Thursday, May 28, 2015

South Sister - 5/28/15

Just Below South Sister Peak with view of North Sister (photo 2014)

South Sister Peak from Approach Trail

Charleston Peak from South Sister Trail Phase III

 Seventeen hikers drove up Lee Canyon Road in the Spring Mountains NRA and parked at the Lower Bristlecone trailhead for a hike up to the peak of South Sister, the southernmost peak on a ridge filled with small craggy peaks. We chose to begin at the aforementioned trailhead even though the Old Mill Picnic Area construction has been completed and hiking through this area is allowed. We knew that we had too many cars to fit in the small parking area assigned for this purpose found just outside the picnic area fee booth.

Lower Portion of Phase I Climb
 Therefore, we started hiking up the forest road that is known as the Lower Bristlecone Trail. Not far up the road, there is a manhole on the right side followed by a well worn path leading down the hill. This was our exit.

Upper Portion of Phase I Climb
 We crossed through the picnic area and found the rock-lined trail on the other side that leads up through the small canyon area. Soon a vague trail forks off to the right. This is the South Sister Trail.

Resting at the Saddle

 Phase I of the South Sister hike is the longest of four phases. The route travels up a trail next to two different washes. The first wash is a main wash flowing down from the ridge. The second wash turns off to the right and is a small wash coming off of a saddle above. The higher we climbed, the steeper the trail became. Finally, we all reached the saddle where a convenient log offers a few seats.

Charleston Peak from Phase II Climb
 Phase II of the hike turns up the ridge to the right. There is not a real trail here. Just keep going up until you reach the next saddle ridge area.

Resting at the Top of Phase II Ridge
 We gathered again now ready for the Phase III relief. Until this point, the climb had been tough but not as tough as what was coming up in Phase IV!

Resting Hiking Sticks

 Phase III follows a small trail around the ridge to the right. Up, down, up, down on the craggy limestone trail. At the end of the ridge, two hikers bowed out of the final assault, also known as Phase IV. While those two hikers searched for a perch, the rest of the group began climbing the steep scree among the old weathered bristlecones. Their voices could be heard all the way up the hill and across the narrow peak.

Approaching the Bottom of the Phase IV Climb
 Although the climb is daunting, the scenery is the most beautiful and awesome of the entire hike.

Scree and Snags on the Phase IV Climb (photo 2014)
 Still, along with that climb comes a steep and slippery down climb on the descent.

Returning Down off the Peak

 And, down they came ... a bit quieter than on the ascent earlier! Meeting the two hikers at the bottom, the group continued out along the ridge of Phase III and gathered once more at the top of Phase II. This is the most difficult part of the navigation of the hike. Normally, hikers must balance the flattish ridge all the way down to the saddle. Erring should be done on the left side. Today, we followed our club president, Steve, down a different and more precipitous route by intentionally dropping to the left in a big way. It was very steep and the writer decided it was not her favorite way to descend South Sister! Nevertheless, this route did finally intercept with the Phase I trail near the bottom of the higher wash. The trail led us the rest of the way.

Back on the forest road, we hiked into the parking lot at the very same time that the optional hike (Bristlecone Loop) finished. At the bottom of this entry, there is a photo of the two groups of hikers at the end of their respective hikes. Fun day with friends.

6 miles; 2100 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Gathering at the Ridge Junction

Circumventing a Newly Fallen Tree

Two Groups of AtBF Hikers (25 hikers)

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