| May 2nd, 2015 |
An annual spring climb and ski of South Sister is a well-loved tradition among the backcountry skiing community in Bend. For those without snowmobiles, the annual opening of the Cascade Lakes Highway to vehicles enables the first easily accessible volcano skiing in our area. Snowmobiling down the road wasn’t an option for most of this season because much of the pavement a few miles beyond the snow gate was bare. Therefore, rumors started flying as soon as spring arrived, and like everyone else, I was hotly anticipating the road opening!
When I heard that the all-important northern section of road past Mt. Bachelor was slated to open in just a few days, I immediately began rallying a crew. The first full day of the road being open also happened to be the day before I left for a weeklong business trip to Asia. It seemed marginally risky to spend a big day in the mountains right before leaving, but I wasn’t worried. My ski pack was ready to go before I even started thinking about my luggage.
Meghan and I arrived at the trailhead at 6 AM, and saw a few groups with friends depart around the same time. It is a local tradition, after all! We walked uphill with shoes on our feet and skis on our backs for about 45 minutes, until the snow was consistent enough to transition to skinning. Up on the plateau, we enjoyed fabulous views of South Sister and Broken Top, skinning along to dance music and being generally ridiculous as is our habit (thankfully nobody was around).
Meghan had recently purchased a rainbow-colored array of zinc oxide sticks and therefore declared it 80’s warrior goddess day. At the upper end of the plateau, we took turns slathering our pale selves with sunblock, and then transforming each other into our warrior alter egos.
Then, the slog began. The South route never steepens enough to really feel like climbing, except at the very top (but not really even then). Therefore, it is hours of skinning uphill on a relentless slope. Up, up, up. Thankfully we had warrior paint, bacon, chocolate-covered coffee beans, and dance music to propel us up the mountain.
Transitioning to bootpacking near the top of the last slope, I was cursing myself for not bringing any pointy objects such as crampons or my whippet pole. The snow up high was surprisingly firm for a sunny day with a high in the 40’s, and I learned my lesson. Bring the pointy things, even if you think you may not need them. I have so much more confidence with crampons on my feet! Pointy things or not, Meghan and I both made it to the top of the slope with limited trouble (but perhaps unlimited cursing).
Topping out on the summit plateau, I spotted a solo skier who had skinned to the top behind us. His exceptional skinning skills, jorts and wild hair caught my attention – I recognized him as a friend of my friend Tara. Tara is a really fun and slightly crazy person who I absolutely adore, so of course I was instantly curious. I yelled out, “Hey! I totally know who you are! You’re a friend of Tara’s!” This was Daniel. Daniel was just celebrity-sighted on top of a mountain.
Daniel instantly fell into our crew and our duo turned into a trio. Photo shoots, zinc oxide body painting, and a summit dance party commenced. Yes!
On our descent, we leapfrogged down the top slope whooping and having an amazing time. We topped out on the mountain much later than I had anticipated – I think around 2 PM, blame it on the ‘makeup’ – but the snow was still firm at the top and perfect corn just below.
While most skiers appeared to descend down the main south climbing route, one of my favorite lines on South Sister is what I know as the Shadow Bowl, which sits just west of the route. The perfect ski line on this pitch is an air off the top, dropping into the bowl, then making a hard right and surfing the West wall. SO GOOD!!!
Skiing out of the bowl and through some low-angle gullies, we left Daniel at his campsite and proceeded to eat the BEST APPLES EVER. Apples are the best after skiing! Sweet, juicy, and they freshen your breath! Then, it was skinning back across the plateau, skiing down through the trees until the snow ended, and hiking back to the truck.
Meghan’s day ended with our celebratory dinner at Spork back in town, while I got to spend the rest of my evening deliriously packing for my 5 AM flight the next morning. With a huge smile on my (non-sunburned, thank you Meghan) face, I did my best to pack up everything I needed for my trip. I’m happy to say that I packed much less than ever before, and didn’t forget anything!
I should make the pre-travel volcano ski my own tradition.