North Sister

July 28-29, 2001

Our party of six left Eugene at 8:00 a.m. and began the approach hike (Obsidian Trailhead) at 10:30 under a cool drizzle. Reaching base camp (Arrowhead Lake) at 1:30 p.m., we found clouds down to the 7500 ft. level. Early arrival gave time for a climb-orientation meeting, knot tying lessons, and trail scouting for the coming climb. Spirits lifted with partial clearing by sunset. We woke up next day to clear skies and left base camp at 6:00 a.m., reaching the North Sister-South Sister col in several hours, greeted by 20 mph winds that would be with us for most of the alpine sections of the climb. We reached the South Ridge comparatively easily by moving diagonally up and left from the highest snow tongue still resting on the ridge foot. The approach to the Dinner Plate was uneventful, but we found the traverse in very poor condition, with snow extending only halfway across. The sudden appearance of lenticular clouds on Washington and Jefferson suggested we might be in for it. We protected the traverse with 240 ft. of fixed rope anchored proximally by s sling on the usual prominent block and distally by a three-inch hex in an horizontal crack on the lip of the Bowling Alley. Protection was especially appreciated by one member of the party who unwittingly tested Newton’s second law of motion. The Bowling Alley was clear except for dislodged rime ice like small piles of marbles underfoot. Missing the Nelson Variation — a yellowish rock patch on the south wall of the Alley near its very beginning — the leader exited the alley by climbing its south wall at a point about half-way up the gully. A fixed rope anchored on a TV-sized chock stone protected the 5.0 moves up the wall. All summited by 10:30, hurrying through swirling clouds, then rappelled to the Alley floor from an obvious knob on the ascent route. Be advised that the top half of this knob moves when kicked. It began to snow just as we came off the traverse, with visibility down to 100 ft. Our descent from the south ridge to the Collier Glacier was complicated by white-out conditions which persisted on the snow fields below the col. Route finding became a team effort based on a GPS with only a single way-point (base camp), dead reckoning, and familiarity with the talus fields on Middle Sister. We reached base camp at 4:30 p.m. and returned to the cars in moderate rain.


  1. Take multiple way points, even in apparently good weather;
  2. In the Bowling Alley, use the Nelson Variation, which eliminates rope work and rock-fall danger.

Climbers were: Tom Harrison, Greg Milliman, Doug Nelson, Travis Suggs and Shawn Lockery, leader.

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