Corie: I felt like I was going insane during the few weeks leading up to this trip. We watched the weather like hawks, hitting "refresh" compulsively and riding the wave of emotion that comes with ever-changing Fall weather. We saw the threat of precip rise and vanish and watched the winds pick up ferociously and suddenly despite the prior day's forecast showing clear skies. We tentatively planned on attempting our push on the first weekend in October and I planned to use the weekend before to do some beta-reconnaissance. We would be ready to move with a clear window and we watched the season begin to close around us. Finally, on Thursday, we got a clear forecast- for Friday and Friday only. That was it and it was a small clearing. We frantically scrambled to get work off for Friday, packed our bags, and went to sleep as soon as we could on Thursday night. This would be a 'Portland to Portland in a Day' trip for us.
We left in a hurry on Friday morning, drove to Pole Creek in bleary-eyed excitement, and were pounding dirt shortly after arriving. It was an absolutely stunning morning and we chatted intermittently until we left the main trail and started gaining the ridge. It was really neat exploring a new-to-us route up North Sister- the views were excellent and the gendarmes up high helped keep us out of the wind for the most part. By the time we reached the Terrible Traverse, we were well ahead of our previous year's time and psyched. We stood briefly on the summit before down-climbing. In my excited state, I made one stupid mistake as we started down the summit block- I slipped sideways and rolled my foot, HARD, into a rock. Pain shot up my leg and I flexed my toes to make sure it wasn't 'show-stopping' damaged. It didn't feel broken but it certainly hurt. I gingerly made my way down the South Ridge and across the Collier Glacier, slipping occasionally on my throbbing foot but otherwise managing to safely wind through the tiny crevasses and up and over the boulders. We hit the summit of Middle Sister with energy to spare but I struggled to bomb down its flanks towards South. My foot HURT. When we stopped to fill our water bottles, I quickly pulled off my shoe to see if there was any visible damage- I was shocked to see that the swelling (on the medial side) was advanced enough that my sock was bulging out against it. Ugh. We pounded on.
By the time we hit "The Pill Bug," as I fondly describe it, on South Sister, the weather was deteriorating in force. We scrambled as quickly as we could up the loose, chossy, mess that is South Sister's North side and pushed against the pounding wind and billowing fog. By the time we hit the summit plateau, my hair was frozen in icicles around my face and my eyes were burning against the cold. We didn't spend much time on the summit and as soon as we ate a few snacks, we hit the trail again, bundled against the freezing temperatures and feeling light and happy as we descended into better conditions. It was exhilarating!
Our exceptional friends, Lindsay and Drew, played chauffeur for us again this year. We hugged them happily and when we strolled into the parking lot and were, as always, so happy to see them waiting for us at the end. We drove back to Pole Creek chatting happily and keeping our rumbling stomachs as quiet as possible as we thought about the fries and veggie wraps we were about to devour at Three Creeks in Sisters. What an excellent, excellent day it had been... now... for sub-10 hours in 2017 ....
Andy: I've been looking forward to this all year. Last year's successful run of the traverse was a huge milestone for me. It was something that seemed a bit unattainable - a goal that was just out of reach, but imaginable. Now, having achieved the goal, it was time to become faster. The saying goes, "If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you" and I purposely do these things to put myself in a position to effect change within me. The mountains shape me.
A year of endurance training and plenty of other mountaineering had prepared us for the traverse like never before. I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I felt this last year, and although I know perpetual PRs are a fallacy, I'll take it while I can get it (which I expect until I'm 40, at least, ha!). Completing all of the major Cascade Volcanoes this year was a huge confidence boost and set the stage for the experience needed to complete the traverse quickly. Moving over loose, unstable 3rd and 4th class terrain with high consequences is the crux of the route. If you’re used to that kind of topography, it’s no biggie, and actually running across it is possible. But proficiency requires familiarity and that takes time. I felt like we had put in the time, paid our dues, and were ready to knock a couple hours off our previous time.
Enough humble bragging, to the details! We left the parking lot at Pole Creek at 7:45am on Friday, 30 September. We chugged along, fighting the urge to go hard out of the gate and at around 4 miles, we split from the trail to go cross country towards the base of the SE ridge of North Sister. Previously, we had taken the true south ridge, but after studying the map, decided that a short bushwhack and the SE ridge would result in a more direct line, and about a mile less of approach. The bushwhack went quickly and soon we were moving up the SE ridge. This was a bit of a gamble as neither of us had ever climbed this ridge and were a little unsure of how to pass gendarmes or where it connected to the proper south ridge; however, it paid off and soon deposited us at the terrible traverse. The traverse was free of snow, as were the upper sections of the bowling alley, culminating in a few quick summit selfies and then back down.
The other key variation we took was to drop onto the Collier Glacier and give Prouty Point a wider berth than last year. Sticking to the snow was much faster than boulder hopping and cut off significant time. The remainder of the route was very similar to our previous traverse, utilizing the remnants of the Irving Glacier for a water refill, weaving through Chambers Lakes, and joining the north ridge of South. We did move farther west towards the top of South and took advantage of the fixed line through some steep and loose scree. This line is secured to a solid boulder, but the webbing anchor is very frayed and won’t last much longer. I’ll try to bring some replacement webbing next year, unless someone beats me to it. We shuffled down from the summit and ran the majority of the way out to Devil’s Lake, stopping a few times to refuel. I’m totally psyched that we improved our route, moved quickly and efficiently and had the fitness to finish strong. We stopped out watches at the trail info sign, a hundred feet north of the highway at 10:57, 3 hours and 44 minutes faster than last year! Stoked.
Equipment List- North to South Traverse
- Dynafit Enduro12 running packs
- 1L water each - refill between Middle and South
- trail runners + trail gaiters
- insulated jacket (puffy coat)
- running tights + light baselayer top
-SUUNTO GPS watches
*we elected not to bring helmets on this trip- we can't really recommend this for others because rock fall is guaranteed on these mountains and sooner or later you'll probably get hit in the head :(
For the GPS data and additional info, check out our tracks on Strava: