Fourth of July weekend always brings a variable amount of snow by the South Sister for our 3 day backpacking trip. One of the first years we went backpacking over 4th of July weekend, we were unable to start at Devil's Lake trailhead because the road wasn't plowed that far. The past two years, we didn't even bother to bring skis because there was very little snow. This year was somewhere in between. Not knowing how much snow we would face, we left the trailhead with skis on our packs and shoes on our feet.
After a half mile we ran into snow, but opted to keep walking as the trail climbed steeply enough we would be spending a bit of time side stepping in our skis. After a mile and a half, the route up South Sister hits a plateau where we decided to put on our skis. We made the exchange quickly as the mosquitoes were fairly bad while we were stopped.
Skiing across the plains gave beautiful views, but was fairly slow as the snow was pretty sun-cupped as this point in the year. We intended to camp at our usual spot on a ridge above Moraine Lake, but this year we didn’t want to drop down to Moraine Lake first. Dropping down to Moraine Lake isn’t bad, but it was the steep climb up a loose slope that we were hoping to avoid. To avoid this section, we climbed up toward South Sister then traversed across toward Broken Top to reach out tent site. This route wasn’t much easier as we repeatedly had to carry our skis across melted out ridges.
Once we reached our spot, we pitched the tent, started to boil water, and rounded up some rocks to sit on. The day was hot and clear so it was a nice reprieve when the evening cool set in. In the past there has been a bit of wind as the sun sets, but this evening was pretty still. Out to the west there were clouds hanging over the Willamette Valley and extending into the lower Cascades. As the sun went down, some clouds were drifting into valleys below; they were all small, but we hoped they would lead to rain the next day.
The next morning was already warm when we got out of the tent, which was a sign of heat to come. With higher snow levels than previous years, we opted to forgo the summit of Broken Top and instead climb up the lower portion of a ridge leading up to the summit. We began the day descending a long snowfield into Green Lakes. Last year the snow was firm in this section, but this year it was already soft. As we made our way down, Jacob spent most of the time butt sliding, while I tried to glissade down the steeper pitches. Unfortunately for me, the soft snow made glissading pretty slow, but Jacob has no issue picking up speed!
Upon reaching Green Lakes, we filled up our water bottles then traversed around the lake. The climb up to the ridge was mostly snowy, with occasional bare patches under the trees. Once we reached the ridge, the walking was all on dirt. After an initial steep climb, the ridge leveled off and we enjoyed the view of Diamond Peak to our right, and Smith Rock off to our left.
We ate lunch at the top of the ridge, then turned around and headed back down toward Green Lakes. Facing Green Lakes, South Sister rose in front of us with Middle Sister and North Sister off to the right. The descent back to Green Lakes was pretty hot as we had a clear day and lots of snow to magnify the power of the sun.
We reached Green Lakes, filled up our water bottles at a spring then began the slog back up the snowfield to reach our tent. While the snowfield is a long slow grind, its always quicker than we expect and soon we felt a cool breeze blowing over the top of the ridge. Once we crested the ridge, then wind picked up significantly. We walked the last few hundred yards to our tent in substantial headwind. The evening wind continued until we went to bed which forced us to boil water behind rock, so the stove would go out.
The next morning was as clear and warm, but with slightly firmer snow. We packed up most of our gear in the morning, then headed up toward the summit of South Sister. We began the climb by traversing a few snowfields before meeting up with the main trail to the summit. Once we reached the trail, it was mostly bare to the summit. While sections of the trail were still under feet of snow, the upper portion made for easy but steep walking. About two hours after leaving the tent, we reached the rim of South Sister. From here, its just a relatively flat walk to the other side of the rim to reach the true summit. Upon reaching the top we descended a little and found a spot to sit out of the wind to eat and enjoy the view.
There were clouds over the Willamette Valley, but we could still make out Mary’s Peak on the horizon. Further north gave way to some amazing views of the Cascade Volcanoes. We were able to see Middle Sister, North Sister, Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helen’s, and Rainier.
The descent was much quicker and soon we were traversing across the snowfields back to our tent. Since we had packed most of our gear in the morning, we just needed to take down the tent and put the last few things in our packs. Soon we began the traverse back to the main snowfield which would lead up back to the trailhead.
The skiing wasn’t great as the snow was fairly cuppy and we had to cross a few bare patches that required us to carry our skis. Once we reached the main slope, we were able to get in a bit of good, but bumpy skiing down toward Little Broken Top. The face of Little Broken Top is steep and usually lends itself to good glissading, so we took a while to enjoy this before continuing down to Devil’s Lake trailhead.
The day was really heating up and since we were still getting the reflection from the snow, we hurried along to get back in the shade. Once we left the plateau, we clipped our skis back on our pack on continued our journey on foot. The shade was a reprieve from the sun, but was also a haven for mosquitoes. After the initial steep descent from the plateau, Jacob and I were able to fit in a little bit of skiing, but the parents didn’t bother to unload the skis from their packs. All in all, the skiing didn’t really save any time, but was pretty fun none the less.
Once Jacob and I put our skis back on our packs, we had perhaps a half mile to go. We soon reached the car, crammed in our packs and jumped in. We were hot, so we soon got the AC going on our drive back. We were all a bit tired of the high elevation sun beating down and reflecting off the snow by the end, but that didn’t take away from another great trip!