The penultimate expedition for 2019 was something really special. It was a salute to the past and a glimpse into what lay ahead. The fact that the mountain was South Sister seemed only fitting. This one is almost bedtime story material. Put on your pajamas, and one of those funny hats people used to wear in bed, a night cap, pile under your covers and get ready for the tale of the South Sister Sleepover.
The group of travelers was small this time. Myself, Keegan, Aaron and Andrew. Keegan had floated the idea of sleeping on top of South, and since some of us have our heads in the clouds anyway. The idea floated into the ear canal and rang like an alarm clock inside the brain. The thought of sleeping on a mountaintop is pudding pie. Sweet! So the date was set and the planning started. One of the first thoughts I had was, "You mean I have to lug all my gear to the top?!" That was easily overcome by the fact that all one has to do is get to the top and then a night of rest follows. No Problem. Another interesting point is that mountains can generate their own weather patterns. It may be clear on the lowlands, storming in the mountains. This only encouraged my excitement; how cool would lightning look from a mountain? If you ever want to climb a mountain, you must possess the ability to put yourself at the mercy of nature while using common sense to function therein. The outdoors is so cool. When you were younger, and had a raging crush on someone. Remember when they would come around and you had a close encounter of the tingling kind? The shaky, nervous conversation and instant sweat fest. The best you can hope for is to leave the situation intact and the other party impressed enough with your babbling that it may happen again in the future. The whole thing is a necessary part of love. You have to two personalities trying to co-exist in the same airspace. So it is with climbing a mountain. It has personality and it has been known to flirt. It has been known to shoot the eager climber down and send them home rejected, heartbroken. Don't give up, young Romeo or Juliet. There's always another day. Maybe somewhere down the road, things change, and instead of being shot down into the mud puddle of lonesome you are swimming in the river of love. Aren't you glad you didn't give up? What does all this have to do with the South Sister? Plenty. It's a love story you want, that's what you get.
r South Sister is a very popular mountain. Hundreds of people were headed down as we moved on up. A word of note, I met many a traveler that was hobbling down in pain. Their knees had never been an issue until that day. I suggest taking a knee brace with you just in case, when you climb South. The faces of the travelers was comical to me. Many reminded me of a young kid after they've been told to clean their plate or no dessert. A few were worse. It's hard to look at total defeat. The fact that I was happy and joking around seemed to pour salt into the wound. It's not that I can't sympathize, the year before, when we were descending South, Tyler was bounding around as gitty as a goat stuck in the hay barn. He told me to turn around and look at South. I said, "I don't want to see it!" I was pitiful, pathetic. In my mind it was a one and done event. One can climb a mountain and end up feeling like the mountain climbed you.
The first two miles of the climb is an elevation gain. There's no honeymoon phase on this trail. It's in the trees and it really is an inviting scene. I met a few forest rangers, they checked my papers. I asked about the new program for limiting the number of people on the trail; they confirmed that it is happening next year and there will be a fee when filling out an RSVP for the mountain. The info will be available soon via rec.gov.
After two miles, the mountain appears through the trees. It's a gorgeous thing. The trail flattens out a bit and the views are something else. If I was to tread down this trail countless times, my appetite would not wain for the eyeball breakfast served up.
The afternoon was not too hot and the weather was so good for us. After four miles, I joined the others in the group. Keegan was ready to get to the top as was Aaron. Andrew had obtained a blister on his foot and that was cause for concern. From the four mile mark, the climb proper begins. It's a strenuous two miles. We barreled our way up. Before long, we were at the glacial lake with the summit push ahead.
The other travelers we saw on the trail, paint a picture of motivation. Some do it to prove something to themselves, others love the outdoors and it's another day spent doing what they love. The outdoors makes them tick. Some do it to take pictures to put on their dogs' Instagram page. It's enjoyable to see these stories play out before my eyes. South Sister is a dramatic place. There's adventure, struggle, pain, victory and defeat, painted on the trail. In the case of the dog, comedy. A dog with an Instagram page made me laugh then and I'm still chuckling about it now. I love it all.
Speaking of dogs. I've been up South twice, both times, there were dogs in a bad way up there. Granted, I also see dogs having no problems. One never knows how an individual will react to the stress of climbing a mountain. Dogs can be out of shape, couch potatos as much as humans. If you plan on climbing a mountain and your dog hasn't been exercising on a regular basis, leave him home. Let him live the experience through Instagram.
I spoke of a love story earlier. It's time we dive into it...
Last year we attempted this climb. Some made it, others did not. Keegan was one of the did nots. He achieved the glacial lake and no more. South Sister gave him his walking papers. Rejection. Was there crying? Did he go home and spend a week in sweatpants watching Dirty Dancing, eating ice cream and dreaming about what could've been? Possibly. After that, he made it a goal to redeem himself. I won't go into detail about the changes he made in his life, I will tell you that it took discipline and a fighting spirit. Watching Keegan make the summit was a very cool part of this expedition. South Sister wasn't the only reason he did what he did; it was part of it. There was a couple on the summit crater spending their honeymoon on the mountain. The year before, a lady in a wedding dress was having her big day on a big mountain. Although not as huge, I believe Keegan and South had a moment when he reached the top. All love isn't the romantic kind. I can attest to that as I watched a love story reach its' happily ever after, that evening. Keegan went out and bought his clothes for this expedition. The Tiger Woods comeback colors.
Aaron is a climbing machine. He climbed Bachelor, Tumalo and South that weekend. He was at the South Sister expedition a year earlier that inspired the Peak Posse into existence. It was the day I met Aaron. He is full of information and is not afraid to use it. A big part of the success of our group is Mr. Tipler. We are planning an expedition to Valhalla, Aaron is our leader for it. Once you become a part of the Posse, you'll get to spend some time on the trail with this adventurer. Time well spent.
Andrew had too many obstacles to overcome to reach the summit. He camped down by the lake. The positive thing that is already happening is he is planning on finishing what he started this year, next year. You know what that means? South Sister Sleepover 2020!
Since we were climbing in the evening. We enjoyed a mountain, that is usually loaded with people, not loaded with people. The sun was going down and I was affected it. Mountains have an energy to them. It isn't simply the size that draws us. It's the savoir-faire they possess. Being there at night is quite astonishing. I had very little sleep. When I am blessed to have a night on the top of a mountain. I'm not going to spend it sleeping. When I first arrived at the summit crater, the sun was about gone. I called my wife and snapped pictures and took video at the same time. I love that I can facetime with her on top of a mountain. She shares these moments with me. We watched the sun disappear and she said, " I can't believe you're standing on top of a mountain right now!" To hear those words combined with the whole scene was like a bomb exploding inside. Not an atom bomb. It was like when you ate poprocks and drank a coke. I love South Sister. The mountain has had a profound effect on my life. South is the reason I was seeing such a beautiful sight. It was a year to the day that we had first ascended its' slopes. Since then we have climbed Mt. Mcloughlin, Middle Sister and soon Valhalla Canyon. I have met new people, and am excited to see how many more travelers I blaze trails with in the future. It's a powerful thing that can do such things. That, my friends, is a mountain.
We set up camp just below the summit. After dinner, I ventured up. The moon was close to full but was still low in the sky. I spent some time talking with God and decided a midnight visit would have more light. I caught a short snooze and headed back up around 2 am. It was bright enough that I could see the other two sisters. Keegan was there; in the middle of the night, on a mountain that is visited by thousands of people every year. He touched the summit in the dark; a private moment. It couldn't have ended in a better way.
The next morning Aaron and myself stood at the summit with a straggle of folks. We witnessed the dawn of another day at ten thousand feet. To say it was cool is an understatement. Photographs of this expedition are alright. It's the hope of this mountainside reporter that my words and pictures inspire you to live the whole thing yourself. Not sure you can do it? I know a group of travelers that will help you out.
There is a video of this expedition at the bottom of this post.
The Posse was back at it again. This time on the mountain known as Middle Sister. In some circles it's called Hope. I like that name. Who among us can't use a little more hope in our lives? For the Posse, it was a lot of hope. This was my fourth time scuddling around on the rocks and sand of Middle. The weekend before, I reached the summit for the first time. I really enjoy this mountain. It is a bit harder to climb than it's sibling to the south. The traffic of travelers is much less also.
Six of us reached the trailhead at pole creek together. It was a warm afternoon. The initial miles are what I refer to as carnival line miles. When you are at the County fair, waiting with all the other zombies in line for a ride. You sense excitement and you're happy when the line surges forward. In the case of our Middle Sister ride, the line was filled with beautiful sights. There were no greasy food huts or screaming kids to be seen. The ride we were headed for takes you over ten thousand feet into the sky. Beat that zipper. The reason I bring up a fair. Our County fair was happening that weekend. I felt for the zombies in town.
The trees are all burnt and falling over, they quietly moan about a fire years earlier. They have a cool look to them. We were able to see Faith and Hope through their frizzled branches.
It wasn't long before Grace was visible too. The Posse has a connection with this mountain. A love that feels like getting mule kicked in the bread box and kissed with a sledgehammer.
The scamper to camp was good times. An afternoon well spent. If you want to climb Middle using the north route, be sure to take the climbers trail that branches off the main avenue right around the four mile mark. When we reached camp the rest of the group for this expedition was there to greet us. I took a few minutes to watch the Posse mill around, creating their personal space for the night. Even in the secluded outdoors, it doesn't take anytime at all and we make a little neighborhood. The mosquitos were thick. They appreciated their meals on heels. One of my coworkers told me, after seeing the video of this expedition, that leave no trace means not camping on grassy areas. Duly noted, we will keep this in mind moving forward. The afternoon and evening passed with an anticipation and excitement. We had been planning for this climb many months. The time had come to summit Middle Sister. The group was nine strong; three of them had a bit more on the table. Keegan and Jose had attempted South the year before and stopped short of the summit. Joseph had stopped short of the top of Middle the year before as well. If you have ever played poker, you are aware that sometimes it's better to fold a hand and take the loss. There will be other cards dealt and opportunity to make back what you lost. Middle Sister was another hand, would the men call it's bluff? Would their efforts be a royal beatdown? I had a front row seat and I could hear Kenny Rogers singing the gambler, in my mind.
We were awake at four the next morning. Pack up camp and be on the trail around five was the plan. Groggy travelers staggering around in the black early morning to climb a ten thousand foot mountain. In the trees nearby came a sound none of us wanted to hear. A big cat. It sounded agitated. Someone said, "Everyone get together." All you could see was lights on everyone's head as we grouped together. The cat kept yelling out. After a few tense moments, Keegan announced that he was the source, he had planted a FoxPro out in the trees and used it as a way to wake everyone up. Well played Keegan. He had told me of the trick so that I would be able to video the event. It was a great start to the day, everyone was laughing.
Climbing a mountain is much like eating a whole pizza by yourself. You may shovel that last piece in your mouth and send it down into your belly; there's going to be discomfort during and after the meal. When I climbed South last year, I didn't celebrate truly, until the days following the climb. As the sun broke through, I watched eight people amble toward the top of a mountain. Making the summit was the intention. Even if some didn't, I was impressed with their willingness to try. It takes difficult situations to build character. Climbing and reaching a spot where you can't go any higher is intense. The feeling on a mountain is welcoming with the thought of not staying long. If your crazy aunt Florence invites you over for dinner, you may pop over for a few. As soon as she tells you that her cucumbers grew like mad in the garden and she has too many on her hands. She had to get creative with her recipes. Before you know it, she offers you a pickle squish smoothy. You are up and out of that situation. Go and visit but don't stay long.
The best route I have found for Middle is the north side. Once the snow has begun melting on Hayden glacier, one must go around Prouty Point to the north and continue up from the west side. It's called the saddle. You can see it in the above photo. The views are spectacular once the saddle is achieved.
