South Sister (10,358′) is the 3rd-loftiest peak in the State of Oregon, and while Mt. Hood (11,240′) and Mt Jefferson (10,495′) both require technical skills to attain their highest points, an ascent of South Sister, though long, requires only trail hiking to reach the summit. But what a trail! Five and half miles long and with an elevation gain of around 5000 feet, it winds its way up the mountain with spectacular views almost the entire way.
Charles (my companion on my earlier epic trip to the Southwest) and I left Roseburg at around four in the morning, heading north on Interstate Five until we were just south of Eugene. We then headed east on Highway 58, passing Lowell, Oakridge and Willamette Pass as we got closer to the Three Sisters Wilderness. We eventually took a turn North on the Cascade Lakes Highway, and after about four and a half hours of driving, we arrived at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, gateway for virtually all climbs of this mountain.
Being that this was mid-October, it was very cold when we started, probably in the mid-thirties, but the weather was crystal clear and we headed out feeling happy to be here. I had climbed this mountain twice before, but it had been seven or eight years since I had been here last.
The trail starts out winding through a dense forest, and Charles and I talked as we headed up. After a few miles we broke out of the trees and onto the vast, undulating plain that sits at the very base of South Sister. I guess I should mention that I had been sick for the week before this climb, so I was not at all in my usual good shape, whereas Charles was in his usual superhuman level of fitness. He was kind to stick with me for as long as he did, but eventually he would take off and I would plod behind him.
Views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, Moraine Lake, and, of course, South Sister gave us plenty to ooh and ahh about, and after a short time, we reached the bottom of the volcano. At this point Charles had already surged ahead of me, and I took my time with the ascent. Numerous other climbers either passed me or were already heading down, and I stopped to talk to a few of them. I really wasn’t feeling too well, and wasn’t certain if I would actually make the summit this time, but I kept grinding it out, and kept gaining elevation. Soon I was at the base of the Lewis Glacier, where a lovely turquoise lake formed by glacial silt glittered beneath the sun. Above me, the Mother Of All Scree Slopes awaited.
The last thousand-plus feet of climbing on this massive volcano is formed by a huge slope of red cinders, making it a two-steps-forward, one-step-back affair, plus, you are dealing with being close to ten thousand feet high, so altitude also plays a part in slowing the ascent. It seemed like it took forever to reach the mile-wide summit crater. It was only at this point that I really knew I would make the summit.
I followed the southern, then the eastern rim of the crater, doing a little bit of very easy rock scrambling to reach the true summit, where I found Charles patiently waiting. We enjoyed perhaps half an hour on the top, taking pictures, eating some lunch and recuperating from the grueling hike. Then it was time to head back down, and drive back home to Roseburg, another climb, another adventure under our belts.