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| | |-+  June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
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Author Topic: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH  (Read 1984 times)
frankfrank
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June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« on: 06/24/12, 02:23 PM »



Route planning for bicycle-accessed mountain trips is interesting. Getting to the trailhead isn't just the trivial matter of following driving directions. You have to consider everything that usually goes into mountain route planning: distance, effort, hazards, aesthetics. And this must be balanced with that of the route beyond the trailhead. Sometimes this takes you right to the standard routes. Other times it suggests unusual approaches.

From Eugene, getting to the usual south side route on South Sister requires crossing Willamette Pass on Highway 58. 126 miles on the road, 6 miles on the trail. Riding up 58 on a bike hardly seems worth it. One alternative is to use the Obsidian Trailhead on the northwest side of the Three Sisters, accessed by the McKenzie Highway. 73 miles on the road, 11 miles on the trail. That sounds more fun.

This McKenzie approach has a few other things going for it: the area around the Obsidian Trail and the west side of North and Middle Sisters is incredibly beautiful, Highway 242 is (or was, at the time) closed to car traffic but open to bikes for wonderful carefree riding and almost assured solitude, and (most importantly) it allows me to cheat a bit with an assist from the bus.

The Eugene bus system has a few so-called "rural routes". Route 91 goes from Eugene, up Highway 126, to the McKenzie Ranger Station. It runs four times a day, carries bikes, and charges the same $2 fare as every other city bus. (Pretty sweet, eh? Do bus routes like this exist anywhere else? They should.) This would save me 60 miles of dangerous riding on busy highways, but still leave plenty of elevation gain (from 1500 feet) and a beautiful ride ahead. It would also remove the "fully-human-powered-from-doorstep" designation from my trip, but who cares?


So when I left home early morning on the 19th, loaded with my gear, I pedaled not directly east toward the mountains, but first downtown, to the bus station. Soon after the (surprisingly crowded) 80-minute bus ride, I was back on the bike, heading up 242 toward McKenzie Pass under a cool mist. I reached the Obsidian trailhead by late morning, where I hid the bike and shuffled gear (my least favorite part of these multi-stage trips).

Dropped off at McKenzie Ranger Station:


Snow still covered the road into the parking area and actual trailhead, though it was patchy and would be quickly melting over the next days. I hiked (after first attempting to ski) along the trail, crossing endless 5-foot tall ridges of snow between fully-melted tree wells. I eventually lost the trail and ended up on the lava flow. It took some scrambling over piles of boulders that separate the various channels of the flow, but I eventually found continuous skiable snow there, around 5400 feet.

Partially-filled-in lava flow:


Travel from there was much easier, and patterened-base skis climbed well on the wet snow.

Meeting the PCT, approximately:


Fog had been thick through the afternoon, but by the time I found a nice site and set up camp (at 6500 feet, just south of Obsidian Falls on the PCT), sun was coming through, and the mountains were beginning to reveal themselves. I took a quick after-dinner tour around the rolling terrain of the neighborhood.

Evening turns:


South Sister, still far away:


As forecasted, the weather was totally clear the next morning, and the snow surface was frozen hard and smooth. Traversing on this surface was difficult without ski crampons, so instead of contouring, I was forced to directly climb and descend the many broad ridges that make up the west and southwest flanks of Middle Sister. I passed over one of the last ridges, out of the shadow of Middle Sister, and finally had a full-on view of South. Its west ridge looked good. I took skins off and glided gradually down to Separation Creek, where the climb really begins.

From Separation Creek:


The ascent was pretty straightforward. I skinned up the lower snowfields, briefly crossed onto Lost Creek Glacier to skip some snow-free sections, then got back on the west ridge and booted up some rotten and icy snow to the rim.

West Ridge:


I skied across the crater as one other skier crossed from the south side. This was the first person I had seen since getting off the bus the previous day. We met at the summit as I arrived just behind. And who else could it be, but one of TAY's most well-known contributors? I'll let you guess.

He was curious about the west ridge, and my report of ice and nearly-melted-out sections didn't dissuade him. So we made the descent together, starting about 2:30pm.

West Ridge descent:


It skied better than I expected. The ice chunks had softened enough and there was just one rocky section to carefully step through. After the top 1200 feet, we stopped for a view over the edge onto Lost Creek Glacier and its gnarly headwall. From there, our paths diverged and I continued down along my ascent route on smooth and somewhat heavy snow.

Lost Creek Glacier:


The traverse back from Separation Creek to camp was quite nice, aside from my hurting feet. I climbed steadily and gradually for the first mile (without skins), then glided the rest of the way back to camp with little effort.

Gliding back:


Being at camp, barefoot, with beverage, was pleasant. I was quite happy with my site selection and of course with the weather. No mosquitoes were found anywhere on this trip.

I slept in the next morning. I figured I'd have enough time for a short tour before packing up camp and heading back to catch the evening bus. Renfrew Glacier seemed about right, less than 3000 feet up the fall line from camp. I skinned up to the saddle at the top, spent some time watching a party of 8 on the north ridge of Middle (glad I skipped the summit that day).

View from Renfrew Glacier:


I started down at 11:30am. Perfect. Smooth and light. What do I love more than fast low-angle corn snow? I don't know. I was giddy with glee.

Corn:


The exit to the trailhead was about as difficult as the approach. It just seemed longer. I eventually found my hidden bike (hidden too well?) to begin another joyous downhill run. It was strange to see traffic on this road again, as the gate had opened that morning. But a bike can carve through the tight curves at least as fast as any car, so once I started moving, the only other vehicles I saw were those coming uphill. I had enough time for a nap at the Ranger Station bus stop, and was back home before dark.

Maps: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
« Last Edit: 06/24/12, 04:23 PM by frankfrank » Logged
DG
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #1 on: 06/24/12, 04:08 PM »

Beautiful.  When I first started reading the TR about planning how to get to the trailhead, I was thinking it was driving around some construction or something, sheesh.  Smiley  That's really inspiring, though, and sounds like a great trip.  I bet some of the looks you get on the city bus are pretty funny when you are loading your bike, skis, and gear on board?
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frankfrank
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #2 on: 06/24/12, 04:28 PM »

Beautiful.  When I first started reading the TR about planning how to get to the trailhead, I was thinking it was driving around some construction or something, sheesh.  Smiley  That's really inspiring, though, and sounds like a great trip.  I bet some of the looks you get on the city bus are pretty funny when you are loading your bike, skis, and gear on board?

Ah, thanks! I reworded the beginning ... "bicycle-accessed" should be clearer than "human-powered". The driver commented "Looking for snow?", but wasn't too surprised, as she said she had been hiking at Iron Mountain recently. Otherwise, I think I'm immune to funny looks by now...
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jtack
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #3 on: 06/24/12, 06:07 PM »

Nice trip, and great trip report, seems like you run into TAY'ers in the nicest places.
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danpeck
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #4 on: 06/24/12, 07:27 PM »

What a grand idea!  Thanks for the report.  I liked this over the traditional sisters link up.  What amazing weather and views!  I'm bookmarking this one for future reference.  Thanks again.
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stoudema
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #5 on: 06/24/12, 07:41 PM »

Impressive work!  Looks like a nice way to spend a few days for sure.  Thanks for the pictures...
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There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty." - Theodore Roosevelt
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Re: June 19-21, 2012, South Sister from Obsidian TH
« Reply #6 on: 06/25/12, 09:51 PM »

Thanks for sharing.  I really respect the human-powered purest approach to approaching.  Taking steps toward that goal myself.  Way to go, man!
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