,South Sister mountain in the great State of Oregon is nothing to be scoffed at. She stands majestically over the landscape at over 10,300 feet. She's a big beauty, to be sure. Now you'd think for a first summit attempt, a group of guys, would choose a tiny mountain. Maybe a big hill would be in order. And since we aren't too crazy that's just what we did. We climbed a big hill. Some of us did. The plan was that the hill would prepare us for South Sister. Well, we did summit that hill and you can be sure that with chests puffed out and heads held high, we were sure that South Sister was as good as climbed. After all the hill, it was 4500 feet tall.
A few weeks later we slither out of our beds at 3 am. Up while its still dark to drive to the feet of a big mountain, South Sister. This girl ain't no joke.
We arrive at the trailhead by 5:30 and the parking lot is so packed we have to circle around to find a spot. There are a lot of people that enjoy a special kind of pain. The kind of pain that makes you stand up and march around the jalepeno pepper garden and drink milk by the gallons. That's right. Burning pain.
Off we go, my backpack was heavy. I laughed as my daughter, Faf picked it up with a groan. That thing was heavy. The others had quite a bit of weight strapped on too. If we had only known what lay ahead. The packs would've been lighter. For sure. The first mile or so was uphill and through a forest, in the dark. Happy voices giggling and prancing. Fresh spring daisies about to get pulled up by the roots and sent through a wood chipper. The fun had begun. Hey South Sister. We coming to get you!
As dawn ascended and we ascended out of the forest, we caught our first look at the girl. It didn't look so bad. The top was right there, you could almost touch it.
The next mile was mostly flat and the views were outstanding. We could see Broken Top.
Mt. Bachelor was there too.
Our spirits soared with anticipation. We were doing it. The climb had started and the score was people one. South Sister zero. I imagine if a mountain could chuckle, she was having quite the time looking down on us. Watching us scampering around, wasting all that energy laughing and carrying on. Spirits were soaring like the eagles. We were mountain climbers and South was about to yield to the punishing feet of serious folks.
Realization of the size of a task is sometimes all it takes to break the strongest of men and women. As we made our way to the foot of this mountain, it got bigger and bigger. When we took our first break, the full picture of what lay ahead came into view. South Sister is a big, big girl. I believe the point that we had acquired before disappeared. It was back to people zero, mountain zero. The task at hand was formidable.
As we started up South we started taking more breaks and less steps between the breaks. And what happens when things start getting tough. We complain. Now this isn't kid type complaining. It's the adult version. When a kid complains they are looking for Mom or Dad or somebody to fix the problem. When adults complain it comes with no expectation of resolve, and so it's more hopeless. After all South wasn't going to help us out and nobody was volunteering to carry someone up the mountain. So the internal struggle started to manifest itself in the outside world. I don't think I can make it. This is dumb. I may stop right here. Etc. Etc. South Sister one. People zero.
Now don't think we are a bunch of sissy pants here. We all have some fire in our bellies. It's just that the fire was in our lower extremities too. If you've never been in a situation where you want to do something but the old bones aren't on board, you know what is happening. If not, please don't judge harshly. Despite the agony and steepness of the trail there was still joking and laughing. It seemed like the happy arrived when butts hit the rocks for a break. At 8200 feet we took a break. A nice long one.
In order to conquer an opponent one tactic is to separate the troops. This is what she did to us at this point. The youngsters were already bounding up the side of South with no cause for concern. Now, the group separated even more. Bryant and Tyler and Aaron headed up. I walked with the boys, Scotty, Keegan and Jose for a little bit. They decided that teardrop lake would be their ultimate goal and so I started up on my own. Here's a little bit of info for you. Teardrop lake is actually teardrop pool. It's located at the top of South Sister. The lake commonly referred to as teardrop has no name. If I was going to name it I would call it. Areyoukiddingmeitisstillsofartothetopfromherethismustbesomekindofjoke lake.
I crest the ridge where the lake is after climbing and climbing up and up where loose rocks and dirt encourage slips and trips. Thanks South Sister. Two things become clear at this point in the expedition. First as you can tell by the name I've given the lake, It is a long, long way up and very, very steep. To me, it was like the climb had only begun. I can't describe the feeling of dread that pierced into my soul. I think I let out a laugh of the lunatic. My mind was blown. Before I had time to let what I was living in that moment sink in, Tyler is talking to me about being terrified out of his skull. Seems the last little bit to the lake was steep enough to kick his fear of heights into full gear. When he crested the ridge and saw what lay ahead, it wasn't the enormity of the task that paralyzed him but the sheer height of this thing. He was babbling and pacing around real fast. I think he said something about me taking his shoes to the top and he'd wait there for me to bring them back. It could've been he said to tell his wife he loved her and make sure his kids remembered what he was like. I'm not sure what he said, but I was sure that I was in the presence of desperation. A desperate man will latch onto you and pull you under too. I had to get out of there. My plan to take a fifteen minute break at the lake turned into a three minute walk into the dark areas of a disturbed mind. In a way I'm glad Tylers’ mini breakdown happened at that point. It made me forget about what lay ahead. If we are to understand the scope of what's happening we must come face to face that South Sister is a mean, mean girl. For as many people who stand proudly at the top, there are many that don't make it. Of those that do, a little something inside shrivels up in the fetal position and faces the corner sucking its' thumb. South Sister three people zero.
