South Sister

July 7, 2019


Bend, OR

South Sister is the highest of the Three Sisters volcanoes in central Oregon and also the easiest among the three. The standard south side route is nothing but a class 1 plod on a trail/path or snow in early season and can be done easily in half a day by fit parties. Too bad the access road to Devil’s Lake trail-head isn’t plowed in winter as otherwise this would also be a classic ski mountaineering ascent. Alex and I had ascended the more-difficult North Sister and Middle Sister in 11.5 hours in the previous day. The night we car-camped at South Sister trail-head.

South Sister standard route. GPX DL

In order to get back to Vancouver in a reasonable time we opted to wake up at 5 am in the morning. In just over half an hour we had finished the entire morning routine and started the plod. I wore trail-runners and carried nothing but microspikes as technical gears. There were about 300 m of grunt right off the bat to a plateau that offered great views of the route ahead, as well as Mt. Bachelor behind. We took the first break about halfway across this plateau applying sunscreen, etc. The trail then became indistinct at places but the route was generally easy to follow. We also started to encounter continuous snow but the footpath was clear. The longest stretch of snow came when the route ascended climber’s left (west) side of a prominent rib feature. The snow was hard in the shade but I still managed to hike up the 30-degree slopes without donning microspikes.

After the initial grunt onto the plateau this is looking back at Devil’s Hill

Moraine Lake to the east

Alex plodding on the plateau with some minor elevation change

South Sister ahead.

This is looking back at Mt. Bachelor another volcano nearby

Onto continuous snow but still easy

Ascending continuous snow on the shaddy side

The Wife poking above the clouds to the south

A wider view of The Wife poking above the low clouds

This is Le Conte Crater also known as “Little Broken Top”

Another view of Devil’s Hill

The transition onto the upper mountain was easy and by this point we had passed at least 20 hikers and skiers struggling their way up. Once the route ascended onto the uppermost south spur of the summit push the wind finally picked up, but thankfully not brutally strong. There’s a climber’s path with endless zig-zags on the south spur which significantly simplified the slog fest. Once topping out on the crater rim we easily plodded across the snowfield to the highest point on the north side of the rim, in over 3 hours after leaving the car.

Passing a skier above the continuous snow zone

Another skier that we passed on ascent

Upwards and onward…

Me hiking onto the upper mountain. Photo by Alex R.

The upper south ridge ahead

Alex starting the south spur. Note the zig-zagging trail

On the south spur.

A zoomed-in view of Alex hiking up

Yet another photo of Alex hiking up the south spur.

Another hiker came down. I assume he started much earlier than us

Me plodding across the summit snowfield. Photo by Alex R.

Alex across the summit crater snowfield

Summit Panorama from South Sister. Click to view large size.

Broken Top from the summit

Mt. Bachelor

Middle Sister and North Sister

A closer look at North Sister with Mt. Jefferson behind

Alex and I on the summit of South Sister

Me on the summit of South Sister

In less than half an hour we started the descent. Descending the south spur was easy due to the looseness nature of the ground. The snow hadn’t softened up yet but was no longer ice-hard anymore. Other than a steep spot near a chute we managed to hike/glide on snow without taking even one slip. The rest of the descent was uneventful except for it seemed to drag on for longer than expected.

Me hiking down the south spur. Photo by Alex R.

Lower down on the south spur. Photo by Alex R.

A small lake just below the south spur. I think it’s the bottom of a bigger crater

Another hiker on her way down the volcanic choss terrain

Alex hiking down.

Me with South Sister behind. Photo by Alex R.

Our round trip time was 5.5 hours on a fast pace. It’s not even noon yet and the objective now was to push back to Vancouver by dinner time. I was still tired from the previous few weeks’ travelling and climbing but Alex was high on energy. Alex managed to somehow stay awake in the next 8 or 9 hours and drove all the way back to Vancouver, dealing with a great variety of traffic gong show along the way.