Sleeping on the South Sister Summit


After climbing the South Sister last September I decided it would be fun to sleep on top of the summit the next time I went up. See up on the summit there are several wind breaks built to be camp sites and I just figured it would be fun to sleep up high. I was able to climb Mt. Hood this June and one of the guys I climbed with showed interest in joining me on the top of the South Sister. As the summer took a while to arrive and the heavy winter snow lingered late into the season we had to wait to do our trip. Finally it worked out that I had some time off and we made plans to climb on the first day of September. All the weeks leading up to the trip had been hot in Central Oregon and there were now even some wildfires in the region as well. While they were not a direct impact on us, you will be able to tell from the pictures that it was a bit smoky out. The day before our trip the weather turned and we had temperatures more like mid October rather than late August. This fortunately moved on slightly and we took to the mountain with the weather on an improving trend.

Sign at the Trailhead

Since we were staying the night we did not plan on leaving early like most climbers do. We got all packed up in the morning and got some things done around town before heading up around 11:30 am. We actually got on the trail at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead at 12:30 pm. As a side note, if you have not been to Devil’s Lake; it is beautiful, shallow and full of color. The trailhead is at about 5,200 ft and the summit is at 10,350 feet so it is a pretty good climb. There is not much up and down, it is all up to the peak. As compared to my Timberline Trail Hike earlier in the week, I was able to shed some pounds from my pack for the climb. It helps having a partner to distribute some of the weight to. I imagine my pack was around 25 pounds for the trip, it felt nice.

Looking to the North

As I have mentioned before, the climb can be broken up into 4 sections. Section 1 is 1 ¾ miles and 1,450 feet up through the forest. The trail is wide and there are several switchbacks up. The first half of this section we also had to share the trail with lots of mosquitoes, I hate mosquitoes. We made good time up this section and it was nice and comfortable out, around 65 degrees. I realized at the top of section 1 that I had never tightened up my boots from when they were loose while driving and now my heel was starting to blister. I know better that is much easier to prevent blisters than to deal with them once you already got them. Unfortunately my right heel was already blistered so I did my best to bandage it up. Ultimately it did not work and got progressively worse throughout the trip.

Shadow Creeping Towards Bend

When you reach the second section of the climb you burst out onto a plateau above Moraine Lake. You finally have views of what is to come and it levels off a bit until section 3 starts. We decided to take a break for lunch on some logs above the lake and I patched up my heel the best I could. Section 2 is just under 1 ½ miles long and only gains 300 feet in elevation. It is a nice break before what is to come. We passed several people on their way down from the summit and some of them already had the death stare in their eyes, just plodding along with only one though in the mind, being done.

Looking Down Westside

Section 3 is where the climb starts in earnest. The section is up through the gray rock for 1 ¼ miles and gains 1,800 feet in elevation. There are some small switchbacks and we even had to cross a snowfield on the way up. Mainly the trail is loose rock and dirt, very dry but the views are great the whole way. We passed several more groups on their way down from the summit, some were doing well and some were struggling. At points I felt like we were having and easier time going up than they were coming down. This section is where it was also getting a little tougher for John on the way up so we were taking more breaks. I was feeling much better than I did on Hood so I was just cruising up while chomping on my Starburst candies. This section always seems to be the longest of the sections as the going is slow.

On the Summit

Section 4 of the hike is where you reach the lake (Lewis Tarn) at the bottom of the Lewis Glacier. There is a nice place for a break and water if you need it before tackling the last section. This section is loose red dirt for 0.8 miles and 1,350 feet of climbing. This only gets you up to the crater rim where you can stop or cross over and climb the short section up to the true top of the crater rim. I personally like the last section as you can see a long ways and the red dirt does not seem as difficult as the rocks stuff below. I have also been fortunate to be having an easy go of it when reaching this section so that may influence my thoughts as well. John did not like it as much as he was struggling a bit. We did eventually reach the summit crater in just over 5 hours. Not too bad with loaded packs.

Tent Site

At the summit the wind was definitely blowing harder than below. This made the temperature much colder. First thing we did was deciding at which of the tent spots we wanted to camp and then put on our warmer layers. It feels so good to get the warm layers on. We then headed across the crater over to the true peak and took some pictures. It was hazy out due to the smoke from the forest fires so the pictures did not turn out to great. After hanging on the peak for a bit we went back down and started to set up the tent and get camp ready for the night. The wind was not blowing too badly, about 15-20 mph so set up was not too tough. We got the hot water in the bag for dinner and got to melting snow for water. Since the teardrop pool was non-existent this year there was no water except what we could melt. Once we melted a couple liters we enjoyed our Thai Peanut Rice dinner. Everything tastes better on the mountain. =) We even made Banana Cream Pie dessert and ate that in our sleeping bags as it was getting dark and we were a little chilled.

