The trip came together when a friend from church emailed some guys about doing South Sister, a volcano in the central Oregon Cascades whose 10,358′ summit can be reached by a trail in the summer. It was a group of 7 guys, including the senior pastor, Ryan, and my dad, Charlie. The plan was to hike into Moraine Lake on Thursday evening, hike to the top on Friday (August 13), have a leisurely evening in camp, and then hike out Saturday morning.
At this point I should explain why this was a special trip for Charlie. When he was in his teens, he went on some memorable backpacks in his home state of Idaho that were led by members of the Mazamas. Ever since, he has wanted to join, but he’d not met the main prerequisite for membership: to have reached the summit of a glaciated peak. In the mean time, life became busy, and the dream of standing on the top of such a peak was set to the side for a long time. One year, he attempted to summit Old Snowy, a peak in the southern Washington Cascades with a small remnant glacier on its flank, but was turned back by sketchy conditions. He now had another shot at reaching another summit.
Since most stuff I do like this is with Mazama groups, I’m used to EARLY starts. The rest of the group was planning on starting for the summit around 9:00 on Friday morning, but my plan was to start with Charlie at 5:00. Our actual start time ended up being just before 6:00. We enjoyed the early morning light, the lack of crowds, and the opportunity to summit before the scorching midday and afternoon heat set in. The trail was snow-free except for a couple small patches below treeline.
On our way up, we passed a Mazama group led by Ken Searl, the same leader with whom I had attempted South Sister in May! It was a crazy, fun coincidence for us to run into each other on the same mountain several months later.
Charlie and I reached the summit just after 9:30. The summit of South sister is a large crater, and the true summit is a point on the northeast part of the crater rim. The summer trail tops out on the south end of the crater rim, and from there it is a short walk along the rim to the highest point. We were among the first to summit that day: we met one guy who had spent the night on the summit and was just heading down (a meteor shower and a clear night sky had made it a great night to bivy up there), and one hiker passed us just before we got to the highest point.
We spent a while enjoying the awesome views, got our summit photos, exchanged congratulations with Ken’s group when they got there, and started down. By the time we left, there were already more than a dozen people at the true summit, and more were on their way from the point where the trail reaches the south end of the crater rim.
At about 11:20, as we had descended to around 8500′, we finally met the rest of our group hiking up the trail toward the summit. It turned out they had left at about 9:45, the same time we were on the summit. Charlie and I got back into camp a little after 1:00. The rest of the group returned around dinnertime after reaching the summit. The wind kicked up in the afternoon, and it was blustery all night until about 8:00 on Saturday morning. The wind blew dust and grit all night, which got into tents and sleeping bags—even tents with the rainfly set up.
On Saturday, we made it into Bend in time for a fantastic lunch and beers at the Deschutes Brewery restaurant (the elk burger was awesome). A nice way to end a great trip.
Congratulations on reaching the summit, Dad.
Trip Report: Backpacking Light Wilderness Skills I – Lightweight Backpacking
July 29-31, 2010
Instructors: Chris Wallace, Sam Haraldson
Growing up backpacking, I got used to the idea of carrying heavy loads. Add to that my tendency to imagine every possible way that a trip could go awry, and you can guess what my backpack looked like. I used to have an 80+ L external frame backpack that weighed over 7 lb. empty. Filled, it could easily break the 50 lb. barrier.
Although since getting into climbing I’d reduced some of that weight on my own, and I’d replaced that old backpack plus a lot of other gear, I still overpacked, and I still owned some items that were heavier than they needed to be, just because I didn’t know any better.
I’d known about Backpacking Light (BPL) and their lightweight backpacking classes for a couple of years, but this was the first year I felt really serious about lightening my pack. I quickly sold my dad, Charlie, on the idea of taking the class together. So at 5 AM the day before the class, we started the 800 mile drive to Jackson, Wyoming.
The morning of our first day was spent in the classroom, going over lightweight philosophy and gear. It was very helpful to consult with Chris and Sam, our instructors, about the gear I’d brought. Even though my pack was light to start with (both Charlie and I had bought a lot of new gear to replace heavier items we already owned), I still ended up leaving some unnecessary items in Jackson.
In the end, my base pack weight (without food/water) ended up being about 9.5 lb. With consumables, it was about 14.5 lb. Not bad for a two-night backpack.
