Little (Middle) Sister - North Ridge/Southwest Slope, June 2008

It's been several years since Aaron and I last saw each other, let alone climbed together. A lot has changed since our Mt. Buckner climb back in 2002, but at my suggestion to climb and ski the Three Sisters, Aaron was still his usual self - always up for a challenge, no matter how ambitious. With an invitation to stay at his house in Bend, I loaded up the car and left Seattle at noon on an overcast Friday. An interminable drive south to Portland, then along hwy26 through Gresham and Government Camp finally reaching hwy97 for the final leg to Bend, saw me at Aaron and Amy’s doorstep a fair bit later than I had hoped (97 via I90 appears to be the better way to go).

We caught up on old times for a bit before us both driving over towards the Mt. Bachelor ski area to drop a car (the highway was still unplowed and gated shortly after the ski area). With an approach via Pole Creek, our itinerary for the next few days called for bagging the Ugly (North) and Middle Sister the first day, then camping in the large basin between the Middle and the Big (South) Sisters and finishing up on the South and reaching the car parked near Mt. Bachelor on the following day. I would also have to drive back home on this day. After some careful scrutiny of the mileage and time we had available, however we opted to omit the more technical North Sister and thereby save ourselves from having to schlep the requisite technical gear up and over the remaining peaks.

Well, it was a good plan, despite the fact that we really needed an additional day to realistically pull it off. I also wasn’t too hot on making the 5+-hour drive back home thoroughly trashed, dehydrated and sleepy. In the end, a combination of exhaustion (courtesy of the long drive the day before), laborious travel in deep snow, heavy packs (we carried our skis for much of the way onto the Hayden Glacier), and the overbearing heat did us in. I took one look from the summit of the Middle, beyond the South towards Mt. Bachelor near where we stashed the car waaaaay off in the distance, and decided then and there that there was absolutely no way I was going to make it that far the next day, and then drive back to Seattle to boot.

An unexpectedly nice and long ski/snowboard descent off of the southwest/south slopes of the Middle saw us to a picturesque basin where we intended to make camp. It was shortly before 3pm and we debated briefly whether or not we had time to still tag the South and make it back to camp. “With fresh legs and firm snow perhaps”, we concluded, but neither of us felt particularly exited about having to down-climb the Prouty Glacier hourglass or North Ridge in the dark and in the state we were in. We of course could just ‘run up’ the peak first thing in the morning, but I was feeling decidedly weak that weekend and didn’t want to add that on top of the drive for the next day. Then Aaron suggested, “There’s still time to get dinner and beer.” And with that, we packed up our gear and high-tailed back towards the lower moraine of the Hayden Glacier, eventually picking up the Chambers Lakes Trail for a longer than expected slog back to the Pole Creek Trailhead.

I slept like I hadn’t slept in weeks that night. Late the next morning, Aaron and retrieved the car left near Mt. Bachelor the previous day, and then proceeded north to Terrebone to check out Smith Rock State Park. Aaron gave me a brief tour and we managed a couple routes before fatigue from the day before and the heat sapped our motivation for any further physical activity. With plans for future climbs together, we parted ways and I got to the tedious task of driving back home.

One down, two to go…and to those of you who seek steeper, more aggressive ski lines, might I suggest the Thayer Glacier Headwall on the North Sister or the Diller Glacier Headwall on the Middle Sister? If it wasn’t for the overnight gear I needlessly carried around that day, I’d probably have dropped-in on the latter myself.



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