While South Sister is the highest of the Three Sisters, it is by far the most accessible of the three and definitely the easiest of the three… it is just a strenuous hike, gaining more than 5000 feet of elevation in a little over 6 miles to the summit.
This was my tenth visit to the summit since my first visit in 1988 and the hike never fails to please.
At 0.0 miles… ~5500 feet… park at Devils Lake and start hiking on South Sister Climber Trail #36
At 2.0 miles… ~6680 feet… junction of South Sister Climber Trail #36 and Moraine Lake Trail #17.1
At 5.0 miles… ~8875 feet… reach tarn at the base of Lewis Glacier
At 5.8 miles… ~10,180 feet… reach South Sister crater rim
At 6.2 miles… ~10,358 feet… South Sister summit
At 6.7 miles… ~10,180 feet… Finish the .9 mile crater rim hike
At 7.5 miles… ~8875 feet… return to the tarn at the base of Lewis Glacier
At 9.7 miles… ~6550 feet… reach the largest of the Green Lakes
At 12.4 miles… ~6000 feet… junction of Green Lakes Trail #17 and Moraine Lake Trail #17.1
At 14.6 miles… ~5500 feet… reach the trailhead for Green Lakes Trail #17… drive to Devils Lake and get our second car.
Most people use South Sister Climber Trail #36 to reach the summit and then trace their steps back down to their car at Devils Lake… however, after we reached the summit and returned to the 8800 foot tarn at the foot of the Lewis Glacier, we opted to take the obvious path that goes along the east side of the tarn and follow it on down to Green Lakes. Note that while the path to Green Lakes is obvious, it is on very steep and loose terrain… and snow can linger on the east side of the mountain long after it has melted on the main south side route.
At Green Lakes we found Green Lakes Trail #17 and followed it down to the Green Lakes Trailhead… where we got in the car we parked earlier in the day and drove it (maybe 1.5 miles) over to Devils Lake to pick up our other car.
The hike was 14.6 miles, gaining 5146 feet of elevation.
Next year the U.S Forest Service will begin a limited day-use permit system in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt. Jefferson Wilderness due to over-crowding… and if their numbers are accurate (47,000 visits in 2011 and 132,000 visits in 2016), I guess I can understand their reasoning. It’s not uncommon to have more than 200 hikers on the South Sister hike each day in the summer months.
When I was there last month I was surprised by how many twentysomethings there were on the trail, and at how unfriendly they were (not rude exactly, just unwilling to return a "hi" or a smile). Only one or two besides me over 40. Really different experience from 10 years prior. Still a great hike though. Lots of campers at Moraine Lake which has about 19 official spots. Forest Service guy at the trailhead made sure I filled out the obnoxious scan-tron questionnaire they use down there and warned me of the impending dayhike permit system. No doubt we'll be seeing more of that in WA soon.
the impending dayhike permit system. No doubt we'll be seeing more of that in WA soon.
Ugh. Makes me happy to be "middle age, stage 2". In the old days we had no permits or restrictions. But we also had craziness ( about 60 people on my first two climbs of MSH in the 1960s, and insanity with about 500 on the annual Yakima Chamber of Commerce Mt. Adams assault, which I passed up).
-------------- Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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