Sunday, September 28, 2014

The South Sister, September 28

The South Sister

We didn't sleep much last night because the wind was so strong.  Even with all the guy lines staked out, we worried about the poles breaking.  Fortunately nothing broke, and upon waking up, as the wind was still howling, we built a large windbreak around the tent with piles of dead wood.  Then we ate breakfast and crawled back into the cushy sleeping bags.
The plan for our short backpacking trip was to hike all the trails near our base camp at a little lake, including the climber's route up the 10,358 foot South Sister.  Mountaineering is less fun when it's cloudy and raining, and the forecast said today would be the least cloudy day out of the next few.  Even so, the clouds looked ominous and we couldn't decide whether to stay or go.  We were also both pretty tired and would have been fine just napping and resting all day.  Then around 10 am, the clouds lifted a little bit and gave me a view of one of the glaciers high above.  I had to go.  Tam chose to stay, so I set off hoping the weather would subside.
I walked through expansive alpine meadows, following the trail among old, gnarled trees and tiny montane flowers. At times I was joined by chickadees and ravens, but most frequently my only partner was the howling wind.  I could see nothing above me except clouds, and the trail disappearing into them.  I went up and up, faster when I got cold and slower when the view started to emerge behind me.  It's hard to keep up any speed when a landscape begins to reveal itself behind you; the temptation to stop and look at the ever-changing scenery is too great.  After just an hour or so of steady walking, I could see Mt Bachelor, its top blanketed with a saucer-shaped lenticular cloud, and countless mountains and lakes to the south and the west.  The east was still just clouds.  Up and up I went, passing people who told me they had turned around: too windy and cold, and no views.  But as I continued, a wonderfully strange thing happened.  I would hike up into the bottom of the clouds, then they would recede and again I could see out.  Then I would catch them again, and once more they would retreat.  The trail ahead still disappeared into the mist, but generally I had an unimpeded view of my surroundings.   A contrast, it seemed, to everyone who was in front of me.
I reached a ridgeline at one point, and there in front of me lay a glacier, the highest alpine lake in Oregon at its toe.  I followed the ridge up steeply now until the lake was a blue marble below, my traction underfoot turning gradually from sandy dirt, to red volcanic scree, to snow.  The snow was just a day or two old and a foot deep in places, but the trail was mostly packed and made for relatively easy going.  And the clouds were clearing further!  I reached the top of the ridge after a bit and walked along the edge of what looked to be an icefield, perhaps what once was the spout of this dormant volcano.  I soon reached the summit.  The view was spectacular in all directions; Broken Top to the east, endless mountains to the west, and the Middle and North Sisters jagged and icy to the north.  Even farther were Mts Jefferson, Washington, and Hood, their classically volcanic forms rising out of the ground.  And the best part was that the only clouds were far below and the wind had ceased too, making for a comfortable summit stay in shorts and a light jacket.
I stayed a few minutes then headed back down.  I had no idea what time it was, but I guess I moved pretty fast because I arrived back at our campsite at 3.  Tam said she hadn't been up to much, reading and sleeping, mostly.  For the rest of the day, we enjoyed some sleep, dinner, a colorful sunset, and catching up over the phone with our friend Connor.

The only photos I have from this mountainous jaunt were taken with my camera and will be uploaded to my flickr page (click the Gallery tab above) as soon as I am able.

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