South Sister Hike

Posted: September 12, 2010 in Hiking, Oregon, Photography

So last weekend we went up the South Sister in Oregon. There are photos of the hike in my gallery. This was an incredibly interesting experience for me, as it was the first time I’ve ever not made it to the top of a peak on my first ascent.

We were perhaps a bit overly ambitious. Driving to the trailhead from Portland that morning (which was a four hour drive), we got on the trail by 11:30 in the morning. We were then a bit more rushed for time than we would have liked, as we had to be down the mountain and in bed at a decent hour. This was because we were flying out of Portland the next morning (see the aforementioned drive, in reverse). Oh, right: also, we had to stop by and pick up some of our things from a friend’s house before we made it to the airport. So there was a bit of hurry in our step. But these things in an of themselves didn’t worry us too much.

The failure in this climb was entirely mine. For the second time in my life, I was afflicted with altitude sickness. The only other time that this has happened was when we climbed Pike’s Peak in 2009. I managed to make it to the top of that peak (14.1k ft.), but we had considerably more time available to us.

Today we had, of course, come from Portland and spent no time acclimating to altitude. Mary was smart enough to gorge herself on chocolate the night/day before hand, and wasn’t bothered at all by the height. I however, was not so lucky. The South Sister is only 10.3k ft., but I got really bad altitude sickness (nausea, dizziness, disorientation, etc.) when we hit 9.8k ft. about 3:00 in the afternoon.

I made the assessment that I probably could finish the peak, but it would have taken until probably 5:00 or so to do it in a manner which could be even remotely considered safe (if you use a very loose definition of the word safe). Doing the math, we wouldn’t have been off the mountain until almost 9pm (provided I didn’t get vertigo, fall off the mountain and/or die), with an almost hour drive back to Bend, OR (the nearest town we could get dinner, a hotel, and sleep).

So, in what was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I looked at the summit, and told Mary I was done. We headed back down the mountain without reaching the summit. I was crushed, because I’d never not made it to the top of whatever mountain I’ve been climbing before. I’m still not over it, and don’t know that I ever will be. However, I did learn some valuable lessons about myself and how to listen to my body on this trip. So we’ll call it a win.

The views were still gorgeous. This shot of the trail up to the top is from the rolling alpine meadow right around the tree line. The summit is in the background, and if you look carefully, you can see the trail zig-zagging its way to the top. Note the glaciers; there’s ice up there year round, and the summit often creates surprise weather patterns which can include white out conditions in the middle of the summer.

This shot of one of the lava flows to the west is a stark reminder that the Cascades are really all just volcanos. That flow is thousands of years old, and it is still the dominant feature on that landscape. More importantly, it’s going to dominate the landscape for thousands more.

I can’t wait to go back and tackle this mountain again. I had an amazing amount of fun going up the mountain, and so many people commented on the fact that I did it wearing my FiveFingers KSO shoes. I’m happy to report that they did an amazing job, just as they did when I climbed Pike’s Peak in them. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Seriously, go get a pair, right now. Your feet will thank you for it.


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