Middle & South Sisters
September 2-5, 1994
On Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, four members of the party left Eugene with plans of meeting a fifth member, Jamie Schick, at the base of Collier Glacier. Jamie had hiked in earlier in the day. The hike from Obsidian trailhead to the White Branch creek crossing went quickly. There, the party could see shocking weather plaguing the summits of North and Middle Sisters. The plan was to climb all three Sisters, but weather was now looking like the definite limiting factor. The group proceeded to Sunshine, turned left and traveled north then east on the PCNST. The Obsidian climbers halted at a point where the trail crosses lava flows and two or three channels of the wash that is intermittently supplied by Collier Glacier. By this point, darkness was falling fast and the wind was becoming threatening. A camp site was quickly set up and dinner prepared. The four party members were comfortable in Sally’s great mountain tent by the time the expected rain arrived. All were concerned about Jamie being stuck up at the Glacier less than two miles away, but it seemed unwise to proceed into an unprotected area where darkness and poor weather would make it almost impossible to find him.
A strange occurrence at midnight awoke the sleeping Obsidians from their slumber: “Jamie,” Ken yelled out, as he rose abruptly from sleep, sitting straight up. The odd thing about this was that there was a reply from outside! “Ya, is that you, Ken Ball?” announced a weary Jamie, as he was on his retreat from ferocious winds at the base of the North Sister. Jamie had no idea that the others were anywhere near him, he had not seen the tent. He was passing at least a hundred feet away when he heard Ken yell out his name. Ken said that he felt foot steps, dreamed that he saw someone in the dark with a head-lamp and just woke up. Well, the party still doubted the dependability of clairvoyance as communication, but agreed that it could sure be useful out where there are no phones. Jamie proceeded out and home, leaving the balance of the party to see what the weather held.
It rained all night and all morning. The group camped at Sawyer Bar. Here, in the misty mountain rain and fog, the ashes of long-time Obsidian Colin Macdonald were placed. It was apparent that this would be the closest point the party would get to the North Sister, so following the request of his family, he was remembered here. At, noon, the group of four headed out, still in the rain. The group was split in its desires: two wanted to go home, two wanted to stay and be wet. However, they decided to remain together and throw in the towel. Just before they reached the White Branch crossing, another surprise occurred. As originally planned, the party rendezvoused with Jane Hackett’s party coming in to attempt the Middle Sister. The retreating party had become totally convinced that Jane’s group would have had the good sense to cancel. But they didn’t. At that point, both groups combined here and hiked to Sunshine. The “Three-Sisters-in-a-weekend” group was down to three members now, as Sally Grosscup pursued the good book by the fire scenario beckoning her back home. In the mountains the day continued to be more than dismal. Parts of both groups played hearts all afternoon with frequent breaks to shake water off the tent. Rain continued into the second night.
It must have been divine intervention: Sunday morning was beautiful! Both parties summitted the Middle Sister together, and watched a plane buzzing all three Sisters. The plane was yet a third Obsidian group with the sole mission of committing Colin’s ashes to the mountains. After lunch on the summit, our group bid farewell to Jane’s, and headed down the south ridge into the Chambers Lakes Basin to find a camp along the shores of a true Alpine lake.
By daybreak Monday, we were traversing the north-west flank of the South Sister, crossing one huge moraine after another en route, to the North-West Ridge. Once approached, we experienced some challenge in scrambling up a cliff of loose cinder over smooth, solid material. It was like walking on ball bearings. Once the ridge was secured, the route to the top was almost identical to the famed Red Ridge on the south side. Just a long, tedious grunt with some exposure on either side. We enjoyed a long, early lunch in beautiful sunny weather with great views to every direction. The task of spreading Colin’s ashes was finished here: he was now a part of these great mountains. Our pre-arranged ride home arrived at Devil’s Lake as we did.
This interesting and unusual climb of Middle and South Sisters was completed by Mike Barkin, Andy Dungan and Ken Ball (leader).