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North Sister Trip Report in June 2007
Trip Report: North "Bee-otch" (North Sister) Attempt - SE Ridge
Date: 6/2/2007

Posted by dinomyte
Posts: 234
Loc: P-Town

Trip Report:
So, after being weathered off by 40 mph winds a couple of weeks ago, Kevin Matlock and I were back and hungry for a summit, kinda like one of those Guantanamo Bay detainees after a 3-week hunger strike. This time, rather than do a one-dayer, we decided to pack it in to the base of the SE Ridge. We wanted to get up early to hit the traverse while it was as firm as possible, . . . .

We took off from P-town at 2:40pm and hit Pole Creek at 5:40pm. The forecast was for "possible thundershowers" and we did hit a bit of rain just before Sisters. It was nice, because it toned down the dust a bit. The 15 road is total washboard, kinda like my stomach.

We strapped on our packs and headed up the trail. We hit the first patches of snow at about 6,000 feet. It's melting fast and the bugs are gonna be out in force soon. I got hit by 3 or 4 skeeters before I could spackle myself with Off.

We got up around 7,400 feet and found a decent campsite. We had just brought bags and ground cloths, so getting settled was quick. We each had a sammy for dinner and washed it down with a couple cans of beer. I'm not a big Heineken fan, but I gotta say, it went down easy, . . . .

We went to bed at 10:30pm or so, and it didn't start raining until midnight, so we got an easy hour of sleep. We pulled our ground cloths around us, burrito-style, to keep the majority of the rain off us. It only lasted a few minutes. We got another dose a bit later, along with a bit of wind, but it was all good.

The alarm went off at 3:00am, and we woke to clear skies with plenty of stars. The moon was nearly full and bright, kinda like those Xenon headlamps on Kevin's G35.

I choked down a PB&J while Kevin munched some Pop Tarts, and we got our shit together. We mentioned that it was damn warm. It prolly didn't get below 45 degrees all night. We took off at 3:40am, heading up the SE ridge. We saw a couple of headlamps in front of us, approaching the first gendarme. They were prolly an hour ahead and we figured they were camped somewhere near us.

The climb up the choss pile was pretty uneventful. Nothing to see in the dark, and we were up at 9,000 feet or so before we knew it. Looking back down the ridge, as it was getting light, we could see another tent (prolly the party ahead of us). We could also see a couple of climbers heading straight for Thayer. Ballsy, kinda like that guy that takes the cannonball square in the gut! We also saw all Timmay's turns over on Hayden.

A bit later we were at about 9,700 feet; the point where we had to drop down and traverse under the Camel's Hump. We dropped down a bit, took a look, and had a convo. Kevin told me he was pretty wiped, kinda like one of those guys crawling across the finish line in the Ironman. I told him I was cool with turning around. The summit was so close, but I know that when you push and you're really not feelin' it, you risk the trip turning into an epic, kinda like any one of Jamin's trips (no offense, man).

I told him, I'd at least like to cruise around Camel's Hump and take a peek at the rest of the traverse. He said he'd cruise back to a safe spot and wait.

I traversed under the hump to another section of rock, and looked at the boot path on the second section of traverse. It looked good, kinda like Avril in that "My Happy Ending" video. So, I got on it! I cruised across, after slapping on the pons. That section was short, but damn steep. I didn't look down much, but it was a ways down!

The third section of traverse was the last one, and angled up a bit. Boot tracks were sinking a good 6 inches each step. I got across that and was just getting to the point of looking up the bowling alley, when I heard all kinds of shit happening. It was kind of a crash, clang, ching, kinda like when the plane crashed on "Lost." I looked up to see a guy sitting on his ass right at the narrowest point at the bottom of the Bowling Alley. He didn't look like he was having fun.

I asked him if he was alright, and he said he was leading and came off. He must a dropped and slid 20 meters or so. Fortunately, he was not injured, only hurt. His partner very carefully down climbed to him, retrieving a tool along the way, and got him up. They proceeded down to me, 5 meters below on some relatively solid ground. We chatted, and they introduced themselves as Chris and Mike - a couple of guys outta UCD. They gave me an update on the Alley - wet rock, slush, ice (but nothing that would hold a screw.) You name it, and it was there. I sure as hell wasn't going any further! I mentioned I was cool on the way over, but was a little worried about the trip back, and they offered me the middle of their rope. I clipped in, and we set out back across the traverse. Mike led, setting a picket here and there.

