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[TR] North Sister - NW Ridge 09/23/2018

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Trip: North Sister - NW Ridge

Trip Date: 09/23/2018

Trip Report:

Friends. This is my first non-trivial mountain (well, there was Hodge Crest, but that was unnecessarily complicated). I'm rather hyperbole averse, but I still feel good about calling this a harrowing climb. Sorry it's so long, I can't help myself. Not sorry.


I disliked descriptions of the standard approach (South Ridge): seems like a complicated set of gendarmes to navigate over crappy terrain. Plus I've already sunk into a crevasse on the Collier glacier and could use something new. Plus beaten path, eww. The NW ridge caught my eye via caltopo: it just generally seemed more appealing. I later shelled out 40$ for a usable misprint of Oregon High, and found some interesting info there, with the FA of Glisan especially entertaining.


The internet by contrast is sparse: there's a trip report of a failed attempt on traditionalmountaineering.org, and another on a personal site I can no longer find which was so vague it could've been a different route.

Walking out of Scott TH a hearty two hours later then intended, I imagined how I'd word the solitude, firmly believing I wouldn't see a soul for two days. That was contradicted in minutes. The hike in is beautiful, really dry and wet at the same time. Cotton jeans + t shirt felt slightly questionable, but I was wearing them yesterday and picking fresh clothes would've been too much work.


Eventually I came upon Collier's geologic diarrhea dump, then through more forest, then through Collier cone's interior (by previous logic, its anus?). I left the PCT and went over the cone's southern ridge down to the Collier glacier's moraine's terminus, where I was relieved to find muddy water (earlier streams I was hopeful about were dry).



I set up camp at the edge of the moraine, right under the NW ridge, on a bit of a saddle. I was paranoid about lightning (there was none), but didn't want to be low in case of precipitation, so finding the saddle was a relief. I've been near a lightning storm once, and seeing agitated dark clouds tumbling over the ridges gave me some serious heebie jeebies. I also heard weird sounds, possibly even voices, and remember reading others' accounts of feeling generally weird before lightning, so things sucked. I calmed down and went to bed at 19:30, and slept like a baby (that is, woke up 10 times but got the right amount of quality rest). It rained for a few hours, which was not forecasted, I worried a bit about my water "resistant" single wall tent but it did fine.

Enthusiastically up at 6:30, with stars still visible but the beautifully clear sky brightening. I was extremely low energy yesterday, and was elated to be in the mindset for ass whooping today. I heard voices again, and was shocked to see two climbers already going up the ridge. Hey! This is my obscure project! No, honestly it was a relief to not be totally alone. Also relieved not to be hearing things.


I ate my homemade granola and packed my stuff. Crampons and axe? Hmmmn, I looked up the mountain, saw a dusting of snow, and imagined that'd be gone in an hour and I'd feel like a chump for carrying them (some backpackers questioned me yesterday). On the other hand, the remaining elevation gain is Dog Mountain, I can use the training weight.


The climb up the ridge was very straightforward. I don't know if it was the rime covering the rocks or what, but things were sturdy and scrambling very, very fun. Rule of thumb: from the base till Glisan pinnacle, either go over obstacles (many are easier than they look) or go right. I caught up to the pair, they too were surprised to see me here. One of them had tried this once before, only getting up "Gilson peak". Passing them, I saw some faint footprints here and there. Not as obscure a route as I thought.






Traversing under Glisan is where I first encountered proper loose rock, but it was easy enough. I started up a notch leading to a saddle leading to the South route, and happily put crampons on there: they helped immensely. This wasn't snow, this was a granular mix of snow, ice, and mud that gave my ancient spikes extremely good purchase.


Over the saddle, traversed some more loose rock, and looked up. Is that the bowling alley? Nah, can't be, too steep. Wussies climb this (I have no idea why I tell myself this). I looked around some more. Yeah, that actually was it. I climbed a small step and headed up. I realized I'm cramponing 45ish° without an ice axe, so I get that out, swing it, and find it useless. So, it's slippery enough that a fall would suck, but forget self arrest. Don't fall then, gotcha.


I go up some more, then climb a couple near vertical steps and then back down, terrified. I curse myself and resolve to get outta here. Then I try a slightly different way and, cursing loudly (no bad words, much worse: genuine bad sentiments), it becomes tame again, more and more. I am so happy to have crampons, and so happy the rocks are firmly cemented in place.

I walk to the south horn because it has a cairn. From there, north horn looks higher, plus maybe I can scout a different (better?) descent. I climb it, and sit on the peak taking time to declutter my head. I was starving before, but can't eat now, and that's when how distressed I am fully sinks in. Looking around - there's not a better way down this pinnacle (Jeff Thomas made the NE aspect sound doable... nope, though I'd love to try with snow).


I decide I'll be ok descending as slowly and deliberately as possible. This works out - I actually found the descent easier. Passed the crux and felt huge relief. Found two different climbers just below the bowling alley; they had no crampons and quickly decided to call it. They'd cowboy camped in that rain, I admire their high spirits.

Sitting to eat, the other two from earlier emerged: one soon turned back, the other went up the bowling alley a bit and came back down. No crampons. Poor guys, but I'd be lying if I denied that me being the only of five to summit that morning wasn't a bit of a tremendous ego boost. During this, I remembered how  sure I was that the cruxy fun was of type 3, and was amused that I demoted it to type 2.


Rime, rock, and my layers are starting to peel off. I traverse back under Glisan, and scurried down the ridge, tripping over loose rock a few times. Yeah, I think the ice made a positive difference on the way up, lucky me!


I ran much of the way back to the car and made it back to Portland just an hour late to pick up my daughter.



Memorable :). My least favorite thing about this trip is that my micro 4/3 camera broke just before - I used my phone like a normal person.


Gear Notes:
Crampons, ice axe, and why did I leave a flash drive in my pocket?

Approach Notes:
Yeah, it's a long drive, but refrain from Schubert sonatas on your way in. That shit gets stuck in your head and then it's not fun.
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