Sunday, June 29, 2008

Middle Sister Climb - East Side Story

Last year I climbed Middle Sister from the west via the Renfrew Glacier, an ascent that did not require crampons or ropes.  This weekend I returned to the Sisters Wilderness for my third attempt via the Hayden Glacier route.  What I found on the east side of the Cascades was just the experience and challenge that I had sought.

A previous climb leader had suggested that since this climb would count towards a Climb Leadership Assist for me, that I request to play more of a lead role.  Climb Leader John Meckle was gracious enough to let me take on more responsibility than is typically given to Mazamas Climb Leader Assistants.  We started at the Pole Creek Trailhead.  It was not long after crossing Soap Creek that we started to loose the trail under the snow.  Climb Leaders from two previous climbs had provided us with GPS coordinates, so we used a combination of GPS, maps, and compass to get to our base camp.  Thankfully most of the hiking on this hot day was under tree cover.  

At base camp we had a grand view of Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister.  The boot tracks along the lateral moraine of the Hayden Glacier were visible to the naked eye. We filled up our water bottles, cooked dinner, and practiced roping up and passing protection on a fixed belay.  Since thunderstorms had been predicted for the afternoon of our climb day, we went to bed timely in order to rest for a very early alpine start.  It was not a quite night.  A thunderstorm moved in and there was frequent lightning with high winds.  Often I would peer out of my tent and see Middle Sister silhouetted by the sky glowing from lighting.

The amazing thing was that we we awoke for our 4am departure, the sky was full of stars, as if the storm had never happened.  We passed through a couple of gullies to the lateral moraine, which looked like a ramp leading towards the saddle between Middle Sister and Prouty Point.  There was a lot of snow up here for late June, hardly any crevasses had opened up on the Hayden Glacier.   While the chance of falling into a crevasse was minimal, the consequence of falling into a crevasse was unacceptable, so I made he call to rope up. 

From the saddle we clipped out of the ropes and scrambled up the scree and talus to a steep snowfield.  Here I ascended under belay, multiple pickets clanging like a cow bells, and placed my first Fixed Belay.  Much to my pleasure my fellow climber Jim told me the pickets that I had buried in the snow had not come out easily.  From here it was a easy scramble to the summit.  My watch read 0919.  I had been told the view from the summit of Middle Sister is the best of the Three Sisters.  To the south we could see Mt. Thielsen, Diamond Peak, South Sister, and Broken Top.  Looking North we could see North Sister, Mt. Washington, Three Finger Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  

Back at the steep snow slope, the climb leader and I set up a rappelling anchor.  As I waited while the rest the team rappelled, the wind picked up.  The snow was soft as we descended to our camp.  As we broke camp we saw the thunder clouds forming.  The threat of a thunderstorm added some drama to our hike out.  Thankfully we were spared a downpour, the few drops that did fall wetted the dusty trail down for us.

Unfortunately upon our return to the trailhead we found that one of our cars had a broken rear windshield.  All that had been stolen had been a cooler and a backpack with clean clothes.  I felt helpless and saddened by this waste.

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