Ascent of Three Sisters-South Peak on 2017-06-25

Climber: William Musser

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, June 25, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Three Sisters-South Peak
    Elevation:7800 ft / 2377 m

Ascent Trip Report

Hiking along the 3 Sisters Trail and passing the junction with Bearberry Trail I could see several hikers scrambling up what I suspected was South Sister. Approaching from the West slopes, there is an easy sloped slab that takes you to some easy scrambling and an easy pinnacle that did not appear to be the top. I met 2 young girls that could not make the peak in this direction and were told to try the saddle to the north. That clearly made sense looking around so I found a use trail and headed North next. In subsequent hikes I found you can climb the peak from this split slab and will discuss later.

I saw the same young man that I saw on The Brother on a precarious chunk of class 4/5 rock surveying his way up the summit. One can climb up these wonderful class 2/2+ slabs to a large wide flat ledge that resides on the north exposure of the pinnacle. Here I met Allen. I presumed he has summited by now so I asked him what was the easiest path as this pinnacle has a lot of class 5 looking rock around it. He eagerly showed me the three routes he had surveyed but had elected actually to not complete any of them. For people that rock climb this is not a very technical pinnacle but for those that peakbag and are not expert climbers (like myself), a TR on how hard it is to climb this sister (the most difficult of the three) might be useful - so I will detail. NOTE: as an update on 6-9-2109 (I have subsequently explored 6 separate routes to the top that I would rate as class 3/4; 3+, 4 and a low class 5).If you are a rock climber....this will bore you; so this is for the casual mountaineering scrambler.

1) Northeast corner wall and chockstone - As you face the pinnacle from the north and standing on the obvious big flat ledge near the crux of the climb, there are basically three choices. To the left, around a pine tree and some boulders above the saddle (and the huge vertical seam-slot). Climbing past the pine tree up onto the boulders is an obvious route where above one immediate crux move you have easy class 3 to the top but the first move to get to the class 3 has the feel of a lower class 5. The rock wall has some overhang and Allen did not like it. I checked it out and it is doable but looks risky with a consequence if you miss the first move up the rock. After that it is easy. The two girls caught up to us and checked it out and both bailed out at the same place. NOTE: I have done this route later with friend Dan and it is not as hard as it looks. Once you find the hand holds in the boulder (chockstone) it is easy. Perhaps one physical move that requires some good hand holds and willing to lean back with some exposure to start and you have it (I am guessing this is one move of 5.0).

2) North face crack climb - The second spot is the obvious crack seam that runs up the middle of the pinnacle from the north face. This crack is very obvious and scenic especially as viewed from the middle sister. This route has no consequence or real exposure so is the safest way up BUT the very beginning of this route has one difficult move as well to slide your body into the seam. The crack is nice and wide for an easy stemming or chimney motion up it if you can get past the first 6 feet of climb. In the first 6 feet of climb the very narrow and it looks like a place to get stuck and not maneuver well. This crack climb requires foot stemming and wedging and is the most physically strenuous route but it is clearly the safest way up and down the peak. I would call it a class 3+ because it is impossible to fall coming up or down this route but it is the most physically demanding because of the 15 feet or so of stemming, and chimney action. I have climbed this route up twice and down it probably 15 times. It is best to go down this way not up.

3) Northwest corner - slab climb - As you climb the main saddle looking at the north face, this route is just to the right of the big crack. About 15 feet from the crack are a couple of boulders you can climb up and peek around the side of the wall of rock just before the wall falls off suddenly into a deep gully. I was sure this route would not pan out, and I do not gravitate to class 4, but this route has some advantages. You grab this 6 foot sliver of rock that has cleaved away from the pinnacle and climb up on top of it and work around to another sliver and there is a nice moderate sloped scramble to the top. Just like the other options the crux of the route was at the very beginning where you have to commit to swing around onto the crack and go and there is exposure. This route is the standard most obvious route up to the top and LOJ calls it class 4 because of the exposure but it is very short. The scramble has exposure on the left that would break bones, and on the right would be lethal but the slab is a wide runway up so there are many options. The crack along the left side of the runway has many excellent foot and hand holds so it is a pretty straight forward climb to the top. I was only worried about down climbing it backwards later. Note: I have now climbed this route many times and it is good rock, a good route it looks far worse than it is. I have downclimbed it at least 4 times. It is not bad but you look down a very steep section of slab rock for quite some distance and that is a bit unsettling. I have done this down-climb but personally prefer the safety of coming down the crack seam described in route 2 above for safety especially when the rock is wet. I have tried to downclimb this section when it has snow or water and lost my grip and abandoned it for the seam-crack downclimb. So if you have a fear of exposure or if the NE slab is wet at all, I recommend this way up and the crack seam on the way down.

