Three Sisters

September 2-4, 1995

Well, to use a worn-out adage, the third time’s a charm …

In Jeff Thomas’s book, “Oregon High,” a traditional Three Sisters marathon includes the summits of Little Brother and Broken Top in the same 24-hour period as all Three Sisters. Although we didn’t include those extra peaks, this party did manage to stand on the summits of all Three Sisters in the same 24-hour period. To make the experience especially sweet, we completed an unusual variation by summiting all three traveling from north to south, and all from the north approaches.

This Labor Day weekend odyssey began on September 2 when five climbers left the Alder Creek trailhead north-east of the North Sister. An exciting approach hike ensued as the party searched for and followed abandoned Forest Service trails from the trailhead to an attractive yet mysterious spot mentioned on a past issue of the “geographic” 3-Sisters Wilderness map. “Rock Climbing Area” as marked on the older maps is definitely obscure. The rock faces and columns we found there are all on the north side of an east-west ridge. This makes the cliffs unseen from the North Sister’s summit and hidden from the nearby F.S. trail, which passes by on the opposite side of the ridge. The five members of the party were impressed with this climbing spot, and were pleased that it really does exist.

The group proceeded to a moraine area above timberline located directly north-east of the North Sister. Here, a camp was made and staging ensued as we prepared for the climb of the next day. Sunday morning, 4 pm, found three of our party traveling upwards on narrow back bones of moraines that spread out laterally from the north-west ridge of the North Sister. Some route finding difficulties were experienced in the dark as the group scrambled up very steep cinder slopes to gain a hold on the Cascade Divide, a divide that was actually the north-west ridge of the North Sister. As light became present we were struggling up this ridge, experiencing the facts that all Sisters climbers know: on this route, it’s one step back for each three forward (due to deep, loose scree). An hour later, the first break was enjoyed at the base of a spire on the ridge called ”Sky Line Rock“ and the Collier Glacier was studied far below to the west. Another hour later, we were up to our knees in scree, struggling to pass beneath the west side of Glisan Pinnacle, a long, red, table-like formation just to the north and about 50 feet lower than the summit pinnacles.

From the top of the Glisan, we contemplated the north-east shoulder of the Prouty Pinnacle. We had hoped to scale this wall but late season conditions prohibited it as the loose rocks stacked one on top of another were no longer held together by ice and afforded no confidence in placements of slings or other climbing hardware. A fall from this area would drop climbers right down the steep and long Early Morning Couloir into oblivion. Therefore, we passed westward, dropped a few feet and passed through a crawl space that dumped us right at the bottom of the ”Bowling Alley“ on the west side of the Prouty (summit) Pinnacle. Now we were in familiar territory and climbed up the alley or summit chute using running belays and summited before noon. Enjoying a still, sunny summit experience were Tim McCall, Robert Langridge and Ken Ball.

Traveling downward allowed some rappelling experience in the Bowling Alley and provided the dilemma of cutting a route across the Dinner Plate snowfield as we didn’t have to cross it earlier. This was time consuming and technical, lasting two rope lengths in distance and requiring careful consideration of the placing of the limited number of snow pickets that three climbers could carry. By the time we threaded the gendarmes on the south ridge and descended the south ridge it was after 5 pm when we reached the coll between the North and Middle. Without stopping, we traveled to and climbed without incident to the summit of the Middle Sister. It was 7 pm and we needed to keep moving to get to Camp Lake by dark. The South Ridge of the Middle Sister is unpleasant when bare of snow. For the longest distance, it is boulder hopping and occasional loose scree or loose shale-like plates. As it became dark, we approached Camp Lake with already set-up tents and hot water waiting. This delightful situation was provided by our ground support team of Michelle McCall and Dave Beede who had walked around the east sides of the North and Middle during the day.

After a few hours’ sleep, a group of three set off for the summit of the South Sister. We ascended to and up the North Ridge of the mountain, leaving the Chambers Lakes basin in the distance. The crux of this route is moving across some slab rock at 9,800 feet, while passing along the west of a large rock buttress. Once up and off the slabs and away from the buttress, it was a continual grunt up scree type material another 300 vertical feet to the summit. Three Obsidians — Michelle McCall, Ken Ball and Robert Langridge — enjoyed lunch on the summit of the South Sister well before noon. Thus, the Obsidian party stood on all three summits within the same 24-hour period on Labor Day weekend, 1995.

Report by Ken Ball

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