Solo South Sister Summit Mission!

Reader Stories

Originally published by Lindsey Clark on June 15th, 2012 at lindseyclark.com and reposted with permission

Every recovery from a major injury has its ups and downs, and the last six months have been one hell of a roller coaster ride. I suffered a pretty bad ankle injury on New Year’s Day that just kept lingering. From February through April I was on and off crutches, completely incapable of any real physical activity. Throughout the month of May, I kept dabbling in mellow activities, trying to step it up a little bit at a time. Somehow I kept screwing up: I even managed to injure myself on a stationary bike!

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In mid-June, I decided it was time to try commuting to work on my bike. I was a little nervous, but gave it a go… and it went really well! So I did it again the next day, and it went really well again! In my excitement, my (totally rational) brain jumped to the next logical step: I’d climb and ski South Sister later that week.

South Sister is the tallest mountain in central Oregon, and skiing the South route in late spring / early summer (after the road is plowed) is a definite annual pastime among backcountry skiers in our area. Once I got the idea in my head, I couldn’t get it out!

Since I couldn’t find anyone to join me for the mid-week weather window, I figured I’d just go by myself. My rationale: I’d done it before. I had no idea if I could make it. I had no idea how long it would take me in my condition. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day. I really like doing things by myself sometimes! So it was decided: I’d attempt to climb and ski South Sister with no real expectations other than enjoying myself.

I left Devil’s Lake around 7 AM and made it through the trees and onto the plateau with no problem. Crossing the plateau was SO NICE!!! It felt so great to be back in the mountains — in the wilderness — all by myself! So peaceful, so beautiful.

My ascent was up the standard climber’s route, which is usually super crowded on a beautiful June day, but on this day it was completely desolate. What a gift! I would come to realize that the day was full of little gifts from the mountain, almost like she was going out of her way to welcome me back.

As I was working my way up one of the steeper slopes, I heard some giggling in the distance. Soon thereafter, a group of five female climbers descended past me! What a perfect group of people to encounter on the mountain!

Of course I had to take a photo of these adorable ladies…
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…then they took a photo of me…

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…then they glissaded away!

With my girly mojo fully replenished, I continued to march up the mountain, ignoring my argumentative legs and lungs. The views were superb!

Crossing over a scree patch on my way onto the last push up the “racing slope”, I stopped one last time to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and love on the mountain a little bit. Over the last few months, I kept telling myself I’d hug South Sister when I was back there again. I was standing right next to a giant rock, so I wrapped my arms around it and gave her a giant hug! I could feel the energy of the mountain. She is an active volcano, after all… and it was amazing. She sent a very dramatic sluff waterfall over a giant cliff in response…Unbelievable.

At this point, it was just a total sufferfest. My lower extremities were in pain and I was beyond exhausted. I was slightly concerned about my ability to ski down, but pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. In a classic case of mind over body, I hauled my ass up to the summit! I was SO EXCITED when I finally arrived!

The last few feet to the summit…

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Give you incredible views!

My descent worked out reasonably well. It had taken me hours longer to climb than I’d planned, so the snow was quite a bit softer than I would have liked. The good news is that the racing slope off the top is steep enough to ski in pretty much any crappy conditions. So I laid down some trenches with some serious hoots!
lindsey2The shadow bowl was pretty exciting to navigate: quite steep off the top, with lots of lava directly below. Pretty much no-fall terrain, unless you want to get cheese gratered! I pretty much willed my legs down it. It hurt, but what other choice did I have?

After some fancy footwork getting through the choke at the bottom of shadow bowl, I skied up and over some treed ridges to get lined up with my ascent route again. My brain was so busy strategizing that I didn’t even realize where I’d stopped…

BOOM!

Right in front of the most amazing tree ever! I mean, really. This day was totally full of the most overwhelming sights!

Crossing the plateau, I stopped to take a photo of where I’d come from…then I gingerly skied back down through the trees to the trailhead.
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My knees were aching, my ankles were totally non-functional, my feet were soaked with sweat, my entire physical being was exhausted, but my spirit was off the charts! I had just climbed and skied South Sister for the second time!

Last time I was with my best ski buddy and at the peak of my physical ability. This time I was all alone, and in the worst physical condition that I’d been in in years. But once I got that goal in my head, I couldn’t get it out. This single day erased the months of yearning for the mountains. I felt so welcomed back! What a feeling!

“Without risk there is no adventure.” – Bill Briggs

Lindsey Clark is, in her own words, “…totally obsessed with mountains and snow. I’m a year-round skier, and enjoy pretty much any variation of sliding down snow with sticks on my feet… from silly mini golf lines to more serious multi-day alpine climbs, I’m down!  Want to do some skiing in Oregon? It’s pretty awesome here… Contact me at lindsey@lindseyclark.com

Last modified: February 1, 2013

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