Sunday, June 20, 2010

South Sister

Yesterday Drew, Alan and I climbed South Sister, the 3rd highest peak in Oregon. South Sister is the biggest of the 3 Sisters mountain (named from an Indian tale of 3 sisters named Emily, Sarah and Mary - or something like that). We've talked about climbing this mountain for a while and we finally made the trip.

Friday night we drove 3 hours south to Bend and camped at the Devil's Lake trail head of South Sister. This was my first experience sleeping in a bivey, an individual tent with just enough room for you and your sleeping bag. It pretty much looks and feels like a tent coffin. In the morning we made oatmeal using Drew's handy camping stove, drank canned coffee, and downed some fruit and energy bars before we hit the trail.

Alan and Drew, my personal mountain guides, have both climbed South Sister before. We accidentaly went off the trail a couple of times which added some time to our climb but let us see more of the mountain (I'm just trying to stay positive about our intensly long climb). The mountain was completely covered in snow and we even got snowed on later in the day - in late June! We charged up the mountain taking only two 10-15 minute breaks hoping to summit while the sky was perfectly blue. But 600 feet from the summit we found ourselves caught in a white out due to clouds quickly moving in around the mountain top. We waited for a few minutes to see if it would clear up and when we realized that the clouds were there to stay we made the safe decision to turn around and head back down the mountain. It was definitely the right decision, but I was frustrated to have put in all of the hard work of climbing through snow to gain 5500 feet and be only 600 feet from the summit and then not actually making it to the top. I felt very defeated. The climb back down remained very cloudy and somewhat windy. My quads, actually my whole body, was tight and tense as we made our way down through the deep snow. At parts of the descent we just slid down on our bottoms - that was probably the most fun part of the climb. It was like sledding without a sled!

We got a little off track on our way down, too, so we ended up climbing for 10 hours straight yesterday!  I have to admit that there were times while climbing through the endless snow when I thought to myself, "What the heck am I doing? This isn't exactly my idea of fun!"  But by the end of the climb I was already trying to plan our next climbing trip.  The enjoyment is all in the challenge.  It was tough (and not as rewarding as it would have been if it was clear and we had summited) but it was definitely challenging and quite an accomplishment. I guess we'll just have to go back and climb South Sister again on a clear day!

Top 10 "Bear Drew Grylls" Camping and Climbing Tips:
Drew is a master mountaineer and I always feel completely safe when climbing with him. Alan and I like to compare him to Bear Grylls, star of Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel, and yesterday we learned many priceless mountaineering tips from him...

10. Always blow up your sleeping pad. It's more comfortable that way.
9. Always pack your tent poles with your tent.
8. If you don't have a bowl, you can just pour water into the oatmeal packet, mix and eat.
7. Always blow your rescue whistle twice so as not to be confused with a "lost bird".
6. When you stop to rest, always put on your down jacket to keep your body insulated.
5. When lost in the woods, stand silent and listen for the river.
4. When a boulder rolls down the mountain, watch where it's going before you move.
3. When you see sawed logs while hiking in the snow, you know you're on the right trail.
2. Don't take unnecessary risks. The mountain will always be there tomorrow.
1. Don't climb a mountain in trail running shoes.

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