Route: NE to SW side (winter conditions)

TR #: 181

Category: Washington (SR 542)       Summit Elev: 6,620 ft       Rock Type: Dunite

Partners: Dave Creeden, Gabriel Deal, Eric Eames, Stefan Feller, Greg Koenig, Lindsay Malone

A first winter ascent?


At the last minute*, I decided to join my friends Stefan, Eric, Dave, Greg, Gabriel, and Lindsay on a planned winter ascent of Little Sister. Little Sister is a peak just southeast of the Twin Sisters near Mount Baker. Although it has a spectacular location and aesthetic approach, Little Sister is not often climbed. We suspect that our little army of 7 made the first winter ascent. Or at least the first documented winter ascent.  

*It was quite literally the last minute. I had initially decided not to join because of a daunting stack of exams to grade over the weekend. But at 1am on Saturday morning I decided I couldn't resist a day in the mountains, so I threw my gear together and dove into bed for a few hours before driving to the trailhead to meet them. Muddled thinking on my part led me to get to the trailhead about 30-45 minutes after they had already started hiking. In my last-minute packing, I had not brought a map or even a compass. But I knew the general direction I needed to head. So I threw on my pack, crossed the Middle Fork on a slippery log, and started 'schwacking up the closest southward-trending forested valley. I was quickly reminded of the equation: snowshoes + alder = masochistic fun (I learned later that the other side of the creek would have been a better choice). But bushiness always ends eventually, and when it did and the views opened up I was able to spot my friends. I sure am glad I caught up because it turned out to be a really fun and athletic day in the company of good people. The best kind of day.

The following page gives a map, stats, and some photos. I had just brought along my point and shoot rather than my SLR, but it still managed to get a few decent photos.

BONUS BETA! I've included the text from Stefan's Trip Report at the end of this page (click link to jump to it).

2017 Update: The photo on the right of "Green Creek Wall" was taken on the approach up along Green Creek as we made our way towards Little Sister. As you can see in this photo and in other photos in this trip report, the rock in the Twin Sisters area is dunite, which makes for fun climbing. At the time I took this photo, I did not know that a climbing route existed on this wall, but in August 2017, I climbed Mythic Wall (5.10a, 7p) which ascends the steep section in the middle of the photo to the top of a subsummit of Mythic Peak. 



About 2 hours from the trailhead (these 2 hours started off with a log crossing over the Middle Fork, then involved a bit of trail, then some 'schwacking up the creek valley), we broke out into the open. Finally, we got our first views of Little Sister—in the photo to the left, Little Sister is the half-cut-off peak on the right side of the photo. It's still a ways off - about 4000 more feet to go! From where we exited treeline, we traversed the talus field, went up the drainage, and then ascended snowfields to the col just left (east) of Little Sister.
Ascending the talus-filled gully that's on the right in the previous photo. Pretty mellow travel as far as North Cascades go.
Above the talus gully we hit snow. In this photo you can see a pretty straightforward snow ascent towards Little Sister (Little Sister is the summit just left of center).
And up our little army of 7 went. The snow was firm and perfect for quick travel. We left our snowshoes here and strapped on crampons.
It's a really aesthetic approach.
South Twin Sister to the west. Someday I'll climb it.
A cool ridge pinnacle and Lincoln Peak and Mount Baker in the distance. The Twin Sisters Range is just southwest of Mount Baker.
This is Little Sister's north side. We did not ascend this side, but instead we climbed through the col that's to the left/east (shown in the next photo), and wrapped around to the south side and up.
Approaching the col on the east side of Little Sister.
The top bit of snow getting up to the col was a bit steep, but the snow was in great condition for cramponing up it.

When we passed back through the col on the way back, we rappelled through this steep section, which would have been pretty sketchy to downclimb with single axes. We had two 60 m ropes with us since we did not know what the upper part of the climb would be like. Because the conditions were so good, we did not use the ropes on our way to the summit. A single 60m rope would have been fine for the rappel back down from the col.
This photo shows the south side of Little Sister. We traversed across the snow and went up a snow and rock slope/gully. In the photo, Stefan and Eric are heading up this slope/gully.
A photo taken looking up the slope/gully.
Looking down the snowy slopes.
There was a bit of mixed climbing as we neared the summit, but the snow was in good condition and the rock was reasonably solid, so we made quick work of it.
Eric on the summit. Go Seahawks! (The Seahawks were in the SuperBowl the next day.)
After a 30 minute break on the summit, we reversed the route. On the approach, the rest of them had stayed on the south side of the main creek (Green Creek) and had found a bit of a trail on this side. I had taken the north side of the creek and had encountered a fair amount of snowshoe-attracting alder and brush. So we took the south side on the way out. In this photo Lindsay is crossing Green Creek on a log to get to the south side of the creek shortly after we had dove below treeline.
The final obstacle of the day was crossing the Middle Fork in the dark. In the morning, we had all discovered a nice—albeit slippery—log crossing about 1/8 mile upstream. But on the way back, the prospect of the beer in the back of Stefan's trunk (and Coke in the back of my car for me, since I don't drink alcohol) trumped wet boots, so we just walked through the Middle Fork.


Total trip: ~10 miles, ~5000 ft gain/loss, 12 hours (with breaks)
  • 7:10/7:45 AM : ~2,000 FT : Leave Trailhead 
  • 7:39 AM : Sun rises
  • 1:00-1:30 PM : 6,620 FT : Little Sister Summit
  • 5:04 PM : Sun sets
  • 7:05 PM : ~2,000 FT : Trailhead


Things went much better than I thought they would for this trip. People making this happen: Eric E., Greg K., Dave C., Lindsay M., Gabriel D., and Steph A. Little Sister is the next peak southeast of South Twin. We arrived at 7:00 at the Elbow Lake Trailhead. To my surprise the annual wildlife gate at Wallace Creek was wide open. This was awesome. We left shortly and now the only way to get across the Mid Nooksack without getting your feet wet is a log crossing about 200 yards east of where the trail comes out to the river. We shimied across it. Followed the trail up until the first switchback. To everyone's surprise there is a fishermans/climbers trail with flagging and blue diamond markers on trees to 2850 feet about where the outlet comes out of Wiseman Lake. This was wonderful! After that it was a brush bash at almost the same left until crossing Green Creek. We crossed Green creek and I was surprised of NO snow in this rock valley. Nada. Lots of rock/boulder hopping until we got to the rock buttress near 3800 feet. We accidently took the indirect scramble line up the rock buttress. From here it was hard snow all the way to the 6240+ col southeast of Little Sister. Crampon hard. Not ice. Really hard. Going up was great. Not going down. From here we did an ascent up to the col and then traversed to the south aspect of the peak. The snow softened up quite a bit on this south facing slope and we headed up it. Expect 3rd class. This was awesome! We did a double 60m rappel from near the top and another one down from the col. The walkout was difficult for my knee as I was very conscientous and protective of it..add 30-45 minutes for my slowness! We retraced out steps almost exactly and hitting the fishermans/climbers trail nearing the darkness at 5:30. Out at 7:00p.m for a 12 hour day. I had a great time with no precipitation!!!!! Pictures here: