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.