Middle Sister

August 16-17, 2008

This trip started out on an upbeat note: The west end of Old McKenzie Highway had opened on Saturday morning which cut 54 miles off the route we had planned to drive through Sisters to reach the Obsidian Trailhead. At the trailhead, we shouldered our packs and soon encountered the first blown-down tree we would have to go around. Over the next few hours, we had to step over, duck under, or go around 78 blow-downs (we counted them on the way out), making the trail more difficult than expected. We wondered if the lack of trail maintenance was related to the road closure over the last two summers, Forest Service budget cuts, or money expended on forest fires instead of clearing trails.

By mid-afternoon, we had set up camp at Arrowhead Lake and thunderheads began approaching from the south. The line of volcanoes from Middle Sister to Three Finger Jack was not attracting lighting strikes, but we saw several strikes to the east of Mt. Washington and also to the south of us. This was the night of the full moon, but instead of moon glow, we were treated to occasional cloudbursts throughout the night.

Waking up at 4:00 a.m., we prepared for the ascent. The sky above the Middle Sister was clear, but there were clouds all around. By 5:30, we began working our way up to the Renfrew Glacier and west end of Folding Rock. As the leader, I was comfortable with steep snow slopes and glacier travel, but my two companions had little mountaineering experience. (I had previously decided that we would not bring crampons and ice axes on this trip and that we would not complete the climb if conditions required that type of equipment.) Even so, my co-climbers bravely took on the steep snow field we had to climb to get onto the Renfrew and then we made our way around the base of Folding Rock. At 8,700 feet, we decided that we had gone far enough. My co-climbers were pleased with the progress they had made, but their lack of experience on steep snow fields and rocky ridges dictated that we should begin our return to camp. Descending the steep snow was a challenge and an opportunity for glissading and self-arrest lessons, both of which would have been easier with ice axes instead of trekking poles! The snow was not very soft. With lots of icy knobs, glissading was bumpy and painful!

Back at our campsite, we took time to rest, and then began packing just as a thunderstorm moved closer and started sprinkling on us. Six miles later, we reached the trailhead and enjoyed smoked salmon and cheese on crackers at our own little tailgate party. Even without tagging the summit, we had come back with memories of a fun and beautiful trip. The climbers were Meredith Fox and Obsidians Mary Hamilton and Brian Hamilton, leader.

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