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South Sister Redux : This Time It's Electric

08.27.2011

this way to

Earlier this year, while sitting around with The Teacher, my now Evil step-sister Sydnee, and her husband Ryan, we talked about going hiking. I mentioned hiking South Sister three years ago and Ryan stated, "I'd do that hike again".

The Teacher was obviously not going to be a major hike, but Sydnee said she was interested as well.

Yep, that's how things like these start.

South Sister is not something you hike in the Spring (unless you want to use snowshoes). You wait until Summer is almost over. So, we all waited and waited until a couple weeks ago when the discussion started up again. We had one day that worked into all of our schedules. Now, all we had to do was make sure the trail wasn't still knee deep in snow.

Based on a couple of websites and word-of-mouth, we had enough reassurance that it was clear enough, so we made plans and set last Wednesday as THE day. We figured it being a Wednesday would also keep the crowds down. The only potential threat was an afternoon thunderstorm in the forecast.

My trusty copy of 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William Sullivan states: "If you can't see the summit, don't go on. What looks like a fluffy white cloud ahead can prove to be a dangerous blizzard at the top". Something well worth keeping in the back of my mind, especially when the forecast calls for potentially bad weather.

Of course I was somewhat burned in my previous South Sister hike on the suggestion of "bringing at least two quarts of water per person". Last time I brought roughly three quarts and ran out of water on the return hike with about 3 miles to go. What made it even worse was I had nothing in the car to drink, so after making it to the car, I was rewarded with a 30 minute drive back dying of thirst.

That hike taught me to always stock the car with a cooler and an icy drink. It also taught me to bring more water this time around. Of course, the downside to bringing more water is the weight it brings. Was I am ultra-light hiker? Nope, not even close.

My Pack:

-(6) 32oz bottles of water (with one Powerade) : weight 13.5 lbs
-Backpack with first aid gear, flashlights, knife, compass and pants: weight 7.6 lbs
-Food : sandwich, (5) Cliff Bars, (2) apples, (3) pepperoni sticks and a small bag of Cheetos: weight 3.0 lbs
-Camera gear : weight 10.5 lbs

Good thing my camera gear included my sub-2 lb tripod (wouldn't want things getting too heavy). Seriously, my pack was around 35 lbs. Trust me, my shoulders were damn sore after this hike. So, with all of this said, here's the recap of the actual hike.

We met at my place 7:00am sharp, which was early enough to make it to the Devils Lake trailhead by 8:00am. The skies were nice and clear. Prior to the actual hike, I began to call Ryan The Sherpa since he was about the size of the Sherpas that assist climbers on Mt Everest. The fact that he summited South Sisters many times prior, gave him Sherpa cred. Sydnee truly earned her Evil status on this hike, by stating she would be slow, when in reality she sprinted up the mountain and back. Evil indeed!

After messing around a bit through The viewless grueling forest segment, we started to see sunlight once again. Here's The Sherpa pausing briefly at an interesting rock formation.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

After the mile and a half long segment (with 1,250 feet in elevation gain), we reached the sign for stage two:

The flat sandy plateau with views segment:
South Sister hike

Here's Sydnee with only a Camelback to carry. The Sherpa's pack wasn't much bigger either. Seriously, I drank more liquids than what the both of them brought along (combined). However, for the record I am not Sherpa sized. 6'-10" dudes are not made for climbing mountains. Adding a 35 lb pack didn't make things any better.

Along this portion of the hike we met up with a small group of other hikers intending to reach the summit of South Sister. There was another Ryan in that group who also had a very large pack. He was basically using it for training for an upcoming trip to Yosemite. We did hikers leap frog with this group over this and the following segment over and over again.

With the easiest segment now done after another 1.7 miles, and a mere 500 feet in elevation gain, we got to where it starts to get real.

The getting to the false summit segment:
1,650 feet in elevation gain over 1.2 miles. This time around was even harder than before. With snow pack lasting longer this year, parts of the trail still had snow. Basically this meant you had a few sections where you had to walk on snow, uphill. Thankfully, The Sherpa let me use one of his hiking poles to make it more manageable. Where the trail had a bit too much snow still, there were alternate trails that we took. This meant there were more large rocks to climb over and trees to bend around.

The push up to the false summit was tough. One of the hikers from the other group stated "you've got to be kidding me", when we basically went every which way as the trail vanished.

South Sister hike

Finally, Lewis Glacier was once again in my view at 8,850 feet in elevation.

South Sister hike

The only problem was the weather was starting to turn. Compare it to the view I had last time.

South Sister hike

A lot more snow and a lot less blue sky. It was also pretty cold and windy. The Sherpa, Sydnee and myself decided to have lunch and consider our options.

