North Sister

August 30-31, 2003

In many ways, this was a unique and spectacular climb. As in every Ken Ball led North Sister climb, the group hiked from Obsidian trailhead, through Sunshine meadows on the Saturday of Labor day weekend. The exact campsite used this year was at 7200 feet on the west slope of Collier Glacier’s moraines and south of “Little Brother”, and in the shadow of the “Black Fin”. An added feature was a cold, rapidly running creek providing drinking water and cold storage. Another great feature new this year was the beautiful orange and red glow in the north east sky above the expansive “B and B complex” of wild fires burning between Camp Sherman, and Mount Jefferson. After dinner, the entire group humored the leader by practicing their running belay skills on ropes strung out between big boulders on the moraine surface. As dusk approached, group members fell asleep one by one as they tired of watching the distant fires.

The group was awakened at 2:00 a.m. to absolute total darkness. Head lamps were required to see anything as there was, and would not be, any moon that morning. Because of this darkness, the trip up the moraines and to the Collier glacier was rather mysterious. Even to those of us who had been there dozens of times, everything seemed unfamiliar.

As absurd as this sounds, we had a hard time finding the glacier. All the snow fields looked identical in the dark, we couldn’t see the North and Middle Sister summit blocks even when we were on snow that was where the glacier was supposed to be. We did not go high, we maintained the elevation of the location where we should have topped out on the long moraine that runs north and south along the west side of the glacier. It seemed as though we were walking around in circles, compasses just confused us, GPS units said we were standing still and we were convinced we were not on the glacier because we traversed nothing steep and found no crevasses. For goodness sake it was dark! Then the leader said “Boys, welcome to the Hayden glacier”. We had traversed directly across the Collier and passed gracefully, yet unknowingly through the col between Prouty point and the roots of the south ridge of the North Sister.

We quickly turned around and got back on track. Most of the group went immediately to the ridge crest and headed north. A couple returned to the Collier glacier and mounted the south ridge at the normal spot, the long black scree field. Dawn arrived like a falling rock as the venue of the day was ironically introduced: rock fall and plenty of it. The climbers who ascended the ridge from the Hayden glacier watched in terror as bowling ball size rocks rolled directly at the individuals climbing up the scree slope, but disaster was avoided and the climb went on. The group was at the dinner plate in good time and found the steep traverse dry, devoid of snow. Two ropes were placed across the steep traverse of broken flat sliding shale, but locating suitable rope anchors proved difficult in the absence of snow.

A fixed line was placed up the final leg of the climb and all ten members of the party ascended to the summit while battling warm dry winds. Congratulations to Andy Jobanak, for completing his final requirement in becoming eligible to be inducted into our club’s special fraternal order as “Chief Red Bull”!

Falling rocks, mainly baseball sized, plagued the group during the entire time they were on the mountain. Everyone would end up going home with battle scars, mostly minor lacerations on this trip.

The winds were passing furiously through the bowling alley as if it were a Holly carburetor on a Chevy 454 gas engine. The winds persisted and made for limited communications between climbers and somewhat limited visibility until the climbers were back down on the Collier glacier. Just prior to reaching the south ridge scree, down climbing while threading the steep narrow chutes of gendarmes, three members of the group experienced some unfortunate drama. A basket ball size rock dislodged from behind Chris Miller, rolled passed him, picked up speed, smashed Don Orton’s left hand that was clutching a hand hold, bounced on down the chute and knocked Greg Zapansick off his feet. The rock then flew off into the abyss towards the Collier glacier.

The group gathered at the 7200 foot camp to find the cold stream dried up and cold drinks warm. Just prior to the last climbers leaving the camp, a large volume of water returned to the stream in time for them to leave with the memories of the perfect mountain camp. It was a miracle.

Kim Sawyer and Virgil Lamb took Don Orton to the Emergency Room where a very long and complicated repair and recovery began. Don’s tendon to his left index finger was severed and he ended up missing ten weeks of work. During his time off, he experienced re-constructive surgery to reattach the tendon and then began his long path of hand therapy. As of the middle of May, Don had 90% use of his left hand and was anxious to get out climbing again.

Climbers on this trip were Wayne Deeter, Ken Horton, Virgil Lamb, Andy Jobanak, George Jobanak, Chris Miller, Don Orton, Kim Sawyer, Greg Zupausic, and leader, Ken Ball.

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