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the daily banana

Lunch At 10,358 Feet


Mountain madness

I'm starting to think that I have some sort of odd fascination with mountains. Over the course of the last month and a half, I've been on three of them. Of course on Mount Bachelor, I rode the chair lift up, and on Mount Hood, I rode in a car, and on both of those I didn't make it to the top. On Sunday my feet carried me to the top of South Sister, yep, all the way up.

Did I do this hike/climb by myself? Nope, I had about 50 of my closest friends (or mountain marauders) with me, and after the fact I have to wonder what the hell they were all thinking as well. The South Sister is the most-climbed glaciated peak in North America. Yep, and obviously the fact that you can do this hike (yes, I think half of this journey could be described as a hike, the other half is cinder soup madness) without serious gear makes it appealing. Sure, tennis shoes and shorts work, but I wouldn't consider this a light-weight hike in any regards.

My preparation for this journey: mostly walking Pilot Butte with reckless abandon. Sure, it's only about a mile to the top with 500 feet of elevation gain. The South Sister hike is five and a half miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. So, in other words, twice the elevation gain and more than five times longer than Pilot Butte. Of course, I can walk to the top of Pilot Butte in about twelve minutes, so I figured pacing myself for about five hours wouldn't be so bad.

I woke up Sunday early enough to make it to the Devils Lake trail head by 8:30am. Not exactly super early, but early-enough to make it there and back with a reasonable time frame. After reading a few descriptions of this hike, it can be broken down into four segments: the viewless grueling forest segment, the flat sandy plateau with views segment, the getting to the false summit segment, and the final cinder slopes of death to the real summit segment.

The viewless grueling forest segment:
The Devils Lake trail head starts out at about 5,450 feet in elevation and the first segment is about a mile and a half long with 1,250 feet in elevation gain. It's a real hike in itself, and it's in the forest, so there's shade and trees and trees and trees. Sure, there's a soothing stream at the start and some large rocks to gander at, but it's mostly viewless switchbacks.

The flat sandy plateau with views segment:
This segment is 1.7 miles long and only gains 500 feet in elevation. Don't worry, you make up for it later. The views along this mild portion are great. The South Sister looms in front of you with Mount Bachelor behind you and Broken Top off to the right. It was a tad bit windy in places, which made me wonder about the summit, but that was still a ways off.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

The getting to the false summit segment:
This segment is where it starts to get real. 1,650 feet in elevation gain over 1.2 miles. Trust me, you feel it. The views continue to get better and better as you move forward, but your pace begins to slow down a bit too. A bonus, because you have more time to enjoy the scenery.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

This is why it's called the false summit, because based on the last photo, you sort of think you've arrived. Of course, I knew from my map that I still had more to go and the view you arrive at confirms it.

South Sister hike

The final cinder slopes of death to the real summit segment:
By the time you're staring at the greenish pool below Lewis Glacier, you are a little tired and still see a hefty climb a head of you. There was a group next to me that had a tour-guide and a couple of the hikers opted out to finish the climb, After completing this segment I can't say they were all crazy for not finishing it, but I am not the sort of person who likes to start something like this and not reach the end or the final goal. So, another 1,500 feet in elevation gain in less than a mile. No problem.

Of course that is what you think until you actually start up the final segment. The trail itself turns into cinder soup, with a few larger cinder rocks being about the only thing that doesn't slide down the very steep slope. This leg is very slow and it also was the point where I ran into many other hikers that were following the same crazy path to the top. By the amount of people out there you would have thought there was a prize at the top or that the process itself was pleasureable.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

While I wanted to take photos like crazy on this hike, this was also not the sort of place where I could sling my camera around my neck as I climbed up. Nope, every time I wanted photos was at a break where I took off my backpack and pulled my camera bag out, then got the camera out. This meant waiting until I found a secure rock to sit on, but it also was a good excuse for a break.

Finally, after four and a half hours I made it to the summit. Okay, I'll admit that the views are amazing, and they are the prize.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

To experience it all, you truly need to hike all the way around the crater. Of course, it's not exactly a piece of cake all the way around. There were a few spots that were somewhat dicey. There's a large snowfield in the crater and several people crossed across it to take a shortcut. I sort of wondered how solid it really was and how deep the crater goes. Not exactly the place you want to guess about those sorts of things.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

Time for some lunch before I trekked some more. I did see a chipmunk on the top and based on the sparse vegetation, I wondered it he made the climb up the top just to get nibbles from the hikers. That's crazy in itself. After enjoying my grub, I got ready for some more fun.

Half-way around the rim you get the choice view of the Middle and North Sisters, and also Teardrop Pool, the state's highest lake. Based on the snow and ice around it, I think it was probably too cold to swim in.

I did do the full circle (or whatever shape the rim was) around and then decided it was time to start the journey back. You know the saying, what goes up, must come down. Yep, the steeply sloped cinder soup is not much more fun in reverse.

South Sister hike

Most of the people going up and down had walking poles, which I think would have been helpful for this segment. Some people practically ran down the hill. I took a more cautious pace and had no desire to trip and do a face plant into rocks. And trust me, for every muscle you felt going up, there's a new set you feel going down.

After reaching the false summit, I took a break and had some munchies. I watched a few people coming up and then plotted my descent. Of course the people coming up, took a different route, and I went down where I saw them coming up from. About a couple of hundred feet down I noticed the trail was way too technical and not much of a trail. I looked to my left and saw the much easier real trail. Crap! No easy backtracking, so I crawled and climbed towards the real trail. Thankfully it looked worse that it really was, so back on track for the third segment (going in the order I came in).

The third segment in reverse wasn't much easier either. The downward slope wasn't as bad as the cinder soup, but it was steep enough that you still felt it. I ran into a group of young women that basically described it well: treachery. When this segment was done, I was truly happy. My happiness increased as I passed back through the other segments and made it to my car. I was sore, tired and ready to sit down and relax on something other than a rock.

Overall, mission accomplished. It was grueling, it was long, and it was adventurous, but it was a great experience.

For the rest of the photos with more juicy detail, check out my FLICKR page.

Now, I just have to shake the rest of the rocks out of my shoes, pants, gloves and everything else I brought along for the journey.

Posted by monkeyinabox ::: |


Kate said:

Hey there. Nice to get a comment from you - I guess you have to write something first! How you doing?
Your mountain trek looks great. I would love to dosomething like that. I miss the mountains a lot - not a whole lot of those around here!

monkeyinabox said:

Sore and sunburned, but other than that, just dandy!

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