Alarm blaring at 4:15 am jolted me out of my sleeping bag for an alpine start. The objective was the South Sister volcano just outside of Bend, Oregon. The large snow-capped volcano was tempting us the day prior with its beauty, so I was excited to climb it. An hour drive from Smith Rock, we drove past Bend and onto the Cascade Lakes Highway as the sun started to light up the sky.
At the trailhead, the boys got their skis ready to skin as I self-debated on bringing snowshoes for the climb up. Ultimately, the snowshoes were left in the car as we started the climb through the trees to Moraine Lake, where we would be meeting two others. Without a backcountry setup, Andy graciously agreed to carrying my skis as I strapped on my ski boots to my pack.
Climbing through the trees was difficult at times without snowshoes or crampons since the snow was still frozen from the night before. Kicking steps were necessary to gain traction on the icy snow until reaching Moraine Lake. Reaching the alpine lake, the trees thinned out and views of our objective was in sight.
We then found the others waiting for us. Before starting again, I hydrated and fueled my body for a burst of energy.
The summit looked close, but I knew better. We scoped out our route during the break and followed it while gaining more and more elevation. The wind started to pick up in the exposed areas, which made breaking difficult. The views were breathtaking in all directions so looking back every once and a while was worth it.
Since I was slower in my boots, I decided to continue climbing and let the others catch up. I reached a rock band that other climbers were climbing up to avoid crevasses. As I looked back, I was able to see the others behind me. I waited for them to decide the next course of our route.
My skis still strapped to Andy’s pack made navigating the rock band difficult since my pack did not support skis. He was carrying his skis and climbing up the scree in his plastic ski boots. After awhile, it was not worth it. The wind was picking up more and the summit was socked in with clouds. The others (Julie, Thaddée, and Will) continued onto the summit as Andy and I turned around.
The skiing was perfect spring backcountry skiing. I enjoyed the turns down and was thankful Andy carried my skis by avoiding a long hike down. Feeling my tired legs from the prior day of skiing at Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, I had to take a few breaks on the way down.
Julie skiing down South Sister – Photo by Thaddée Wiseur
After skiing down, there was a long flat section where we had met with Julie and Thaddée and was the agreed meeting spot. Andy transitioned back to his skin mode as I shuffled along on my skis not wanting to switch back into my mountaineering boots or hike in my ski boots. Andy and I then snacked and napped as we waited for the others. Apparently Dixie, the weekend adventure dog, decided she was tired and was not climbing down, so Will had to ski roughly 2,000 feet carrying her.
The last part of the descent was to ski down through the trees. It was so much better than on the way in, and we were able to ski the whole way back to the car.
Even though I was not able to summit, I was happy for the workout and challenge. I still have a lot to learn about mountaineering and how to overcome obstacles.
The South Sister climb is roughly 12.4 miles and 5,000 elevation gain.
Have you ever climbed a volcano?
More in this series:
- Exploring Oregon’s Great Outdoors
- Smith Rock – Rock Climbing Photo Essay
- Spring Skiing at Mount Bachelor