South Sister 10,360 feet

September 3, 2010

Elevation Gain:
4,954 ft

Min/Max Elevation:
5,480 ft / 10,332 ft

12.03 mile Round Trip
My Lonesome
South Sister Hiking Photos

 

[Garmin Connect Detail Stats / Hiking Info]

 

Awww, yes – the almighty South Sister. One of the few Mountain “climbs” around that does not require any technical gear classifying it more as an extremely steep hike. For the last few months I had been doing a bunch of beta researching listening to friends and reading blogs about this strenuous hike up the hill. The stars had finally aligned as we had planned a trip to Sisters, Oregon for Matt n Jess’s Wedding on the Labor Day Weekend and were able to leave a day earlier to allow for this hiking adventure. Unfortunately even with an extra day things still had to be rushed for all logistics to work out. It was just me hiking so I wasn’t entirely worried about hiking this one in the short allotted time set my the wifeee.

Access to the trailhead is fairly easy to get to… From Bend head West on the Cascade Loops Highway (follow signs towards Mt Bachelor Ski Area) for about 30 minutes. You will park at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead. A NW Forest Pass is required here so those who did not have one or did not want to pony up the $5/day parked off the Highway. I arrived to the parking lot Friday morning around 8:45am – it was way packed!

The mighty South Sister known as Charity towers over her siblings Middle & North Sisters (Hope / Faith) at a steep 10,360 ish feet (My Garmin 405 decided it was a few feet shorter and clocked me at the highest point of 10,332). I knew my legs would be hating me after this one!

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[gps clocked Moraine Lake Trail at 2mi]

Just as I hit the trail I noticed a few more groups pulling in. This gave me motivation to hit the trail hard to get ahead of the crowds arriving. From the Devil’s Lake Trailhead you start hiking along the side of a small creek that opens up to a cool meadow (I imagine that there is a good chance of seeing some big game animals during feeding times here).

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[meadow]

 

Just after you cross over the highway you are required to fill out the Wilderness Permit. This permit is free and basically monitors the amount of recreation use in this area – if you do not fill it out you can be fined $200… its free, do it!

The trail steadily climbs about 1,000 feet over the course of 2 miles to the Moraine Lake trail juncture. The climb is gradual with a sweet plateau about 1 mile into it and another at the Moraine Lakes trail juncture. The plateaus allows for your legs to briefly rest from the burning steepness. I passed a few groups here that stopped to get a late morning snack before the real climbing began. 

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[Moraine Lake trail juncture]

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[The journey ahead]

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[Moraine Lake with Mt Bachelor in the distance]

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[Plateau before the climb]

 

For the first 2 miles I was somewhat surprised by how few people I had seen thus far considering how packed the parking lot was. As I got closer and closer to the summit I started to see more people. Along the trail I spoke with a few guys that stayed the night up at summit and watched the sunset/sunrise and said it was absolutely phenomenal! I also ran into a local old-timer, Fred. Fred seemed to be in his 80’s and also sporting clothes from the 80’s. He had climbed South Sister many times and was doing it once again solo. He gave me some great hiking info about some great North Summit viewpoint spots.

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[Thanks Fred!]

 

As the “real climbing” began my pace slowed tremendously. The higher I hiked the more I would have to stop, which gave me awesome opportunities to take in the amazing views and an excuse to take photos.

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[lava fields]

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[mini volcano]

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[documentation of me hiking, South Summit (Tear Drop Pool?), Elevation … More climbing, sigh…]

 

From the South Summit to the North Summit (about 1500ft gain) was the most difficult section by far. The air was a bit thin, the climbing was starting to burn more and more, and the terrain was worsening. Hiking on fine grained sand sucks – it inevitably finds its way into your shoes/socks/between your toes. Every step you take you slip. Trekking poles are quintessential – the 4×4 traction and the ability to utilize your arm strength in addition to your beastly muscular calves makes the slow moving journey a bit easier. There were many hikers who did not have the trekking poles and were definitely suffering! 

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[Broken Top Mt]

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[Beautiful Alpine Lakes scattered in the volcanic valley]

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[North Facing – Middle/North Sisters]

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[North Facing]

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[West Facing looking into South Sister Crater – Look closely and see 2 lone hikers on the snow]

 

Atop the North Summit there was a few rock-stacked shelters about 4-5 ft high – just high enough to provide a little wind protection. Unfortunately I was only able to hang out at the top for 20 minutes. The cool alpine breeze atop will chill you quickly so I bundled up – sweats, long sleeve, beanie, gloves. I also used “bundling up” as SPF (hours later I found out what was left exposed… my neck!).

It felt great to switch up the muscle groups and transition to the downhill. My Johnny Long Legs cannot resist, but to stride out and go balls to the wall on the downhill – notice my pace of 6:01 min/mi! There is a general route that goes up/down the mountain. This route has multiple trails that have formed, which worked out nicely to avoid all of the downhill/uphill traffic. My simple strategy coming down is to zigzag or ski if you will, as much as possible to slow my pace naturally. This concept works great until you hit the real steep stuff. Just below the South Summit and into the trees I was finally able to get ahead of the traffic. I decided it was best to slow down a bit for the sake of my knees. Retreating to the trees was just what I needed – it was much cooler!

If I had more time I would have – First, definitely would have hiked at a more “enjoyable” pace and Second, gone swimming in (what I am sure – a glacier cold) Moraine Lake to cool off. From people I’ve talked with Moraine Lake is an awesome staging point. They backpack into Moraine Lake – stay the night – summit next day – spend the night – hike down. It would be a great way to break things up and an awesome extended weekend trip!

Things to consider:

  • Bring SPF / Sun glasses
  • Bring sufficient hydration (I brought 2 litters & 2 gatorades and was okay)
  • Food (4 cliff bars, skittles)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Camera
  • Gators to help keep the sand out of your shoes
  • Layers (High Desert weather changes quickly!)
  • Emergency Kit

South Sister is a beautiful area and I will definitely be back with more time to explore!

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