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[TR] North Sister, Oregon - Southeast Ridge to standard west side ascent 7/31/2017


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Trip: North Sister, Oregon - Southeast Ridge to standard west side ascent


Date: 7/31/2017


Trip Report:

TLDR: Don't climb this mountain in the summer!


So North Sister has been on the list for a while, if only to fill out the "Highest Oregon Cascades" checklist. Good reason, right?


Anyway, this climb at this time of season was described to me by people who know as "inelegant" and "not aesthetic." To say the least! 85% of this climb was horrible. And yet, as always, it was totally worth it!


We approached from Pole Creek, and camped at tree line (around 6800 feet) down below the Hayden Glacier, maybe a half mile south of the southeast ridge. Delightful camping there. Lots of water, beautiful spot.




We left camp around 2:00 AM and headed north to gain the southeast ridge. Nothing fancy, just went north until we hit a flat spot, and then turned left up the ridge toward the mountain. The footing seemed loose getting up there, but we would look back on this footing with very fond memories in the long run.


Headed up the southeast ridge. We had read to pass most features on the left (south) and when we did, things were pretty fine. We passed a couple on the right, and things were... not as fine. Scary at times; just loose and exposed, but manageable. It's just SO MUCH LOOSE ROCK AND SAND.





View of the east face from the southeast ridge:



Eventually the southeast ridge hit the south ridge (hard to say exactly where - it's all a jumble up there) and we headed up the south ridge and made our way to the terrible traverse. Maybe I'm harping on this, but it was SO MUCH LOOSE ROCK. I don't know the technical definition of "scree" or "choss" or any of those, but I'd guess we hit them all. At one moment, this summed up my feelings about the whole endeavor:



Got to the traverse, and it looked only semi-terrible. I'd say about 60 yards across, but very steep, very firm, very exposed. Looking north toward the bowling alley, hard to see it all in this pic, as it kind of bends around and away:



Rather than opt for the more elegant, traditional run out traverse with our pickets, we headed up the snow to the wall, and went for a less elegant but seemingly safer "moat technique." The moat was big and stable, and we felt good all the way around. Here I'm facing back to the south at my partner:



The climb down out of the moat was maybe the sketchiest part of the climb - basically straight down, one foot in the snow and one foot on the rock/gravel/ice/wall, but only about 15 feet until we hit the relatively stable crap right at the bottom entry to the bowling alley. Exiting the moat:



The bowling alley was totally dry, and a relative dream to climb at this point. Stable rock, no ice or snow anywhere around or above us, and nothing falling:



Solo scrambled up the bowling alley to the plentiful rap slings, then up to the summit ridge, and then to the top!



Had the mountain to ourselves all day. (Passed one team around 8500 feet on the southeast ridge in the distant dark, but never saw them again - although where the hell else could they have been going?!)


The summit was sunny and literally like 70 degrees, which can be concerning, but given that the only snow and ice on the whole route was the bit on that north facing traverse, we felt ok about it.


Rapped down the bowling alley - two fun pitches with good pre-existing webbing/cord in place got us back to the bowling alley exit. Here's the traverse looking south:



Opted for the moat exit on the way out as well, and it went fine. Here I am climbing back up into the moat:



Then down the (horrible, crappy) south ridge, off the west side this time to the BLESSED snowfields, and then a nice long hike on delightful snow all the way back to camp. I LOVE CAMP.




Here's a pretty fun video of the descent from the summit to summit ridge. Looks WAY sketchier due to the angle and GoPro "fisheye effect." This was probably the safest and most secure we felt all day.



Gear Notes:

Didn't use pickets or ice screw, just used our gear for rappelling the bowling alley, and I think it was well worth it just for that. (If only to bump the "fun factor" from 10% to 15%.)


Approach Notes:

Southeast ridge may well have been the best way, but when I was actually ON the southeast ridge, I was looking longingly at the snowfield approach to the south ridge, which may have been better. Probably would have been, from our camp. From Pole Creek? Your call. I would just pick a different mountain.

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She is an old mountain and is a bit crumbly. Sounds like a great trip, using the moat seemed like the most prudent way to get across the traverse. Plus doing it "out" of condition meant you had it to yourself. That alone counts for something. Thanks for the report.

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