THREE DAYS IN THE SISTERS WITH SADIE FORD

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MARK SIREK
MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 306
edited May 14 in OUR STORIES

Words, Photos, and Video by Sadie Ford

My partner and I recently nailed a rare, near-perfect weather window, enabling us to bag a couple of coveted big lines in the PNW - the Diller and the Thayer.

Five miles away from our usual trailhead start point, we took a long day to get into place and set up our camp. Light peaked through the intermittent passing clouds, igniting the crystals in the air to shimmer, making my brain tickle with excitement. The flurries and squalls that filled the air assured us that the next day, we'd have the potential to have a renewed snowscape for optimal riding.

Heavy packs and home for the next few days.

Getting in that evening as the moon rose over the valley, we quickly set up our Hyperlite 'Mid so we could crash and be at it early. The deep, easy sleep that a long tour provides is enveloping in the most tranquil way. Stratton was snoring 45 seconds after he had said good night.

Awaking to the sounds of a stove igniting, I shot to full alertness, anticipating morning coffee. Peaking through the tent flaps, I could see that the stars were out, and it was very cold. We discussed our prospective goals for the day with caution and curiosity and headed out.

The pink winter sunrise light in Central Oregon.

We dug a pit on a representative slope after making our way over to the Middle Sister in the pink sunrise light. Good results. It's on. After a warm-up run on a smaller lower point, we felt good to go for the bigger biscuits. We hiked to the top of the Middle Sister with intentions to ride the South side. As we crested the summit, boards on our backs on a beautiful cold day, the Diller couloir looked all too tantalizing. One of the bigger, more intimidating continuous lines in Central Oregon, we knew it was a go.

No matter how confident you are in conditions or how strong you're feeling that day, there will always be a gut-dropping pucker factor at the top of such a steep, high-consequence line. The key is to absorb the moment, as it is the best teacher, and to think directive instead of descriptive. When you drop, when you commit, you let go of all hesitation and just enjoy.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

"Dropping in 30!" I yelled over the wind into my radio as Stratton waited below. One of the best rides I've ever had. Just perfect.

3,000ft from the peak, serpentining each other to the meadows below, we looked back up at the entirety of our line, barely able to make out our tracks off the top—total bliss.

We made our way back to camp for an early night to get some good rest for an attempt at another big one the next day. Early camp days have their own type of veneer. Building a fire, getting things situated and comfortable. Our home away from home.

Walking by 4 a.m. the next morning, we were determined to bag the Thayer line. It is a rare and difficult one to get due to many factors, chiefly the South aspect, which heats up quickly to the point of high hazard, even in the dead of winter.

After boot packing in the sunrise on the steep slope for an hour, we knew not only had our window, but we were ahead of it. Just below the summit of the North Sister, patiently waiting for the desirable snow softening, we enjoyed sweeping 360° views and a radiant raven surfing the thermals. This lone animal emanates the energy of our passed friend Alex. He's keeping an eye on us, keeping us safe. It is so special to share this line with a dear friend.

Enjoying some summit sun and the Thayer Headwall (right).

We both get the sense simultaneously that the time is now. The tide of excitement and nervousness rises. We say our quick thanks and prayers to the mountain and Stratton takes off like a rocket. Smooth turns, steep slashes, and a couloir ringing with hollering and laughter. A descent of epic proportions from just below the summit of North Sister to the moraine below. I feel peace and reflect on how far I've progressed in skill, fitness, and partnership.

I try to touch the snow on every turn. To savor everything that makes the experience more vivid, leaning into all my senses.

At the bottom of our line where Stratton and I meet it's full victory mode. Snacks, jokes, debriefs, and hugs. I couldn't have asked for a better trip. I was later informed by a few long-time locals that I was very likely the first woman to have descended the Thayer in winter. Deep satisfaction and gratitude fills my heart lumpy.

A total of 31 miles and 12k elevation gain later, and I'm back at Tina the Tundra sitting on the tailgate catching gummy worms in my mouth in the sunshine.

Sadie Ford is a resident of Corvallis, OR and rider for Cardiff Snowcraft and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. An avid big mountain splitboarder, Sadie is also a structural firefighter/EMT, river guide, and mother of several chickens. Follow along her adventures at @sader_tooth.