Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest. We may pay for it later, of course, but it just may be worth the pain. That’s what I decided on Sunday, at least, knowing that I would hurt like crazy today.
My father and I have wanted to climb South Sister for a while. For those of you who don’t know, there are three rather famous mountains close to Bend in Central Oregon: South, Middle and North Sister (we also have Mount Bachelor, and lesser peaks called Little Brother, The Wife and The Husband – cute, don’t you think?). South Sister is by far the most accessible (as evidenced by the many people climbing it Sunday).
Anyway, we tried last summer, but there was far too much snow. This year, we waited longer. It’s been warmer, anyway, and so the trail was clear. It isn’t a long hike in terms of miles – probably about 12 round trip, although the different maps we consulted varied quite a bit. However, it’s almost a five thousand foot climb, and the path is loose talus and cinders for a good part of the way. We knew there would be a lot of people, since it was Labor Day weekend, and there were, but it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and perfect temperatures.
So far so good. We started a little after nine. We did the first climb up a ravine to a flat area, crossed that and started climbing again. Pretty soon, my father said he’d like a break. There’s a lovely shoulder with trees and a nice view, so we stopped for lunch. We agreed to keep going after that, but Dad was beginning to make noises that he didn’t think he could go much farther. Now, you have to know my father to know that it’s difficult to take him seriously when he starts complaining, even though he’s eighty-two. About fifteen years ago, he and I went on a seven day backpacking trip. The entire first day he complained constantly that he couldn’t take another step, that he would never make it, and we had to turn around (however, we couldn’t, because we had hired a car to drop us off in a remote spot and the driver was long gone), yet he did just fine and we made our entire hike a couple of days faster than we thought we would.
Anyway, this time I suggested we take it one step at a time and turn around when he wanted to. So we kept climbing and climbing. We scrambled up some talus. It was a little scary for him. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could get back down, but I didn’t tell him that. We took another break and examined the GPS and the map, and decided we had climbed 3000 of the 5000 feet. I felt pretty good at that point, but I was worried about him by now. I thought maybe he had gone far enough. We started out again, anyway, but pretty soon he said he had had enough.
Now, I could have turned around with him, but the thought at the beginning of this post had been teasing at me, pulling at my shirt, all day. We couldn’t have been more than a mile and a half from the summit. I’ve lived in Central Oregon for a number of years, and I have never been to the top of this volcano, but I had always wanted to. None of my friends ever seemed to want to do this hike, and this might be my last chance. What was up there? The words just popped out of my mouth, that, if he didn’t mind waiting, I would go on up.
So I left him, knowing that he would be fine, up there on the side of the mountain, on such a nice day, with fantastic views all around. And I started climbing faster. I climbed and climbed. After a while, I realized that I really wasn’t in shape for this hike. I was going to be really sore. The last thousand feet or so are loose cinders, so it’s like walking on dry sand. It’s extra work. One part of my brain kept saying “turn around. Go keep your father from being alone up here, and save your legs.” Yet, I really wanted to know what I would find.
It’s glorious up there. It’s a huge crater, filled with a glacier, surrounded by a thin volcanic rim that has a trail on it. The 360° views are stunning.
When I came down, I discovered that my father had climbed another 800 feet. He stood by the trail, waiting for me, watching everyone come past. I was so sore, I could barely make it back to the car. He helped me over a few places where tree roots and rock meant I had to lift my feet higher than I could stand to do. The second day soreness has been pretty excruciating. But I will be fine and it was totally worth it. Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest.