In a nutshell the new descent follows a rocky ridge down about 60 yards from the summit and then descends a class 3 down climb into the loose slope as the original route. This new descent avoids the top half of the slope making it much safer. Caution still must be used since the second half of the descent travels down the same loose slope.
Below is a video showing the descent.
You can use this new descent route if you are doing the original route (Old Mill TH) or the new route from Mack's Canyon road.
Old Mills Trailhead
Pure confusion. We tried to enter via cars at around 7:45 am on Tuesday, but the area was closed via a gate. Parking before the gate, but still at Old Mills Picnic area, could result in big fines or your car being towed. I call the new Visitor Center about the when Old Mills Picnic area is opened. They did not know!!! All they told me was it's probably open on weekends and if you are there to use the picnic area, it's $20 per car.
I asked about if you only wanted to hike and was told there was no charge. I would not bet my life on that. How can the ranger, volunteer etc. verify that people are only hiking and not using the picnic facilities???
Where to Park?
You can park at a large gravel pulloff about 0.25 miles before the turnoff to Old Mills. It's on the south side of SR 156. See photo below. This is legal and there's plenty of room. There are trespassing signs, but they only apply if you hike south into the woods. Old Mills TH is north and west from where you park.
The start of the trail has changed slightly. In the write up I state you walk about a half mile along pavement to where the pavement ends. The pavement has been extended, but the unsigned trail is pretty obvious. See the below photo.
If you park outside of Old Mills Picnic area, you are going to walk more than a half mile, but it really doesn't matter since this is a round trip hike.
|Park Here - walk west up SR 156 to Old Mills Picnic area|
|Start of trail - no sign, but it's obvious|
The route is in good shape. Although the path you take from the main trail is faint for the first 25 yards it becomes easy to follow all the way to the saddle. From the saddle to the ridge the path is very faint, but direction of travel is obvious. Once on the ridge the path is easy to follow to the class 3 climb that lies just below the summit of South Sister.
I learned one trick as we follow the cairned route from South Sister to North Sister. Once past the exposed traverse, which is just beyond the arch, veer right instead of left. This is shorter and avoids a down-climb.
This is one of my favorite routes in Mt. Charleston and now it's safer. I prefer starting at Old Mills rather than Mack's Canyon road for three reasons:
- No HCV is needed.
- It's easier to follow
- It's not as loose or brushy.