Lake offers a view of South Sister's summit.
Photo by William Sullivan
to the top of South Sister
non-technical but very demanding climb of the state's third-tallest
the Hike: Oregon's third-tallest mountain has a path to its
top. Admittedly, the trail up 10,358-foot South Sister is exceedingly
steep, long and rugged, but no technical climbing skills are required
and the rewards are great.
the summit - a broad, snowy crater with a small lake - you can see
half the state. If this sounds too demanding, here's a secret: the
loop to Moraine Lake, halfway up the mountain, is just as picturesque.
This lower hike avoids the final trudge up cinder scree, yet still
offers views 100 miles south to Mount McLoughlin. What's more, the
weather's better here. The summit often generates its own little
cloud, complete with whiteouts, wind, and a miniature blizzard.
The extremely difficult trail to the summit of South Sister gains
a staggering 4,900 feet of elevation in 5.5 miles. The 6.8-mile loop
to Moraine Lake is much shorter but it is still steep and difficult,
gaining 2,000 feet of elevation.
Open August to mid-October, but do not attempt the summit climb
in anything but perfect weather. If there is a cloud on the summit,
even on an otherwise sunny day, hikers could well encounter a blizzard
whiteout at the top.
There: Drive 28.5 miles west of Bend on the Cascade Lakes Highway.
Beyond the Mount Bachelor Ski Area 6.5 miles, turn left at a Devils
Lake Trailhead sign and park at the end of the campground loop.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here. The pass costs
$5 per day or $30 per season. It can be purchased at a ranger station,
an outdoor store or at the trailhead fee box.
Hiking Tips: From the Devils Lake Trailhead, start out on the
South Sister Climbers Trail. This path crosses a footbridge over glassy
Tyee Creek before crossing the highway. Then the trail promptly launches
steeply uphill through a dense mountain
hemlock forest. After 1.5 grueling, viewless miles, the path emerges
from the forest at the edge of a vast, sandy plateau. South Sister
and Broken Top loom ahead. Signs at a 4-way trail junction indicate
Moraine Lake is to the right, but to take the recommended loop to
Moraine Lake, follow the "South Sister" pointer straight ahead.
Pool is the state's highest lake.
by William Sullivan
portion of the hike is a lark-strolling up the open tableland, admiring
views of a dozen mountains and lakes. Wind-gnarled trees pose in
occasional clusters. Scraggly, red-leaved dogbane plants dot the
sand. At one point the trail splits, but the forks soon rejoin.
the upper end of Moraine Lake's valley a side trail to the right
dives down into the canyon. If you're taking the Moraine Lake loop,
turn right and descend this steep, slippery trail. Use caution (and
your hands) on the first, rugged 100-foot section of this path.
complete the Moraine Lake loop, hike to the far side of the lake
and follow the trail up the ridge to the right. The climbers' trail
back to Devils Lake is 0.8 mile beyond. If you're backpacking, note
that tents near Moraine Lake are allowed only at sites designated
by a post. Campfires are banned.
you're climbing South Sister, however, go straight at the junction
at the upper end of Moraine Lake's valley. The next 1.2 miles steepen
drastically to a resting point in a sandy saddle - the current terminal
moraine of Lewis Glacier, overlooking a small green cirque lake.
A climbers' trail from Green Lakes joins here on the right. The
route to the summit heads up the ridge to the left.
another 0.7 mile you'll crest the lip of South Sister's broad crater.
Follow the rim right 0.4 mile to the summit, a rocky crest with
a benchmark. Bend, Sisters and Redmond are clearly visible. To the
north, the green Chambers Lakes dot the barren, glacial landscape
below Middle Sister.
The Three Sisters formed within the past 100,000 years as part of
the High Cascades, a string of similar volcanoes that extends from
California to British Columbia. North Sister, the oldest of the
"sisters," has been eroded to a summit plug of dangerous crags.
South Sister, the youngest, still retains its uneroded conical shape.
Its summit crater contains the state's highest lake, Teardrop Pool.
Lewis Glacier carved Moraine Lake's U-shaped valley on the side
of South Sister in the Ice Age. The glacier pushed rock and sand
to its toe as a moraine-the rounded sandpile now cupping the lake.
Later volcanic eruptions scattered pumice across the valley. Some
of these floatable rocks are as big as basketballs.