More tales from a ski-touring road-trip of the Cascade volcanoes with a bunch of reprobates and a camera.
Words By Jess Oundijan
If the first half of the trip could be considered our warm up, then the return of the sunshine signalled that it was now game time. With heavy hearts we had to wave goodbye to one of our Kiwi reprobates and send him back to his real-world job, while we pushed on in the pursuit of more good clean ski-bum fun.
The plan was now settled for a three day snow-camping mission in the Three Sisters Wilderness, during which we hoped to climb both the South and Middle Sisters from a camp between the two mountains. We paid a visit to the local REI, to stock up on freeze dried meals and mini carabiners, then drove out of Bend, past the town of Sisters and along the forest roads to the Sisters Trailhead.
We camped overnight and, in the morning, packed up some convincingly heavy backpacks while waiting for the arrival of our new volcano-chasing friend, Jeff, and his wife Kelly. Once they arrived and we had all spent sufficient time dicking around in the parking lot, we finally began the four hour hike and skin to our chosen camp zone.
Unaccustomed to such a heavy pack, I was mightily relieved when we were finally allowed to shed our bags and pitch camp. However the steadily increasing wind was raising concerns, and our afternoon activities were soon dominated by aggressive tent pegging and giant snow wall construction.
Unfortunately the winds did nothing but increase throughout the night, and despite waking to sunshine and bright blue skies, there was no way we were heading for any summits that day. I was secretly quite pleased at the prospect of an easy day, as my legs were a little cooked after the four hour weight-training session that had been our approach the day before. However, sadly the shutdown meant that our friends Jeff and Kelly had to leave us to return home for work. We bid them goodbye and spent the morning reinforcing our camp and building more snow walls.
With our fortifications complete, we ventured out for a mellow adventure tour to ski some of the undulating, volcanic terrain around the base of South Sister.
All the while, we were scoping the route up the Middle Sister across the way, holding out hope that tomorrow the winds would calm and we might be able to at least make a bid for one summit.
The following morning greeted us with a more hospitable, if still fairly gusty, wind that had now swung round to the East.
This would prove to be in our favour, as it meant that most of our route up the Middle Sister was protected by the ridge-line we would follow. Stoked to finally be able to climb, we scoffed our breakfast and then sipped on coffee while we broke camp, stashed the tents and slid daypacks onto our backs.
The climb couldn’t have gone much better for us. We navigated our way up to the main ridge, then transitioned from skins to crampons and began the boot pack towards the summit. As we neared the top we manoeuvred our way across windswept rime and ice, suddenly grateful for the intensely spiky protrusions attached to our feet and hands. Finally, ten steps from the top, we lost our protection and were subjected to the full force of the gusting winds.
Posing for some hasty summit shots, we retreated back to a sheltered spot for a snack then descended a little way to where we could don our skis and get on with the fun part. As luck would have it, we had timed it perfectly, and were skiing down just as the corn was ripe for harvest.
With stoke bubbling out of every orifice, we ripped exuberant turns down wide, steep faces. Stopping sporadically to regroup and allow Riley a chance to set up new shots, we marvelled at the snowy volcanic peaks dotting the horizon. This place, our very own slice of Cascadia, was truly incredible.
Buzzing with adrenaline from our first ‘real’ summit and sporting massive grins after the epic descent, we zipped back to camp, packed up our things and began the adventure back to the cars. An adventure it proved to be, as we decided to take things into our own hands and use mobile topo maps to take the most direct route possible back to the trailhead.
Skinning until long after it was ever appropriate, we finally caved, switched out of our ski boots and started bushwhacking through the blackened spires of the fire ravaged forest.
With our eyes peeled for the elusive trail, we at last crested a hill and stumbled straight into the only signpost on the trail, directing us along the final dusty miles towards celebratory beers, warm showers, a good feed and a luxurious motel bed.
If you missed part one of #thisiscascadia, you can view it here
Part 3 coming soon.