Three Sisters marathon
September 27-29, 1991
The fact that this trip was composed of a minimum party of three was the first limiting condition affecting its outcome. When one party member called the leader on Friday, Sept. 27, and announced he couldn’t leave until 9 p.m., the goal of climbing all three Sisters in 24 hours became extremely lofty (actually, impossible). However, we refused to acknowledge the obvious and proceeded to attempt our goal.
We left the car at Frog Camp at midnight on Friday. The second limiting factor on this apparent misadventure was the loss of direction due to extreme darkness. By the time we accepted the truth that we were on the wrong trail, two miles had gone by and we were having such a great time we decided to take even another chance which would contribute to making our original goal quite impossible. None of the party had ever been on the Scott Trail before, which would put us a considerable distance north of the Three Sisters. In retrospect, we were thankful we stayed on the Scott Trail because of the awesome experience traveling an unfamiliar route in the middle of the night. By the time we approached the lava fields, the moon was up, and although it was just a half moon it provided enough light to make everything seem just a little eerie. Mysterious and wonderful shadows and images surrounded us as the moon light illuminated the spindly pine trees and towering rocks of the lava field. This nocturnal journey took on a feeling of traveling through another dimension. The theme music of “The Twilight Zone” reverberated in this leader’s head for what seemed hours. After five miles of this, the trail met the PCNST and we turned southward. It was now 2:45 a.m. and we had all been awake for 19 hours. After stumbling around like zombies in a “Dawn of the Dead” movie, the party camped at Minnie Scott Springs at 3:30 a.m.
Bright and early at 10 a.m. we broke camp and traveled through Oppie Dildock Pass, arriving at Collier Glacier viewpoint at 10:45, progressed through a dry lake bed at the bottom of Collier Glacier and skirted a large terminal moraine, climbing the Little Brother from the south. The party then followed the normal route north of Renfrow Glacier to the top of Collier Glacier and roped up, making our way across and around several crevasses to the col between North and Middle Sisters. Here, the decision to abort the marathon was made because we didn’t want to descend the North Sister entirely in the dark. We did however go on to summit the Middle Sister.
At a pre-twilight summit meeting, several observations were made and discussed which may increase the likelihood of successfully completing a Three Sisters Marathon on some future attempt. First of all, an entire day should be spent at Sunshine resting in preparation for a midnight-to-midnight trip. Secondly, the trip should be done under a full moon and earlier in the year when daylight lasts longer. Although this trip was scheduled late in the year in order to cross the North Sister’s “dinner plate” snowfield with no snow, we determined from this trip that the lack of snow at lower levels made crossing rocks more exhausting and countered any time savings of a dry “dinner plate”. A final observation was that every member should be equipped with a light-weight sleeping bag, regardless of the extra weight.
In the twilight the party made its way from rock to rock down the south ridge of the Middle. This was a painstakingly slow descent and we agreed that none of us would ever want to climb the Middle Sister via the south ridge due to such a long distance of nothing but large boulders. High above the Chambers Lakes Basin we made camp and used a fire to provide heat throughout the night as there was only one sleeping bag between three of us. Sunday found us making our way along the crest of the Cascades heading southwards and exploring the Chambers Lakes Basin called the “Devil’s Parlor” and then skirting the north side of the South Sister, passing along the terminal moraines of Carver and Prouty Glaciers and above Carver Lake. This is a mysterious and breath-taking treeless landscape surely typical of our neighboring non-inhabitable planets. After a steep climb down into the Green Lakes Basin and on down the Fall Creek Trail, we arrived at Green Lakes trailhead parking area where a pre-arranged shuttle vehicle was waiting. Party members of this long and adventurous journey were Mark Brown, Sean Oldham, and Ken Ball, leader.