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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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