Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • olyclimber

      WELCOME TO THE CASCADECLIMBERS.COM FORUMS   02/03/18

      We have upgraded to new forum software as of late last year, and it makes everything here so much better!  It is now much easier to do pretty much anything, including write Trip Reports, sell gear, schedule climbing related events, and more. There is a new reputation system that allows for positive contributors to be recognized,  it is possible to tag content with identifiers, drag and drop in images, and it is much easier to embed multimedia content from Youtube, Vimeo, and more.  In all, the site is much more user friendly, bug free, and feature rich!   Whether you're a new user or a grizzled cascadeclimbers.com veteran, we think you'll love the new forums. Enjoy!
Sign in to follow this  
YocumRidge

[TR] Middle Sister - "North Sister West Face" variation 6/21/2010

Recommended Posts

Trip: Middle Sister - "North Sister West Face" variation

 

Date: 6/21/2010

 

Trip Report:

I have not climbed Sisters since 2005 so a repeat was in order. This time, West face on the North Sister with a variety of lines to choose from. And as always, with no objective danger of "demoralizing heaps of shifting television sets glued together with marbles and monkey poo". My partner – Frank Page (Camp_Chef on here) – is from WA and does not know what the “demoralizing heaps of television sets” mean but nevertheless wanted to join me.

 

Enthusiastically thinking that the “occasional showers” forecasted for Sun would not interfere with the approach to our planned high camp at the saddle between North and Middle, we arrive at the Pole Creek TH. As promised, we are hit by a couple of showers and clouds below the tree line. Good enough, and we manage to get a glimpse of the North Sister in the distance, but only one that, like a ghost, is gone in a minute. Weather begins to change to being seriously unhappy and providing us with an awesome 5 feet visibility at times. It starts snowing, all is in a whiteout and the disappearing ski trail we follow threatens our happy ending.

 

We spot a few pinnacles that I don’t remember to exist on the east approach to the Middle Sister in 2005, so we try to determine our location on a map according to which the North Sister indeed has quite a few thereof. We believe we are on the NE side of North. It becomes obvious we need to start traversing south - up and over the SE rib - and then head up west to the saddle. My happy mood is instantaneously destroyed in anticipation of a few more hours doing just that. We are making slow progress with all the switchbacks and constant gain/loss of elevation below what I think at the time was the Thayer Headwall. The fact the winds are sustained at 30 mph does not help either. We cross some ridge, and then another one at about 7800’. Gradually getting soaked, we both feel miserable and spent. We stumble upon a few flat bivy sites and feel ready to crash. Still unable to see through the snow, I reassure Frank that this must be the popular area where people who climb North via a standard SE ridge bivy.

 

Our 7800' bivy site on the "North Sister":

100_0447.JPG

 

We entertain ourselves with wishful thinking of clear weather forecasted for Monday and if that is not going to be the case, we will get off the mountain in the morning, not a big deal.

 

I do feel hypothermic though. Frank’s ingenious stove conveniently runs out of fuel right at this moment leaving us with crappy dinner and without water. Not good. We sleep and wake up to clear skies at 4 a.m. Wind prevails but we make the decision to start climbing. The strange thing however that strikes me is the Middle Sister we see to the south from our camp does not exactly look like the Middle Sister I remember.

 

In the morning, with the "Middle Sister" behind:

100_0451.JPG

 

I don’t say anything to Frank and attribute this discrepancy to the effects of hypothermia and sick stomach. The mountain could have eroded or something, after all. On the bright side, the temps are below freezing, the sun is out, so we get the tools out and begin climbing on perfect icy crust.

 

On the SW aspect of the "North Sister":

100_0465.JPG100_0460.JPG

 

Getting closer to the gendarmes:

100_0464.JPG

 

 

We look at more gendarmes above and to the west and again they look different from what I remember: for some bizarre reason they got transformed into rime ice towers like those on the Reid HW.

DSC00038.JPG

 

DSC00035.JPGDSC00034.jpg

 

DSC00036.JPG

 

To my surprise, there are no television sets falling on us. I conclude what an unusually cold spring we had this year that even the gendarmes are ice covered!

 

I am much slower than Frank, in need of frequent stops and badly want to bail but don’t admit anything to him. At one point, I anchor myself to ice and just helplessly hang there on my tools. I know I can do better than that. Frank graciously offers to check out the route above and find the Bowling Alley. He returns and reports that there are more rime towers but there may be one potentially doable passage through them.

 

The passage turns out to be better than we expected, with some solid alpine ice and good sticks. I start feeling better.

 

Final stretch to the summit ridge:

100_0468.JPG100_0469.JPG

 

 

Finally, Frank screams from the above that he is on the summit ridge. I have no clue what freaking summit ridge he found on the North Sister, while he has to be in the Bowling Alley. I get up there to make sure for myself and see the North Sister to the north! Great, we have just climbed Middle Sister via the route we then called “North Sister west face”.

 

On the summit:

DSC00026.JPG100_0472.JPG

 

West Face of the true North Sister:

100_0470.JPG

 

 

 

We descend back to the camp, pack up and leave.

On the descent:

DSC00040.JPGDSC00043-1.jpg

 

 

I get a closer look at the “Middle” Sister that turned out to be South Sister and see frozen ice on the headwall on the northwestern aspect. That is not due to hypothermia.

 

Happy Summer in Oregon!

DSC00044.JPG

 

Gear Notes:

Pickets, 4 screws and C4s up to #0.5 brought for the North.

2 tools used on the Middle.

 

 

Approach Notes:

20 miles total via the Pole Creek to the camp

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

pretty cool! Always a fan of any TR of the sisters-beautiful the way the weather broke for you that night.

 

 

Though as I read I wondered if it was a bit of a joke, I mean once you woke up didn't you see three mountains to the west? Though if it had been 5 years and you were groggy and don't know the area well at all I could see.. though after this refresher I doubt you'll ever confuse any of the sisters! :) cheers!

 

So originally you were shooting for going up one of the chutes below the traverse on North? ballsy!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

icy crust, who'd believe it? just shows u don't know 'till you go. 20 mile approach:burly.

Edited by oldlarry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ever hear of a compass?!?!?!? This turned out well for you, but only by luck. There are many things to learn from in this story!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beautiful area!

 

No clue whether West face on Middle has been climbed before, when and by whom. Most likely - yes, but not that it does matter much to me.

 

Ore High does not specify any routes on the west face which does not mean anything.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure if you were more confuzed or I am more confuzed reading the TR. None the less a good read for #11 :) That place is fawkin cacacool

 

Why all the talk about the west face? Seems from the photos you guys camped somewhere near camp and chambers lake then climbed the south ridge of middle. Which BTW looks much more enjoyable now then when I did it in late summer a few years back.

 

I know there are lurkers that know this area much better than me so if I am mistaking please come out of the shadows and set me staight :wink:

 

Oh and Mito was the Pole Creek TH not open? 20 mile approach? It's like 7.5 from the TH to chambers lake if ya know ur way.

 

Any who nice TR glad all ened well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

pole creek is open.

mckenzie hwy is plowed 1-lane but still gated as of last week.

 

nice tr. I've been off-route but never off-mountain before.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, Justin, the Pole Creek TH is open and it is about 7 trail miles to the Chambers lakes. We did not take that trail though - we looped around for a while trying to avoid steep ridge sections and loose boulder fields (remember those where you step on one and a whole wall slides down from your feet). We camped well above the Camp lake just below the two ridges merge on the Middle.

 

Since I was preoccupied with the idea of getting on the west face on the North, we started along the ridge and circled climbers left (west) at around 9000'and then up to the summit ridge. The descent was via the standard South ridge.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahh it's all very clear to me now Mito!

 

So originally you were shooting for going up one of the chutes below the traverse on North? ballsy!

 

Safe to say SHE has no balls :lmao:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So originally you were shooting for going up one of the chutes below the traverse on North? ballsy!

 

The "West Face Direct" (WFD) was the first route I ever did when I arrived in Oregon a long time ago. "Ballsy" is probably an adequate description - not technically that hard but you don't want to spend a lot of time in there and it really needs to have complete snow cover.

 

I was actually out there Sat trying to ski around the mountain to have a look at it since I've thought about doing it again if I can catch it in just the right condition. I gave up at the NW ridge (going ccw from Pole Creek) since I could barely see where I was going at all, let alone anything higher on the mountain. (I did get a lot of photos of the avalanche debris below Villard Glacier and EMC though - very impressive. They are posted in my own gallery: http://www.snowman-jim.org/climbing/gallery2/v/2010-06-19-nsister/) I know the area well enough from experience not to get lost or end up on the wrong mountain, but there didn't seem to be much point in doing the circumnavigation that day. (In better weather it's an excellent trip and I highly recommend it.)

 

I suspect the WFD has good coverage right now, although I'm not too sure it will be solid firn you can cruise along on. I think it's a route you're best off soloing - that's the quickest way up and out of it, there's not much room for belays from safe spots, and I'm not sure how much good a rope or belay will do if you meet large stuff coming down while you're going up. I fortunately did not experience this, but near the base I do remember hearing a lot of small bb or pea sized objects go whizzing by.

