South Sister Ski Descent

I ran into my new landlord at 6:30 am this morning as I was unloading my Uhaul trailer in the rain. “Damn”, he muttered, “I was hoping you’d be lazier and I would have time to take photos of the place before you moved in”. I laughed. “Brian”, I said, “I don’t have time to be lazy”.

It’s true. As a medical student, the primary obligation of my time is to my studies, and they fill sixty hours of my week at a minimum. That means that if I can’t stay focused at school, or if I don’t use my time wisely to tackle errands in my spare time, then I have little left for the other things that I love to do. To be able to spend waking time with Taylor, run around in the mountains, cook good food, and write this blog, I have to be ruthless. There’s no time to be lazy.

If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.
If I want this kind of time, I have to make the time.

Last week, the pace was different– it was one of those rare weeks after a week of final exams when the demands of school totaled closer to six hours than to sixty. I needed to move from one apartment to another, a daunting task that would consume much of the week. Still, I had three days all to myself, an embarrassment of riches.

Saturday: Taylor and I rallied up to Mt Hood to explore new trails with our man Eric, who lives up in Government Camp. With quorum for a shuttle, we dropped a car at the highway and drove to the apex of the ridge just East of Mt Hood. From there, twenty miles of singletrack wound down a few thousand vertical feet through changing forest. The view from the top of Lookout Mountain, a side mission through some snowdrifts and muddy road, was well worth the trip.

Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.
Taylor on Lookout Mountain with Mt Hood and the Central Oregon Cascades beyond.

Sunday: Taylor had to go to work, so I pulled myself together and drove out to Bend. I knew that I wanted to bike, and that I wanted to ski. I had no idea where I’d stay, or what I’d eat. I pulled together the sad remains of my pre-move refrigerator, including some questionable milk and stale marshmallow cereal. With the freedom to suffer and unhindered audacity that I find when I’m doing things alone, I wound the Subaru up into the mountains above Bend and rode a loop well worth repeating. (For those in the know: up Storm King and Funner, across Tiddlywinks and Kiwa Butte, down Tyler’s Traverse).

The target of my day was a relatively new trail called Tyler’s traverse, which loops, leaps, and flows six miles through the Bend ponderosas with hardly a wasted pedal. It’s mind binding. Riding in the zone on a well-constructed mountain bike trail is a feeling which approaches powder skiing. Tired, I bedded down covertly in the woods with a plan to go to the mountains in the morning.

One of the best ways to plan adventures is along the road while you're having them.
One of the best ways to plan adventures is along the road while you’re having them.

Monday: … Did not start well. I woke around five with the sun and promptly burnt the hair off of my right hand trying to pour hot water from a still-running JetBoil. The acrid smell would somehow linger somewhere near my soft palette for the remainder of the day. After botching the stove, I slammed a bowl of cereal, realizing as I did so that the milk had gone sour. I forgot to eat the yogurt that I’d brought and left camp with only 200 or so sour calories in my gullet.

South Sister from just beyond the snow line.
South Sister from just beyond the snow line. The route follows confluent snow patches through alpine parks to the prominent central ridge on the summit.

Still, as I said, freedom to suffer and unhindered audacity: I left the trailhead for South Sister sometime around 6:30 in the morning with the most irresponsibly light pack that I could muster. Nearly June as it is now, I cruised a few miles of dirt in my S-Labs before hitting snow and switching to skis. Though from a distance the route is not completely apparent, it unfolded logically as I passed a group of skiers and then another of sluggish snowshoers. 

All but the last five-hundred feet or so went with skins on before I, out of laziness, switched to crampons. Here the sour milk caught up with me and my stomach churned. I slowed, but glancing at my watch, saw the arbitrary opportunity to impress nobody and top out in a reasonable time. Making a quick walk across the summit crater, I tagged the summit in 2:57.

Middle and North Sister from the summit of South Sister. Linking the three would be one great day.
Middle and North Sister from the summit of South Sister. Linking the three would be one great day.

Never a patient one, I could muster only half an hour of summit-sitting in the hopes of softer snow before I locked the toes and skied off of the summit. The first pitch was miserably churned and icy, pock-marked with footprints. I steeled my teeth, ears, and legs for a few thousand feet of chattering skiing. Pleasantly, with a slight change in aspect onto the Southeast ridge, the snow softened to a perfectly rippable corn, and I quickly arced my way back to tree line.

Abhorring boot-hiking, I did what I do best and found the most contrived and hazardous tongue of snow which snaked its way down through the woods. I skied past a few groups of hikers, who looked at me like I was crazy, skiing a meter-wide strip of snow through the woods. Finally walking on dirt, I again seized on another arbitrary goal and fast-walked my way to the car for a time of 58 minutes down from the summit.

It feels good, to be so tired. Feeling three-day tired, having tagged five-thousand feet of corn skiing before 11 am, feels incomparably good.

Want to shred the brown pow and support Mountain Lessons?

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Category: Adventures, Travel, & WritingMountain BikingSkiing


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