I put my backpack on and tear out of that situation. My hope is that Tyler, being so competitive, will follow me by instinct. After all, it may be a very, very steep trail but it's not like walking beside a cliff face. Tyler will be fine. The grade of the trail is relentless. The trail is loose red rock. Did I mention that South Sister is a red head? As The climb continues, I start to realize that I'm feeling a bit queasy in my belly. I say it was an effect of gaining altitude so quickly. So it goes, walk 30 seconds take a belly break, walk another 30 seconds, again with the belly break. Things weren't going as smoothly as they should.
I believe that climbing a mountain happens more on the inside than on the outside. We must first conquer the mountain in our burning muscles, or mind or in whatever other place things the struggle may appear. Someone may be right there beside you talking, cheering you on, and that's nice. It does all come down to a will to keep climbing. At about 9000 feet we all were resigned to make it up and South couldn't stop us. There was an excellent view of Broken Top for us to enjoy.
As I crested the false summit with Faf and David, his brothers were chuckling at Dave and talking casually, they had been all over the top for the last hour and a half to two hours. Thank the Lord for the boys. They had scored us two valuable points. South sister now had three points, humans two. The true summit lay just across a frozen tundra. We walked around.
I made it to the marker that indicates the summit, yet did not sit up where the kids were.
Have you ever watched an nfl game where the ref makes a horrible call at the end of a game and a team ends up winning when they should've lost. I can imagine the players on the "winning" team walking into the locker room, knowing the scoreboard says they won, inside knowing they didn't. This is how I felt. I was there, standing at the top. Yet, I felt beaten. I remember as I took my backpack off to rest for a few minutes. I was leaning forward and closed my eyes to thank God for letting me climb around on his earth. I couldn't feel gratitude, I couldn't fall into a period of joy, peacefulness. I was plain, beat down, tired. More so from the effects of the altitude then muscle tired. Although it was tough physically. So maybe instead of climbing that last 15 feet to the top, I relented. The ref had to pick up his flag and say no penalty. Let the true victor have the victory. South Sister 5, humans 2. Now Faf and David and Aaron did make it also. That's three more points for us. Knotting the tally at 5 apiece.
Besides Tyler taking his fear of heights head on. Which he deserves big ups for. We have some unsung heroes from this expedition. The boys down at what is commonly referred to as tear drop lake. Oh, before I forget, here is the actual teardrop pool.
So back to the boys. These guys have some serious backbone. They fought harder to get where they did then those of us who made it to the top or near the top. They worked as one unit. They moved up to the lake with purpose. From what they told me, the group mentality kept them going when the individual would have failed. That is something special. Again, as much as I would like to hand out brownie points, I'm afraid having coffee and soaking your feet in a glacial lake doesn't equate to standing on top of South Sisters big red head and giving her the proverbial moon over the summit. South eight. Humans five. I'm not sure if Bryant made it to the top, my gut says he didn't. He was helping Tyler. But... he has been to the summit many times so we will call it a push. South Sister, you win this time. Me and Tyler have a beef with you girl. Expect a rematch in 2019. Lord willing.
Here are a few more pictures for your enjoyment...
Tyler said the experience was otherworldly. It was like a gigantic amusement ride.
Faf said it was grueling but definitely worth it. You have to keep trudging along no matter how hard it gets.
Scotty said painfully great to describe his introduction to this marvelous landmark.
Bryant and Keegan both termed it the ultimate suckfest.
When you get to a special spot in the world, it's special because of the experience it offers. I can't describe the way that place encompasses you. It has an open, vast, awesome setting that is individual and personal. It stirs the soul. When I was up there I told a number of people that I had no desire to climb a mountain again. That one time was enough. By the time I was home and had dinner and a shower, my opinion was different. It was then that I recounted the experience and felt the joy and the peace and the gratefulness. South Sister is not mean at all. She offers something very individual, personal and powerful. It couldn't be that way if she wasn't a believer in tough love. Tyler says that when he looks out his window or opens his door and sees that mountain, he is affected by it. I understand that he can't put words to what he is feeling. I don't believe there are words for it. If I had to try, I would simply say, it was a perfect day.
So, what is the new idea? Part two coming soon.
Thanks South Sister
Here's a video of the day...