Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

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hisdudeness47
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Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by hisdudeness47 » August 4th, 2019, 12:18 pm

Hey guys, I'm curious what you guys think of the Eastern/Green Lakes approach of climbing South Sister (seen here: https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=44.0857 ... z=15&b=mbt and here: http://karl-helser.com/wp-content/uploa ... 0-4-15.jpg). We're looking to climb next Tuesday (8/13). I posted this a few weeks ago but I didn't get any information regarding this route's danger/snow/etc. I know the trail won't be as visible/clear as the main route and will take a little more navigating, but I have topos, .gpx tracks (http://karl-helser.com/south-sister-hik ... h-10-4-15/), and experience off trail. I've done similar (I think) steep climbs such as Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Langley in the Sierras (14er) that were no problem.

As for the Eastern/Green Lakes route, the elevation gain doesn't look much different than the approach from Moraine Lake (about 1500 feet/mile). My concern is that I haven't climbed South Sister before and will be going with a couple semi-novice hikers from sea level (I'm in Reno and do a lot of Sierra hiking so I'm somewhat acclimated), although they are in good physical shape (they're bikers). We will be acclimating for 1-2 nights before the climb, however. Anyway, since I haven't climbed South Sister before, I don't even know what the main route is like. How does this Green Lakes route compare with the main route? Would you recommend it? Would snow be an issue on this route in mid-August? Can you avoid hiking on the glacier/snow or should we bring crampons? Is the route dangerous in any way? The appeal of base camping 2 nights at Green Lakes on weekdays is hard to pass up and backtracking to the main South Sister route from Green Lakes would be tough as you lose elevation and gain mileage. Any thoughts on the Eastern approach would be greatly appreciated. I'm having a tough time finding much about it on here in my limited search. I just don't want to put others in a potentially dangerous situation if this route has some iffy spots or something. I know I can do this Eastern route, but it's bringing others to a place I don't know that concerns me. I hope you guys say it's totally fine!

Thanks!
Last edited by hisdudeness47 on August 4th, 2019, 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chip Down
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by Chip Down » August 4th, 2019, 3:17 pm

hisdudeness47 wrote:
August 4th, 2019, 12:18 pm
I hope you guys say it's totally fine!
A first timer on SS guiding two non climbers? What could possibly go wrong? :D

I descended that route once, but I'm so old I was hiking when St Helens was cone-shaped. (point is, I don't remember it well)

There's really not that much elevation loss to backtrack and catch that connector trail to Moraine Lake (not sure if that's an official trail, might be hard to follow). I know 500' is discouraging, but given the potential benefits I think it's worth it.

Oh, and it looks like you made a date error in your post above.

This is as good a time as any to post a confession: In my twenties I climbed SS with almost no idea what I was doing, just winging it. Actually went pretty well. For my encore I climbed Broken Top. And thus began a lifelong hobby of crazy stunts that I don't advise anybody to repeat.

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Bosterson
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by Bosterson » August 4th, 2019, 4:53 pm

My concern is that I haven't climbed South Sister before and will be going with a couple semi-novice hikers from sea level
I would agree with Chip that it would likely to be wise to play it safe and do the regular route. South Sister is a walk up, but you lose me at the combination of "semi-novice," "hikers," and "sea level." Everyone reacts to altitude differently, beginners usually don't have the experience to self-monitor for altitude problems, and new trail hikers generally aren't comfortable on loose or exposed terrain that climbers regularly travel.

You seem to have a lot of links from Karl Helser's blog - do you know him? I've only done South Sister from the south rather than the Green Lakes side, but Karl called it a scree slog. Most of the snow is likely melted but you may want to call the ranger to ask for the snow level. Bringing crampons and an axe would probably be wise just in case you need them. (On the regular south route, there's a trail, and I would think it more reasonable to leave the gear at home with the expectation you wouldn't need it.)

If you don't take gear, and if you decide to lead beginners up the eastern route, you really should just be prepared to turn around at the first sign of someone having altitude problems or encountering sketchy snow or ice. (There is probably little objective danger, like rockfall.) But South Sister is a day trip from Devil's Lake, so whatever extra mileage you would incur by traversing over to the main trail in order to play it safe would be pretty moot considering you're starting up at Green Lakes rather than at the highway.
Will hike off trail for fun.

hisdudeness47
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by hisdudeness47 » August 4th, 2019, 5:39 pm

Bosterson wrote:
August 4th, 2019, 4:53 pm
My concern is that I haven't climbed South Sister before and will be going with a couple semi-novice hikers from sea level
I would agree with Chip that it would likely to be wise to play it safe and do the regular route. South Sister is a walk up, but you lose me at the combination of "semi-novice," "hikers," and "sea level." Everyone reacts to altitude differently, beginners usually don't have the experience to self-monitor for altitude problems, and new trail hikers generally aren't comfortable on loose or exposed terrain that climbers regularly travel.

