North Sister Part 2
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North Sister (and Smith Rock)

Thayer Glacier Headwall

Yes, I climbed the same route on North Sister twice in two weeks. I guess I was so shocked that I finally made the summit two weeks ago that I had to go back just to make sure I wasn't imagining things.

This trip was really about not sleeping. We did a whole lot of it. Here is the approximate timeline:

Friday, May 28

Up at 6:00 AM for work.
Home at 5:30. Pack.
9:00 PM. Start watching Return of the King (yes, I realize now this was not smart)
10:30 PM. Dave arrives. Decides to watch what I describe as "the end" of the movie with us.
12:30 AM. We all go to bed.

Saturday, May 29

3:30 AM. Alarm goes off.
4:45 AM: Depart for Smith Rock.
10:15 AM: Arrive Smith.
5:00 PM: Leave Smith. Get pizza for dinner, drive to Grasslands, locate people from who aren't smart enough to deny it. Poach tent site from them in return for firewood and beer.
Much drinking and carousing.
12:30 AM. The fire goes out and I fall asleep in a broken camp chair.

Sunday, May 30

7:00 AM. Wake up. Why???
9:15 AM: Arrive Smith.
11:00 AM: Start up Moscow behind 231 Mounties.
1:30 PM: Fall asleep curled up on rope at belay waiting for Mounties to clear the next pitch.
3:30 PM. Arrive back at packs.
4:30 PM: Eating dinner at Mexican place.
6:00: Back at Grasslands, packing. More campfire antics, minus alcohol for Dave and me.
10:00 PM: I start consuming Red Bull like it's the nectar of the Gods.
11:00 PM. Depart for Pole Creek TH.
12:30 AM: Leave Pole Creek Trailhead. Pack weighs failure, but we proceed anyway.

Monday, May 30

8:00 AM: Arrive summit of North Sister after death slog up the Thayer Glacier headwall. One inch of breakable crust over 18" of powder for 1500 vertical feet.
2:00 PM (approx): Arrive back at car. We bailed on the traverse.
11:00 PM: Arrive back at my house. I manage to sleep about two hours.
12:30 AM: Go to bed.

For those of you whose eyes glazed over while reading the chronology, I'll summarize: From 6:00 AM on Friday until 12:30 AM Tuesday, 100.5 hours, I slept 12 hours.

But I digress.

Saturday and Sunday Dave and I climb moderates at Smith. Spiderman is the highlight on Saturday. Saturday night we glom onto a tent spot with assorted riff-raff from "Minx" fills us in on all the details of Cialis, and the men agree that a 36 hour erection is *not* a desirable thing. "Ehmmic" amazes us all with her gear-whoring technobabble, "My skis"

To her credit, she does a most excellent repair job on my Cassin crampons- using Gore floss to fix them in position so the don't come apart like they did two weeks earlier on North Sister. Though I'm skeptical, in the end the repair job works like a charm.

Mystery woman repairs crampons. Bonus points if you can find all the aspects of her "dirtbag climber" disguise.

Fireside activities.

Much beer is consumed. I fall asleep in a broken camp chair listening to an MP3 player, and watching the fire slowly die out as the heavens spin above. At some point I wake up to pee and find my way into the tent, where Dave proceeds to elbow me about a dozen times in the time-honored, "Quit your damn snoring Loren" non-verbal communication. Later I will be falsely accused of keeping the entire campsite awake, including "Ehmmic", who is sleeping in the back of her pimped-out climber's paradise pickup with earplugs in. I think there may have been some exaggeration, but I could be wrong.

Dave and I feel lethargic on Sunday, and plod around Smith, mostly sitting and eating. Eventually we decide to wrap up the day on Moscow, completely unaware of the massive CF going on above us on the route. It seems that half of the Seattle Mountie population is climbing Moscow in something between 4 and 27 pitches. I'm reasonably sure that I saw two portaledges being packed away, and at least one pizza box that I'm certain was soloed up to the top of Mountie pitch 13 by a pimply faced 17 year-old sendbot feeding his chalk habit by moonlighting at Dominoes.

When I reach Dave at the top of our pitch two, which is actually the top of pitch one, I curl up on top of the rope and fall asleep. Seriously.

We're about four hours round trip to the packs, and I'm very anxious to get going when we return. We pack and head for the car. Dinner is had at the Mexican place behind Red Point, which, despite its awful ambience, serves up a great (big) entree with unlimited salty tortilla chips. We stuff our faces, hit the grocery store, and return to the Grasslands where we find.. no one in our camp site.