4) Southeast slab - there is another saddle between the subpeaks to the south, and just above the saddle on the south face of the pinnacle is both a steep narrow slot to the left, and a steep slab to the right. The first time I tried the slab route I chickened out fearing my soles did not have enough traction. With good soles, this is actually a very easy way up. Find the steep seam with a lot of footholds and a tiny pine tree and head up to a relief of less steep slab and you will find a very interesting wall of rock with big jug holds. The wall is steep and there is some exposure but the jugs are so big the ascent this way is fun and safe (class 3+ ). I have downclimbed this way before and it was not too bad either. Once you get past this portion you have to go right and around to either route 1,2, or 3 or attempt to climb from the south by way of Southern Big Seam route. The safest way up is the class 4 route 3 above from this point.

5) South Big Seam Route - there is an obvious small gully (or big seam) just left of the slabs in route 4. You can either take route 4 to bypass most of the seam/gully, or climb the gully (which is not as fun). To get into the top of the seam-gully from route 4 you have to work around a ledge and downclimb a little through some large chunks of feldspar. At the top of this junction is some interesting large boulders to play on and some nice cliffs. Above you is an obvious fault route to the summit that is very scary looking from the summit looking down, as a downclimb but we have climbed up this route and it was not too bad (class 4/3+). You will see a very narrow and awkward steep seam on the left, and a near vertical good rock climb joined together. The rock climb is probably lower class 5. The seam is easier but not easy to get into because of the angle. I found there was some good handholds in the rock to the right so if you straddle the two routes and use the rockclimb for handholds and commit to the first difficult crux move at the bottom, you can get into the seam. The route is like hard class 4 for the first 6 feet and then every 4 feet of vertical gets progressively easier, 3+, 3, 2+. So once you commit keep climbing as downclimbing this route would be tricky to find the same small finger and toes holds. I have no intention of ever trying this from the summit down as finding the holds would be tough for me.

6) UPDATE 6-9-2019 NE Ramp. I have seen this route several times and always wanted to try it but it looked very exposed so I waited for Dan as a partner to try it and it was actually easier than it looks. On the NE side of the peak (best accessed from the saddle with the Middle Sister) stay left and down a bit and instead of climbing up the obvious easy class 2 and 2+ slabs to the big ledge where all the action is - find a steep cliff edge on the east side of the peak and there is a steep ramp about 2 feet wide that slides along the cliff at a 35 to 45 degree angle that gives a sneaky way up the big ledge where the crack-seam climb is. It looks much harder than it is. It starts out class 3 with exposure on the let side (east) but as you go up the ramp your hands only touch for balance (class 2+). I am not sure what most would call the route because if you look over the sloped ramp there is lethal exposure but there is plenty of room to safely climb up the ramp without any technical moves. I would say the exposure is class 4 but the technical part is mostly class 2+ so call it a class 3+ as it is a scramble with exposure but class 4 would over rate the risk of falling. It is not as steep as item #3 above the NW slab climb which is the way most people finish the top.

Having done all of these routes, my recommendation for the easiest and safest way up and down is to climb the saddle between middle and south sister and get up to the major challenges by way of easy, safe, class 2/2+. Then take the class 4 (route 3) up and the big crack (route 2) down. Both are on the north face of the peak pinnacle. The most interesting way to do this would be to approach from the opposite saddle from the south and do Route 4 crossing over to route 5 and going up but going down route 3. But that introduces more climbing challenges and exposure.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:235 ft / 71 m
    Total Elevation Loss:75 ft / 22 m
    Round-Trip Distance:0.3 mi / 0.5 km
    Grade/Class:1 thru 4 or low 5
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:235 ft / 71 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 160 ft / 49 m; Extra: 75 ft / 22m
    Loss on way in:75 ft / 22 m
    Distance:0.2 mi / 0.3 km
    Route:see TR
    Start Trailhead:low point in trail between peaks  7640 ft / 2328 m
Descent Statistics
    Distance:0.1 mi / 0.2 km
    Route:see TR
    End Trailhead:sadle between sisters  
Ascent Part of Trip: Three Sisters Park Tour

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Peak 80802017-06-25 a385 ft / 117 m
2Evergreen Mountain2017-06-25 b1106 ft / 337 m
3Alderfer Hill2017-06-25 c442 ft / 135 m
4The Brother2017-06-25 d200 ft / 61 m
5Three Sisters-South Peak2017-06-25 e235 ft / 72 m
7Three Sisters-Middle Peak2017-06-25 f90 ft / 27 m
8Three Sisters-North Peak2017-06-25 g140 ft / 43 m
Total Trip Gain: 2598 ft / 792 m    Total Trip Loss: 2278 ft / 695 m

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