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Hiking South Sister in the summer

South Sister
Hiking (crawling) up South Sister is not an activity for the faint of heart. But for those who make it to the top, spectacular views of Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, Middle and North Sisters and, well, half the state, await.

The Bulletin
By Deanna Darr
September 14, 2000

People do insane things and call them recreation.

Why else would any seemingly sane person trudge up a never-ending trail, straight up the side of a mountain with the occasional child or family dog in tow?

Family fun — doubtful. Wanting a ride in the Air Life helicopter — possible. The simple fact that they can — apparently the most likely explanation.

Hiking (crawling) up South Sister is not an activity for the faint of heart. But for those who make it to the top, spectacular views of Broken Top, Mount Bachelor, Middle and North Sisters and, well, half the state, await.

This popular summer hike gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation on its way to the 10,358-foot summit of the third tallest peak in Oregon. On the way up, hikers are led through a variety of geologic features caused by both heavy glaciation and volcanic activity.

Of course the scenery isn’t just rocks. Wildflowers abound in this alpine area while both sides of the Cascades fold out before breathless hikers.

Two popular trailheads lead to South Sister, Devils Lake trailhead and Green Lakes trailhead. Each trail leads to Moraine Lake, and from there join on their way up the 
mountain. For the purpose of this adventure, the Green Lakes trailhead will be used as the starting point.

To reach this trailhead, drive 25 miles west of Bend on the Cascade Lakes Highway (4.5 miles past Mount Bachelor Ski Area). The trailhead will be on the right.
Starting from the parking lot, the trail goes a few hundred feet before leading over a bridge that crosses Fall Creek. The trail follows the creek for two miles, past numerous 
small waterfalls before reaching the trail to Moraine Lake.

Heading left at the junction, the trail continues about another mile before reaching Moraine Lake. The easy part of the hike is over, and now it’s decision time.

Hikers can continue past the lake for an additional .8 of a mile and join the Devils Lake trail, which heads uphill and across a ridge for almost two miles. A second option is 
to head down, toward the lake, cross Fall Creek yet again and go across a wildflower and pumice meadow for 1.3 miles.

While shorter, the second option is steeper and there is a slippery rock slope for the last 100 yards of the trail before it rejoins the Devils Lake trail.

There are only three miles left to the top, but boy are they a doozy.

The trail steepens dramatically and leads through a long series of short switchbacks. The trail is easy to determine, but because of heavy use the soil has turned to deep 
sand, making walking difficult. Loose shale also undermines footing.

After a mile, the trail leads up a steep embankment that appears to be the end of the hike, but don’t get too excited. It’s only a false summit. Ignore that sinking feeling and enjoy the site of a cirque lake at the base of Lewis Glacier.

The trail leads up a ridge to the left, and this is where things get really interesting. For the next mile the trail deteriorates into something the consistency of well-crushed 
Oreo cookies, making walking up the extremely steep slope even more difficult.

After finally reaching the rim, the trail continues to the right, following the rim around a large snowfield on the way to the true summit. On the way, enjoy great views of 
Broken Top, Mount Bachelor and Bend far below.

A short climb around a final rock outcropping reveals the true reward of the trip — unbelievable views of Middle and North Sisters. Spread out like a skirt,
glaciers and glacial lakes lead down into the treeline. The usually large individual trees are reduced to nothing more than fuzz on the horizon.

The trip back follows the same trail, only a whole heck of lot faster. Be careful going down, the loose terrain that made it so difficult to walk up is nothing but a slip and slide going down. Dig your heels in and go with it.

While this hike is beautiful, there are several factors to be aware of before considering it.

First, there’s the altitude. The thin air will have an effect on everyone but those conditioned to do heavy activity at high altitude. Take your time and make frequent stops to 
avoid becoming ill.

Second, while 11 miles may not sound long, remember half of it is straight uphill, so it seems more like 20 miles one way. Even trained athletes will feel the effects of this 

Third, many people bring dogs and small children along for the ride. This really isn’t a family hike and unless children are used to strenuous, high-altitude activity, this isn’t the area for them.

Older and unfit dogs should be left at home. They feel the same stresses and pain from the trail that humans do, so consider their condition before bringing them. Also, 
remember to pack water for them as well as for yourself. Paw-protecting booties are also a good idea.

Finally, allow all day for this hike. Start early and take your time going up. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and energy food along as well.

If you go:
Getting There: Drive 25 miles west of Bend on the Cascade Lakes Highway, 4.5 miles past Mount Bachelor Ski Area. Turn right at the Green Lakes Trailhead. The Devils 
Lake trailhead is two miles further down the road.
Round trip distance: about 11 miles
Elevation gain: 4,900 feet
Terrain: very difficult
Accessibility: hikers, dogs allowed. No livestock.
Season: August through mid-October, depending on snowfall. Weekends in August and September are often crowded on the trail.
Camping: Allowed around Moraine Lake at designated sites only.
Maps: Three Sisters Wilderness Area

Remember: Good hiking shoes, lots of water, energy food and sunscreen. Allow all day for this hike.

Other activities:
• Camping at Moraine Lake.
• Hike into Green Lakes.
• Boating on Devils Lake.

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Read more . . .
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Hike Pilot Butte for fitness
Take the upper Deschutes river trail for fitness
Hiking South Sister in the summer