North Sister (10,085’):
North Sister is the most interesting climbing objective in the Three Sisters area because of a series of steep rock spires, which line the summit ridge. From North to South the major spires are Glisan Pinnacle, Prouty Pinnacle, and the Camels Hump. Prouty Pinnacle forms the rough shape of a saddle with two horns on either end. The Northern horn is the highest point on North Sister.
North Sister currently has four glaciers.
Collier Glacier begins in the saddle at the base of the South Ridge and
sweeps past the broad West Face below the summit pinnacle.
Linn Glacier is on the North Face, Villard Glacier is on the Northeast
Face, and Thayer Glacier is on the East Face.
Prouty Pinnacle Variations: (not our route but
Besides the regular route, there are four other routes, which lead to the top of Prouty Pinnacle. When there is plenty of snow, the Northeast Shoulder is the most convenient way to gain Prouty Pinnacle from the North. Without snow, the climbing turns into a scary scramble up stacked dinner plates!
Gain the saddle between Glisan and Prouty Pinnacles.
Move up the Northeast Shoulder of Prouty Pinnacle.
Traverse left (South) onto a small snowfield.
Follow the snowfield to the summit. Other
routes up the Summit Pinnacle include the South Face, the Southwest Corner, and
the rock rib on the left (North) side of the West-side chute.
The rock on these 3 variations is quite poor. By the way, we’re taking the South Ridge.
To return to Pole Creek, descend the Southeast Ridge. To return to Sunshine descend the South Ridge (which is the
way we’re going). Climbers have
used a gully below Glisan Pinnacle to descend the West Face to Collier Glacier.
Do not use this gully if snow conditions are bad or the freezing level is
high. Either way, expect rock fall!
The South Ridge is the most popular way of climbing North Sister. You can approach the South Ridge from either Sunshine or Pole Creek. The crux of the climb is a traverse under the West Face (the area in my dream where I fell to my death) of Prouty Pinnacle. The slope is about 40 to 45 degrees and exposed. When icy, it can be quite formidable, especially to those not experienced in traversing. In late Summer, the snowfield melts completely (probably so in our case). Without snow, the slope is only 30 or 35 degrees, but insecure because of a covering of loose dirt and scree shaped like flat shingles. Joy!!!
The West-Side chute, sometimes called the Bowling Alley, is a large amphitheater, which leads from the North end of the traverse to the summit. It can be a fourth-class piece of cake when bare rock, or a verglased fifth-class nightmare!!! If there is any reason to suspect snow or ice on the upper reaches of the mountain, take crampons, helmet, and a rope. Take an ice axe, as you may find ice on the Collier early in the morning, and on shaded portions of the descent route.
From Sunshine, follow a climbers’ trail Southeast up Glacier Creek. Where the Creek turns South, continue Southeast up the canyon toward the Collier Glacier. In Summer, meadows gradually give way to scree and boulders, and the trail dissolves prominent dark blade of rock at 8,200 feet, locally known as the Black Fin. Cross the glacier to the Southern tip of North Sister’s South Ridge. Scramble up loose scree to the top of the ridge.
Follow the South Ridge, being careful not to tree yourself on several gendarmes in the first hundred yards. Near 9,800 feet, contour left around the West side of a large gendarme, sometimes called the Camels Hump. Move up, and wind around the East side of a second gendarme. Move back left again, and contour under the West Face of a third gendarme to the base of the summit Pinnacle.
Traverse 250 feet under the West Face of Prouty Pinnacle. Turn right and climb into an obvious gully (The Bowling Alley) between the two horns of Prouty Pinnacle. Climb up and exit right near the top (fourth or fifth class, depending on conditions). You can also exit straight up, but this is a little harder. Move left and around the top of the Bowling Alley to the summit rim. Climb delightful rock to the top of the Northern horn, which is the highest point.
The Bowling Alley is an obvious gully, yet many parties miss it and try to climb a more difficult gully off to the left. If you find yourself on a steep rotten wall, you have traversed too far North. Time from Sunshine and the PCT, 4-7 hours.