You seem to have a lot of links from Karl Helser's blog - do you know him? I've only done South Sister from the south rather than the Green Lakes side, but Karl called it a scree slog. Most of the snow is likely melted but you may want to call the ranger to ask for the snow level. Bringing crampons and an axe would probably be wise just in case you need them. (On the regular south route, there's a trail, and I would think it more reasonable to leave the gear at home with the expectation you wouldn't need it.)

If you don't take gear, and if you decide to lead beginners up the eastern route, you really should just be prepared to turn around at the first sign of someone having altitude problems or encountering sketchy snow or ice. (There is probably little objective danger, like rockfall.) But South Sister is a day trip from Devil's Lake, so whatever extra mileage you would incur by traversing over to the main trail in order to play it safe would be pretty moot considering you're starting up at Green Lakes rather than at the highway.
Thanks for the reply! Yeah, your concerns are well noted. I know that I could do this route, but I'm a mountain goat with lots of experience and I'm acclimated. I'm just not sure how my buddies from sea level would handle it (although we will have one night in Bend and one night at Green Lakes to get acclimated before the climb). I'm still really curious about this route however. I don't want to rule it out QUITE yet. It really isn't THAT much steeper than the main route. The Green Lakes route is 1.9 miles from 6549 feet to 8835 feet (where it meets the main route) vs. the main route that is 1.8 miles from 6837 feet (above Moraine Lake) to 8835 feet (shown on this topo: https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=44.0858 ... z=14&b=mbt). That's a difference of 1209 ft/mile vs. 1110 ft/mile, respectively. Not much difference. And it will actually be more elevation and distance to get to that 8835 point via Moraine Lake/Main Route because of all the descending and backtracking we'd have to do from Green Lakes. When considering this, summiting may actually be EASIER from Green Lakes via the Green Lakes route. As for trail concerns, the Green Lakes route up South Sister does show up on that topo I linked, and also is a route on AllTrails (https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail ... w-full-map), so it's not like its completely unknown off trail climbing. It's an actual trail even though it might take a bit of route finding due to it being faint in places, etc. It seems like it's a just a steep hike either way...

I'm just hoping there's SOMEONE out there who has done this route and can remember it. I really do prefer the off-the-beaten path trails. I would hate to hike in a conga line up the main trail. It also looks to be more efficient to go on the Green Lakes route if I'm camping at Green Lakes. I just don't want to go into it blind and have to turn back for some reason. There's also the possibility of summiting via the main trail and returning to Green Lakes via the Green Lakes route (as shown on AllTrails). I would consider that as well.

Thanks for the replies, y'all. I do hear your concerns. I'm just wondering if this trail is really that much more difficult if I'm starting at Green Lakes.

P.S. Here's another link that seems to make it sound like gear isn't needed https://www.summitpost.org/green-lakes-variation/156968

and here's another: https://www.outdoorproject.com/united-s ... n-approach

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adamschneider
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by adamschneider » August 4th, 2019, 8:21 pm

Honestly, I think it'll be fine. South Sister is not a particularly rugged or dangerous mountain. Your sea-level friends are going to be hurting no matter which route you pick; 5000' of gain is no walk in the park. :)

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Water
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by Water » August 4th, 2019, 10:12 pm

I'm yet to find any empirical data that shows spending 1 night at 5k or 8k or whatever from sea level doesn't really do a thing to acclimate a person. I mean people climb south sister all the time in a weekend coming from Portland, which is sea level for all intents and purposes. People talk about camping at timberline or paradise or i dunno, before doing a climb like it is doing something physiological to be at the altitude. But it isn't, unless you live at elevation for extended time. I mean planes are pressurized to 6-8k. ~4 days to a week you get some subtle body chemistry changes that may help you, other than faster heart beat (largely) which is what you get in the first few days (again generalizing).

I have not gone up that route but have heard it talked about for years and referenced. It's not a left-field route and I bet 100 people have gone that way this year. On Google Earth and Satellite views you can see the trail for a majority of it leaving green lakes and going a ways up then picking up around the backside of lewis. I can't see it in the middle but if you have a GPX track and are confident and know about route finding then it's nothing.

Highly doubtful you will have to step much on snow. I bet you could pick your way up without stepping a foot on it. It isn't a particularly high snow year by any stretch. crampons and ice ax in august on south sister on a non-glacier or northern/NE face is overkill. You will be fine. At worst case you can use hiking poles and/or a good rock in hand as a make-shift claw to gain a bit of extra purchase. But from the route it doesn't look like you have to traverse steep snow. If you left a bit before sunrise and by the time you hit any snow it'll already be getting soft if it's the typical (quite hot) august day. Use your brain, if in early morning you encounter a rock hard snow slope with a long steep run-out, don't go out on it, test at the edge, see if it is hard/soft etc.

Don't waste your time calling the ranger, it will be an exercise in total futility. Honestly shame on you Nat for suggesting it. They can tell you the name of the mountains and some other bs you can read on their website and will be so vague to any direct question about snow and the route as to make you question your confidence. But really they're completely useless to call to try to get information about less common routes up mountains.

The south side standard route is a hike with a bit of scree slogging, nothing more. Surely you and your friends can do that. The question is mostly how you will feel and guide as a leader and how your friends as 'not in their usual element' going up a similar way that is a bit 'rougher' in the sense that you won't be surrounded by people and will have to use your brains a time or two to routefind and make decisions. If everyone is game and that sounds like a fun time, go at it. You sound a bit stressed about it but you're also doing the do-diligence ahead so you can be more confident on this, so you'll likely be amped and ready to tackle this when the day comes.

be willing to call it too if things seem like they're going sideways. The mountain isn't going anywhere, green lakes is awesome, there's always more to explore, another river or lake to jump into.

cheers
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by Webfoot » August 5th, 2019, 1:26 am

Water wrote:
August 4th, 2019, 10:12 pm
I'm yet to find any empirical data that shows spending 1 night at 5k or 8k or whatever from sea level doesn't really do a thing to acclimate a person.
Acclimation for athletic performance, or to limit the possibility of altitude sickness? I thought that for the latter even short exposures (one night) were useful.

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adamschneider
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by adamschneider » August 5th, 2019, 7:40 am

Webfoot wrote:
August 5th, 2019, 1:26 am
Acclimation for athletic performance, or to limit the possibility of altitude sickness? I thought that for the latter even short exposures (one night) were useful.
Maybe, but is South Sister even high enough to trigger altitude sickness? Sure, the summit is 10000', but you don't spend too much time in that zone.

hisdudeness47
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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by hisdudeness47 » August 5th, 2019, 7:53 am

Water wrote:
August 4th, 2019, 10:12 pm

The south side standard route is a hike with a bit of scree slogging, nothing more. Surely you and your friends can do that. The question is mostly how you will feel and guide as a leader and how your friends as 'not in their usual element' going up a similar way that is a bit 'rougher' in the sense that you won't be surrounded by people and will have to use your brains a time or two to routefind and make decisions. If everyone is game and that sounds like a fun time, go at it. You sound a bit stressed about it but you're also doing the do-diligence ahead so you can be more confident on this, so you'll likely be amped and ready to tackle this when the day comes.
Thanks a ton for the response! I am a little stressed about this as group leader haha. I'd hate to take my friends onto something dangerous again. A few years ago we base camped at Gladys Lake in Olympic NP and we did a complete off trail climb and descent to Lillian Basin/Glacier and we got ourselves into some extremely precarious sidehilling on steep scree slopes. We had to side hill with 4 points of contact and one of my buddies actually started sliding down the mountain with the fear of death in his eyes and hands/feet clawing into the mountain. It was terrifying. That being said, this was a very loose idea and a topo was our only reference. There was no trail and there was no GPX track. We were winging it and got ourselves trapped. I just want to be prepared as hell this time and not get myself and my friends into any of these situations ever again haha. It was a definite learning experience. From my research this Green Lakes approach seems to be not nearly as risky as there's an actual route. Sure it's going to be strenuous, but the main route would be too. I'd argue that this will be less strenuous as we don't have to backtrack. Backtracking would add ~4 miles and 600 feet of elevation at least. My goal here is to eliminate risk, know this Green Lake approach like the back of my hand, and be sure that we won't get ourselves into any hairy stuff like we experienced a few years ago. I had some correspondence with Karl Helser (the guy in my links) and he said this...

"Mid August, no need for crampons or ice axe…although it might be a good idea to have micro-traction in case there are any large snow patches. The Green Lakes approach is a slog. If you have my track, and you know how to use it…you are golden. It connects with the standard route at the Lewis Glacier, where the trail is a hwy. Go for it!!"

It sounds like we're good to go. It sounds like nothing more than a strenuous hike if we stick to the route.
Last edited by hisdudeness47 on August 5th, 2019, 8:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Thoughts on the route climbing South Sister from Green Lakes?

Post by teachpdx » August 5th, 2019, 8:03 am

Generally speaking, altitude sickness can become a slight concern above 8000', and more so above 12,000'. But it affects everybody differently.

While summiting South Sister, you spend only a few hours above 8000' so the vast majority of people won't experience much more than noticeably increased respiration and heart rate.

I was at nearly 10k in the Wallowas last week and didn't even notice it... but I know a guy who was doing an Ultra in the Himalayas earlier this year who came down with a nasty case of HACE and almost died. But that's up at 18,000'.

Stay cognizant of the possibilities, but I honestly think that you'd be fine even driving straight from Portland and then heading right up the mountain. Your two nights in the area beforehand should help a little bit.

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