South Sister, Oregon


Anne and I have talked about climbing the South Sister in Oregon for a little while now. We decided this past week-end to use the excuse of our six-year anniversary to take an extra day off, drive down to Bend, and notch the peak off our tick list.

Dronie (1 of 1)

As overnight temperatures were cold, we allowed ourselves a 6am wake-up call that allowed for warm lattes in Bend and a little time for the snow to soften. We packed crampons, ice axes, hiking poles, and the Phantom 2 Vision for some aerial videos and panoramas. After less than a mile, the trail turned to snow and essentially remained snow-bound until the summit. The low overnight temperatures ensured the snow was very firm and in most places easy to walk on without breaking the surface. A low cloud layer (possible inversion) kept temperatures cool.


In an enchanted forest (photo by Anne Archambault)

We ascended to the flat section above Moraine Lake where the clouds wrapped around us and limited our visibility. I pulled out my GPS to ensure we stayed on course until we finally peaked above the clouds to a bluebird morning with stunning views of Broken Top and South Sister.


Coming out of the whiteout (photo by Anne Archambault)

The climb itself was relatively straightforward. We made our way up very firm snow and put on our crampons for a short while until the sun warmed the surface enough to ensure good purchase.

We made good time up to the first basin before slowing on the long rock ridge up to the actual summit crater. Here it was clear that some interesting weather had blasted the mountain since the previous weekend. There was significantly more snow on the rib than we saw in photos from a previous trip report and some significant deposits of rime ice.


Crazy Rime Ice (photo by Anne Archambault)

The final ascent from the rock rib to the summit involved a steep hill over some pretty firm snow. It wasn’t technically demanding, but the run out was risky at best and offered a somewhat daunting psychological challenge if you looked down and spent time thinking about the consequences of falling. I did my best to kick good steps and move quickly.


Long climb up the rock rib (photo by Anne Archambault)

Cresting the crater rim was exhilarating, the sun was out and the temperatures were surprisingly warm. We quickly completed the final traverse to the true summit and spent the next hour relaxing, eating, and flying the Phantom with spectacular views all around.

The time spent on the summit allowed the snow to further soften for the descent, which made for quality plunge stepping and enabled us to make good time.   The soft snow did slow us down by the time we reached the long and tedious flat section. Traversing the flat felt tiring at the end of a long day, but once complete the path wound quickly back to the comforts of our car, sandals, and the inevitable burger and beer in town.


North and Middle Sister (photo by Anne Archambault)

Overall, an awesome summit with spectacular views.

And for those interested, here’s the GPX track:

Total distance: 13.37 mi
Max elevation: 10394 ft
Min elevation: 5410 ft