Day 1: Green Lakes trailhead to Moraine Lake.
I had read that a lot of people that climb South Sister, camp at Devil’s Lake and then start early in the morning and go up just for the day. Those same reports talk about being very crowded making it even difficult to find an available campsite. Reading multiple reports and ideas, we decided to start from the Green Lakes trailhead but, instead of heading to Green Lakes, which can also get very crowded head to Moraine Lake. Not only the hike is shorter but it also puts you much closer to the climbing trail so it was a far better choice. Considering all that, we drove early in the morning and met the rest of the group at around noon to start hiking. The first half of the trail follows the beautiful Fall Creek as it makes its turns in the forest. The views here are limited to the creek itself and numerous short waterfalls. This is pretty much constant until you reach the junction with the Moraine Lake and leave the Green Lakes trail. At that point, the creek is left behind and you start gaining elevation. Pretty soon there’s a dramatic change in scenery but not because you start seeing the top of the mountains over the horizon. It’s because the trial passes a small saddle in the lava fields. As you get closer, the vegetation thins out and then you find yourself in front of big pile of rocks. Some of them look to be in a pretty precarious position as if almost a gust of wind could take them down.
On the other side, a couple of ups and downs separate you from the destination which appears as surprise after a turn on the trail. From that point you start seeing campsites already occupied so it’s time to start looking. Right when we got to the lake, to a junction that splits the trail to go on either side of the lake we met with the forest ranger. Talking to him we learned that the sites were limited and the we needed to stay in a designated site – unless we wanted to be asked to move and even fined. But, he was kind enough to point out that taking the trail on the other side and following the closed canyon trail, we would find the last three campsites probably empty as not too many people know about those. So with this recommendation, we headed that way. We did pass two or three already occupied campsites but after that, we found the remaining three, all empty. After waling back and forth two or three times, we picked the one we liked most and set up camp. Being early in the afternoon, we took our time to get water, relax and have dinner while admiring the limited views we had of South Sister.
Day 2: South Sister summit and out
On the other side of the lake we took the Moraine Lake trail that steeply climbed over the ridge and met with the climber’s trail. Turning around at that point gave us a pretty spectacular view of the lake below us and Broken Top in the distance.
The trail itself was wide and easy to follow, in fact, it almost looked like a highway, but after passing a large flat area the fun began. Slowly at first but faster later, the trail got steeper, narrower and rockier. The views ahead of us were limited to the false summit but behind us the expanded to lava fields and other peaks. We huffed and puffed until we reached the false summit which comes as a surprise. From it, the true summit, or the south side of it shows up, but you also get a view of Lewis Glacier and a small seasonal tarn in a small valley.
We stayed there for a while having lunch and enjoying the views until the wind started taking a toll on our core temperature. On the way back we made a quick stop at the summit you to make sure we stood there or at least touched it. AS we hiked down, the clouds started moving in and the sky turned from blue to grey. The views were still pretty spectacular and once we got down to the lake, most of the clouds were already gone. That gave us one last good view of Moraine Lake and South Sister. From there we just went to camp, packed everything and hiked the short path back to the trailhead to head back home. WE spent most of the drive back in silence just re-living the scenery.
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