South Sister in Oregon's Cascades is a Challenge!
Probably one of the most hiked mountains in the Cascades, South Sister, while not a technical hike, is a challenge. In roughly 5.5 miles, hikers climb 5000 feet to the summit of Oregon's third highest peak at 10,358 feet. In the 35 years we have lived in Bend, we had never hiked South Sister until Saturday, October 3, 2020, thinking that the normal summer crowds would be gone by then. We were surprised to find out that was not the case.
We started our hike at Devil's Lake off Cascade Lakes Highway at 6:45 am. The first mile and a half was in wooded old growth forest, but the trail climbed steeply through the hemlocks and opened up once we reached the plains overlooking Moraine Lake. There the view of South Sister became prominent. Even that early in the morning we met people coming down from the mountain, having enjoyed watching the sunrise from the peak.
Past Moraine Lake, the rocky trail started to climb steeply. We had to carefully watch where we stepped and made sure our footing was secure. There was several places where the trail wasn't clearly defined and we had to pick and choose our way up the mountain. Climbing up over a moraine, we reached the final stop before the last push up the saddle to the summit at Lewis Glacier and its lake. The trek to the top is very slow and steep with loose rock and cinders - and on the trip down many, many people to step around. Once we passed 10,000 feet, we got above the inversion that moved into Central Oregon with high pressure and trapped smoke from the wildfires still burning in the area. This impacted our views from the top - which we have been told are fabulous for hundreds of miles - but did create interested images to see the effect of smoke and bad air quality.
According to forest service personnel, starting next year, the hike up South Sister will be by permit only to limit the number of people on the mountain at one time. Based on our experience, that will be a positive move. The hike is challenging enough, but it can be dangerous having to step around people on parts of the trail where loose stones and cinders along with steep slopes can create hazardous situations. We returned to our car at 5 pm, having taken all day to hike up and back the 5000 feet with sore muscles but satisfaction at finally having reached the summit.