The backpacking portion of the trip took place in the Bridger-Teton National Forest east of Grand Teton National Park. Our starting point was the Turpin Meadow Campground. We did a loop following the Buffalo Forks of the Snake River. The pace was leisurely; from 1:30 PM on Thursday to 11:00 AM on Saturday we covered a little over 11 miles. This gave us plenty of opportunity to discuss and practice a variety lightweight techniques and wilderness skills: tarp camping, cooking, food hanging, nutrition, navigation, etc.
A sampling of major items I carried (by weight):
Feathered Friends 20-degree mummy bag (32 oz)*
GoLite Jam 50 L backpack (30 oz)
DriDucks rain jacket/pants (9 oz)
BPL Torsolite inflatable sleeping pad (9 oz)
MontBell down jacket (12 oz)
Titanium Goat sil-nylon bivy bag with bug net window (7.5 oz)
Patagonia wind shirt with hood (4 oz)
Seirus balaclava (2.8 oz)*
Darn Tough 1/4th length merino wool socks – extra pair (2.5 oz)
Mini first aid kit (about 2 oz)
Platypus 2L water bottle (2 oz)
Seirus thin weatherproof gloves (1.9 oz)
BPL Titanium 475 mL mug/pot (1.7 oz)
Petzl coin battery headlamp with extra batteries (1.3 oz)
* overkill – could have gone with a lighter item
Charlie carried a 1-oz alcohol stove that we shared. We borrowed a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp from Sam and Chris for our shelter (about 11.5 oz with titanium stakes).
Charlie and I found that there was very little that really had to be given up to go lightweight, and a lot to gain. We both loved tarp camping; Charlie told me it was his most comfortable night yet in the outdoors. We loved the feeling of getting into camp without sore shoulders and hips. I feel like I can now begin to lighten down my pack for climbing trips (a lot of multiday alpine climbing is glorified backpacking). Many climbing trips demand gear that is more heavy-duty than some of the items I carried, so I won’t be getting rid of heavier items in my gear closet anytime soon, but having a range of lightweight gear means I can pick the lightest items that are appropriate for the outing I’m going on.
It was fun to get to know Paul & Laura, Jim & Jessica, and Michael, the other students in the course. Every person brought some cool experience and interesting perspectives to the discussions. Thanks for the great time together, guys!
On the drive back to Jackson, I drooled at the sight of Grand Teton… I’ve got to come back and climb that thing. Back in town, we had a good-bye lunch together at the Snake River Brewing Company (there’s nothing like a buffalo burger and beer after a couple days in the woods), we had a short debrief in the classroom, and parted ways.
Extreme weather holds a certain allure for me. Perhaps it’s because I live in a city where the weather rarely goes to extremes. Whatever the case, when a very cold and dry mass of air settled over the area, bringing temperatures down into the single digits (F) in some places (and bringing with it crystal clear, cloudless skies), my first thought was to get out and hike in it.
So on Wednesday, one of the coldest days of the cold snap, I joined Tom & Friends on a morning hike of Dog Mountain, on the Washington side of the Gorge. Even on our drive out there, we could tell that this was no ordinary winter day in the Gorge. Ice floated in the Sandy River. A waterfall on the cliff below Crown Point was completely frozen, and there was someone ice climbing on it…they were halfway to the top when we passed them at approximately 8:15. And most spectacular of all was Multnomah Falls, still flowing but adorned with myriad icicles and its cliffs caked with sparkling white ice.
Upon starting our hike, the temperature at el. 200 ft was 18° F (-7° C). We were hiking to approximately el. 3000 ft, and some places near the top were exposed to the wind, though thankfully the wind was just a mere breeze (winds of 50+ mph are not uncommon here). I stayed pretty comfortable for most of the hike, but while we were exposed to the wind, I found myself wishing I had brought ski goggles, as some of the others on the hike had done (see photo).
Once we’re out of the cold weather, we’ll be back to the normal winter gray skies and chilly drizzle. I’m already looking forward to getting a good snowstorm.
I joined a Mazama backback to the Goat Rocks wilderness in Washington, led by Tom Davidson, on July 21-23, 2009.
Before I had this blog up and running, I posted a report on this trip on PortlandHikers.org, which you can still read here. If you’ve never been to the Goat Rocks, let me say that this place should be on every Western hiker’s life list.
Photos I took from the Pacific Crest Trail (and the Paradise Park Trail) near Mt. Hood this July.