Dave and I pack up as the sun retreats. Eventually the rest of the crew rolls in, most of them already fed. We all flunk out of our boy scout test by failing to get Ehmmic's barbeque-in-a-toolbox started. It seems that once Matchlight charcoal sits out for a week or so, it becomes something other than Matchlight, something like Nolight. It finally gets going when Kurt pours 1/2 gallon of white gas on it. I suspect that his eyebrows will eventually grow back.

No drinking for me this evening. I become increasingly agitated as time winds on, and start drinking Red Bull at 10:00 PM. Though we'd planned to leave at 11:15, I can't take it anymore and we pile in the car and take off at 11:00 PM.

At 12:33 AM we walk away from the trailhead. It's cold, quite cold, and I pick up the pace a bit in an effort to stay warm. The trail has much less snow that two weeks ago, and we make remarkable time to Soap Creek. From there we turn west, cross-country on a mix of dry ground and firm snow. At some point as we start to break out of the trees I turn and don't see Dave's headlamp. I drop my pack, add a couple layers, and take a break.

Dave looks every bit a walking zombie when he arrives. Indeed, his eyes close and he appears to be asleep standing up, until he drops his pack and takes a five minute power-nap on it.

Snow conditions remain good until we cross into the moraine. There we encounter breakable crust over powder. It doesn't get better until we reach the recent avalanche debris below the constriction on the headwall. In sharp contrast to the conditions two weeks earlier, we suffer on most of the headwall. Through the constrictions, where the avalanche has thoroughly scoured the slope, we have excellent neve. But for the remaining 1500 vertical feet to the shoulder we struggle through 18+ inches of dry, unconsolidated powder under a hard, breakable crust. For much of it we literally crawl up in an effort to increase surface area to limit breaking through the crust.

We're far lower on the face than Hannah and I were when the sun rises. The hair on the back of my neck stands up as I consider what the face will be like when it softens. I pick up the pace of my crawling.

After the traverse I reach a shady couloir and take a breather. The shoulder is just a few hundred feet above, but I'm moving in 30 to 50 foot bursts by now. Eventually I get there, take off my pack, and wait for Dave. Several times I catch myself falling asleep sitting up. It isn't a great place to tip over, so I lie down and briefly close my eyes.

Dave at the shoulder, postholing to his knees.

Climbers high on the Southeast Ridge, just before the Camel's Hump. South Sister in the background.

Dave arrives and we continue up the last bit together. He opts for more postholing, while I climb loose 4th class on the north end of Prouty Pinnacle. We reach the summit and Dave looks around. "So, uh, where do we go down?"

"There.", I say, pointing to the short AI2 step that we'll need to downclimb. The summit register is there, so we sit down and I scribble an entry. Dave adds his name, then we rise and begin the downclimb. For me it seems easier than two weeks ago: There is more rime covering the loose rock, and I know what to expect. Dave is given pause, but easily clears the crux of the infamous Bowling Alley, too.

Dave downclimbing just below the summit.

Dave downclimbing in the Bowling Alley.

The traverse is highlighted by a short section of hard, steep neve, with more than a little exposure. Just past that we meet a party of four headed up. We enjoy easier travel across the final slope courtesy of the trench they cut.

Dave, with skis, coming across the final section of the traverse.

We make our way down the south ridge and take a break behind a boulder, out of the wind and in the sun. It's pleasant here. We both briefly close our eyes. Then we get up and walk down to the col between North Sister and Prouty Point. I make my last attempt to cajole Dave into continuing to Middle, and perhaps South, but he's had enough postholing for one day. We take a short nap, then switch to skis and schuss down the Hayden glacier.

Evidence that the Triple Traverse may not be in the cards today.

Nope, there are no challenging lines in the Sisters. Nothing to see here folks: Better go elsewhere.

Avalanche crowns on the southeast ridge and east face of Middle Sister.

Miraculously, we are able to ski 3000 vert, taking our skis off only twice for short stretches of dirt. At  Soap Creek we take them off for good and take off cross-country on a bearing straight for the car. We take a casual pace and enjoy the cross-country travel through open forest very unlike the North Cascades.

Dinner is had at the Deschutes Brewery. The twenty-something waitress wins my heart forever by referring to Dave and me as "kids".

We swap driving time on the way home, though Dave takes two shifts to my one. We both snooze while we're not driving. Red Bull and Coke see us through, and we pull into my driveway at 11:00 PM.

Many thanks to Tim, who for the second time in two weeks offered to shuttle me and partner back to Pole Creek. You rock, Tim!

I think I'm done with North Sister now. Well, unless I find a partner for the Triple Traverse...

This page was last edited on Thursday, June 03, 2004
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