South Sister Climber Trail #36
ElevationAscent: 4,875' 1,486 m
Descent: -4,875' -1,486 m
High: 10,322' 3,146 m
Low: 5,453' 1,662 m
GradeAvg Grade: 15% (9°)
Max Grade: 69% (34°)
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“A spectacular but nontechnical climb up Oregon's third highest summit.”— Matthew Storm
Beyond the permit kiosk, the trail starts to wind up through the forest as it gains the ridge which approaches the peak. There are a few spots in this section with views to the south. But most of the excitement lies ahead. You'll know that you are near the top of this section when you pass a large rock on your right at a switchback. Things start to open up shortly.
Once you gain the ridge, the trees open up and you get your first good view of South Sister. This is a very nice section of trail in a park-like area with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. If you look to the right in the middle of this section, you can see Moraine Lake below. There are side trails that will take you there if you wish. Otherwise, stick to the main trail. In this section, the trail is very wide and mostly level. But as you get closer to the peak itself, the REAL climbing begins.
As you start climbing, the trail gets steeper and steeper, and the trees become more sparse. Views to the south get more spectacular as you gain elevation. The trail eventually starts to get even steeper as it climbs up to a false summit at the base of the Lewis Glacier.
At 8,800 feet in elevation, the base of the Lewis Glacier is a popular spot to stop to take a break on this climb. Sit here for a while and admire the glacier and the greenish tarn that sits at the bottom. But there is still a ways to go from here to the summit. When you are ready, continue up the trail on the ridge to the left of the Lewis Glacier (the trail to the right leads to Green Lake).
This last section of trail is VERY steep with loose rocks. But keep at it and you'll reach the crater rim. At this point, you can run around the rim or across the snowfield to the true summit. You've made it! Enjoy the spectacular views for a while before going back.
At the higher elevations, you might (depending on the time of year) encounter lots of butterflies. You might also see ground squirrels even at the summit.
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History & Background
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Land Manager: USFS - Deschutes National Forest Office
Oct 7, 2019: Forests Seek Input on Special Recreation Permit Fee
Oct 7, 2019: Volunteer Information Night to be held