N and M Sister 2010

Mixed signals, mixed emotions and some mixed climbing.
On Friday, July 16th, six Chemeketan climbers headed out for a trip up Middle and North Sister. The beautiful sister and the ugly sister. When I sent out my last call to fill the team, I received lots of responses and cautions. Apparently, the ugly sister was in a foul mood. Perfect. Sean Breslin had tried the week before and they were turned back due to steep snow on the traverse and ice w/ water running behind it in the bowling alley. Lisa Ripps had tried it the weekend before and warned that it was a two tool endeavor, she didn't say if they summitted or not so I assume they didn't? After hearing this news, I decided not to take any of the less experienced climbers who signed up. I also "forgot" to mention the potential difficulties to my team, OOPS! I was very happy w/ the climbers who were still signed up and I was also saddened that Susie Callahan and Dan Sewell were unable to make it:(

On the bright side I had an awesome team. Amanda Blankenship and Ryan Nisly didn't have tons of snow experience but they are both very athletic and I wasn't worried about how they'd hold up. Amanda has also caught several of my lead falls so that builds trust as well. Mike Mchugh and I have likely climbed together a dozen times and I'm comfortable w/ him. Chuck Bennet was the wild card, this would be his most difficult challenge but he's been up 9-10 mountains and everybody recommended him. I also climbed Shasta w/ him a few weeks ago and he's such good company, I figured that was good enough. I also had Amy on the team who is as good a climber as anybody in the club, plus she's the best assistant in the business. Apologies to the Jerry "Tomb Raider" Croft, but Amy's way better lookin. So we ended up w/ a team of six, seven if you count Ryans massive pack. If we had one more person, it would have been too much.
We left Salem a little after 100 pm on Friday and worked our way East. We arrived at camp at 700 pm and after the short approach, we all felt fresh. We set up camp in the warm sun and found a wind free area to cook. I've only had a few chances to hang out w/ Ryan so I was super greatful his awesome wife, Melissa, let him come out and play.
We left camp at 315 am on Saturday and found our way around the giant Moraine and up onto the Hayden Glacier.

On our way up to the Saddle I was very tempted to cut my way through the gunsight towards North. None of the trip reports advised it but it looked so much shorter. I knew we were in for a long day and I was afraid my short cut might cost us the summit so I chickened out and went the stadard route, to the left of the Camels Hump. Discretion is the better part of Valor, whatever.

We headed up the snow slope and gained the S Ridge of the N Sister. It was as crumbly as I imagined. I've climbed North in full snow conditions (fun, pretty steep), full rock (crappy but still fun because we had a good team) and this would be my first time in mixed conditions. As you can see in the above pic, the standard trail on the S Ridge became a full value snow traverse. Many places where if you fell, there'd be no hope. I planned on hurrying ahead and setting up the fixed lines by myself so they'd be ready by the time the team caught up w/ me. This was out of the question as the lower ridge was full of its own dangers. I didn't want to leave the team.
After a few easy but serious snow traverses, we made it high on the ridge. Lots of crampons on and off, lots of crampon scrambling as well. There were lots of times where I had mixed feelings as to wether we should rope up or not. I trusted the team to be responsible for themselves and speak up if they wanted a rope. This team had my trust and I had theirs.
This was one of the more exposed, unroped traverses. The ugly Sister in her Glory. I was loving it! After getting around several Gendarmes, we worked our way to the W side of the Ridge to the Terrible Traverse. There was enough wind to be annoying but not nearly enough to take the fun out of the climb. Certainly enough to freeze your butt off if you were standing still. Which the team had to do.
There's a pre-traverse before the Terrible Traverse. In dry conditions it's a narrow trail, in snow it's a steep sidehill. I started us out but soon realized that we'd have to break out the rope and pickets. The pre-traverse ranged from 40-50 degree snow. How would the traverse look? I was certainly concerned but I knew we could handle it.
So I generally feel like a good climb leader but I'm certainly always learning. We had a broken radio and a good radio which equals zero radios. Jess are you there? Yeah Jess I'm here. Can you hear me Jess? Yes I can hear, as a matter of fact Jess, I am you! Whose on second? Holly Cow!
I set a picket and began fixing the rope. When placing the pickets, I wanted them where the slope was most dangerous. That left them spaced unevenly and the rope had way to much sag. I basically fixed the rope on the way out for myself. I then had to go back and space the pickets more evenly. THEN I had to go back and communicate w/ the team who was around the corner(no radio). By the time the team started acrossed the slope, I had done the traverse twice in each direction. What a moron. Oh well. I had the first climber bring the second rope so that I could fix the remainder of the terrible traverse. After out-thinking myself, I found the way to the bowling alley. It looked like we were gonna make it.
In the above pic, you can see ryan working his way acrossed the pre-traverse. I had to kick lots of steps and every bike ride and hill run was paying off. After fixing the last stretch to the bowling alley, the team began showing up and we regrouped in the bowling alley. That left Amy to clean the first fixed line herself. She took in coils while mind her prussik knot. Not an easy task on 60 degree snow, she managed like a champ.
With the second rope in hand, I began the final pitch up the bowling alley to the summit ridge. Amanda belayed me while Amy was decompressing. I'd heard how bad the bowling alley was and I was soooo excited to climb it. There was some snow to start the pitch, some ice climbing in the middle, some rock and ice climbing toward the end and lastly, an icy rocky bulge to top out. Sprinkled in was the rhotten rock that makes up the Ugly Sister. I used only one axe but had the second axe holstered in my gear loop. At times I had to stow the first axe for a few rock moves. The crux came toward the top where the ice was unreliable on the low angle portion. I had to go mantel up onto a steep rock ledge. One of the rocks was loose and you could push down on it, but if you pulled out, it would probably pull out and cream me. I managed to get a picket, a stopper and a sling for protection. As I manteled onto the ledge, I got an axe placement that helped me to top out and I was having as much fun climbing as I had in a long time. Often, when leading a club climb, the climbing is rather easy and I'm setting up the rope for them. In this case, I was doing some real climbing and I wanted the belay.

