Saturday, September 10, 2016

"The Poster Boy for things I wish I brought"

About 7-8 years ago, I decided to try a hike up South Sister. 10,358 feet, a popular destination for the masses. So I gave it a shot, alone and with lousy sneakers.

It's a 12 mile round trip: 2 miles serious uphill thru the forest, then 2 miles on the flats, then the bastard 2 mile final push via exposed rock faces and tons of loose stuff that's a nightmare from a footing and thrust perspective.

That day, I got to the 4 mile mark, around the place where the path went dramatically up and onto solid rock. Then Dirty Harry whispered in my ear: "A man has got to know his limitations." No aerobic base for 15 years, suspect footing....Yes, I turned around and saved it for another day.

Which took 8 years to arrive. As in, today.

Couple buddies wanted to climb, with one major stipulation: leave town at 0400. As in, wake up at 0315. Ouch...I was hoping for a slightly later start, but I was hitching a ride with them, so I'm either in or out.

I'm in.

Oddly enough, the parking lot was already half full at 0445. Lots of folks with the same idea.

First two miles; amazingly dark and amazingly uphill. A big grind right out of the gate, with no time to warm up those sleepy muscles. Very peaceful...and then we started seeing sky thru the trees. But no other hikers yet.

Just as we broke out of the forest, we saw some lights way up on the final part of the climb. Some folks evidently got an earlier start than we did! Though I'm not sure I'd want to be on the rock faces before daybreak, with low lighting. Just sayin'.

Second two miles; across the fruited plain. Fairly flat, nice to settle into a rhythm.

Broken Top, as the colors change from night to day

Okay, now it's time to get real...the final push up the last two miles. Emphasis on the word 'up.'

Pete and Dan setting the tempo
Those two miles were just NASTY: murderous slope over loose rocks and 2,500' of climbing that took almost two hours. If you weren't judicious in your foot placement, you'd slide backward on every step.

I was judicious...every possible rock that looked like it had roots was a foothold for me. But it was still a grind.

The last mile included the worst of the scree, but with a nice red hue. And once the trail headed left, we knew we were close.

At this point, I was the last of three. Just keeping my own pace while maintaining contact. Pete went ahead a bit, then hollered, "40 feet."

I REFUSED to attempt any understanding, not wanting to create false expectations. One thing that helped along those lines was my refusal to repeatedly stare at my GPS watch in anticipation. We'll get there when we get there.

The 40 feet was the final steps to the glacier just below the summit.

Two options: walk across the snow and ice, or go around on the path with steep drop-offs. Note: the drop-offs can be minimized by staying toward the snow, so that's what we did. And we were also rewarded with a nice, flat pathway. That felt incredibly good at the tail end of over 3.5 hours of climbing.

Up here, we met the crew that we saw from way below in the early hours. They were finally coming down...there were also 2-3 guys who camped overnight at the glacier; what a great adventure that must have been. It helped that the overnight temperatures were in the low 40s, actually warmer than at the parking lot. Some industrious types had also built three rock enclosures to shield climbers from the wind, so i could absolutely see spending the night as a goal.

The trail around the glacier became spotty at times. By now, my watch chimed 6 miles, so I knew we were close.

One last outcropping, and then....

Middle and North Sister, at your service

Probably not more than three miles away. Amazing view!

South toward the glacier

Mt. Bachelor...that water in the distance (near the brown) is Sparks Lake, fairly close to our parking lot. It looks very, VERY far away. But it's all downhill...

Broken Top from above
We spent a leisurely half hour at the summit, with no one else interrupting our solitude (except some tiny chipmunks who wanted our lunch).

But alas, all good things must come to an end; it was time to head down. And truth be told, I was probably more nervous about the descent than the climb. It's this gravity thing that causes problems with hard craniums and bones in accelerated contact with rocks.

No worries; while my legs were pretty well shot by this time (running was out of the question), I adopted a downhill ski motion that kept me from shooting down the fall line. I did fall a couple of times, but right on my butt, with no damage.

By 10am, the weather was plenty warm. Not a problem if we're descending and not building body heat, but a HUGE problem for the masses now headed up.

Which brings me to the title of this post...after one person asked me about my gaiters, another asked about the walking poles, and someone else asked about my water pack, Pete laughed and dubbed me "The Poster Boy for things I wish I brought." We had good gear, light/warm layers, and plenty of fuel, but we saw many/MANY people in heavy jeans with a single water bottle or sometimes a massively oversized rucksack.

I'll say it again: I'm THRILLED that we started early. Cooler temps, no parking issues, and NO TRAFFIC on the trail going up. Since we were descending at twice the pace of the late climbers, they were more than happy to step aside and let us pass. Besides, most of them were gassed and ready for a break.

That butte immediately to the right of the water is on the left side of the trail, and it marks the final 2 miles down to the car. 
I can't remember what this was, but it's pretty high up: maybe looking west toward Eugene

Broken Top from below, and a little brighter than at 0600

Moraine Lake, halfway up: some people camp here, and then do the summit on the second day

That big bitch in the rear view: in the red rock on the upper left, you can see the trail heading up and away from the snow.
That last couple of miles down thru the forest were tough; our legs were giving out. But we made it down intact, and smiled at the sheer number of cars now parked along the road (the lot was now completely full).

Afterward? An epsom bath, and pizza incoming. 

This was a good day.