The first really big mountain I ever summited was a stratovolcano – Ecuador’s 19,347-foot Cotopaxi – and I’ve had a thing for climbing them ever since. Stratovolcanoes boast the classic volcanic profile – a lone, cone-shaped summit, usually snowcapped. Some of the world’s most famous and dangerous volcanoes are stratos including Mount Fuji, Kilimanjaro, Rainier and Mount Saint Helens.
Climbing stratovolcanoes is steep and relentless. The rock is loose, crumbly and dusty and as the slope gets steeper near the top, you slide dishearteningly back down with each upwards step. It’s grueling work but totally worth it for the view: the summit is almost always visible, the route up straightforward, seldom hidden behind trees or jagged shoulders of rock. Looking up at an seemingly impossible objective all day is both intimidating and empowering. It’s always hard to believe you’ll be standing on top until you’re up there and then you realize you’re only halfway home.
Oregon’s Cascade volcanoes are all stratovolcanoes, but until just recently, I had never climbed any of them. After a delightful layover in Bend with a couple of Blonde Coyote readers who offered to host me for the weekend (thanks Talia and Duncan!), I headed to the foot of the Three Sisters.
The Three Sisters are three 10,000-foot stratovolcanoes clustered together just west of Bend. The Middle and North Sisters require some technical climbing, but the tallest, South Sister is simply a class 2/3 slog: 12.5 miles out and back up 5,000 feet of elevation to 10,358-feet. South Sister is the easiest of the Cascades: Class 2 and 3 calls for lots of scree scrambling up loose rock, but no vertical climbing.
Climbing in the Cascades just gets steeper, longer and more technical from here. I’m game for a few more though! Next up: Mount Thielsen!