On Top Of The Wold - South Sister Summit

South Sister Summit

There is something about being at the top of a mountain. You can stare out in every direction and see everything and nothing. No buildings, no city, and yet miles and miles of this earth in its truest form. I have been fortunate enough to hike to the top of four mountains in the last few years (more to come I'm sure) and every time the feeling of accomplishment leaves me speechless. My legs might be cramped, my feet blistered and sore, perhaps I'm out of water or food... But as I stand there, looking out, none of that matters.

My family lives in Portland, OR. To say we are a family of travelers and outdoor enthusiasts would be a gross understatement. When I come home to visit, there are no quiet days inside. Try suggesting a leisurely lunch to my mother and she will laugh in your face (though, I must admit, I am right there with her) for us it is adventure after adventure from start to finish! This past summer my brother, his girlfriend and I, decided to hike to the top of the "South Sister." The Three Sisters, if you don't know, are three magnificent mountains located in central Oregon, just west of Bend. The South Sister is the tallest of the three at 10,358 feet. Our trail led us right to the top, with a staggering 4,900-foot elevation gain in the 5.5 miles up. The round trip of 11 miles is definitely not a beginner hiking spot, but it sure is an exciting challenge.

Night one. My brother and I drove the 110 miles down the I-5 to Eugene, to stay the night at his girlfriend's cabin.The difference between traveling along the I-5 where I live, in Los Angeles and the I-5 in the Pacific Northwest always makes me chuckle. Grassy fields, lush meadows, and trees stretch off on all sides; a pleasant substitution for the usual buildings, traffic, and general bustle that I am used to. The three of us spent the night in Eugene in a charming little cabin in the woods. We slept well after briefly checking out the restaurant/bar scene in downtown Eugene. I enjoyed the area! It was festive and fun, with leftover hints of small town charm. The next morning, we woke with the sun and began our big day! The drive from Eugene to the base of the trailhead was an exciting trip in itself. We slowly worked our way into the woods. The landscape gradually began to change from the lush thick trees that once surrounded us, as we made our way into the high desert. Soon, rolling green hills stretched out all around us for miles, with the mountains in the distance. I am always truly blown away at how geographically diverse one state can be.

There are a few different entrances to the trail. The traditional route starts at the Devils Lake Campground parking lot (although there are a few different lots, there is no wrong choice. Don't worry you won't miss out on any beauty!) As with most National Parks and forests, there is a fee, so be prepared! For this trail in particular, there is a little box that you drop your cash in and fill out a small form. Long story short, BRING CASH!


The beginning of the trail takes you through an almost unbelievably picturesque meadow; butterflies fluttering, flowers blooming, and an icy (and yes, I do mean ICY) crystal clear stream running through the scenery. It quickly becomes a more advanced hike as the trail morphs into a section of steep switchbacks, surrounded by lush greenery, until eventually it evens out into a flat stretch as you near the timberline. (Catch your breath here. You'll need it!) Up ahead, a rather daunting view of the mountain you'll soon be standing on top of nearly slaps you in the face! In early July bits of snow still covered the ground.

View of the mountain

At this point in the trail, you'll have the option to split off and travel downhill to a stunning deep-blue lake, nestled into a small canyon. For anyone not as interested in a full day climb, this is the perfect shorter but still challenging day hike. Bring a picnic, sunbath by the water... Perfection. We decided to take the detour. More accurately, I would not let us continue until I jumped in that lake. If you knew me, you'd know that I am essentially a fish and need my (preferably daily) dose of being fully immersed in some body of water. Thankfully, my company agreed that this was the perfect halfway point to stop and have lunch.

Perfect place for a swim

Though the climb down was steep, every step was worth it. The water sparkled in the sunshine, and deep as it may have been, you could see the details of every little rock on the lakes floor. THAT is indeed my happy spot! I couldn't have wiped that smile from my face if I had tried.

From there, it is up, up, up! As you climb higher and higher the trail slowly begins to fade away, until there is basically nothing left of it and you are left to your own devices. However, with the general direction being UP, it is not too difficult to find your way. The difficulty, as you may imagine, comes in other forms. So don't worry. There is no shortage of challenge. The sun beat down on our backs. Above the timberline there is no shade to escape to. The powdery dirt beneath our feet brought to mind the phrase "One step forward two steps back." Snow covered our path more and more the higher we climbed, causing me (much to my brother's dismay) to step slowly and cautiously, so as not to slip on the ice and tumble off the mountain to my imminent death. Dramatic? Perhaps. But c'est la vie.

There is a false summit with a small, frigid, icy, alpine lake - a shade of light blue you would think to be impossible. The trail continues farther up a ridge after this point.

Icy pool on the top of the mountain

Looking back over the miles and miles of wilderness could quickly become addicting. I felt accomplished. Powerful. Yet, still somehow small and humbled by the immeasurable wilderness stretching out farther then the eye can see. In my daily life I am surrounded by cars, buildings, and more madness then should be allowed. But there, nothing around me but the calm of the forest and the freshness of the air, I felt more at home on that mountain, than I do in my own apartment. Time tends to slow, and I drink in the peace. Every time I do this, I realize how much of a necessity it is. The trek down was much simpler, aside from a couple of snow covered ridges. Though our feet were blistered, our knees sore, and our water lacking, that smile still remained on my face.

View from the top

In my personal opinion, there is no better way to celebrate a physical victory than a burger, fries, and a beer. Which, coincidentally, happened to be next on the agenda! About an hour or so east of the trail you will find yourself emerging from the woods and entering the adorable town of Bend. It was my first time visiting Bend, and I could completely see what all the hype was about. We ate at a great little brewery called "Bend Brewing Co." It was the perfect end to the perfect day. The restaurant was nestled in the middle of town, right on a small stream. The vibe screamed 'summertime!' And yes, three burgers, fries and beers were soon on the table.

As the sun was setting, we began the trip back to Eugene. Though the drive was long, and my eyelids felt like two bricks were suddenly strapped onto them, I fought with everything in me to keep them open, as we drove through more extraordinary beauty. The pink sunset over the regal Three Sisters is something I will never forget. I could have stared at it all evening. A picturesque drive through the mountains and woods is a perfect way to end an adventure. That night we slept brilliantly, visions of pink mountains and blue waters, sky scraping trees and rolling meadows, danced through my brain. I will save those memories in a small corner of my mind, safe in a compartment to draw upon as I please.

"You're off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way."

-Dr. Seuss.

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