North Sister, South Ridge
July 29-30, 2006
One might say this was the North Sister VIP trip. The assistant leader was our President, Wayne Deeter. It was lead by the vice president of the club, and included current board member Marianne Camp. One could also call it the seniors climb, since most of the climbers were in their fifties. But whatever the name, it was an adventure.
We were unsure whether we could even get to the trailhead because the Black Crater Fire had closed the Old McKenzie Hwy. and some neighborhoods of Sisters were evacuating. But the highway remained open as far as milepost 74 and the trailhead was at milepost 71, so the group of seven hiked in to Arrowhead Lake by the Obsidian Trail on Saturday and camped out under cloudy, windy skies. We set the alarms or 3:30 a.m. and were on our way at 4:25 a.m. The snow on the lower parts of he mountain was shrinking fast, but it was not long before we found a route on snow that was excellent for crampons most of the way. I would not say we were moving fast, but we made progress. The sun revealed mixed clouds above us and a sea of clouds in the valleys below. But the wind continued to threaten miserable climbing conditions. It was a struggle getting on the ridge, as it always is because of the loose rocks and scree, but we made it and after a rest behind a large rock to get out of the wind, we continued up the ridge. We watched planes fly through to fight the fire. At one point we could smell the smoke, which was a little spooky.
When we reached the Dinner Plate, the steep snow traverse you cross to gain access to the summit rock climb, there were two surprises. The first was the wind stopped and the sky cleared. It was going to be a nice day. The second was the snow patch was greatly reduced for this time of year. This made protecting the route across a little difficult. We used a large bomber rock for an anchor and a sling through one of the few solid rocks higher up for a directional. Then I was belayed out across the rubble left by the receding snow to the remaining and very steep (about 50 degrees) snowfield. Luckily I was able to drive two pickets in for firm anchors. President Deeter then came across carrying another rope, which we needed for the next stage of the climb, the ascent of the Bowling Alley. This is a scary place and well named since rocks routinely roll through here as they pick up speed and sail off the mountain. It is also easy to kick rocks loose on climbers below you. As the others made their way across the Dinner Plate, the President and I set a fixed line to the ridge above the gully. One by one the climbers reached the top of the fixed line and made their way around the exposed ridge for the easy rock scramble to the summit. As leader, I kept looking with concern at my watch. But because of the fair weather and blue skies, it would have been a shame to turn back climbers who had come so far. Finally six of the seven climbers had reached the summit and had rappelled down from the ridge. One climber was not feeling well enough to make the traverse. They made their way carefully down the Bowling Alley and slowly made their way across the softening snow on the Dinner Plate.
Then it happened. The last climber slipped on the soft snow and fell. But the protection held and he was able to climb back up and continue. Then he fell again! But once again the protection held. He pulled himself together and made it to the other side, unhurt except for a slightly injured knee, a cut on his hand, and a new appreciation for being alive.
All this was taking time, and the decent back to camp was painfully slow, owing to the injury as well as the physical exhaustion of others. By the time we got back to camp it was clear we would be traveling back to the cars by headlamp. One climber decided to stay another night along with a climber who planned to spend an extra night at Arrowhead Lake. The others wearily packed up. President Deeter lead the fast group and I walked out with the slower but determined injured climber. We finally made it to the trailhead at 1:00 a.m.! By the time we drove to Eugene, we had been up for 23 hours. Climbers were Marianne Camp, who made it to the Dinner Plate, John Young, Bill Cox, Chance Fitzpatrick, Marsha Barr, and assistant leader Wayne Deeter. The leader was John Pegg.
—photos by Chance Fitzpatrick