Thursday, June 2, 2016

South Sister - 6/2/16

Saddle in Sight during Phase IV Climb

Top of South Sister (L-R; McFarland, Bonanza, Macks, South Sister)

Charleston Peak from South Sister Peak

Lower Bristlecone Forest Road & South Sister
 Today's hike took us to the summit of South Sister off of Lee Canyon Road in the Spring Mountains NRA. Out of the thirteen hikers, only one (Laurie) had not hiked this route previously. We are always happy to show the way up! So, we parked at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead and began by hiking up the forest road until we got to the manhole cover on the right side. Turning right, we dropped down to the Old Mill Picnic Area below and crossed over to the Old Mill Trail that is lined with rocks.

Phase I Ascent

South Sister Saddle

Starting Up Phase II Ridge

Charleston Peak from Phase II
 Not too far up this trail, there is a clearing that forks to the right. The South Sister Trail leads out from this clearing heading up through the obvious canyon wash area. We passed the old home foundation on the right then the spring area on the left. The trail is quite clear even this early in the warm season. Perhaps one more log had fallen over the trail. The group spread out and many of the stronger hikers managed to make it to South Sister Saddle without so much as a break. It was a formidable climb for the few who arrived last. We took a decent break at the saddle then turned to the right. Phase II of the hike is the climb up along a very rounded ridge. Since there is no trail, many of us zigzagged back and forth to alleviate the steepness. At the next saddle located on top of the next ridge, we gathered for a small break. Turning right again, we faced Phase III, the ridge traverse.

Next Saddle with South Sister in Background

Starting Phase III Ridge Traverse

View Back to Macks Peak

Charleston Peak from Phase III
 The traverse offers many beautiful views of the surrounding peaks and the valley and canyons below. At this point, we were already up in the bristlecones and sharp limestone rock. As the sharply undulating ridge turned the corner, we got the first close up view of the twin peaks of South Sister. Its climbing route heads up the steep scree and bristlecone found in between the two peaks. The ridge traverse trail brought us directly to this area.

Phase III Ridge Traverse Approach

Twin Peaks of South Sister

Well into Phase IV Climb

View over to Right Peak
Next, we began the infamous Phase IV climb up the steep scree decorated with fantastic old bristlecones that have weathered the extreme conditions that the 10,000 foot elevation experiences. Again, the hikers spread out. There are a couple of different trails that can be taken. It is a matter of personal preference. All the trails require work. Finally, we gathered at the saddle between the two peaks. We turned to the left to ascend the scramble chute.

Chute to Left Peak

View Back at Top of Chute

Balancing the South Sister Summit Ridge

Enjoying the Views
 The chute is a small challenge and once on top, North Sister comes into view in the near distance. A moment can be taken to say, "Wow!, then a last scramble is required to gain the top of the summit ridge. We all balanced along the narrow ridge then settled in for a snack break at the other end where the log book is located. McFarland, Bonanza and Macks Peaks can be seen on one side and Charleston Peak is seen on the other. Lee Canyon Road and the desert foothills are also in view.

North Sister (& Black Sister) from South Sister

Summit Ridge Return

Chute Descent

Right Peak Overlook
 We had a bit of careful fun going down the chute. Most of us went back down the way we came up while a few hikers went down opposite to the chute. We took photos of each other then safely got back to the saddle. While we were there, we decided to include the other of the twin peaks on our hike. There is a magnificent overlook there with several amazing old bristlecones to accent the photos. The ridge here took us over to the other peak then dropped us down to the overlook.

From Right Peak to Left Peak

From Right Peak to North & Black Sisters

Phase IV Descent

Return to Ridge Saddle
 Finally, we started our descent. And, with South Sister, the hike isn't over until the descent is complete! We went down as a group ... without losing anyone ... Phase IV, Phase III, Phase II (being careful to balance the rounded ridge). We rested a moment at the South Sister Saddle then dove down the Phase I trail. A successful hike for all. ... And, Laurie really liked it!

5.5 miles; 2000 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Resting at South Sister Saddle

Starting Down Phase I

Ending on the Lower Bristlecone Forest Road

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