The plan was to hike both the North and South Twin Sister Peaks in one day. The Twin Sister Range is a rugged and raw outlier of the Cascade Range that just beckons to be climbed (I see it every day on my commute). I hooked up with David and he wanted to give it a go. We would ascend the west ridge of the North Twin, traverse over to the south Twin and take the West Ridge down from the South Twin, hooking up with a climber's trail on logging roads back to our bikes. Due to the long approach on logging roads, we planned on riding our Mountain Bikes to the trailhead. This planned hike was ambitious, but we were willing and able.
First Twin Sister
We met in Bellingham at a Park and Ride at 7 am and drove as far as we could until we reached the locked gate on the logging Road. We then mountain biked 5.5 miles and 2000 ft elevation gain to the actual trailhead. Not having mountain biked for years, I had to walk my bike up most of the major hills so did not save much time going in (but saving a lot coming out). From there we set off on foot up the overgrown logging roads and approaching the Twin's West Ridge. It was heavy fog and misting, the trail is overgrown and the plants dripping wet, soon we were totally soaked and would stay so throughout the long day. We wrung out our socks once we got out of the bush and started up our way along the beautiful west ridge. The climbing was mainly 3rd class with some 4th mixed in. Maybe even a few 5th class moves but these could be avoided with careful route finding. We surmounted the North Twin quickly not having seen the peak prior due to the thick fog, which was starting to clear and did give use nice views of the Sister Glacier. From there, David talked me into continuing on to the South Twin. I was nervous about the unknown descent via the west ridge of the south twin, but am always open to an adventure so I agreed.
On to the Other Twin
We descend the northeast ridge a short section then dropped down into a gulley that had some rappel slings at one point. We downclimbed around this rappel station and then started to traverse the ridge in order to not lose more elevation than necessary. The traverse around was tedious and slightly technical in a few spots, probably would have been easier to descend all the way down to the scree slope below and ascend back up to the notch in the ridge (between North Twin’s southeast ridge and South Twin’s north ridge). We reached the notch and popped over it in order to walk out onto the Glacier. The glacier was in great condition with minimal crevasses so we traversed across it without roping up. It was very beautiful, glaciers have a special feel to them. The slope was minimal but we carried our ice axes anyway. The only place we really needed to use then was to gain the northwest Ridge of the south twin. There was a small moat, but nothing to worry about. We easily got on the ridge and it was great, the sky was clearing, amazing views (incl. Baker) and the rock quality was great. I don’t think it was anything beyond 3rd class. We quickly surmounted the South Twin, congratulated ourselves and then discussed our descent options. Our plan was to follow the west ridge and hook up to a climber’s trail and then negotiate logging roads back to our bikes, but that didn’t happen. Not even close.
Descent and Bushwhacking from Hell
We were ready to call this hike to a close, but the fog rolled in making it very hard to pick out the proper ridge we needed to descend from the South Twin. Using my GPS we tried to follow the west ridge, but either we were way off track or there is not a prominent ridge (or the west ridges trends northward at first). We descended for a long while and then tried to find the climber’s trail, but we were not even sure if we had the right ridge and could not find any evidence of a trail or cairns. At this point we figured our best bet was to head back towards the west ridge of the north twin, so we traversed across while heading in this direction, but we ended up only paralleling the ridge, we would need to gain serious elevation to get back on the ridge. David suggested doing this, but I said I was too tired to gain that much more (in the end it would have been less expended energy). To make a long story short, we bushwhacked like I have never bushwhacked before. For like 5 miles and to the point where I didn't think I could go any further. We had to traverse around cliffs, creeks and especially bushy areas. It really sucked. The bush was still soaking wet and so were we. The bush was up to 6ft high, including devil’s club and thickets of salmon berries. Fallen, slippery logs everywhere and I kept walking into them as you could not see them through the bush (ouch, my shin. F*%K this really sucks). Using my GPS I found a logging road that would lead to our bikes and we followed a creek for several miles to get to it (for sections actually wading through the ice cold water). It was dark well before we found the road. My shins were totally smashed from pushing through the bush and slipping and falling on logs. We made it to our bikes then road our bikes downhill (thank god) the 5+ miles to David’s car. It was 10:30 pm. What a hike!
Well, like I said, the hike was ambitious but would not have been overly so if we could find a reasonable descent route from the South Twin. More research would have likely have given us better chances of finding the trail, or better yet having hiked it from the opposite direction previously. If we had given up hopes of the West Ridge earlier we could have headed down the northern trending ridge and then traverse over back to the west ridge of the North Twin. This would have been simple compared to what we ended up doing. Finally, looking at the Google Earth image I now see that at one point when we found a logging road that ended, we should have stayed on this road and followed it even through it was not leading in the direction we wanted to go. It looped around and would have joined up with our road. At one point we came really close to doing this but then decided to continue towards the creek and in the direction of our bikes (again, the wrong decision). The total mileage of this Trek turned out to be 23 miles including the bike ride. The GPS also stated total elevation gain to be 10,000 feet, but I doubt that this is accurate and will clean up the GPS track to confirm. The day after I hurt all over, my shins are extremely sore, my hands all beat up and bruised from the scrambling, arms sore from thrashing through the woods but I feel just fine! Next time we are going to do it in opposite direction :) Sometimes I never learn, but hey, what does not kill you makes you stronger.