field on South Sister

Sammy and I had made it up to the Lewis Glacier.  The trail was starting to deteriorate into loose ash and rock.  Once you get to the Lewis Glacier, it is seriously uphill from that point.  I think it's a mile and a half from that point to the summit, but it felt like five.  Talking with a couple of people on the glacier who had done this before, they said this was the worst the trail had ever been.  As you can see in the above picture, it's just a scree slide up to the top.  Every other step is a foot step up and slide four inches down, slip, trip and hopefully not fall over.  The volcanic rock doesn't really help for steadying you as the scree just keeps the rock from finding any purchase.  I hates it!  I hates the scree, precious!  Sammy's paws took a bit of a shredding going up this last section to the summit.  You are also starting to reach an alititude where it begins to affect you.  It's not the same as hitting 13,000 feet, which is the worst feeling in the world as far as I am concerned.

Sammy on the summit ridge of South Sister

The views of Broken Top and Mount Bachelor were stunning, especially in the absolute clear, blue skies of late July.  The wind was starting to pick up and I was wishing I had brought some warmer clothing to finish out the scree ridge.  Each step made me want to turn back, my breath was coming in shorter cadance, my steps smaller, slower, my mind coming up with a thousand reasons to not finish it out, the excuses piling, but I wanted to summit.  I was hitting the point that all mountains reach at some point; the thought of climbing is a hell of a lot more fun than doing it.  All I had to do was stop and look around at the rolling hills and lava fields and that would push me to see more of this mountain and the views that are going to come from the top and the other side. 

I finally reached the end of the scree ridge and pulled up into the top of the mountain, but not the summit.  There is a large glacier sitting on top of the mountain in a crater.  You have to cross it in order to get to the summit on the other side.  You have a couple of options; you can cross the snow field or go around the glacier on the east rim.

Crossing the glacier field in the crater of South Sister - Hiking Oregon

I started out by crossed the glacier sitting in the crater, but I had to get off as quickly as possible because I didn't have any sunglasses and I was getting a bit snow-blind from the sun coming off the snow.  I chose to go around the rim, offering a scary, but gorgeous view of the entire East Face of the mountain.  The rim trail is sometimes right on the edge of the mountain so if you don't like looking down, stay on the glacier.  The west side of the glacier had a small, almost neon-blue glacier lake sitting in the middle of it below a large glacier shelf that looked like it could calve off a few feet any moment. 

Jody ODonnell and Sammy on the summit of South Sister - Hiking Oregon

The summit was everything you want; mountains everywhere, wind blowing hard against your hair, people happy to be there and that tired feeling of accomplishment.  You could see Middle and North Sister, Broken Top, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, the top of Mount St. Helens in between Hood and Jefferson, Mount Adams and even the top of Mount Ranier.  Sammy was ready to be done at this point and so was I.  The rest of the trip was the exhaustion of getting down a mountain.  I bet I passed 60 - 70 people between the summit and the Lewis Glacier.  My knees and blisters were really getting to me and I severely looked forward to getting into the vehicle and going home.  What struck me was how far I had come up the mountain. 

All around, it took me 7 hours from the botom to the top.  I am sure there are those who can do it much faster, but not I.  I am not saying this is the hardest hike I have ever done, but the scree field and going above 10,000 feet make it more than a quick jaunt.  You need to be in decent shape to get to the top of the third largest peak in Oregon.  If you have dogs, bring the little foot booties as the volcanic rock is pretty tough o their paws.

Broken Top and a glacier lake near the summit of South Sister - Mountain Hiking