Second Cascades Mountaineers training weekend

July 14th and 15th were spent in the Three Sisters Wilderness with the Cascades Mountaineers practicing crevasse rescue and honing the snow travel techniques learned last month at Tam McArthur Rim.   

This trip took place on the toe of the Hayden glacier between Middle and North Sister mountains. Start and end point was Pole Creek trailhead just outside of Sisters, OR. 


Gear Re-Org

Pole Creek Trailhead, OR

Because we were backpacking to the glacier, we met just before 6am at the trailhead, spent a half hour making sure our packs were ready to go, and divvyed up the communal ropes, snow pickets, nylon slings, and carabiners. 

The trail toward Camp Lake is very gentle, meandering through a old burn scar, never getting too step or technical. The first mile or so is very sandy without much shade, but because of our early start, this section was quite pleasant. Three miles up the trail we found the climber’s spur heading directly west toward the Hayden glacier. The footing became a bit rougher at this point, although the route finding remained easy, and pretty soon we were looking for a basecamp in the subalpine environment near the base of the Hayden. Multiple snow-melt creeks bisect the landscape here and we chose a large, flat area to accommodate several tents and a communal cooking area. 


Heading up the climber's trail

Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

The sun was rapidly starting to heat things up and there was not a cloud in the sky to offer a respite from the high-altitude rays. I slathered the sunscreen on, put a floppy hat upon my head, threw on some long sleeves, set up my sleeping area, and prepared my pack for the rest of the day. Our plan was to hike halfway up the glacier toward some large crevasses in order to learn and practice several techniques for safely navigating around crevassed terrain and rescue in case someone was to fall inside a hole in the snow. 

Mike Volk led the teaching portion of the day, demonstrating proper rope team travel, useful knots for snow climbing, secure placement of protection, and the Canadian drop loop crevasse rescue method. 


Digging a deadman

Hayden Glacier, OR

We all spent several hours playing in the snow and practicing these new skills. The crevasse rescue rigging was the most complex thing we did on this day and while it was great to get hands-on with the concept, I know I need a lot more practice with this before relying on myself to pull a friend out of a snowy hole. The Canadian drop loop method seems a bit more complex than a classic z-drag 3:1 haul and requires each end climber to carry a fair amount of extra rope, making a 30-meter rope seem pretty short for a 2 climber team. I think the ensuing hauling effort is a bit easier with the Canadian method, but I think the added complexity and requirement to keep the climbers pretty close together outweigh this benefit. I decided to spend some time setting up a z-drag, which went pretty well, but would be an absolute bear to build by oneself while your partner’s life could depend on how quickly and efficiently your system works. Basically I learned the best crevasse rescue is not falling inside of one. 

While all this was going on, the wind started blowing strongly out of the west, shooting down over Prouty Point and actually making us pretty cold out on the snow. We decided to head back to camp sometime between 4 and 5pm, and once off the snow, the temperature became much more tolerable and I shed the insulating layer and windshell I had been wearing for the last hour. Taking it slow back down the pumice slopes due to my unstable right ankle, I lagged a bit behind the group and was one of the last to return to basecamp. 


 practicing our picture skills

Hayden Glacier, OR

A few camp chores needed to be completed: we pumped water, set out wet clothing to dry, and began to think about preparing supper. As evening turned into night the cooking area became a gathering zone for backpacking stoves and the climbers huddled around pots of boiling water. Most chose freeze-dried entrees, several of us made couscous with various mix-ins. I put a few tuna packets and olives in mine. Good salty flavor and lots of protein and “good” fats for a minimal weight penalty. It’s not the most glamorous food, but it gets the job done and fills the belly right up after a day in the hills. 

Middle Sister Camp 04.JPG


Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

So far the biggest surprise of the trip had been the paucity of mosquitos around our campsite, making the lounging and supping very relaxing. As the daylight began to fade in the east, more and more bugs began to come out, and while they were not particularly vicious, it soon became necessary to bundle back up and retreat to the safety of tents and bivy sacs. 


South Sister from camp

Three Sister Wilderness, OR 

During supper, Mike suggested a training climb of Middle Sister for Sunday and we all readily agreed. Naturally, this would require an alpine start in order to climb the mountain while the snow remained strong and stable and any risk of rockfall was low. In addition, we were going to have to walk all the way back to our cars after summiting and didn’t want to get back home super late on a schoolnight. Short story long, we got up around 4 in preparation for a 5am depart. There was a group of Mazamas from Portland camped above us, close to the glacier, and we wanted to try to get ahead of them before the upper reaches of the mountain. Our Oregon Cascades are quite loose and apt to shed rocks, and having 15 other novice climbers above us, raining scree and boulders down toward us did not sound appealing. 


Early morning views

Hayden Glacier, OR


staring up at prouty point

Hayden Glacier, OR

The first hour of hiking went well, we quickly gained the glacier and passed our practice spot from the day before. Two hours after leaving camp we arrived at Prouty Point and once again got buffeted by wind from the west. Our route took us up the scree slopes of the north ridge, right up to a small but steep snowfield that we had elected to protect with a fixed line. Ian took the pickets and the lead, placing a few bomber deadman anchors on the 30 meter long traverse up and slightly right from our vantage point. 


slow going on the Hayden 

Hayden Glacier, OR


Washington, TFJ, Jefferso, Hood

Summit of Middle Sister, OR

The rest of the group quickly followed Ian up the line, but still had 500 vertical feet of loose-rock scrambling to go until the summit. Once on top, we took a few group pictures and began the slip-slide descent down our route of ascent. We ran into the Mazamas back at the fixed line, waited for them to clear the snowfield, took cover when they kicked a few volleyball-sized rocks down toward us, and used their rope to easily descend the only steep and snowy part of the entire route. By the time we reached the Hayden glacier, it was getting quite warm, and we could do a bit of stand-up glissading on the steeper parts of the slope, which made the going a bit quicker as we were all keen to get back to camp.


The whole gang

Summit of Middle Sister, OR 

Once at camp, more water filtering was priority number 1 as I was completely out and felt a bit dehydrated after the long day yesterday and climb this morning. Ultimately, it took about an hour to get all of us ready to hike out. The 5 mile trek to the cars went by in 2 hours and we got a little bit of rain over the last mile, not enough to even get us wet, but did settle the dust a bit, and made for slightly cooler temperatures in the exposed, dusty burn scar. 

Middle Sister Camp 01.JPG

last call for h20

Three Sisters Wilderness, OR 

Back at the trailhead, it was the usual routine of putting on sandals, getting group gear back to Ian, sharing the stoke, and planning for the next training weekend on Mt. Hood. This was an effort-intensive weekend and a noticeable step-up from our first training weekend back in June. It’s been awesome to learn from such a great mentor in Mike and have a fun group of fellow learners to progress with. While there is no doubt I still need to keep practicing my snow climbing skills, I feel as though I have a strong base to build upon and I know the essential things to keep myself and my partners safe on easy/moderate glaciated climbs. Too bad I won’t have a chance to practice them in real life until next spring! 

The next training weekend is supposed to be on the north side of Mt. Hood, learning ice climbing skills and the intricacies of placing protection in solid ice. This should be a fun weekend and I’m excited to start leaning the things I’ll need to do harder north-facing routes that have sections of alpine and low-angle waterfall ice. 

Have Fun and Stay Safe, 


Andrew Kersh