June 6th, 2015 was National Trails Day and I celebrated by hiking the South Sister Summit Trail outside Bend, Oregon!
This was the hardest and best hike I have ever done in my life!
It was me, my husband (Wes) and our dog Story. Our other dog Linkin didn’t get to come on this one because he is a little older and not as good of a walker.
South Sister Mountain
The South Sister mountain is the third highest mountain in Oregon, at 10,358 ft. It is also known as the Charity mountain. It’s a 6 and a quarter mile hike, or a little over 12 miles roundtrip.
Wes got online and started reading all about the South Sisters Trail. We had heard that the best time to go on this particular trail is between August and October because there is not as much snow on the ground. But, in our Floridian minds we were thinking, “It’s June. How can there be a lot of snow on the ground?” And it was supposed to be a beautiful 70-80 degree day. So, why not?
We set out everything we would need the night before:
- Food: 2 Subway sandwiches, 3 protein bars (Larabars and Think Thin bars), beef jerky
- Water: I brought 64 oz. for me in two nalgenes and Wes brought 70 oz. for himself in a platypus bladder, plus about 20 oz. for Story in a nalgene.
- Dog food/snacks and an outward hound port-a-bowl for her water
- First aid kit
- Emergency whistles (not sure where we got these but they were in our camping supply box)
- Fire starter (just in case)
- Travel toilet paper (there IS a bathroom at the start of the trailhead but toilet paper is a good idea)
- Pocket knife
We split the supplies between the two of us and packed them in our backpacks. I have had this North Face backpack for about 7 years now and use it all the time. It comes in handy on day hikes.
We were all ready to go at 7:30am. It took about 30 minutes to drive from our home in Bend to the trailhead. You can park at the Devils Lake Trailhead and start there. You will need to purchase a National Recreation Vehicle Permit for $5/day or $30/annual. We have an annual pass so we were good to go. We set off on the hike at about 8:15am from the Devila Lake Trailhead.
We stopped to fill out one of the hiking registration forms at the start of the trail. It only asks a few questions (your name, how many people and pets are in your party, and which trail you plan on hiking). I guess it’s to keep track of who is out there in the wilderness in case of an emergency. It’s free to register and you can get fined $200 if you don’t so why take a chance?
The first 1-2 miles of the hike is through a hemlock forest. I thought it was beautiful.
I was getting a little worried because it seemed strenuous, and I had read that if you think the hemlock forest part of the hike is hard then you won’t make it to the top! Ahhh. I was beginning to have my doubts about the hike.
We took a short break in the hemlock forest but otherwise made it through fairly quickly. The path was pretty easy to see throughout the hemlock forest and there were only a few patches of snow on the ground.
We only saw one other couple as we hiked through the forest. Otherwise we were alone, and it was really relaxing to hear the water flowing through the stream and the birds chirping through the trees.
The weather was gorgeous. I had on some layers consisting of a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, and windbreaker. I took off my fleece jacket pretty quick into the hike and started to sweat.
As you come out of the hemlock forest, you begin walking over a gravel and sand area called the sandy plains. Once we got to this point we started seeing some beautiful views of Mt. Bachelor and Moraine Lake.
There is a fork in the road with a sign pointing you to the Moraine lake trail to the right, Wikiup Plain trail to the left, or South Sister Summit straight ahead. We kept going straight.
The sandy plain area was a nice flat trail for about 1 mile. Straight ahead you can see the South Sister Summit, as well as the Broken Top Mountain (an extinct volcano).
In the sandy plains area, we ran into one guy making his way down and stopped to talk. He said that he couldn’t make it much further because there was too much snow and ice and the wind was really bad.
We got a little discouraged but decided to keep going until we got to the point where we couldn’t go any further.
That point never happened for us.
Once we got out of the sandy plains area, the trail pretty much disappeared from being covered with snow. There were a few signs that kept us heading in the right direction, but otherwise we just kept walking straight up.
The climb became very steep. The ground was covered completely with snow, making it extremely difficult to walk up. There were a few exposed rock piles that we stopped to rest on. This area of the mountain is completely exposed, with no shade.
The temperature had dropped significantly and I pulled out my beanie and gloves.
I just couldn’t believe that there was this much snow on the ground! In June! We began to realize why people waited until August to hike it.
We even saw a few people skiing down the mountain. I’m really not sure how they made it up there with their ski gear, but I was impressed! Besides the skiers, there was no one else on the mountain but us. Everyone else had already turned back.
Once we reached the top, completely breathless and exhausted, we stopped to take some pictures and enjoy the view. It took us about 5 hours to reach the top. Considering the conditions, that is pretty good.
Going down the snow-covered mountain was almost as difficult as going up, so we decided to slide down instead! Check out this video I shot of our epic descent!
We made it about 2 miles in 15 minutes sliding on our butts. That same 2 miles had taken us about 3 hours going up.
We got a little lost coming down before reaching the sandy plains and took a little detour. It was really difficult to see the trail so we just kept heading towards Mt. Bachelor.
Once we found the trail again on the sandy plains I felt so relieved! The whole time we were “lost” I just kept thinking about how I really didn’t want to stay out here overnight and how we didn’t have enough food! I am always thinking about food!
It felt like forever walking back through the hemlock forest because by that point, we were ready to be back at the car. But, we made it safe and sound with a feeling of accomplishment! It was a great feeling!
South Sisters Recap
Looking back on it, we were pretty crazy. There was so much snow on the ground and it made for a pretty grueling hike! I’m not sure why we kept going except that we had set a goal to reach the top and that’s what we were going to do. No matter what.
We had enough food and water for the day hike. I was really glad that I opted to bring a windbreaker in addition to my fleece.
One thing we should have done was reapply sunscreen. We both put sunscreen on before we left, but both our noses were burnt pretty bad by the end of the day.
Story did really well. She seemed so excited to be outside. It was funny to watch her on the ascent because she was so eager to reach the top. Even in the snow, she was a trooper. In a way, I think I used her as my inspiration to keep going. She would look back at me with this look like “let’s go people!” and it made me want to keep going. The descent was another story for Story 🙂 She did not like walking down the mountain. I’m not sure if it scared her or what, but it took a little more enticing to get her to keep up.
We reached our car at about 4:15pm so the whole hike took us about 8 hours. According to my fitbit, we walked about 14 miles (we probably walked an extra two miles on our way down while we were lost).
Even though it was a really tough hike, I’m so glad we did it! To date, it was the hardest hike I have ever done, but I’d recommend it to anyone that wants a challenge with some amazing views! Next time, I think we’ll wait until August.
One thing I learned from this hike is that I need some new hiking boots. My feet were soaked from the snow in my current boots and they don’t have enough ankle support. I am thinking about getting these boots.
Anyone have any hiking boot suggestions for me?