South Sister, OR


Peak No. 7 of 8, No. 3 for the day

  • Day 4
  • Start 2:30pm July 18
  • Elevation gain ~4,000', ~9,500' for this 24 hours
  • Summit 10,358', 6pm
  • Team: Brian and John


We were about to try something that neither of us had ever attempted: our third mountain entirely under our own power in less than 24 hours. The anticipated fatigue, and the dubious look of our selected route, now played havoc with my psyche.

From our perspective on the Middle Sister, it had appeared there was a cliff band just below the summit of the South. The guidebook clearly showed a route, and in the picture the route looked straight-forward. The problem was that where the guidebook showed a nice, easy snow ridge, it was now rock or dirt. And it was sure to be loose. The area in question is found just below the summit, so that if we were turned around by this difficulty, we would have to descend virtually the entire mountain. This retreat doesn't sound too bad until you look at a topo map: the north ridge of the South Sister rises for over 5,000', and the bottom is about 10 miles from any trailhead. And to add to our potential trouble, it was getting late and we were tired.

So like the fools we are, off we went. Brian was leading, and I spent a long, long time staring at Brian's heels (when they were within sight). After long consideration, I realized that one of Brian's boots was losing the sole (in a stupor, it took a while for the gaping hole to reach my consciousness). We used up the athletic tape strapping it together; we still had many miles to go. The cliff band actually was easy to climb. As usual, foreshortening had made something merely steep appear as vertical. But just as that obstacle was cleared, another presented itself: the wind was up, and streamers of cloud were swirling past.

As we looked behind us, the summits of the Middle and North were obscured. Was our good weather to desert us just as we realized Brian's dream of 7 summits? I really wanted to hit that seventh summit in the same perfect conditions we'd had on the previous six, if just for sentimental reasons.

Feeling glum, we found a place to add clothes before stepping onto the crater rim and into the full force of the wind. As we trudged across the summit ridge, the continuing wind suddenly blew a hole in the clouds. Like an omen, we once again had a sunny summit. It was 6:30pm.

Since our original goal was 7 summits, the South Sister was an emotional highlight. We shared a few private thoughts, a few tears, and huge smiles. I think we both had conversations with Jeff. I know I did. Despite the raging cold wind, the satisfaction in attaining our goal and the bond we had created between us made it feel warm. With a grace born from pure joy, we plunged off the summit to meet our crew at the Devil's Lake trailhead. Brian didn't want to miss our promised arrival of 8:30, so we pretty much flew down the south ridge's well-worn trail.
It was truly ironic that after a punishing decent, when we arrived at the trailhead exactly at 8:30, the motorhome was nowhere to be seen. We had been moving steadily for 16 hours, and all we wanted was to be done. Now we wondered if we were going to have to bivy. But not more than a few minutes later, here came the Mahon crew. They had been delayed at a bakery in Bend, waiting for the delivery of a special-order Seven Summits cake.

Brian and I were treated to a short, motor-home version of MTV, complete with dancing, and we each had a celebratory piece of cake. But already our minds were turning to Mt. Rainier.

Mr. Natural Home | 2002 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski