Following our recent summit of South Sister as part of our Apex Challenge 2016, participant Steve Shannon decided he wanted to share his thoughts about the experience within the following testimonial. Enjoy!
Four months ago I never even considered that I would accomplish what I did on Saturday September 3, 2016. By most standards it isn’t much but to me it is a giant accomplishment. I have always been competitive, always wanting to win but for sure finish. Four months ago I was invited to climb 4 peaks in 4 months as part of the APEX challenge. My wife was part of this group also so we started our journey together hiking Black Butte. For my first mountain top hike it was awe inspiring the higher you got. My first hike was to me that day laborious but not undoable and we all made to the summit. I thought from this height the view was never ending but this would only be the beginning.
Our next hike was to the top of Black Crater, harder with more elevation gain and even more spectacular views. What I didn’t consider on our first hike was the change in position of all of these neighboring mountains as you hiked up a new one. You felt you could almost jump from one to the other and Black Crater was one of my favorite and hiked it again a week later with Eric.
The third hike was to the top of Mt Bachelor, 6 miles round trip and one of the most fun hikes. It was not real hard I would say but steeper and more strenuous and a lot longer than the others plus elevation in the 9 thousand foot range. My legs were aching after we got to the top. The views again were spectacular and breathtaking and are seeing the other mountains from a different perspective and even more distance. It was a great day for getting to the top even though there is a road to the top as this is a ski mountain but I still hiked up and back 6 miles. On the way down we got to slide down one of the snow fields with a trash bag as our sled. Saved us about a half mile of walking and was a blast. My wife didn’t make it to the top that day but we went back after some more training and she made it ten days later with me. Way to go, so proud of you.
In between these hikes my wife and I would do a few other training hikes, Smith Rocks loop incorporating Burma Road a couple times, Tam McArthur Ridge, Steins Pillar trail, Green Lakes Trail, and Lake Paulina trail to the summit. All were beautiful and fun hikes, seeing things we would never see if we hadn’t joined this group.
Last but surely not the least, five of us started out at 6:30 am on a chilly Saturday, September 3, 2016 and after much grueling, brutal and strenuous difficulty, I made it to the top of South Sisters, 10358 ft or so with an 5000 foot elevation change in a 6 mile hike up. Even more spectacular were the views and landscapes. We could see everything is seemed for miles and miles. One thing that I noticed when looking at South Sisters from the other summits is that
South Sisters didn’t seem like it would be that difficult of a hike, sure it was majestic and big and trying to imagine the route up it seemed like it would be somewhat harder than the others but not undoable for me. Little did I know how wrong I would be with my evaluation.
This hike started out up through a forest at a steep ascent over a root strewn path and rocky high steps for about a mile and a half. If your legs weren’t woken up by the time you got to the meadow then you have to be some kind of super hiker or a kid. Finally we got to the meadows area for about another 1.7 miles of pretty steady level hiking with fabulous views of lakes and distant mountains. Once through the meadows you really start to climb, again a short forest area with more roots and steps then out of the forest into rocky steep terrain, slipping backward as much as forward sometimes, then scrambling up boulder strewn rocks, zig zagging back and forth and getting steeper with each zig until you finally reach the highest lake in Oregon, Tear Drop lake. What a slog up to here but what a beautiful, awesome view of all the surrounding mountains and lakes and each one is seen from a new angle.
By now my legs were like noodles and I could see ahead what was next. To give it some perspective looking up from the lake, up the red volcanic rock trail in front of us and trying to see hikers half way up to the top was like looking at ants walking in a column up the mountain. A long way to go, about ¾ of a mile to the false summit. If you thought the first part was hard then continue on because you haven’t felt anything yet. This ascent up over the ever steeper red slippery, round volcanic rocks makes you think about, ‘is it worth it?’ Your legs and lungs are begging for relief. Ten steps up then rest, then another ten steps up, rest and so on, getting steeper all the time. You look around and notice there is a fair amount of other hikers doing the same. Finally there it is the crest of the crater and you know you have it made. Now you can take off that heavy pack and see what you cannot see from anywhere else.
But for me that day we couldn’t see anything else as the clouds rolled in about the time I got a quarter of the way up the red volcanic rock area. So I walked across the snow glacier in the crater to the high point on the other side and made it to the true Summit of South Sisters.
I made it and even though there wasn’t a view because of the clouds it was a great accomplishment for me at 69 going on 40, I had a blast.
But it isn’t over yet folks, now the real fun begins, getting down off this mountain. I knew from previous descents that it would not be easy. My legs were noodles by now. Thankfully some relief as the first section down was through the red volcanic rock so you could walk/slide down most of this area making it a lot easier. One I got down to the lake then the real fun begins, trying to pick your way down through an almost vertical zig zagging area of boulders and slippery sand layered rocks was a daunting task on unsure wobbly legs. Finally made it through
this boulder area and the rest of the way on steep slippery ground to the meadows was killer on the knees.
At the meadows some relief as there was a mile or so of steady fairly flat walking to bring some relief.
Not to worry there would be more grueling, toe grinding, knee pounding, back breaking steep downhill trail to go, down and over tree roots and large strewn rocks on the path down. It seemed like whenever you got to a section where it looked like it was leveling out then just beyond the corner would be another 500 feet of steep root and rock filled path to go. It seemed like it would never end. Funny that going up this area you just didn’t think of the length in the same way.
There it is the little walk bridge across the creek, finally down, pulled off my boots and socks and put them in the freezing, I mean freezing cold water for about 5 seconds. That wakes you up but felt so good. I made it to the top and back. Mark this one off my list.
To a lot of people hiking South Sisters is not that big of an accomplishment. Every day of the spring through fall hiking season there are probably hundreds a week that do this hike, and some in tennis shoes, without packs or hiking essentials, with small kids and the elevation isn’t really that much. After all there are around 401 summits that exceed 3000 meters (9843 ft) in North America but for me at 69 I am grateful that I am able to do this exciting activity and see things that a lot of people don’t get to see.
One thing I gained from this 4 month adventure and I truly believe is that there are either no miracles or everything is a miracle, so go climb a mountain and judge for yourself. To me looking out over these majestic snow covered peaks with their beautiful lakes and landscapes, and a different awe inspiring view in every direction, there is no denying that everything is a miracle.
All of this would not have been possible without the great guidance of our Apex Team Leader, Jim Wallace. He gave up his time to guide us and show us things that we wouldn’t have seen or done without his always encouraging manner and expertise. He taught us to slow down and see the leaves in the forest, nature at its best and the miracles of this planet. Thank you Jim, for a great 4 months. Can’t wait for what is to come. Let’s do it again my legs are rested.