North Sister, Oregon

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A climb of the North Sister that ends 200 feet from the summit.

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Every year, on or around Tom's birthday, we try to climb a challenging peak. This isn't a great time to climb; it's too late for reliable snow climbing, yet too early for good weather. I'm not sure why we do this- perhaps it's to accelerate the aging process.

This year, we drove to Oregon to climb in the dark. If you close one eye, squint really hard, look slightly to the side, and perhaps stand on your head, you can see the North Sister in the dark behind Tom.

Our goal had been a Three Sisters Marathon. After a stormy, windy, snowy night in the tent, we rose to a windy morning. Not a good sign. But when you drove six hours to get here, you don't just give up.

John had hiked this trail 20 years previous, so he led. As we stumbled along in the dark, Todd- the smartest of the group -turned around saying he felt ill. He missed a dramatic dawn and one of the best pictures I've ever taken.

Tom and John had been bike racing all spring, and put that fitness to good use. We were quickly high above the clouds in a wonderland of fresh spindrift left by last night's storm. While there was some accumulation in spots, we stuck to the ridge top, which was mostly blown bare.

Climbing in bright sunshine, it seemed we had cheated the weather. But that fog bank was not limited to just the South Sister. It was creeping in from the west at an alarming rate, oozing in between the North and Middle. Not a good sign, but the day has many hours, so we soldiered on in hopes of reaching our goal.

Edward Whymper reported seeing an unusual weather-based phenomenon--glowing crosses in a bank of fog--just before all his ropemates fell off the Matterhorn. John should have been thinking about that when he dropped the belay to take this picture: his own shadow in the middle of a circular rainbow.

This unusual phenomenon is called a brocken. There are web sites that discuss this further.

As we neared the summit, the climbing conditions became more questionable. We weren't more than a couple hundred feet below the summit, but the rocks were plastered with rime.

Crossing the gullies below the Bowling Alley, the wind had drifted in dangerous amounts of unstable snow. John traversed the first steep gully without placing any protection. Swimming up the steep powder on the other side, he looked back at 180' of rope hanging in a big free loop. John opted for turning around. It was just 8:30am.

By the time John had swam his way back across the slide-prone gully, the fog bank engulfed the two climbers. The cloud was so thick that we had a hard time finding our own footprints in the snow. After what seemed like a long time, we lost some elevation and the visibility improved greatly. Looking back, it was obvious that we had left at a good time.

 

Down low, and moving to the east, the weather was actually pretty good. After picking our way through the loose lava, we finally found some snow we could slide on.

 

After a short, restless night of sleep and a hard, fast hike, a person should rest. We made the most of Jerry and Victoria's hospitality.

Tom does look a little older, doesn't he?

Mr. Natural Home | 2002 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski