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[TR] North Sister - SE Ridge 9/11/2011


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Trip: North Sister - SE Ridge


Date: 9/11/2011


Trip Report:


Sept 10-11, 2011

Team of 8

2 day climb

Pole Creek / Soap Creek headwaters, SE Ridge



2 hours from trailhead to high camp at 6,800 at the upper reaches of Soap Creek

4:30am departure

6 or so hours to summit

5 hours to descend (yes, we were kinda slow)

1:45 hour hike out to cars



There’s a very nice campsite with water and comfy sandy ground here at the head of Soap Creek at treeline. Beautiful, mossy lined rivulets drain the large tarn at the base of the Thayer Glacier. Casual hike in, left trailhead about 11, and had all afternoon to lounge at camp. This is a very nice area that sees very few visitors.

Campsite GPS coordinates: NAD83 10T E600220 N 4891320 elevation 6940 feet.


To get to this area, hike in from the Pole Creek trailhead to the Soap Creek crossing, then look for a faint climbers trail on the north side of the creek that departs from a campsite. Once at treeline, in about 1.3 miles, head left (south) for a few hundred meters and look for a yummy camp area.



After 3 previous summits via the standard SW Ridge / Hayden Glacier route, I wanted to try something new for this climb. I opted for the SE Ridge. We found that bypassing the various gendarmes and knobby bits of the ridge was best done on the left (south) side. When in doubt, stay left. It was occasionally steep and somewhat exposed, but never got past class 3.


The SE Ridge is seldom climbed, and now I know why, as it takes scree groveling to a whole new level. Even with a slightly longer approach, I feel the SW ridge / Hayden climb is faster and less tiring, as much of the hike is on fairly solid ground. The SE ridge is loose and “scree-dious” (scree + tedious, get it?) the entire way.


In summary, I would NOT recommend this route in late season.


Next time I will try the West side approach via the Obsidian trailhead and Arrowhead Lake camp. From the summit, even in late season, it looked like there was plenty of gradual snow on the way up from Arrowhead Lake, giving easy access to the SW ridge.



The late spring 2011 snow dump left a 45 degree 1 pitch snow traverse for us on the so called “Terrible Traverse”, or “Dinner Plate” traverse, which is normally completely snow free by late August and a stroll over loose but manageable 2nd class scree.


Happily we were able to bypass the snow completely by climbing up one side of it on scree, entering a delightful moat, traversing above the snow, then rapping (or careful downclimbing would work too) down the far side. For our team of 8, this was a way faster and safer way to get past the snow than actually crossing it.


If you choose to use pro for the Bowling Alley: One ¾” cam (red Alien or Metolius is perfect) in the boulder in lower center of the Alley, then 1 double runner used to thread a chockstone near the top, about 10 feet left of the lower rap station. If you are comfy climbing 5.6 or above in boots, then you can likely solo and downclimb the Bowling Alley without a rope. One more Bowling Alley tip: Scramble up ledges 30 feet to a large flat spot at base of the alley; this is a safe place for whole team to wait away from rockfall and leave packs.


If you do try this climb in late season (September) and are comfy climbing up and down the 4th class Bowling Alley, you need ZERO gear – leave the rope, harness, crampies, snow pro, rock pro, all of it - at home. If not, bring a harness, a light 50 M rope, one 3/4" cam, and a few runners. Overall, in no-snow conditions like this, I feel this route is about as hard/easy as Three Fingered Jack or Mt Washington. That is to say, pretty darn easy. Be smart with minimizing rockfall and be aware of who may be below you, and you should be fine.


Note to self - Remind all team members that every rock on the mountain is trying to come loose and crush you at any moment. We had one scare where someone pulled on some vertically stacked "dinner plates", and caused a substantial rockfall. It was dam lucky no one was below.


Overall, a rewarding climb with some good folks. I hope some readers find the following route photos useful. Thanks for Caleb Sattgast for many of the photos below.




Ready to Rumble at the trailhead



the schweeet view from camp



Camp lounging



the impressive east face of North Sister, view up from camp



Dawn Patrol





The irrepressible Linda. South Sister, Broken Top and Mt. Bachelor in the background



Getting close to the top of the SE Ridge. Middle Sister in the background



The first bowl, before the main snow traverse. In early season, this part is a pretty spicy steep snow traverse.



Suzi in the moat above the "terrible traverse"



More moat action



Moat shenanigans



Moat rap anchor - bollard and a picket



Some VERY bizzaro colored turquoise lichen on rocks in the moat



Looking down into the Bowling Alley from the rap anchor



Me on top, yay! Collier glacier in the background



Me rapping the Bowling Alley. This is pretty solid 4th class, so certainly downclimbable, but I had a rope, so I used it.



My new favorite Iphone app: www.topomapsapp.com Very cool GPS combined with nice hi res topo maps; no cell coverage required to use.





Gear Notes:

see above


Approach Notes:

see above

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Team of 8.


Not only is that dangerous but it's incredibly inconsiderate of anyone else that might want to climb the mountain that day.


The Mazamas are aware that they don't own every volcano in the PNW, right?


Stow this shit in the TR forums. It's moderate, not popular, and its on a ridge, mostly.


Perfect for a larger group, I'd say.

Edited by tvashtarkatena
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i found my last trip as a team of 8 to be nothing less than fucking sweeeeeeeeeet there kirk :)


very rare for me to be in a group of that size to be sure, but to my experience, on the slag-heaps that pass as recreation in these parts, pretty common, no?

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Team of 8.


Not only is that dangerous but it's incredibly inconsiderate of anyone else that might want to climb the mountain that day.


The Mazamas are aware that they don't own every volcano in the PNW, right?




Thanks for the hug! Love ya, man!


A few more facts . . .

- Yes this was a Mazamas climb, I like to lead it every September. I've topped out 4 times on this peak and thus know the route pretty well.


- We saw NO ONE on the entire mountain on climb day.


- If we had seen anyone else en route, I would have done my very best to share fixed ropes, route beta, and in general allow smaller, competent teams to pass freely. While not official Mazamas policy, that's how I and every other leader I know operates.


- It took our team a total of about 1.5 hours from the start of the moat traverse to top out. That's hardly an inconvenience to anyone "stuck" behind us. Which there was not, and if they were, they would have been invited to pass.


- I'll prolly be up there again the second weekend in September 2012, so Kirk, you may wish to climb elsewhere. For the rest of you with perhaps more open minds, stop on by, share our ropes, and you may meet a new friend.


B'lay on,

John Godino

Mazamas climb leader

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Nice work guys! :tup:


I love this mountain. It seems like it has been taken from the Land of Mordor.


Anyone knows if there is a similar application for Verizon phones?



Hi Mito,


I liked your recent Reid Headwall trip report.

You took a beating up there, wowzer! That top out is a bit confusing, but you got it right.


Congrats on a sending a classic Hood route!


If I hear of a Android app I will post it her and/or PM you.

(I have an Apple Iphone,and it's a Verizon contract, so I guessed you meant Android.)



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Hey John, that iPhone app seems like a pretty cool deal. Costs $7.99 on your link, is that right? Might there be a free version?


Sobo, I think you need to pay up for the app, but I think it's well worth it. I've since read of some PCT thru hikers using this as their main way to find the trail under heavy 2011 snow cover, so that's a pretty good endorsement. Even at 8 clams, it's vastly cheaper than a stand alone GPS, and has totally superior graphics and interface. Check it out and let me know what you think.



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Hi Mito,


I liked your recent Reid Headwall trip report.

You took a beating up there, wowzer! That top out is a bit confusing, but you got it right.


Congrats on a sending a classic Hood route!


If I hear of a Android app I will post it her and/or PM you.

(I have an Apple Iphone,and it's a Verizon contract, so I guessed you meant Android.)




Thanks John! Highly appreciated.


Yep, we got a little banged up on Reid and the idea was to escape the shooting scene by taking the middle exit rather then lingering in the rime towers in that never ending search of climbable ice :) .


Oh, I have a Verizon smartphone with Verizon contract. It looks like the analog might be "VZ Navigator" app. Definitely worth it for me, my Go-to GPS watch does not even have downloadable maps.

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Nice trip report, I'm glad to see people getting out there and having a good time. Thank you for sharing, trip reports are keeping me from losing it through all this rain.


I would like to support my good friend Kirk here though. There are many people, including myself who have been frustrated with the Mazamas and their tendency towards large groups moving slowly and clogging up a route or summit with little consideration for those behind them. Add in the common refrain from members of these trips "Shoulda gotten up earlier *group laughter* " and you have the makings of a good amount of frustration. A little more diplomacy would work wonders, especially when the group has been clogging up 3FJ(for example) for 3-4 hours.


A Mazama once humped our packs around Monkey Face and scored some major points, even hollering about trying to make up for Mazama route clogging antics. Coolest move ever, like a goodwill ambassador or something.


I really enjoyed your TR, and I'm not trying to poo in your punch. It's just that for some of us the name Mazama is synonymous with standing in line for a circus.

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Hi Joe,


I'm glad you like the trip report. North Sister has a pretty stout reputation. I feel this is well-deserved as an early season snow climb, and not so much as a later season scree walk-up. I try to post fairly comprehensive trip reports to encourage people to try this peak later in the year when conditions are generally more conducive to success.


I have always appreciated it when people add photos with direct beta and helpful information, and I try to include these myself whenever I can.


I agree with you that diplomacy, rope sharing, allowing other parties to go faster and climb through, and other expressions of climbing courtesy are always a good thing to show. Three Fingered Jack is definitely a peak where things can get bogged down with slower climbers. Fortunately most other summit objectives in Oregon allow multiple groups of different sizes and abilities to all enjoy it on the same day.


I would really prefer to keep this thread focused on a trip report and discussion of late-season North Sister, and not get into bashing other people's styles of climbing. There are plenty of other previous threads where that has gone on, and nothing very productive seems to come of it.


If anyone reading this wants to know when Mazamas are climbing any peak, (and either mooch off of their ropes and experience or avoid them entirely) the complete summer climb schedule is usually posted on April 1 on the Mazama website. A glance at this page can quickly tell you if your climbing location for the coming weekend is also a Mazama destination.


(Of course, this will not tell you whether the Santiam Alpine Club or Chemeketans will be enjoying your favorite cascade volcano . . .)


In any event, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and your positive and not so positive experiences. Such constructive dialogue will certainly win you more points with more people than the alternative.


I would never say that the Mazamas are perfect in all regards and offer a style of climbing suitable for everyone. However, in the bigger picture, they do more good than harm and are therefore worthy of my time, money and expertise to support.



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I would not go out of my way to defend the SE Ridge by pretty much any criterion. I feel I should note however, that I have spent a ridiculously foolish amount of time seeking out the fastest way between Pole Creek and the summit. Unfortunately, the SE ridge is that route.


IMO one of the greatest feats of athleticism in the history of Central Oregon Cascades, in late August 2009 Mitch Thompson went car to summit via the SE Ridge in 1:51.


Certainly, most are not so focused on speed. I think the route is still quite popular as it is direct and safe and no alternatives really avoid the scree. The SW ridge is worse, IMO, though for much shorter distance. Getting off the glacier and on the ridge is horrid, dangerous or both.








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Nice TR. Well documented. For some reason I find myself going to north a few times a year...Myself and two friends climbed it on the 10th of September (day before ya) and met up with one guy on his 3rd attempt. Just the 4 of us on Sat and it was pleasant. I took some pics of the interesting rocks (red and bluish), wondering if it is any influence of iron/copper? Anyways the moat sure was choice, eh? :)


I would dispute that the SE ridge is not used so much--indeed it is the only way I've headed up each time. Veering to the north side of the ridge in a few spots is cool and you get to walk under some really cool gendarmes, and it is obviously as tracked on that side as the south (pick your own adventure).


ran into group of 10-12 mazamas in July and they moved slow and kind of held us up for a while, though let us pass once they finished setting up a fixed line early on where the S and SE ridge meet the 'summit' ridge. the group size and being on north (and not middle) seemed incredibly ambitious/naive given everyone but the leaders moved with very little confidence. And one student yelled at me for littering because my buddy threw a banana peel at me and I tossed it down the mountain. lol. an orange peel!!! my wilderness experience is RUINT! sorry for the tangent!

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...Myself and two friends climbed it on the 10th of September (day before ya) and met up with one guy on his 3rd attempt.


Yes, the route saw a lot of traffic that week. We were up there on Monday the 12th on our 5 peak linkup. I know of half a dozen Three Sisters IAD parties that went for it between mid and late September. Once word got out that the traverse was open, people sure got after it.


I wonder what kind of snowpack we will see this coming summer.



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Didn't think anyone hit the Sisters much, but my info's about 25 years old.


I just climb around big groups on that kind of terrain. Only had one trip leader ever 'object'. Just happened to be Mounties, but it could have been anybody. We just ignored him and were out of sight within a few minutes. Same guy wound up abandoning his newbie partner on the 4th class descent. NIICE. No worries, we escorted her down...and advised her to cross this fool off her list of partners.

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