I decided to do Middle Sister, trail-running style. It looked like the perfect time to do so as well. It was late spring, but the Cascades had a poor snowpack. It seemed like the snow coverage would be “just right” to make the ascent doable in trail-runners and microspikes. But, not so much I’m on volcanic garbage much of the way up. I vastly prefer snow to scree. You can time snow conditions to be fast-going, but scree is always miserable.
Though it involves glacier travel, the Hayden Glacier is routinely done solo or un-roped. Staying on the “ridge” on the north edge of the glacier is crevasse-free. It looks like a smaller, longer version of the Hogsback. But, there are some nasty crevasse fields on the rest of the glacier. It’s critical not to go off-route.
I slept at the Pole Creek Trailhead the night before. I woke up around 6 or 7 a.m., and started jogging. I brought a running vest with clothing, food, water, first-aid stuff. I also tossed in an ice-axe and micro-spikes for the snow and the steep ridge climb.
The first few miles are a little annoying. The trail is flat and meandering, with a lot of dead-fall. This entire area burned down in a wildfire recently. Most of the trees are dead, and they collapse quite often on the trail. I lost the trail a few times with the amount of dead-fall, and had to use GPS to re-orient myself.
After a few miles of trail, I started to gain elevation. There was a tent camped here. Middle Sister is most commonly done as an overnight, and there are ample campsites along the uphill part of the route, after the flat trail approach.
After about 1,000 to 2,000 feet of gain, I breached treeline. There was enough snow to cover the annoying moraines, scree, and other volcanic rubbish. There wasn’t a boot-pack though. I passed a tent on one of the snowfields, but then I saw nobody else. I would be the first person climbing Middle Sister this weekend, which meant I’d have to trudge through the snow.
These first snowfields were flat and low-angle, interspersed with short, easy sections of scree in between. It was early in the day so these stayed hard. I made quick work of them with micro-spikes on my trail runners.
Route-finding was annoying though. I’d need to check my GPS often or follow a compass bearing. The topography is very undulating, and it’s hard to see ahead past it.
A little bit later, I reached the foot of the glacier. I got my first view of South Sister. It looked rather formidable from this aspect.
Unfortunately, clouds shrouded Middle Sister. The weather may not be great up there. I decided to continue and hope it would improve. Otherwise, I’d have to turn around.
I started climbing the glacier, following the crest. Now, the wallowing began. Without a bootpack, I had to break trail. I would sink ankle-deep and sometimes calf-deep with every step. Even so, I felt trail runners were far more efficient than boots. It’s nice to get several pounds off your feet when doing fast ascents.
As I climbed, the weather worsened. It never precipitated, but the wind was gusty and icy. I even had to put mittens and a hat on.
I wallowed up, and as I climbed, the clouds moved higher and higher. Finally, the weather was gone, and Middle Sister was clear.
I reached the col between Prouty Point and Middle Sister. 800 feet of moderately steep snow climbing up the North Ridge separated me from the summit.
Even though the glacier was soft, I’d timed the snow conditions on the ridge perfectly. I brought out my ice axe here, and I kicked perfect, secure steps the whole way up. It is exposed though, and a fall would drop you onto small cliffs on the east side of the peak, or long snow slopes on the west side of the peak. If climbing it early season, most people would want crampons. Later in the season, it becomes a class 2 and 3 scramble.
I reached the summit, and was rewarded with one of my favorite mountain views to date. South Sister loomed ahead, dominating the skyline. In the other direction was North Sister, looking sketchy and formidable as usual.
Satisfied, I reversed my course. I downclimbed my steps on the North Ridge. Instead of going straight to the col, I was able to glissade 150 vertical feet off the ridge to return to the glacier.
Now, there were two groups climbing up the glacier — enjoying my hard-earned bootpack. It’s a give and a take. Sometimes you get a nice bootpack you can zoom up, other times you have to lay it yourself. Both are equally satisfying.
I was able to glissade some of the steeper sections of the glacier. The parts I couldn’t glissade were an easy run down. The snow was soft enough that I could bound down the glacier with giant, jumping steps. With every step the snow would compress just the right amount, dissipating my energy. Glacier running doesn’t get any better than that.
I left the glacier and reached the undulating moraines and rollers. At the end of this section, I got a little lost. Confusing topography, but some bushwhacking returned me to the dry trail.
After that, it was cruiser. Easy down-hill jogging back to my car, except for bits of dead-fall.
I reached my car, in maybe 6 – 7 hours round-trip. Even with the soft glacier, going light was the right way for this peak. I had the feeling my boots wouldn’t be getting much use the rest of the season.
I drove the 10 miles of wash-boarded gravel to Sisters, Oreg. I devoured a burger and some ice-cream from the Sno Cap Drive In, which was absolutely delicious. Then, I drove back to Bend.