 

I did it too late and there was a bare section that was like a half cylinder of plaster-like rock that would be hard to do safely. It was possible to climb out of the couloir on the left, work up a bunch of loose small dinner plate rocks, and regain the snow higher up. Any single small dinner place knocked loose quickly multiplied with everything funneling into the WFD below.

 

It was a very memorable climb but I'd strongly suggest moving quickly, making sure conditions are ideal or close, and making sure there is complete snow/firn coverage from the base up to where the traverse comes in from the right. I had considered going back in Tues or Wed had it been in good shape, but I didn't feel conditions were what I wanted them to be on those days.

 

Jim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great Adventure. I've been up there in some nasty weather a few times over the years but never ended up on the wrong mountain (yet) :)

 

Mitochondria100, Jim or whomever else has been in the area lately: My wife and I and whatever of the kids are not working then have had a 6 day trip to the Chamber Lakes area from Pole Cr. scheduled for the week of the 4th of July. Looking at Mito's great pictures it looks like there is still pretty solid snowpack there and with no real hot weather forecast to melt it out much in the next week I am starting to think we may want to change plans. How much snow is still on the trail? Any idea how much is around the lakes and if it looked like there were melted out areas? Creeks along the way accessable for water I suppose? Is the South Ridge of the Middle Sister melted out? Thanks for any info!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Paul,

 

First 2.5 miles on the trail is snow free, then you follow boot pack on a well marked ski/winter trail through the snow which was BTW pretty good consolidation-wise. No snowshoes needed. There is plenty of water below 6000'.

We did not see any trail going to/out the Camp lake on our deproach. One reason might be it is mostly frozen.

 

Camp Lake 06-21-10:

Camp_lake_06-21-10.JPG

 

But it might change by the 4th of July weekend.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim,

 

The snow coverage on the west face of North is pretty good right now, see pics we took off the summit on Middle. Snow/ice on the west face of Middle was probably the best I've been on in OR or WA this last year.

It got more mushy later in the day but for as long as you hit it early enough it should be fine.

 

We expect to be back this weekend but without knowing current rock fall conditions (as well as crevasse status on the Collier glacier), West Face right (var. #11) might be a better option since one could bail off this route and easily get on the SW ridge.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Paul - The photo above is 6/21 and things are changing quickly. I found the Devils Lake trailhead area open enough to drive in and park in the upper lot even though a report no more than a week before that indicated the only parking was on the shoulder of the road. Below 6000' you'll see very little snow right now, above 6500' there is a lot. In between depends. I don't know the elevation of Chambers Lakes but I think that area can be slow to thaw out. An alternative that comes to mind is to camp at treeline below the Hayden Glacier towards the edge of the SE ridge of N Sister, that will be mostly or totally snow free and has plenty of water sources. I would expect that by the weekend of the 4th the south ridge of middle will be mostly or totally snow free on the western windward side. It's not too steep or hard anyway, even if there are some patches of snow.

 

I doubt I'll try the west side again this year since I have some other obligations and even though coverage is good it won't last forever.

 

The West Face left is described as steep enough for rockfall but not steep enough to be interesting, and the west face right is a similar angle. It might be possible to head to the SW ridge but I wouldn't assume that, the entire face can pretty convoluted and anywhere you leave the snow everything will crumble. If I were uncertain about the west side but wanting to climb something other than the s ridge I'd go for Thayer Glacier Headwall. It saves the slog around the mountain and can be done without a bivy. It's a comparable angle to WFD but much more open without the same degree of funneling of everything. You just need to be topping out early due to the aspect which catches the first sunlight. (One party a few years ago discovered the hard and painful way that this is not a good descent route to be on mid-morning!)

 

For the WFD I'd swing out towards the west along the far edge of Collier Glacier from Prouty Point. There used to be one large crevasse just below that area but staying up high to cross to the west edge avoids it. From the far edge of the glacier you should be able to inspect the entire couloir with some small binoculars. Snow coverage is very good this year but all you need is for one spot to be bare and you can be forced onto tenuous dinner plates for a while until you can get back into the couloir or hit the traverse snow field. It's worthwhile to check it out as completely as possible before heading up it. You'd also have a good view of the WFR and a chance to see how it looks for escaping to the SW ridge.

 

I've never worried much about crossing the glacier, but YMMV. There used to be the one large crevasse well above the roll over, which should be visible from some perspectives even when bridged. The roll over and the area around it may have some noteworthy crevasses. If you cross low, below that, there shouldn't be anything to worry about. But I haven't been there in a while now, and I may do a bit more solo glacier travel than a lot of people even though I try to be conservative.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this  

×