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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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