South Sister 08/19/2021

The Three Sisters are a group of 3 volcanoes in Central Oregon that contain the 3rd, 4th, and 5th highest peaks in the state. The tallest of the 3 is South Sister at 10358 feet. It is also the easiest of the 3 to climb, with a popular trail leading all the way to the summit. Due to the popularity of South Sister, a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is needed to climb the peak. The permits are limited to a quota each day and I think they go pretty fast. They are available 1 week before each date at 7am. I was on recreation.gov at exactly 7am on August 12 to make sure I got one. I camped nearby on Forest Road NF-4025, so I was planning to get an easy start (but I didn’t because it was too cold to get up early). I made the short drive to the Devils Lake Trailhead and began hiking at 7:03am from 5463 feet above sea level.

It was 43 degrees when I started, not quite as cold as the previous day on Mount Bachelor. I immediately crossed a footbridge over Tyee Creek.

At 0.2 mile I crossed the highway.

There was a trailhead sign on the other side of the highway.

At 0.3 mile I entered the Three Sisters Wilderness.

The trail immediately started to gain elevation beyond the highway.

I passed a few groups of hikers on my way up.

South Sister soon came into view, but the upper part of the mountain was hidden behind cloud cover.

At 1.9 miles I passed a junction for the Moraine Lake Trail. I decided to explore Moraine Lake later in the day on my way down.

The trail flattened out for the next mile and a half.

At 2.5 miles I passed another junction with the Moraine Lake Trail. There are 2 trails down to the lake that you can make a loop with.

I could see Moraine Lake below to my right. Mount Bachelor is on the right.

I continued as the trail went north towards the mountain. I wished I could see the whole thing.

I passed a gnarly looking old dead tree.

The trees had thinned out considerably compared to below.

At 3.7 miles I passed a junction for the Canyon Trail which is permanently closed.

The trees really began to thin out above 7300 feet.

The trail was now much steeper and rockier. I passed more groups of hikers on my way up.

Small snow patches appeared around 8000 feet.

The sun finally made an appearance to the east.

The trail separated at various times into multiple braids and came back together further up. It continued to get steeper as I ascended.

I reached a crest at 4.8 miles at 8800 feet. I had a great view of the Lewis Glacier and Lewis Tarn just below. The upper part of the peak was still hidden by clouds.

I took a short break to take some pictures and then I kept going. The trail climbs the remaining 1500 feet via a ridge to the west of the glacier.

The red color of the mountain was very cool.

The glacier was also very impressive.

I entered the clouds around 9200 feet.

The clouds then magically parted as I reached 9500 feet. I could finally see the top of the mountain!

It was a steep climb the rest of the way up.

Approaching the crater rim:

I reached the crater rim at 5.6 miles at 10220 feet. The summit is on the far side of the crater.

I hiked counter-clockwise around the rim.

I reached the summit at 10:38am at 6.1 miles!

I located reference marker no. 1 but no benchmark. I also did not locate a register. This would be the final Oregon peak I would climb on this trip, and I don’t think I found a register on a single one.

The views were spectacular despite some patchy clouds. I had a great view of Middle Sister and North Sister.

Close up:

At times I could even make out Mount Jefferson in the distance beyond North Sister. Theoretically one should be able to see Mount Hood from here on a clear day.

There were a number of lakes visible down below.

Mount Bachelor was visible to the southeast.

This is looking back at the ice inside the crater rim:

It was very cold and windy on the summit, but not quite as bad as the previous day on Bachelor. I descended into the crater and took some pictures while standing on the ice.

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around. The pool of water created by melting ice, called Teardrop Pool, is said to be the highest lake in Oregon.

I climbed out of the crater back to the trail that circumnavigates the rim.

I soon reached the south side of the rim once again at 6.7 miles.

I began the descent down the south ridge.

The trail was much easier to descend due to the sandy/gravelly nature of the ridge. I soon reached the crest below Lewis Glacier at 7.5 miles. I passed many hikers still making their way up. I decided to climb a small peak called Lewis Glacier Peak (9017 feet) just south of the glacier.

It was a short but steep climb. I reached the top of Lewis Glacier Peak at 12:19pm at 7.6 miles. As expected, I had a great view of Lewis Tarn, Lewis Glacier, and South Sister itself.

I also had a fantastic view of Broken Top to the east.

I then hiked down to Lewis Tarn and took a nice break on the shore. I took my shoes and socks off and waded in the ice cold water.

It was extremely cold!

I didn’t stay at the tarn as long as would have liked because there were 3-4 chipmunks who would not leave me alone. They obviously were very used to getting scraps of food from passing hikers. I continued hiking down.

It started to warm up on the descent and I noticed it getting smokier to the south. At 10.1 miles I turned left onto the Moraine Lake Trail.

The trail leads down to the lake and to a few backcountry campsites.

I reached the lake at 10.5 miles at 6454 feet. The view of South Sister was incredible.

The water in Moraine Lake was much more tolerable than Lewis Tarn to no surprise. I took a nice break and then completed the Moraine Lake Loop back towards the main trail.

From there, it was an easy hike back down. I reached the trailhead again at 3pm. This hike totaled 13.35 miles, 5394 feet elevation gain, and 7:56:26 total time.

It was finally time to head back to California. I was planning to spend the next 2 days in the Mount Shasta area, so I made the 4 hour drive south to Mount Shasta City. From there, I drove up the Everitt Memorial Highway and parked on Sand Flat Road near the Bunny Flat Trailhead.

To be continued…

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