Thursday, July 30, 2009

South Sister - 7/30/09

This view of South Sister is as seen from the Bristlecone Trail. Today, 12 of the Around the Bend Friends climbed this prominent mountain starting at the Old Mill Campground and Picnic Area off of Lee Canyon Road. The climb of around 2400 feet develops in four phases.

PHASE 1, The Warm-Up: The hike begins on a paved road which leads through the picnic area. The trail exits to the right off the road and onto a rock-lined trail. Soon, the trail becomes a barely discernable path which takes the hike past a usable spring and a foundation of an old homestead. The path leads up the wash becoming steeper and steeper. At last, the blue sky ahead tells you that the saddle is within reach.

PHASE 2, The Test: After arriving at the saddle and catching our breath, we turned right to head up to the ridge. This part of the climb does not have a trail that we saw. We climbed up through the wooded hillside covered in rock and wildflowers on a fairly steep slope. The group of us were spread over the area; each of us steadily choosing our path at a slow gait. At the top of the hill, we arrived at the ridge where our target, South Sister, appeared. At first up close view, the mountain appeared much larger than it does from a distance. And, the blogger might add, much more daunting.

PHASE 3, The Respite: At the ridge, we took a clear trail on the ridge which crossed over a small summit and down to the foot of the target itself. This gentle phase of the climb was just what we needed to catch our breath and take in the beautiful views of the Bristlecone Trail and Mt. Charleston which were seen to the right of the trail.

PHASE 4, The REAL Thing: The final climb was what we all came for ... a real challenge with real results. Above us, we could see the limestone crown which was, perhaps, the length of a football field from side to side. We were climbing up a rock-strewn slope which was offered toward the left side. The angle of the climb could have been 45 to 60 degrees and sometimes more.

It took most of our concen- tration to not slide backwards and most of our strength to gain any purchase in front of us. One by one, the twelve of us completed the climb which brought us to the bristlecones clustered in the middle of South Sister's crown. We left our hiking sticks here and turned to climb the 20 foot scramble to the top of the north end of the peak.

This is the view of the North Sister from the top of the scramble.

Although there is a small amount of exposure at this point of the hike, the views from the top were absolutely tremen- dous, making the hanging out over a 30 foot drop and crossing a narrow peak from end to end worth it. The 360 degree views were of Mt. Charleston, Lee Canyon, the Spring Mtn. Divide Ridgeline, the North Sister and the desert and mountains beyond. The group gathered at the end of the peak to rest and sign the log.

The hikers climbed back down the scramble refreshed and ready to tackle the steep downhill facing them. The picture to the left shows the line of hikers from the top of the scramble to the waiting bristlecones. We gathered our hiking sticks and turned to descend.

Again, each hiker chose their path. If going up this section took most of our concen- tration, going down took every last ounce of it as we negotiated the loose rock, dirt and roots underfoot. We made it down without incident here as well as the rest of the descent. Part of the way down, three energetic hikers took a turn to the left to hike down the wash which turned out to be a somewhat shorter version. The hike was around 5 miles long, lasted a little over 4 hours and the weather was perfect.

A view from the peak shows Bonanza Peak (the one that is mostly green.) Two weeks from today, we will be hiking to this mountain.

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