North Sister

August 30-September 1, 1997

Ranger Ken greeted us at the Obsidian trailhead and very politely asked if we had a limited entry permit (LUA) for the Obsidian area. We said “No, because we are going to camp above the LUA”. The ranger said “Great”, and directed us to the self service trailhead permit station where we filled out a form allowing us to pass through the LUA. The ranger then wished us well as we marched off into the forest. As we packed into the lava flow area, an environmentally friendly wooden sign warned us that we were entering the LUA and would need a permit. No problem, we had one. However, upon entering the area where the trail crosses White Branch Creek another ranger informed us that our self service permits only allowed us to pass through the LUA; we were not supposed to stop and eat lunch or anything. A third ranger came along and asked us where we intended to camp. We said above the LUA at Black Fin. The ranger discouraged this and was quite determined that we should travel three miles out of our way and camp south of the LUA. We were politely warned by this gentleman that if we insisted on camping above the LUA we had better be sure we were above the boundary at 7500 ft. or we would be fined $100. Well, rules are rules, so we went ahead and camped above the LUA at 7540 ft. of elevation. On the way to our camp site, we passed two parties on their retreat from attempting the Middle Sister. Both groups said that clouds shrouded all three summits of the Sisters for the past two day and they were therefore discouraged from reaching their goals. The peaks were covered this Saturday afternoon as well but our goal, the North Sister, came into view from our camp just in time to see its dark red color during the brief alpenglow phase of the wilderness evening. Clouds then returned, and we retired for the night.

At 3:45 a.m. on Sunday, we were off and hiked with our heavy summit packs up the moraines, across the Collier glacier, and onto the south ridge of the North Sister. Our doubts for a summit opportunity started crumbling away as the mountain opened the door for us. Not only did the morning winds die out, but the sun warmed the sky to the east. We were then treated to quick and easy passage around the steep dinner plate snowfield via a large “moat” between the top of the snow field and the mountain. Fixed ropes were then set up from the top of the dinner plate to the bottom of the bowling alley, and then through the bowling alley and up the rappel pitch. All five members of this Obsidian party enjoyed an extended visit to the summit where sunny skies afforded lots of photography. Congratulations were extended to Julian and Henry, both now qualified for nomination into the special order of Obsidian Chiefs. The descent was eventless and we were off the mountain, back on Collier glacier at noon! The clouds immediately returned to the summits and notions of climbing the Middle Sister became diluted an we returned to camp for a three-hour nap, a dinner hour celebration, and then a long night of rest and watching reflections in the sky from lightning in the north.

On the third day of our journey, we returned to the Obsidian trailhead at 9:00 p.m. There, Ranger Ken welcomed us, wanted to know all about our adventure, and discussed the LUA policy and likely future of this program that has successfully limited use and resource damage in two of the most popular wilderness area destinations in the Pacific North West. We were told that the Obsidian LUA boundary will probably be moved west to include the full distance of the Obsidian trail. If this happens, climbers will have to either get LUA permits in advance over the phone, or will have to approach the North and Middle Sisters from the Scott trail from the north. All three rangers we visited with were very friendly and enthusiastic about the success of the Limited Entry Permit program presently in use on the Obsidian area of the Three Sisters Wilderness and the Pamelia Lake area of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. This Obsidian party was slightly amused about the whole thing but also bemused, wondering how much access to our wild areas, once taken for granted, was going to change over the next few years. This successful and educational Labor Day adventure was shared by Richard Lemon, Chris Miller, Henry Turner, Julian Peñaloza and Ken Ball, leader.


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