South Sister hike

With rain starting to fall, we basically decided it would be too nasty at the top to really enjoy it. Another hiker coming down said it was pretty windy at the top, but he beat the nasty stuff. Uggg. After hiking this far, giving up makes you feel pretty low.

South Sister hike

We watched the other hikers gear up and push on. Sydnee really didn't have rain gear, so the fear of getting cold and wet was real. Trust me, this was not a hot Summer day up here. So, we decided to head down. However, after about 20 steps, the sun peaked back out and the wind died down.

Hmmmm....

We decided to turn around and go UP! At worst, we figured we could push up the final segment, and if it got too bad, we could turn around. Why not?

The final cinder slopes of death to the real summit segment:
The big difference from last time, was that this was the most crowded section of the hike. However, not this time. There were less than 10 of us on the cinder soup slopes of joy. About half of the people going up were the group we played leap frog with earlier and there were a few other hikers coming down that had a much faster pace than we did earlier in the day.

So, bye bye Lewis Glacier, and up we went.

South Sister hike

South Sister hike

My heavy pack was certainly not my friend in this final segment. It was slow. The Sherpa and Sydnee cruised up this segment. Thankfully, The Sherpa realized this, and came back down and let me use his other hiking pole to assist myself up this section. Finally, we all made it to the top!

The views are always amazing.

South Sister hike

The state's highest lake, Teardrop Pool, didn't exist yet this year.

South Sister hike

The Sherpa and Sydnee posed once again.

South Sister hike

I had a couple of more photos I wanted at the top, so I moved further around the rim to the North side. The view of the Middle Sister and North Sister are awesome up here.

South Sister hike

So basically this is where you scream victory! Mission accomplished!

South Sister hike

Or so I thought....

The Sherpa yelled over to me, stating "there's lightning, we're going down". I packed up my camera gear, and moved to where I left some of my other things. By this point I could see that no one else was left on the top. I scrambled around the rim and reconnected with The Sherpa and Sydnee where the trail up/down is. Yep, the weather was getting sketchy, so down we went. The Sherpa asked me if I wanted to use the hiking poles going down. I thought they were making it easier, so I said, "YES PLEASE".

South Sister hike

As we descended, the weather started to get a little spooky. There were plenty of lightning strikes all around in the valley. Nothing too close, but the sound of rumbling thunder was pretty constant.

South Sister hike

As we went down, The Sherpa and Sydnee got a head of me. I passed one other hiker going up, and two others crouched down in the rocks about here.

South Sister hike

About this point things started getting real spooky. It got darker, there was thunder and soon I noticed I was having crazy static electricity on the handles of the poles. So, what did that mean?

From Everybody talks about lightning and yes, there are things you can do about it:

Can you tell when you are about to be struck by lightning? There is often a warning: a feeling similar to what happens when you touch a static electricity generator, or when you take the clothes out of the dryer and separate a staticky sock from a towel. This is to be expected, since lightning starts as static electricity that breaks down the air to neutralize the charge. The result is that people about to be hit can feel the hair on their bodies stand on end and sometimes report a tingling sensation. If you are in a storm and feel this, act immediately. This is all the warning you are going to get. Get as low as you can to the ground. If you are not the highest point around, you are less likely to be hit. If you can find a nearby ditch or draw, get into it. Rolling to the ditch is much smarter than running there. Rolling in something wet will also help to get rid of the charge accumulation on your body. Avoid holding on to anything metal. If you have a tool in your hand, drop it. If you are touching a metal object, get away from it.

Honestly, I didn't read this until after I was home. But, as you could see from the photo, I was about as far away from finding a ditch as you can get. I debated trying to find some rocks to hide in, but there was nothing. Going off the side of the trail was not really much of an option either. I thought about dropping the poles, so I held them loosely. It started to rain as well. Normally, this was the section were you stop every now and then, and remove the rocks and cinders from your shoes. Today, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I simply needed to get down off this ridge!

When I reached Lewis Glacier, I basically hopped over the edge onto something resembling the trail. I could tell I was off by a bit, but I just did whatever I could to get down off the mountain. Thankfully, the static in the poles went away by the point. The next photo was not taken going down, but it shows how far into the next section I went before actually stopping to empty my shoes.

South Sister hike

Yes, It was WAY down there. And trust me, the rocks and cinders poured from my shoes. Thankfully, my underwear were still clean. We kept a pretty rigorous pace going back down and towards the end, my feet, legs and shoulders were cursing my heavy pack. However, I didn't run out of water, I had plenty of cold Powerade in the car and two days later I'm still only slightly sore and sunburned.

A less than shocking victory.


Posted by monkeyinabox ::: |

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