The Ugly North Sister, with the Little Sister to her left.
The Ugly North Sister, with the Little Sister to her left. Our route followed the SE ridge visable in the center of the photo.
 

North Sister 10,085'!

A Trip Report of the Southeast Ridge Route on a big, loose, nasty piece of rubble!

 

 

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Doug Adair and I met at the Pole Creek Springs Trailhead, about 5,000', at the end of Forest Road 15, off the McKenzie Pass Road. This is about 12 miles from the town of Sisters, Oregon. We both arrived after dark, and car camped at the trailhead to guarantee the early start. The weather promised to be good.

According to Doug's topo program, the Pole Springs approach saves 2-3 miles round trip on the approach over the comparable West Side route accessed from the Obsidian Trail. We were up at six and on the trail by seven. We followed the main trail to Chambers/Camp Lakes for about 3 miles. Then, after an obvious switchback about one mile up from the main Green Lakes Trail junction, bushwhacked just north of due west towards the old volcano.

I hoped there might be a cairn marking the climbers' trail, but there was none. The bushwhacking was easy through pine forest and clearings to a triangular incline that funnels right up onto the SE ridge of the North Sister.
Looking down on the SE Ridge Route! Looking down on the SE Ridge that Doug and I ascended. It is better to stay on the South side of the ridge.

Once on the ridge, there is something of a climber's trail - when in doubt, generally pass obstacles on the left (south) side. We passed several to the right, and other times followed the top of the ridge, which would eventually force us to climb down and around. The scree was extremely loose. Doug and I were careful not to dislodge rocks but we did anyway.

We had some fine views of the Middle Sister, 10,047', and the heavily crevassed Hayden Glacier, and the South Sister, 10,358', and the Prouty Glacier. The North Sister surprisingly has only little Thayer Glacier on its eastside, with a magnificent lake at its rock covered terminus and three icebergs floating in it.

South Horn, Prouty Peak (in the middle) and Glisan Peak! A great view of the summit pinnacle, and the three summits. South Horn, Prouty Peak (in the middle) and Glisan Peak.

Around 9,200' we joined the route up the South Ridge and the route became a little more distinct and easier to follow. Following the "Oregon High" (by Jeff Thomas) instructions, we bypassed the 3 gendarmes (right, left, right) beginning at about 9600'. We had a great close-up view of the Prouty Pinnacle. "How are we going to get up that?" Next we traversed below the prominent rock buttress on the steep scree. Smoot says this is the most hazardous part of the climb, but I don't think he's been there (certainly not in these conditions).

From the SE ridge looking over to Hayden Glacier and the Middle or Little Sister! From the SE ridge looking over to Hayden Glacier and the Middle or Little Sister.

At the top, we found excellent conditions (for nasty, loose, volcanic rubble) with an easy, well-trodden traverse below the summit pinnacle and straightforward pinnacle climb up the right (south) side of the Bowling Alley - 4th class to about 5.4 depending on route choice. There is a well-established rappel setup (4 or five slings and several rings) above the south side of the Bowling Alley, although we just downclimbed. A free-climbing leader could probably set this up as a toprope or belay station.

Doug Adair getting ready to start the final class 3 pitch on the summit called the Prouty Pinnacle, 10,085'! Doug Adair getting ready to start the final class 3 to the summit called the Prouty Pinnacle, 10,085'.

The North Sister has three summits. We first reached the South Horn, and then some class 3 took us to the true summit, Prouty Peak, 10,085', the fourth highest peak in Oregon. From there we looked over to the lower third summit, Glisan Peak. It was about 6 hours from Trailhead to the summit. We were the second party of the day, and there was a third three hours behind us.

H. H. Prouty with the Mazama first climbed the North Sister in 1910. It is the least climbed of the three sisters. We saw climbers on the Little Sister, and Doug estimated there were 50 climbers on the South Sister. We had gorgeous views of the top of Oregon, Hood, 11,239', Jefferson, 10,497', the South and Middle Sisters, Broken Top, 9,175', Bachelor, 9,065', and even far south to Mount Thielsen, 9,182'. The Ugly Sister last erupted about 100,000 years ago.

From the summit of the North Sister looking toward the Middle Sister and South Sister! From the summit of the North Sister looking toward the Middle Sister and South Sister. A good view of the heavily crevassed Hayden Glacier.

Doug and I found the conditions on this first day of autumn excellent. The mountain was dry, and there was no rockfall from melting snow, only from dislodging by climbers. Most people regard the North Sister as a nasty, loose pile of volcanic rubble and this is true. Seven hours on nasty, loose scree and rubble requires concentration, strength, balance, coordination, and determination.

Mike and Doug on the summit of the fabled North Sister,Prouty Peak, 10,085'! Mike and Doug on the summit of the fabled North Sister,Prouty Peak, 10,085'! This was a hard won, very difficult climb. I was extremely lucky to team up with Doug and reach this long sought goal!

We made good time descending our ascent route. It was much easier to follow the route. Midway on the ridge we went straight down the scree 800’, then bushwhacked back to the trail. En route, we located a miserly patch of sheltered ice. A few steps on this winter remnant allow us to call the climb "mixed" alpine. It also gave us a refreshing drink of cold water!

Stunningly beautiful weather - nearly 70 degrees at the summit! About 11 hours total with gross vertical gain (including ups and downs) of about 5,800'.

Doug dedicates this climb to the memory of his younger brother, Jim Adair, a damn good Connecticut climber.

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