I fixed the line and tried to find a good place to take pictures of the team climbing the pitch. I was unable to find a great place because I didn't want to drop ice and rock on them so I was unable to get a great vantage point.
So how would Chuck do? Like I said, he was the wild card. Well Chuck managed just fine. I think the climb was as spicy as anybody wanted and Chuck followed the pitch like an ole pro. Only slower and he was very quite. All in all, he did awesome and he should feel great about his accomplishment.
As good of a rock climber as Amanda is, this was her first real challenge on snow. She cried and whined the whole way. OK, so anybody who knows Amanda knows better. I kept calling to her to look up so I could get a picture but screamed back, "Jess, I'm workin here!!" I had to laugh and when she had the worst of it behind her and was smiling, I was super proud of her. She Rocks!
The team wouldn't have managed without Amy. She picked up all of my slack. She was the person I counted on (in life and in climbing) to make sure everything went smooth. Plus she's the most encouraging person I know. I'm a very lucky guy!

Yes, it was a hard climb, Yes I was sad that some of the team couldn't be there, Yes the team did a great job, Yes I love our Club.
We ran into a guy Thomas who was newish to climbing who managed to follow us and use our ropes (with permission). He's got an aptitude for it but he's certainly a candidate for climbschool. I hope he takes the time. Trial and error is tough way to learn how to climb. He'd learned his prussik knot from the internet and was practicing for the first time on this climb. I'm impressed by he's audacity and I respect his boldness. Hopefully that works out for him.

Thanks to the clubs new 70m ropes, I was able to set a single, fixed rope rappel that got everybody out of the bowling alley and down to the traverse. I than doubled the rope and was able to rappel past most of the difficulties and down climb the rest. Excellent decision to get the new long ropes, three cheers for Big John. Amy lead the Terrible traverse back. I soloed over to the corner so I could communicate between the climbers. (my bad on the radios again) Here you can see that Amanda was as proud of herself as I was of her. For good reason.
So Mike was also a strong team member. Here, you can see him finishing up w/ the final fixed line of the pre-traverse. If you look, you can see our boot path behind him. I've climbed w/ Mike lots of times but I finally feel like I'm getting to know him. He's a solid climber, he never does the last minute cancellation and he's very reliable. This was also his most difficult climb and his 17th Peak of the 18 Peak award. Now if Ellen can get him to the top of Thielsen, pressure's on Ellen! Oh wait a minute, Ellen's the best climb leader in our club and Thielsen is not that hard. Congrats Mike, looking forward to the next one.

One of the best parts of this trip was the incredible views of all of our NW mountains. We could see 3FJ, Washington, jefferson, Hood, St Helens, Adams and Rainier to the North.

So now, the second half of our trip. As you can see, Ryan was beat. This was his first climb in a looong time. Three daughters later, he's back at it. He didn't want to climb Middle, nor did Chuck. Chuck's excuse was he didn't have water, Ryan gave him some, out of excuses Chuck decided to head up Middle Sister as well. Now that Chuck was gonna go, Ryan couldn't let the old guy go up while he waited at the bottom. Peer pressure at its finest.
Amy wasn't interested in going up Middle Sister, she was content w/ the days accomplishments. Middle Sister would be her 18th Peak! Amanda arrived at the saddle and after unloading our extra gear and ropes, we twisted Amy's arm and she raced ahead of us and climbed the Middle Sister!
So what does the 18th mean to Amy? Who am I to say? I'll say it anyway. Amy took climbschool to see what I'm up to. No real interest in climbing. We've met some incredible people people and I know that's whats important to Amy. Never mind that she's one of the most natural talented climbers that I climb with. Never mind that she's always strong and ready to encourage. I think what she'll get out of this: she's faced her fear (afraid of heights), she's seen some awesome views, she's been to some beautiful places, she's shared an open bivy with me. More than anything, I believe Amy just wants to encourage people and show them that they can. They can do whatever they want. That's want she gives me daily and she's got so much encouragement, it overflows to those around her.
Ryan and Amanda worked their way up as did Chuck and Mike. We sat atop the Middle Sister and more than anything, we were just dazed. We sat exhausted after the days trials and wondered what the heck we were doing up there.
We descended very quickly and I think we were back at camp after just a couple hours. We ate like pigs, patted each other on the back and thanked everybody for the great trip. When I woke up, I saw Ryan sitting, eating breakfast facing Broken Top. I was glad I was able to be the leader of this group and I'm glad that they trust me enough to take them to these places. I watched him for another second and I was Grateful for this life.


  1. Awesome writing Jess! I hope I get to climb with you again sometime soon! :)


  2. Congratulations Amy! #18!

    Great read as usual, Jess. Great accomplishment all of you. Well done!