Sunday, May 12, 2013

South Sister: High (Dog) Drama and Mashed Potatoes

South Sister at Sunrise
At its genesis months ago, this weekend's trip was supposed to be to Crater Lake. Crater Lake averages 533 inches of snow per year, and, as one of the snowiest places in the lower 48, mid-May is typically a safe bet for a ski trip. However, this is no ordinary year. After an extraordinarily cold and wet December, 2013 has been one of the driest and warmest on record.  So warm and dry, in fact, that we became increasingly worried as the reports from park headquarters indicated a rapidly diminishing snowpack. As I told my ski buddies, I've never been this annoyed by so much great weather.

So last Thursday night, the day before the trip, everything was on the table. Mt. Scott from the east? McLoughlin? "Cascade Lakes highway opened yesterday..." someone chimed in. Even though the conversation happened via email, you could almost see the eyebrows raising. With the approach shortened by the early opening of the Cascade Lakes highway, 10,358-foot South Sister was it.

Friday afternoon I left the 90-degree heat of the Rogue valley to convene with the group at Devil's Lake campground below South Sister. There, the six of us shared beers and conversation with our new friend Brett (from Mount Shasta City who was soloing South Sister on his way up north) while discussing the day to come. By 10:30, we were asleep. It would be an alpine start in the morning.

At 3:30 AM, I was awakened by the others. Time to get moving. It took us about an hour to get on the trail.

After about a mile and 1,500 vertical feet of climbing in the dark, we reached the table lands below South Sister...

...where we were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise and this view looking south toward Mount Bachelor
Sunrise over Broken Top

South Sister in the early morning sun

It was quickly apparent there was no freeze the night before.

The slog continues

Glacial moraine lake next to Lewis Glacier

After resting next to a small glacial lake at about 9,000', we continued toward the summit along the edge of Lewis Glacier.  However, a few minutes later, something unexpected would happen...

Climbing the South Ridge

There was a commotion ahead of me. When I arrived, I found out a dog had just fallen into a moat on the edge of Lewis Glacier.

A dog had fallen into the moat next to a rock .

We lowered the dog's owner into the chasm...

... which appeared to be appeared 8-10' deep.

David lifted the dog out of the moat. The dog was happy to be back on the snow...

...and the owner was even happier to be reunited with his dog. 

After the rescue, the owner's exact words were, "Thank you so much... My wife would have killed me." He offered to buy beers for our group, but it was onward and upward for us.

The climb continues. Galen with Mount Bachelor in the background
Nearing the summit
Success! Just before 11 AM, we summited.

Panorama looking south from summit plateau
Because of the warm temperature and lack of refreeze the night before, the snow had the consistency of mashed potatoes. We weren't interested in sticking around the summit very long. However, Sam quickly skied to the true summit and snapped some pics of Middle and North Sister while Dave made a binding repair.

Middle and North Sister (photo by Sam)

Now for the fun part. The steep summit cone skied well. The lower we skied, the more mashed-patotoey the snow was.

Galen shredding the summit cone

Eyeing the descent

Group meeting

After skiing to the table lands, we took a well-deserved break. By then the snow was so sticky that we didn't need skins to make the two-mile traverse. 

And one last descent through the trees to Devil's Lake

Walking the short stretch of the Cascade Lakes Highway back to the cars...

...where Dwayne serenaded us while we swapped beers and stories....
... and posed for one last group pic with South Sister above us.


DJ said...

And then everyone slept for the next 30 hours...

Sherrie and Jon said...

Peter, It's Sherrie McKenna. I love this! xoxo