Day: Wednesday, August 31st 2016
Miles: 1956.8 – 1972.3
Moraine Lake Remote Camp – Devils Lake Trail Junction – White Branch Remote Camp 1972.3
Its the last day of August, where did the time go. As expected, my alarm went off pretty early this morning, and after a quick breakfast and securing camp, we were on the trail aiming for South Sister at 6:30AM. Myself, Breakaway and Outro had just beaten sunrise, and an incredible pink hue covered the landscape, like some form of immersive Instagram filter. To the east, the craggy peak of Broken Top and the symmetrical cone of Mt.Bachelor lay in silhouette against the brightening skies. To the north, South Sister was already enjoying sunshine on its upper flanks, the layer of brightness slowly descending its dramatic southern face.
I was so immersed in the early miles that Outro and Breakaway quickly left me behind. I couldnt help but stop and admire the view that every small increase in elevation afforded me. The initial climb was along a series of dusty yellow grassed meadows, with some gnarled trees attempting to eek out an existence from the dusty soil.
I could make out the many miles and unnamed peaks that I had hiked past over recent days, as well as Elk Lake close to the south. Even Mt.Thielsen was visible far in the distance, a sharp needle piercing the sky.
The real ascent then began, as the trail weaved a relatively straight line up the peak. This is not the world of the PCT and its gentle switchbacks, on this trail you will earn your lunch! Gradually snow fields began to punctuate the slopes in a number of nooks and crannies. The sparse clouds in the sky adding to the drama of the view.
Cresting the first major rise, I received an incredible prize in the form of a glacial lake, all but obscured by the surrounding crater, and fed by an enormous glacier hanging off the mountains south face.
As the sun reached higher in the sky, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be warming up, but the elevation change came with a distinct and chilly breeze. The ever-upwards climb however made sure that I was alternating between layering up and stripping down between breaks!
Looking to the west, there was still a pang of smoke in the distance, fed by the forest fires still burning to the south. Visibility on the west suffered as a result, but it was clear and incredible to the south and east. The red soil from the half way mark, was an incredible contrast to the blue skies.
Reaching higher and higher up the winding ridge that the trail follows, I received an increible side-profile view of the glacier, signs of constant erosion showing in the rockfalls, where rocks can roll half way down the mountain, if they just get enough speed on the glacier!
Finally reaching the summit crater, I caught up to Outro and Breakaway. A number of hikers had camped at the top and were just taking down their tents. An amazing cool wind blew across the crater, leaving few places in shelter. Time to bundle up again!
Reaching for the final high point on the northeastern edge, I was able to finally see the northern and far eastern flanks, along with Middle Sister and North Sister to the north. It was a truly incredible view, payoff for the steep climb!
After a time enjoying the view, as well as an unexpected rescue mission to retrieve my hat which blew over the northeastern edge, we completed a circumnavigation of the crater. At the final spot, before descending the summit trail, we took one last view at the incredible glacier that fills the entire crater. At this point, Breakaway sadly lost half of a Clif Bar into the only puddle on the entire mountain, with some minor consternation following.
The descent was undoubtedly going to be tough, and I could feel some aches and pains in my feet and knees. I popped an Ibuprofen and took in the view, hoping to ride out any aches thanks to magnificent sights on the descent.
Arriving to the glacial lake once again, we explored a side trail and were able to get up close to the glacier for a look (and a taste). It was magnificent, a truly living and moving ice face, pebbles and rocks ejecting from its front face as we looked at it.
The descent of course, was much quicker than our morning had gone, and we passed many many hikers in the heat of the midday sun battling the ascent. As we passed the 2/3 mark, it was obvious that we had timed our ascent perfectly, as a heavy cloud began to settle over the summit, no doubt obscuring the view for all those hikers we passed. We arrived back to our camp at 12:30PM and took down our tent as well as tucking into a big lunch. It had been a phenomenal morning, and to look back at the peak was truly inspiring.
FlyBy had hit the trail earlier, and so we probably would not see him again today, but we hit the trail back to the PCT (at 2PM) much earlier than we expected, and were filled with enthusiasm after a successful morning. The three of us completed the hike back to the Pacific Crest Trail, 4 miles away in just over an hour.
After rejoining the trail around 3PM, we met VDub, another hiker a little ways ahead, along with enjoying an immersion back into the green trees and green grasses of the Sisters wet western edges. Once again it was green and beautiful, just like you’d expect from Oregon!
The storm clouds had truly descended by now, and we were unsure whether it might finally decide to rain on us. At this point, I have experienced just 2hours of light rain on the entire trail, so I really didn’t like the idea that I would finally be anointed with PNW rain. In the east, we occasionally received views of snowy banks and rocky bluffs, the Sisters were all but obscured for the remainder of the day unfortunately.
Breakaway and Outro were ahead of me once again, and as I entered the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, I knew I had another few miles to go before I could camp, and likely catch up with them. I pondered camping here with another hiker Anmei, before deciding to continue onward to catch my crew! Unfortunately at this stage I had actually passed them by already without realizing, and was now aiming northwards in silo as a heavy dew and darkness began to set in.
Passing a pleasant waterfall and a river, along with some other hikers, I decided on a spot about 2 miles further to camp, necessitating a little after-dark hiking.
The trees were beautiful in the setting light, and I realized that this is the first time I’ve hiked in the clouds since a cloud inversion immersed me somewhere after Warner Springs. I enjoyed the novelty, if not the fading light (much earlier than usual).
Settling into a really nice and sheltered camp spot by the dry White Branch river, I settled into bed just as the rain began to fall, heavy splotches surrounding my tent, but thankfully a large old pine tree protected me from the main onslaught as a heavy shower began to fall. The idea of your first proper rain storm on the PCT really isn’t so intimidating when you’re tucked up in bed! I figured that I must have missed Breakaway and Outro somewhere along the way, and would find them tomorrow.