Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three Sisters

I decided to start posting to this blog again. It seems appropriate since I'm seven working days away from my second leave of absence from HP. For now I'm on a three week vacation. The vacation started with a four day, three night trip into Oregon's Three Sisters Wilderness. The plan was to backpack into an alpine environment, climb a peak or two, and tool around on a glacier. The usual suspects came, along with Cliff (who I hadn't seen in about a year), and Julius. We were six in total.

We started with a several mile hike, mostly along a maintained trail. Where a stream crossed the trail we turned west, more or less following the stream to it's source, the Hayden Glacier. Somewhere below the glacier in a pretty meadow strewn with alpine flowers and glacier fed streams we found our first camp site. After dumping our camp supplies four of us headed up to the glacier. The boys found a good crevasse to descend. My leg hurt so I didn't partake. After heading back down to camp my leg was hurting pretty good. I dipped it into an ice cold stream next to camp and it instantly felt much better.

We had decided to make this a slow and fat trip. Amongst other things, this means that we have plenty of good food. We had a couple of Indian entrees this first night. I also tried grilling some Mexican style corn on the cob (yes, I had hauled corn ears several miles and a few thousand vertical feet, along with mayonnaise, chili powder, and a lime). Everything was great. After meeting Cliff the next morning we packed everything up and headed towards the glacier. Our objective was the high ridge between Middle and North Sister. Climbing the glacier was a piece of cake. It was relatively low angle and the surface was soft. Upon reaching the ridge we found some good camp sites. We set up camp and relaxed a bit. Our next goal was to climb Middle Sister. Middle Sister is the fifth highest peak in Oregon. I had climbed it a few times before. The summit is just over ten thousand feet. It's an easy climb but looks intimidating from the ridge where we'd set up camp. We were already at an elevation of 9000 ft, so we didn't really have much further to go. After saying bye to Julius (he needed to be at work the next day) the rest of us started up. In no time were were on the summit. We stayed on the summit for a long time before heading back to camp. After a meal of salmon, couscous, and more Mexican style corn on the cob, it started getting dark.

We were spending the night in a pretty special place. The ridge we were on separates Western Oregon from Central Oregon. You can see the better part of the state from there, and on a clear day you can see parts of Washington and California as well. Needless to say the views are spectacular. We figured that every other person in the state of Oregon would be spending the night somewhere below us. The night sky was also pretty amazing. There were so many stars, and you could see the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy in the sky. I felt grateful for being able to reach the ridge and stay there for a night. It was something I'd been wanting to do for a while.

The next morning Matt, Chris and Tim ran up and down Middle Sister again. Meanwhile Cliff and I headed north along to the ridge to get a better look at North Sister. North Sister is the fourth highest peak in the state. I've attempted it once (in winter) but have never reached the summit. We had talked about attempting it on this trip, but the conditions weren't appealing (it's easier and safer when covered with snow), and I was a bit concerned about how my leg would hold up. After regrouping with the rest of the guys we broke camp and headed back down the glacier. Matt and Chris were on the hunt for some crevasses to climb. After a couple of false starts they found a huge one, probably the biggest any of us have seen in Oregon. On one side the crevasse opened up into a view of Broken Top. On the other side it was covered with a snow bridge, looking like the inside of a gothic cathedral sculpted from ice.

I decided to attempt this one. A shock of pain ran up my right leg every time I kicked the crampons into the ice, so I decided once was enough. After a little convincing (he'd never climbed ice prior to this) Cliff also took a shot at the ice. He did really well and was glad to have tried it. The boys were up for more and went looking for another hole in the ice to wear themselves out on. Meanwhile, since I wasn't going to ice climb any more, I headed down to find a camp site for our final night out. Our last camp was in the trees next to the same stream we'd followed up to the glacier. The water was roaring and cold. It was a great spot to wash up after being out for three days. Dinner was beef stew, chili, and macaroni. Matt, Chris, and I burned some more energy scrambling up a bluff of rock near by. I fell asleep early. The next morning we hiked out and drove home.

I think it's safe to say that everyone enjoyed the trip. We all forgot about the rest of the world for a few days. For me at least, these trips are a reminder that you really don't need much. I also enjoy seeing nature's processes at work. Since you're gaining a lot of elevation you get to see a lot of different environments, and how they interact with each other. The high mountains squeeze water (often in the form of snow) from the moist air moving in from the Pacific. The snow accumulates into glaciers. In the dry summer season the glaciers melt, bringing water to all the living things below. After the living things take the water they need, the water returns to the ocean and the whole cycle starts over. At the same time the glaciers are pulled down the mountain by gravity, grinding away at the underlying rock. The water rushing out of the glacier further pulverizes the rock, and transports it downstream, turning it into soil for the trees and plants below. Eventually the soil, like the water, will also be recycled, and may return in the form of a mountain to start the process again. The sun provides energy, and together with the water, soil, and air, everything the plants and trees need to grow is delivered. In a very real sense the living things owe their existence to the rock and ice. There's a harmony and patience to it all which often seems absent from the human world. Probably it's one of the reasons I like to take these trips.

For the next ten days or so I'll be working on getting my house ready for the renters, and preparing for the drive to Texas. After that Ann and I are going to take a short excursion over Labor Day weekend. Then I'm back to work for two weeks before my leave officially starts.

My favorite photos from the trip are here. The photo at the top is from one of the streams near our first camp site. This particular stream was especially verdant. In the background behind the stream is South Sister.

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