From left to right. Joseph, Markus, Chris, Keegan, Kyler, Jose, Apollo, Vivian. Joseph and Vivian are tried and true Peak Posse adventurers. They know what it takes to climb mountains. A very matter of fact duo who embrace the challenges of our group. Markus is my brother in the Christian faith and climbing this mountain together was a real blessing. Many times on the way up we expressed Gratitude to God for such an awesome place. I didn't know if he would make it up. He did. The Tarzan yell from the summit was pure fun. This was my first time climbing with Chris, he blazed up Middle. Talking with him later, he didn't reach a point mentally or physically where he thought about giving up. I look forward to more summit attempts with Chris in the mix. If there is one person I know who may love mountains more than me, it's Keegan. If youtube only had videos of summit attempts, he would be ok with it. As I mentioned earlier, Keegan had tried to climb South last year and wasn't able to stand at the top. He dropped a lot of weight and not only did he make the summit of Middle with no problem, we are embarking on the South Sister sleepover within days of me writing this. Full packs all the way to the top and camping there. It was very, very cool shaking his hand at the top of Middle. Kyler is a summit machine. He was with us when we climbed Mcloughlin in the snow. That was quite the adventure. When I watched the video footage of the scramble near the peak of middle, Kyler was there, clawing his way up. Those images capture the sheer will and energy required to find a mountain top. I can say with confidence that this wasn't his last summit. It was Jose's birthday when we made camp. He was on this expedition to prove something. South Sister was a fight. He didn't come out on top. When a man has something to prove to himself, you will see a man for what he is. The evening before, Jose was on the fence about his chances of reaching the top. Once we hit the trail the next day, I saw nothing but try, relentless pursuit. When he reached the top he found a rock and laid down in the shade. It wasn't easy for Jose. Apollo was a stranger to me. I know very little about him. To be introduced to someone in a harsh environment, like a mountain, and to see only positive character traits, tells me he is made of some good stuff.
The reason I dedicated this part of the story to these people, I understand how special this group is. There wasn't a cross word spoken, everyone felt comfortable. The comradery was genuine. I gauge the success of the Peak Posse by the experience each person has. The mountains and canyons are the stage, the individuals are the actors. Trail conditions, exposure to the elements, and the stress it places on people makes a mountain attempt a serious affair. Each person was aware and responsible for themselves, while at the same time, light and lively.
There is one last player in this adventure, Middle Sister. It is a fun mountain to climb. You will encounter different trail conditions, which makes it all the more exciting. Dirt, snow, loose rock, steep scrambling and sometimes no trail at all. If there was a drink called the Middle Sister, it would be sweet, cold and powerful. Overall, it's what I would call an entry level mountain. The only spot that makes it more than that, is a section just below the summit. Upon first glance, it is intimidating. As you get closer, it isn't all that. My suggestion for tackling this section is to stay on the ridgeline and then scramble up staying close to the firm rocks. Take your time, if you see a loose rock, avoid it. We watched several travelers approach below the ridge and they were slow going and sending boulders down the mountain. Dangerous.
After this short scramble, the summit is achieved. I like the way a mountain feels. Up so high, breathing air that the mountain is sharing. The sounds are different. Voices sound muffled in a way, like in a room. It is confining, the space is small and conversely open and free. Saying it's special is to bring the mountain down to the definition of a word that doesn't do it justice.
We are creatures that love experience, challenge. We also like telling our stories. That's what life is, our story. The story itself is unaffected by the way we choose to let it shape us. When I climb a beautiful mountain, like Middle Sister, I can make the experience about me or I can make it about us. The mountain, myself, God, the people with me and even people I have never met. I've heard people say that climbing a mountain has changed them. They are different now. I tend to believe that they aren't so much changed as they are introduced to themselves. A mountain is an opportunity to see who we are without a filter. We all have an idea of who we believe we are. We get to choose the suit we will wear for all the world to see. Put in difficult situations, the real person will make an appearance. The three piece suit we want everyone to see may turn out to be a pair of wrinkly sweats and a soiled flintstones shirt. A mountain is a mirror. Sometimes we won't like what we see, sometimes we will. A group of nine people went up Middle Sister. I appreciate their willingness to let me travel alongside them. It was my honor and privilege.
I have included links to the you tube videos of the expedition at the bottom of the page.
Here are a few pictures taken when I climbed the mountain using the south ridge route.