NW Adventures,  Maps & GPS Tracks

Middle Sister – SE Ridge Ascent

P1030670Well, here it is, the Thursday before a long weekend and the weather is still not stable enough to plan… As we threw out many options, like Deception, Enchantments, Diamond…I remembered a route on Middle Sister that I had always wanted to do…The Southeast Ridge. Haven’t seen much beta on it, but looking at some of my past photos, it looked interesting, and doable, this time of year.

So there we go…Middle Sister’s SE Ridge.
P1030492We got to Pole Creek trailhead Saturday noon, and were hiking by 12:45pm. No further into the hike we met a climber hiking out that gave us the beta we needed to ditch the snowshoes…good thing. The consistent snow was at about the 3-mile mark, and only 2-miles more to camp. The snow was consolidated enough that it didn’t warrant snowshoes. We got to camp at about 4:15Pm, a bit disappointed to find no bare spots, or running water. Luckily we were prepared to camp on snow, and melt snow for water…just a minor inconvenience.


Panorama 1Once the sun dropped behind the Sisters, it turned cold and windy…bedtime was early at about 7:00pm. ZZZzzzzzzz.

P1030588Up at 4:00am and hiking/climbing at 5:00am. For the three of us, this was the first time attempting this route, so with every step it was “Wow…this is cool!” Well, for me anyway. We traversed over a large snow field to the large moraines where the Dillard Glacier used to extend. Once we reached the toe of the current Dillard Glacier, we ascended it in a westerly direction until reaching the lower SE Ridge. Once on the ridge, we debated on doing the SE Ridge, or the South Ridge. We came to do the SE Ridge, so that’s what we did…


Panorama 9

I would say that 2/3 of the way up the ridge is the crux if this route. Just like the standard North Ridge route, this was the steepest snow for the whole route. We brought a rope, and wore harnesses, but never used them. The snow was soft enough to sink in your front points and axe shaft…although at 9,000’, at the edge of the ridge, the exposure was a little breathless.

P1030770We hit the summit at 10:30am…and with sustained winds we didn’t stay too long. We decided to descend the North Ridge, mainly for the novelty of doing a loop. The North Ridge is in great condition…all snow. The steep crux was not too bad either…a short front point in good snow made for a pretty quick descent to the saddle. Once off the saddle the wind stopped and the sun was shining. We took a long break below Prouty Point, then made the long sloppy descent back to camp.



Back to camp at 12:30pm, we packed up and were hiking out by 1:45. Unfortunately the snow was sloppy and wet, but only lasted for a couple of loooooong miles. We took a detour through the burned forest, which I found very interesting, and hit the trail near Soap creek. From there the trail is only about 2-miles back to the vehicle, but feels like much more.

Great climb with Sue Giordano and Brian Jenkins.

At 10,000 feet, it’s not the altitude that takes my breath away, it’s the scenery. I think this is the most scenic area in Oregon.

Broken Top…
Panorama 5
Broken Top and South Sister from the SE Ridge…
Middle Sister and North Sister in the distance…
Panorama 20
South Sister…windy on top…

4 thoughts on “Middle Sister – SE Ridge Ascent

  1. Brian Jenkins

    Great time, Karl! Other than possibly some spots in the Wallowas, I agree that Middle Sister has the best views in Oregon.

  2. Kristina

    Hey! I’m looking to climb middle sister this weekend (August) but I’m in a sling due to a shoulder injury during a bike accident. Based on your experience, this time of year up the SE ridge route, do you think I could climb it with just one good arm?

    1. Karl Helser Post author

      Hi Kristina,

      Hmmm…one arm huh? Well, the SE ridge route does have a bit of steepness to it, but I believe the west (left) side of the ridge is melted out and just a bouldery, screed fest…so I would say yes, it would be doable with one arm. That being said, the SE Ridge route is best when snow covered, but not if you only have one good arm, because it take two good arms to self arrest 🙂

  3. Scott

    Hi Karl. Thanks for this post. I have hopes of doing a similar ascent this June and its hard to find much beta on this route. The tentative plan is to hike into Chambers Lakes from the West and camp around 7800′ on the ridge on the West edge of the Irving Glacier. That way I can already have some elevation for the climb the next day, then after descending and breaking camp, head straight to Camp Lake for a second night. I’m choosing to go early in the season with the idea that snow is better than scree although I could go in August. I imagine the route to be more or less straight up to the ridge, then along it to the summit. I question the terrain at about 200′ below the summit. Looks pretty dicey on Google Earth. Did you stay high on the ridge through that area? I’m wondering if it might be best to traverse below and catch the ridge again at about 9940′. Any thoughts?

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