Can You See the Tent on the Crater Rim?

The night seemed to last forever. The winds picked up slightly and made the tent flap all night. I think I may have lost some of my nerve since I was a guide because the wind seemed to worry me more than normal. When I would get out of the tent the wind was not more than 20 mph so I really had nothing to worry about. At around 5 am I had to get up and use the restroom and also took the opportunity to tighten up the guy lines around the tent. It is amazing what this did for the sounds of the tent, all of a sudden the tent was quiet and John and I were able to sleep in to around 8:30 am.

Camping on the South Sister Summit from JJ Johnson on Vimeo.

When we woke up the smoke had generally cleared and the views were much better than the night before. The wind was still blowing but it was a little warmer than it was the previous evening.  We decided to head back up to the true summit for a couple more pictures and we could even see Mt. Shasta to the south and Mt. Rainier to the North. Not too shabby getting a 3 state view. I even took a video from down near the tent site, hopefully I get can get it up on this site. We decided to just eat snacks for breakfast and started to pack up camp. We joked about how long it would take us to run into the first people coming up. Turns out when we reached the crater rim to go down, several climbers were at the crater rim coming up.

Going Down

Overall the descent was not too difficult. Both John and I had no issues on the upper mountain; it was not until the flat section 2 and last section through the woods where we were both dragging. We probably should have had breakfast. On the descent we passed upwards of 50 people climbing the mountain. Most of these were on the upper mountain but there were a few down low. As we descended we could definitely tell it was warmer than the day before. It was another great day to be on the mountain but we were ready to get back to our car and go get lunch. It took us about 3 hours to get back to the car. Though it might seem a bit crazy to sleep on the summit, as long as you watch the weather and forecasts it really pretty easy. As always, Your Mileage May Vary.

Link to GPS Data of Climb

Full Picture Album of Climb

Gear Used

  • Osprey Talon 44 Pack – Last time I used this pack was on Mt. Hood. I had it packed only slightly so it felt awkward and did not truly give me a good idea of the pack’s capability. This time I had it packed up to 25 pounds and the pack was great. It fit well and was comfortable. What a difference.
  • Columbia Peak to Peak Jacket – Blocked wind well but did not really use it much except for that.
  • Columbia Reach the Peak Hybrid Down Jacket – Once again it was nice and warm. Used as a pillow as well. Only drawback is still that the bottom hem is slightly tight.
  • Outdoor Research Tremor Pants – Since these are a softshell I was able to use them instead of a mid layer and outerlayer. They worked well.
  • Columbia Baselayer ¼ Zip Shirt – This time I actually hiked in this top and slept in it. I must say I am impressed with the top. Warm, breathes, and moves well with you. Unfortunately it is not mosquito proof.
  • Columbia Baselayer Tights with Fly – Felt good to get these on at the top. Slept in them as well and were great.
  • Nemo Morpho 2 Tent – First time I slept with two in this tent. Was not too tight. Tent performed well once the guy lines were tightened otherwise was a bit noisy.
  • Primus ETASolo Stove – Stove worked well for the first time. Boiled water quickly and was easy to light and get going. It had no issues with the wind but it was behind the windbreak.
  • Black Diamond Orbit Lantern – A nice luxury item for lighting up the tent. Especially if there is a hanging clip in the tent.

About the Author

I am an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, climber, skier and many other activities that would make this list too long. I started Your Mileage May Vary Reviews in Early 2011 to combine two of my passions: sports and gear.

2 Responses to “Sleeping on the South Sister Summit”

  1. the tarn is ‘Lewis Tarn’ and below the Lewis, not the Clark glacier.

    Very cool trip, been up SS many times and oft pondered sleeping out atop, solely for the sunset and sunrise views.

    lesson learned on the guy lines, bet you’ll never go another noisy night again without at least trying to really tighten them down! : )

    • Matt,

      Thanks for the comment, I fixed the post. Trip was fun and I should know better on the guylines. Even if you pitch the tent tight, there is always some adjusting after everything has settled. You are right though, I will not forget next time.

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