South Sister is a volcanic mountain near Bend. At approximately 10,300 feet it is the third tallest mountain in Oregon. It is one of three mountains in the "sister" chain - along with North and Middle Sister. On clear days, the Three Sisters dominate the skyline of central Oregon.
I've always been intrigued with climbing South Sister. In the late summer, when most of the snow has melted, it is a walk-up hike (in mountaineering terms, an "easy" climb). Many of my hiking friends have summited this mountain. My brother Dale, who lives in Bend, made it up S. Sister last year, and this gave me the idea that he and I should plan a climb of our own.
So, the last weekend in September found Dale and I at the trailhead, ready for our adventure. We decided to backpack into Moraine Lake on Friday, camp overnight, and hit the mountain early Saturday morning.
Here I am at the trailhead, ready to go. I'm pointing towards our ultimate destination! South Sister is just peeping over the adjacent hills.
Another hiker offered to take our photo together on the bridge. Here are Dale and I at the beginning of our hike in. We hiked the Green Lakes Trail to Moraine Lake. This trail followed a beautiful little creek, with lots of small waterfalls. It was a great scenic trail.
After a 3 mile hike, we arrived at Moraine Lake. We found a nice campsite, set up camp, and waited for Dale's friend and co-worker Kevin to arrive. Kevin was joining us on our climb tomorrow. To pass the time, I hiked around Moraine Lake, taking lots of photos of the area. Here's a view of South Sister from the shore of Moraine Lake.
Kevin arrived later that afternoon. We made dinner, and at sunset watched a spectacular display of evening light on the top of South Sister. The mountain reflected itself in Moraine Lake very nicely. I grabbed my camera to capture the views.
Broken Top Mountain, another adjacent peak that we could see from our campsite, glowed red in the evening's last light. Magnificent!
We stayed up watching the stars in the sky. The stars were so much more brilliant than anything I see in Portland. We stargazed until dropping temperatures forced us into our sleeping bags. We had a big day ahead of us tomorrow, so we needed to get some sleep!
The next morning, we were up bright and early. After breakfast, we hit the trail! Here are Dale and Kevin at the beginning of our hike, heading towards our day's destination.
Dale points the way to the summit (with a little help from the trail sign!)
Soon we climbed out of the treeline and onto the mountain's rocky slopes. Dale and Kevin take a breather from the continuous uphill slog.
We took a break by a small pond created by the melting glaciers. A little chipmunk came running to greet us. The little creature struck a cute begging pose. It was obviously used to handouts from hikers!
Kevin tempts the chipmunk with his Snickers bar.
A view of the glacial pond, and the summit ahead. Still a long ways to climb!
The last 1500 feet of climbing was on a steep scree slope. It was like walking on a mix of sand and small rocks. Progress was really slow. You slid one step for each two steps you took (or so it seemed!) We took lots of rest breaks as we ascended. I thought we would never reach the summit.
But --- We finally made it to the top! Yahoo! And oh - what a glorious view we had from the north side of the summit! We could see a line up of all the Cascade peaks to the north. North and Middle Sister dominated the view.
Here's our summit group "victory" photo!
And I had to get a "brother-sister" summit photo!
South Sister is an old dormant volcano. There is a crater in the summit. In the crater is a permanent glacier. In the summer, the melting ice creates a small pool in the middle of the glacier. On some maps, this pool is referred to as the "Teardrop Pool." We hiked across the glacier, and I got a nice shot of the glacier, the teardrop pool, and the summit.
Our view of the surrounding area as we descended down the mountain. Below is the glacial pond that we stopped at on our way up. The mountain in the distance is Mt. Bachelor, Bend's famous ski area.
Coming down the mountain was definitely easier than climbing up. I let gravity help out, and slid down the steep scree slope. Here's Dale and Kevin towards the bottom of the scree.
The sun was at a better angle for photos, and the views coming down were great. Here's the glacial pool, much closer now, and Broken Top Mountain in the background.
The rest of the climb down was long, but uneventful. As we hiked down, we ran into a steady stream of people still climbing up. It was a beautiful sunny fall day, and it lured many people up South Sister.
Finally, Moraine Lake came back into view. I was getting tired by then (hiking downhill tires me out more than going up - you have to continuously keep "putting on the brakes" and my quads get quite worn out). Moraine Lake was a very welcome sight!
We ate a hearty dinner. Freeze dried backpacker meals never tasted so good. Kevin had packed in a plastic flask of red wine - and it was wonderful! After food, wine, and ibuprofen, I was ready for my sleeping bag.
We awoke the next morning to clear skies and calm waters on Moraine Lake. When the sun came up, the mountain reflected perfectly on the lake. A fitting scene, as we bid the lake goodbye, and began the hike back to the trailhead.
What a great weekend adventure! I'm now hooked on climbing mountains, and am already thinking of coming back next year to do it again. Dale and Kevin, how about it?