The Oregon Cascades: South Sister!

Middle Sister and North Sister volcanoes from the summit of South Sister

Middle Sister and North Sister volcanoes from the summit of South Sister

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.

Getting closer...

The approach to South Sister, Oregon’s third highest mountain after Hood and Jefferson

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.

Yep, that's the trail

Yep, that’s the trail

First snowfield

Steep snowfield

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.

Lewis Lake at the foot of Lewis Glacier. The trail runs along the left ridge, but the summit isn't visible here. It's on the other side of the caldera.

Lewis Lake at the foot of Lewis Glacier. The trail runs along the left ridge at the edge of the snowline, but the summit isn’t visible here. It’s on the other side of the caldera.

The final climb over red rhyolite- very crumbly rock

The final climb over red rhyolite- very crumbly rock. You can see the trail angling up to the left.

Almost up! Me & Dio on the edge of the caldera

Almost up! Me & Dio on the edge of the caldera

Dio celebrating with Mount Bachelor in the background

Dio celebrating with Mount Bachelor in the background

Final snowfield to the top!

Crossing the final snowfield to the top!

Looking down at the caldera from the summit

Looking down at the caldera from the summit. Those are two tiny hikers cutting across the snowfield. Teardrop Lake, the highest lake in Oregon, is hidden at the foot of the brown patch on the right.

South Sister Summit D.O.G.

South Sister Summit D.O.G.

 

Me & Dio on the summit, taken by fellow summiteer

Me & Dio on the summit, taken by fellow summiteer

Following Joe down the mountain

Skiing down loose cree on the descent. Lewis Lake below with Devil’s Lake and Mount Bachelor in the distance.

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!

Leaving Bend, the Rover hit 200,000! It's officially prehistoric! :)

Leaving Bend, the Rover hit 200,000! It’s officially prehistoric! :)

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Oregon Cascades: South Sister!

  1. Love those red cinders and black “clinkers” on the summit.

  2. Lavinia Ross says:

    I enjoyed all the photos! I never get to see those mountains from that perspective. :-) Dio really enjoys a good snow roll!

    Have you ever gone spelunking? Many years ago I went on a 6 mile, 6 hr, mostly crawling with headlamp underground cave tour at Mammoth Caves, Kentucky. I don’t know if they still do those. A whole different world down there. This Earth is a fascinating place.

  3. mvschulze says:

    Certainly a beautiful day for this climb. Awesome photos, and descriptions. We had a brief visit to the (North) Cascades back about 20 years ago: Lake Chelan, Rt 20, Lake Diablo – and were so impressed by the clarity and colors of the waters respectively. Thanks for the great post. M

    • Amazing pics! Wow, what a trail! So cool. I lived in Sitka, AK for a bit and they have a volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe, that looks like the stratos you describe. Must be exhilarating to actually summit them. (On a side note, I’m encouraged by your Rover’s mileage milestone, mine just hit 160K and I have no plans to get rid of it anytime soon, although my husband keeps trying to jinx me with comments about it being overdue for a breakdown!)

  4. Congratulations for both!!

  5. carbonate ranch says:

    your prehistoric mileage is killer. anyday now you will come walking down the driveway. the desert is calling. come my child.

  6. Pingback: Climb On Smith Rock, Part 2: Monkey Face! | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

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