Bristlecone Sculptures on Final Ascent to South Sister

South Sister rising above Ridge

Macks Peak from the Second Saddle

Burro Baby, "It's for you, Paul!", Crocus, Tree Fan

As soon as we got out of our cars on Lee Canyon Road, we knew it was going to be a great day for hiking! We had just passed two horses … in the middle of the road … and there was a family of three burros that had been saving our parking space! We watched the baby burro trying to keep up with Mom and Dad and they disappeared up toward Lower Lee Meadows. We had parked on the side of the road just below the traffic circle there. The temperatures were set to perfection. And, we could smell breakfast in the air from the campers residing in the Old Mill Picnic Area … yep, campers in the picnic area. Maybe they opened it because of the crowded holiday. IDK

Starting up the Old Mill Trail

Anyway, it smelled really good as we started up the paved road past the large and still new picnic area. We were fifteen strong today.

Starting up South Sister Trail

Just past the bathrooms that are right by the main road, a stone-lined trail forks off to the right. This is the Old Mill Trail. And, we started up.

Pine Glade Spring Area

The Steep Stuff Begins

Next, the Old Mill Trail veers off to the left and our trail, the South Sister Trail, forks to the right into a pine glade. This glade used to be home to a mill worker's family. There is a spring in the area above with a pipe that runs down to a small old home foundation. The spring was visibly pooling above ground today in the lower canyon wash. The trail up through the canyon wash is easy to follow. It is one of my favorite trails because it winds through a forest of pines and aspens on what is, at first, an easy slope. Just as you are lulled into the magic of the scenery, the trail begins a steep ascent. It becomes steeper until you finally reach the popular trail junction of South Sister Saddle.

Fifteen Hikers on South Sister Saddle

Hikers streamed onto the saddle that is furnished with a nice sitting log, should you choose to accept it. There is a trail that goes up to the left and there is a trail that goes over the saddle.

Tim carries the Flag on the Fourth of July

However, we chose the right turn balancing the ridge up to a second saddle area. This is a steep climb as well. And, even though there is a vague trail, everyone seems to have their own way of tackling the climb.

Charleston & Lee Peaks from the second phase Climb

Top of second phase with South Sister in Background

The climb to South Sister Saddle can be referred to as Phase I. The climb to the second saddle is Phase II. We gathered at this second saddle where there is a nice view of South Sister in front and Macks Peak off to the left. Behind left, McFarland Peak can be seen between the trees. Phase III, or the Ridge begins to the right. A trail follows the ridge around to the final ascent. This trail stays as close to the top of the ridge as possible, in case you lose it somewhere. At the end of the ridge, the trail drops a little and you are faced with Phase IV, the final frontier … ahem, ascent. It is the most beautiful section of the South Sister climb … and the most formidable.

Starting the Ridge Phase

The final ascent to South Sister is essentially a huge scree field covered with absolutely magnificent krummholz bristlecones that have been weathered over the millennia.

Circling the Ridge

The scree field was likely created by landslides coming from the area between South Sister's two opposing limestone peaks. It is very steep and slippery. Quite a struggle to climb and more of a free fall to descend.

Enjoying Wildflowers on the Ridge

Front Hikers begin the Final Climb

Nevertheless, we and many others take on the challenge every year passing through the magical scenery on the way up. Only words of advice are to try to stay somewhere in the middle and away from the more dangerous zones to the far right or left. There are pathways that most people use but they are not real clear and, this year, it was reported that the winter was not kind to the climb. It seemed even more difficult. But, to be fair, not many hikers have taken on the challenge yet this year after the snow has melted away. The pathways are probably not replaced with better footing. Today, we were the pioneers on the freshly snow beaten mountain. It is likely to be easier later on in the summer.

Krummholz Bristlecones on Final Ascent

At the top of the scree, the ascent ends at a line of bristlecones. If you take a small trail out to the right, you will end up on the east peak. This is the minor peak of the twins.

Nine Hikers on South Sister Summit

To reach the major peak, turn left and climb the rock that scrambles up then around to the right. This takes you to the top of the summit ridge. A narrow walk out the ridge takes you to the log book.

From the Waiting Log! – Hikers crossing the Narrow Peak of South Sister

Gathering at the Second Saddle on Descent

At least nine hikers made it all the way to the log book, today. The remaining hikers stopped somewhere between the bottom of the scree field and the top. We all took a break then began the descent. No matter how far you hike on this climb, the scenery is gorgeous. I stopped early today and just enjoyed the old bristlecone forest. The entire group gathered again at the second saddle and made sure that everyone was directed correctly down to the South Sister Saddle. (Stay on top of the ridge!) Then the group enjoyed the trail back down to the picnic area where many more people were enjoying the holiday. Fantastic day of hiking!
5.5 miles; 2000' elevation gain; 4 hours

Starting down the Steep Stuff

Ed and Mike enjoy a Magnificent Seat

Passing Holiday Picnickers at Old Mill Area