Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cabin Time: Stilp Family Vacation - Part Five of Who Knows How Many

So happy to see the Minnesota Welcomes You sign!
The biggest chunk of our summer vacation time was spent at Curt's parents' cabin in Northern Minnesota. Nestled on the shore of Boy Lake, just outside of Remer, the cabin is about the best place to go on a hot summer day.

Curt grew up hunting and fishing up in the woods around the cabin.  When a piece of land became available, his parents bought it.  The original cabin on the land was not so nice.  Old and mostly run down, the human inhabitants shared the old cabin with bats, mice, skunks, and who knows what other kinds of critters.

On my first visit there - as Curt's new girlfriend- a bat started swooping around the room where we were staying.  It was quite comical watching his dad try to hit the bat mid-flight with a fishing net while I screamed every time it flew near my head.  I'm surprised they invited me to come back.

Other "big" things happened on that first visit to the cabin.  Curt and I made a  "Love Pie"out of leftover cement that we were using to repair the sidewalk. We wrote "C+J August 31, 1996" on a circular piece of cement.  It's still at the cabin to this day, sitting on top of the rock garden we made on a work weekend when we were newly married.  We also talked about marriage for the first time at the cabin - in the boat out on the lake.  The cabin has some good memories for us.

Curt's parents eventually tore down the old cabin and built a new one in 1998.  We got to be a part of the planning, dreaming, and building process.  Once it was finished, we all got to enjoy it.  We spent many weekends in our newly married years at the cabin hunting, fishing, boating, and playing.  It is one of the things Curt misses the most about living so far away.

Curt loved bringing our family back to the cabin, especially now that our kids are old enough to remember it and enjoy it.  Chad (Curt's oldest brother), his wife Lara, and our niece Madison worked tirelessly to get the cabin in tip-top shape.  Lara and Madi hung "Welcome to the cabin" signs off the deck and as we pulled in, Chad set off a giant firework.  What a way to start our time together.
Our view as we pulled up the night we arrived.
Our other niece Alexa was working as a camp counselor at the Christian camp bordering the cabin property so she came over on every work break and in the evenings if she could get a sub for her cabin.  We wish we could have seen her more, but loved catching glimpses of her throughout our visit.  Twice Alexa and the other counselors came over to get all the Stilp Cousins and brought them back to the camp to join in the after-dinner camp games with the other campers.  A pretty cool perk to having a cousin as a counselor.
The first night we arrived - Alexa got to come over really quickly to say hi

Katie turned 12 while we were there so Alexa came over on her hour break to squeeze Katie.
Curt's parents came up a few days after we arrived and joined in all the fun.  We spent our time at the cabin relaxing and playing.  We took boat rides and kayaked.  Most of the adults took a spin around the lake on the waterskis.  Curt and Chad taught Grant how to waterski and Alli almost got the hang of it.
Grant got up on his third try
oh my goodness is he cute!
One time around the lake was more than enough for me.
Curt and Paige stuck to tubing 
Grant and Katie watching Auntie Lara get up on the skies
Madi showing us how it's done
Paige and Katie settled for tubing with Madi and Alexa and Chad gave them some wild rides around the lake, whipping them back and forth across the wake while they squealed with delight.

The boys got up early to fish, while the ladies slept in.  The kids fished off the dock when they weren't swimming or playing in the water with the dogs.
early morning fishing 
We laid around.  Ate, and ate some more.

The kids did a lot of four wheeling too.  One day when Alexa was off work all six cousins loaded up on three four-wheelers and drove all the way into town.  Ate ice-cream, played at the park, then drove home.  They were gone for several hours and came home dust covered, with huge smiles.
And they're off...
dirty face
Exercise at the cabin was fun.  Lara and I did yoga on the shore by the water.  I squeezed in a few runs that were beautiful, minus the deer flies and mosquitos that swarmed me the entire way.  By the time I got back to the cabin I had dead bugs all over me!  (That is one of the downfalls of northern Minnesota - the bugs in the summer are really awful.)

Curt and I swam across Boy Lake while Chad and Lara boated next to us.   .75 miles across without any panic attacks for me.  BOOM!  And thank you Jesus.

The other really fun thing we did at the cabin was celebrate Katie's 12th birthday.  Everyone pitched in to make it special.  Madi and Lara spent hours making and decorating delicious cake pops and planning a special dinner.
homemade cake pops
Grandma Carole brought balloons and helped with dinner.  There were birthday flowers and decorations.  Katie got to open birthday presents with her extended family for the first in years.
My beautiful birthday girl

Happy birthday Katie Joy!
After dinner she and her cousins headed over to the church camp for the evening games.  It was really special.
cousins playing camp games
We concluded the birthday celebration with a piñata from Grandma Carole stuffed so full of candy that it took multiple hits and mutilations before it finally broke open.

Alexa and Paige waiting for their turn at the piñata.
I also subjected everyone to family pictures.  The kids were not impressed, but participated nicely in spite of their desire to move on to something much more fun than family photos.

Grandma Carole and Grandpa Mo with most of their grandkids
We all had a hard time saying goodbye to Alexa and driving away to the Twin Cities.  She looked so lonely sitting on the front steps waving.
right before we left...
It was also hard to say goodbye to the cabin, not knowing when we'll be there again next.  But more beautiful memories were made and we can revisit them any time, no matter where we are.

Thank you Chad, Lara, Madi, Alexa, Mo and Carole for all the work you put into making it such a wonderful time.  We love you.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Exclamation Mark! - South Sister Summit Hike Review

Starting out.  Not sweaty or tired yet. 
Did you know you can hike to the summit of Oregon's third tallest mountain peak? 

Neither did I until a couple of years ago.  When I found out the summit of the South Sister was accessible via a hiking trail that did not require mountain climbing gear, I freaked out.  Then added it to my list of things I just HAD to do while living here.

Last summer (August of 2013) was our weekend to summit the South Sister. says this about the South Sister trail, "Admittedly the trail up 10,358 foot South Sister is exceedingly steep, long and rugged, but no technical climbing skills are required and the rewards are great."  I wanted IN on those rewards.

Curt and I set the kids up with some cool people to take care of them and headed to Central Oregon.  We scrapped our original plan to backpack because Curt's Jeep was dying a slow and painful death and we had to spend time in Bend researching new vehicles.  It was a blessing in disguise though because we stumbled upon Hosmer Lake, a "hidden jewel of green and blue surrounded by dark forests."  

Further off the beaten path than Elk Lake, the campground around Hosmer Lake has large, secluded camp sites.  The one we selected was like having the campground entirely to ourselves.  Really private.  Really beautiful.  Really quiet.  Perfect for a getaway centered around time together and without the chaos of our large family.  

The only drawback to Hosmer Lake is that it's not a swimming lake.  The campground hosts told us it has leeches in it and that if we wanted to swim we should go to nearby Elk Lake.  So we did.

We slept like babies on our new camping cots (why on earth did we wait so long to invest in cots?!?) and were at the South Sister Summit Trailhead by 8 a.m. the following morning.

Our hiking map suggest the South Sister Summit as a possible hike. Techinical skill was marked "Advanced" and the Aerobic category was listed as "Strenuous!"   We both laughed at the exclamation mark.  It was the only hike on the map with an exclamation mark. 

Let me tell you - we earned that exclamation mark!  It was a "strenuous!" hike.

The South Sister Summit trail is only open August through mid-October.  The "extremely difficult trail to the summit gains a staggering 4,900 feet of elevation in 5.5 miles." All hiking books and guides make sure to give this warning:  "Do NOT attempt to climb the summit in anything but perfect weather.  If there is a cloud on the summit, even on an otherwise sunny day, hikers could well encounter a blizzard whiteout at the top."  

  • Trail shoes.  We each hiked in our favorite trail shoes.  Most hikers wore hiking boots, but a good solid pair of trail shoes will get you there and back.
  • Gaiters.  Gaiters are protective coverings that go over the top of your hiking shoes and socks.  They prevent trail debris from sneaking inside your shoes and socks.  We don't own gaiters and didn't buy any, but they sure would have come in handy on this hike.  The cinder scree (rocky, lava soil toward the top of the mountain) filled our shoes on the ascent and descent.
  • Hiking Poles.  We borrowed hiking poles for this trip and they were crucial.  We relied heavily on them for a big portion of the ascent and the descent.  Having the extra support and balance saved us both from multiple would-be falls on the trail.  I wouldn't do South Sister without hiking poles.
  • Backpacks.  Every hiker on the mountain needs a backpack stocked with layers of clothing (it's cold at the top), a lunch, hearty snacks, a whistle (in case you get lost), a poncho to keep dry in case of emergency, and some toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
  • WATER.  Hiking guides recommend a minimum of two quarts of water per hiker for this hike.  We brought our backpacking water filter and were so grateful we did because we filled up our 48 ounce water bottles multiple times on the trail.  We couldn't stop drinking water.  We also filtered water for several unprepared hikers who were really suffering because they were so thirsty.  Do NOT mess around on this trail.  Bring more than enough water and food.
  • Camera.  Why would you put yourself through so much work and not take pictures at the top?  Reviews say you can see half the state of Oregon from the summit.  It might be an exaggeration, but maybe not.  It was impressive.

The day we hiked South Sister wispy clouds swirled around and past the summit.  Hoards of hikers were hitting the trail, so we decided it was safe enough to give it a go.  We parked in the Devils Lake Trailhead parking lot and started hiking from that point.  12.5 mile round trip to see it all.
Heading out.
The trail crosses a little creek and then launches straight uphill through thick and dense forest with no view of mountains.  Our hiking book (100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan), our hiking map, and the trip reviews we read all stated that this first 1.5 miles is a litmus test for the remainder of the hike.  If the hike through the dense woods feels too difficult, stop at Morraine Lake for lunch and head back to your car.  
We assumed that the moss on the trees shows how high the snow is in the winter.  For frame of reference, Curt is 6' 3".
It was tough.  Hard, sweaty work putting one foot in front of the other on steep terrain to get out of the woods and into a sandy plateau that showcases Morraine Lake, South Sister looming straight ahead, and Broken Top to the right.  We couldn't believe how spectacular it was once we got out of the woods.

take note of the wispy clouds at the summit
The plateau offers a respite for burning legs too.  Nice and flat, it's a great place to catch your breath and eat lunch or a snack.  After our break we continued climbing.  The terrain on the trail changed the further up we got.  What used to be hard packed dirt changed to sandy, lava rock that shifted under our feet.  The grade of the trail was STEEP.  It took us a long time to pick our way up another 1.1 miles to the saddle overlooking a glacier lake so green that it didn't look real.

portion of the trail between the plateau and the glacial lake

From the glacier lake we followed a rocky trail to the left, up the spine of the ridge.  The lip of the South Sister crater (we called it a false summit) is .7 miles from the glacial lake, but it felt much farther.  It was .7 miles of one step forward, slide back half the distance.  The shifty, rocky soil turned dark red.  We learned its called cinder scree and it is really difficult to hike in.  The trail is narrow and there are lots of hikers on it.  Everyone was courteous of each other and no one went fast.  
the ridge spine above the glacial lake
one of my favorite photos from the hike.  This photo is not color enhanced.  It really looks like this.
The air was thinner and Curt started to experience some altitude sickness - dizziness and light-headed feeling.  We found a nice rhythm of taking ten or so steps then stopping to rest.   We did a happy dance when we reached the top.  The hardest part was over.
almost there.  That's the glacial lake we just hiked past.
the last .7 miles up the ridge were tough!
the lip of the crater of South Sister.  That little blue section on the bottom left is Teardrop Pool
A tiny lake called Teardrop Pool sits inside the South Sister Crater, surrounded by unmelted snow pack. We filtered more water to drink from Teardrop Pond and stopped to take bazillions of pictures.  It was COLD and windy at the summit and we couldn't believe how fast we cooled off.  We reached the lip of the crater dripping sweat.  Within minutes we were both wearing every layer we packed, including stocking hats and gloves.  Be prepared!   

all these pictures were taken at the lip of the crater.
The official summit was .4 miles further around the crater.  We hiked the trail along the right edge of the crater toward the summit. It was slow going because of the altitude, the wind, and the breathtaking views that we wanted to really absorb. Plus we were starving and I was getting "hangry."  
working our way to the official summit.
We decided to stop for lunch first and then finish our journey to the summit.  Curt found this awesome nook in the rocks that was sheltered from the wind.  We nestled in and ate our lunch at the top of South Sister, staring down at the places we've backpacked already and getting a bird's eye view of all the places we've scouted out for future trips.  It really was surreal.

our lunch spots.  Not bad, eh?
While we were eating a summer storm rolled in.  The wispy, pretty clouds we saw from Morraine Lake got thicker.  The wind picked up.  The temperature dropped.  Middle and North Sister are so close to the South Sister that it looks like you can touch them, but the cloud cover from the storm completely obliterated the view before I was able to get any good photos.  
making our way to the official summit we had a few clouds 
that quickly turned to this 
and finally this. 
The little bumps on the ridge are hikers.  This is the official summit.
We stayed for about fifteen minutes hoping the storm would roll out, but instead it seemed to get worse.  Hikers packed up and left in droves, and we joined them.  A good picture wasn't worth the risk of getting stuck in a storm.  Plus now I have to do it again for the photo op that I missed out on.

The descent shreds your quads and is almost as slow going as the ascent.  With the rocky terrain constantly shifting under our feet, each step was unstable, and the grade of the trails was just so steep.    We had to be really calculated and even then we relied heavily on our poles to not fall.  We joined the other hikers who were slipping, sliding and tripping back down to the glacial lake.  
Curt on the descent.
coming down you get a really great view of all the ground you covered to get to the top.
working our way back down.  That's Broken Top.  
We stopped again at the glacial lake for a break and to refill our water bottles.  The next portion of the trail had less cinder scree but was still brutally steep.  It's hard to stay balanced and upright on unstable ground and we both tripped and fell a couple of times.  Nothing injured except our pride.  

It was a welcome relief to hit the plateau by Morraine Lake.  We ate one more snack and then hit the steep descent through the forest as hard and fast as we could.  The last 1.5 miles through the forest seemed to drag on forever.  Our legs were tired and the magnificent views were gone.  It was hard to stay motivated, but we finally saw the parking lot.   Mission accomplished!
exhausted but so satisfied!
We went to Elk Lake for an evening swim to wash off all the dirt and grime from our journey.  We stood on the water's edge and gazed up South Sister.  It was surreal to think that hours earlier we had lunch at the summit!  
night time swim
morning swim.  Checking out the mountain we climbed the day before.
The high from our adventure lasted for weeks.  It's part of why it took me so long to write about it.  How was I supposed to capture an adventure like this in a blog post of hopefully 1,000 words or less? 
I know we'll tackle the South Sister again, and hopefully soon.  I really want unobstructed photos from the summit and I'd love to take our kids with us.  I know they could do it if they set their minds to it.  It would be a really sweet memory to make together too.  Maybe next summer...

Happy hiking!