Once we got back to safe ground, Mike sat down for some Advil, a bandage and a snack. I shook their hands, thanked them, and headed down to camp, where Kevin had already gone. I left there at 10:30am and was back at camp at 11:40am. I just caught Kevin, who had planned to bail back to Pole Creek right about then.

We packed up our shit and were back at the car enjoying Ruination and Hop Rod Rye by 2:30pm. There we chatted with a fellow who was leading a group of 8 up North the next day. We gave him all the beta we could and wished him luck.

Hopefully, Chris and Mike, and the group of 8 will read this and can comment. I don't know if Chris and Mike had rock pro, but protecting the Alley seemed tough. Screws were certainly no good. Kevin and I are gonna wait till August or September to try this one again.

Here are a couple of shots:
Right before the traverse under Camel's Hump.

The second section of traverse.

Looking up at Mike and Chris in the Bowling Alley.

Mike leading back across the traverse.

Photos above Copyright© 2007 by dinomite and Kevin Matlock. All Rights Reserved

Gear Notes:
2 2-ft pickets
60-m rope
Chris and Mike had a 60-m rope and 3 2-ft pickets, I think.

Approach Notes:
Miserable for the first 4 miles or so, until you get some views!

I forgot to mention that the team that came straight up the glacier passed us right near the Camel's Hump. They climbed right up over the top of it, rather than traversing under. Chris gave them the scoop on the Alley, and they headed on over. I kept checking the summit on my way down, and never saw them top out, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. I'd love to hear their assessment of conditions in the Alley.

Kevin Matlock
Posts: 470
Loc: TuhWallUhTin, Orygun

While my partner did a great job on this report, I think Jon missed a couple opportunities to elaborate on a few of the finer points of this trip....
(1) referring to the SE ridge as a "choss pile" really doesn't do it justice. Think more along the lines of "demoralizing heap of shifting television sets glued together with marbles and monkey poo".
(2) subsisting on pop tarts, espresso beans, and rationed water does not give one Herculean climbing strength.
(3) neither of us really want to summit this bee-otch, but rather we don't want the feeling that we need to return to this heap in our life times ever again. As we headed out with heads slightly lowered, taking quick looks over our shoulders to review the trip and what could have been, we bid the mountain farewell. Kinda like...

Paul O
Posts: 77
Loc: Portland

Great Try!!!
Had a question as last fall when I was up there I was having difficulty recalling the exact route from the east side of the upper ridge across to the traverse.

This shot is where I got sick and burnt out and turned back:

Photo above Copyright© 2007 by Paul O. All Rights Reserved.

It is basically the same shot as your first pic minus the snow. Is the red line I marked on it the correct route to drop down around the first (left) hump and cross over to the west side to the start of the traverse? And the bowling alley is at the back side of the green arrow drawn to the left of the summit, right?

I hate that pile of rocks too.

Posts: 236
Loc: P-Town
You know, I'm pretty sure we dropped down and traversed under this on the west side. I think your red line is around what's called the camel's hump. However, on the other side of the camel's hump I think there was another rock that I traversed on the east (maybe the final third of your red line).

Maybe someone else can comment, but like I said, we saw a group that went right over the hump and to the end of your red line.

And, yes, the bowling alley terminates up at your green arrow.

Photo above Copyright© 2007 by dinomite and Kevin Matlock. All Rights Reserved.

John Frieh
Posts: 4093
Loc: PDX

Quote: Kevin and I are gonna wait till August or September to try this one again.

Good TR guys... a few thoughts on the rematch. The traverse is much much much more dangerous/stupid/un-protectable that time of year... that whole traverse is cascade dinner plates

The bowling alley is 4th class at most. You shouldn't need ice screws/rock pro/etc etc to protect it... protecting it will mean a rope which as you climb will result in much much more rock fall as the rope will contact and knock off choss on your belayer... Because of this free soloing is much safer in this situation.

Basically spring is the ideal time to do N sister. And if you aren't comfortable soloing 4th class you should go solo some other 4th class stuff (parts of mt thielsen, matterhorn, washington, etc) and then go back for the rematch.

Good luck!

Posts: 236
Loc: P-Town
Quote: Good TR guys... a few thoughts on the rematch.

John: Thanks for the advice. Our thoughts were that it's a pretty odd time on North right now. You've got snow on the traverse, which is great, but the icy rocky wet alley might be tough to solo.

I'm fine with 4th class stuff, having done Thielsen & Washington, along with Jack and Jeff, but conditions in the alley right now give me pause.

Still, if the traverse in fall is anything like on Jeff, that's a doozy too!

We talked to a guy at the TH that said he had soloed North in September and the traverse had a pretty well worn path. He also mentioned that he found a few spots to place pretty good pro.

Oh well, I guess opinions vary. Still, I appreciate the comments.

Posts: 236
Loc: P-Town
Posted By: Paul O: It is one rotten mountain.

Indeed it is. I did come across this.  Re: traversing on the east side of the Camel's Hump. I would recommend against it. (Read the following:) (Accident Report to the AAC on the Martina Testa tragedy --Webmeister Speik)


Webmeister's Notes: I have checked out North Sister three times in the past few years. I intend to summit this Sinister Sister next September, celebrating my 80th year. The following are a few observations on this TR:

While summiting in the early spring is favored by ski mountaineers and solid snow climbers, it is not the easiest season for a light and fast summit of North Sister. Yes, the early spring is a good time to protect the "Terrible Traverse" with a running snow picket belay across very early morning solid snow and a good time to climb good solid snow and ice using screws and natural protection horns to the top of the Bowling Alley, but the good summit rock may be covered with ice rime. See photos of early spring conditions on the Terrible Traverse and in the Bowling Alley. See photos of a winter summit attempt.

Crossing the Terrible Traverse in late spring is asking for a catastrophic failure of the snow slope at the boot-cut trail, launching a bunched-up group thousands of feet into the void  Read about snow failure on North Sister.

Jeff Thomas estimates the snow slope at 40 to 45 degrees and the dry slope at 30 to 35 degrees in his 1991 Oregon High, a Climbing Guide.

dinomyte notes the following: "We talked to a guy at the TH that said he had soloed North in September and the traverse had a pretty well worn path. He also mentioned that he found a few spots to place pretty good pro."

In fact, most light and fast fourth class summits by Three Sisters Marathon athletes is in late September after a long dry spell. Please see our photos by friend Pat Credican of Bend (Three Sisters Summits Plus Two, in 24 hours) of the boot path across the scree slope of the Terrible Traverse and the Bowling Alley in late September. (Do not underestimate the danger of frozen scree: Read about frozen scree on Middle Sister.) My athletic friend Bob Sandberg of Bend (more than ten Sisters Marathons!) also favors the late summer conditions for his fourth class aerobic rambles.

Here are some pictures at the top of the South East Ridge under the gendarmes guarding the ridge beyond the Camel's Hump.
In this picture, I am checking out the fourth class steps around the east side of the gendarme to the west side boot path. The west side "path" crossed over to the east side around a gendarme and back around to the traverse. (See the diagram on page 137 of Jeff Smoot's 1992 Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes.) The east side changes as the rock falls away, year by year. This may be the place where Martina Testa slipped on soft snow.  (Accident Report to the AAC on the Martina Testa tragedy).

Tom and I discuss the route and our two big dogs.

We had two dogs with us and we dropped down the south side scree slope to the Hayden Glacier route between Middle and North Sister.

Many climbers chose the steep scree slope to ascend and descend. I prefer the more interesting South East Ridge Route:

The West Face of the Sinister Sister showing the gendarmes protecting the summit (behind the South summit of Prouty Pinnacle on the left).
Photos above Copyright© 2007 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.

I hope this additional information helps folks.
Webmeister Robert Speik




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