Mazama Climb of Mt. Washington (Oregon)
29 September 2010
David Zeps, climb leader; Tom Davidson, asst. leader
This hulking tower of crumbling rock is a must-do for the Oregonian alpine climber, along with Three Fingered Jack and Thielsen. Like the aforementioned, it is what remains of an ancient volcano, eroded away except for a rocky core. The climbing is easy; one rotten chimney earns a 5th class rating, the rest is scrambling. There’s exposure enough on this peak to send chills through the average novice climber, while at the same time leaving them breathless with the majestic views. Although not as dramatic as Three Fingered Jack, with its slender, spiny, chaotic ridge with impressive gendarmes, a one-person-sized summit, and a sheer drop-off never far away, Washington nevertheless has its own charm. It’s hulking summit seems gloomy and threatening from the south ridge leading to it, but once on top, on a nice calm day, you couldn’t imagine a more grand place to have a picnic and bask in the sun.
Thanks to David and Tom and the rest of the crew for a great day of climbing and “mazamaraderie!”
Mazama climb of Three Fingered Jack, Oregon Cascades
9 August 2010
Three Fingered Jack (TFJ) is a shield volcano that has been mostly eroded away by glaciation, leaving a jagged, crumbling ridge with sides that range from very steep to sheer cliffs. The ridge is lined with gendarmes (a term for spires of rock that rise up on narrow mountain ridges, often problematic for climbers to get around). It is a dramatic sight from Highway 22.
I was a little apprehensive about climbing TFJ, having heard stories about the scary exposure. It turned out that the exposure was scary in places, but most of the time I was so concentrated on my foot and hand placements that it didn’t get to me like I thought it would. When I think back to BCEP (Mazama basic climbing school), when I was standing petrified at the edge of a cliff at Horsethief Butte, working up the courage to rappel off, I’ve come a very long way with handling exposure.
It was an awesome group to climb with. David Zeps was the Mazama leader, and Nicole was the assistant leader. Then there was Dana, Susan, Kim, Dan, and myself—a group of 7 total. That’s a nice group size for TFJ, since the true summit is so tiny that generally only one climber at a time is belayed onto the highest point, which can take 4 hours or more.
We left Portland at 4:15 in the morning, and started north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at about 6:30. After about 5 miles of hiking the PCT, we left the main trail and worked our way up a scrambley climber’s trail to gain the south ridge, our route to the summit. Following the ridge was fairly easy until we got to “the Crawl” an infamous exposed traverse around a gendarme just below the summit block. David put in a fixed line, and we picked our way around the airy ledge, our derrières hovering over a drop of close to a thousand feet.
After getting around the Crawl, we had a short, exciting scramble on some very exposed 3rd class to get to the saddle at the base of the summit block, where we had some time to rest. David led the short pitch of low 5th class to the south end of the summit ridge. Nicole followed and belayed us up, one at a time.
One at time, we experienced the true summit, an area no larger than a card table, with plenty of air on all sides, and straight-down drops to the east and west. I enjoyed my moment of triumph on the summit, but declined to scramble further out, on belay, on the even narrower north end of the summit ridge.
Scrambling down was awkward in places and definitely scarier than scrambling up (it was hard to see footholds in places, and loose scree made it easy to slip). After we got a little below the Crawl, the going became easier. We took the shortcut down, following a well-established trail down the scree slope. Then it was smooth hiking back to the cars. On our hike out, the weather moved in and TFJ was lost to the clouds.
Mazama attempted climb of South Sister
28-29 May 2010
Leader: Ken Searl / Asst. Leader: Jim Palo
The weather looked like a toss-up on the Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend, so we went for it. South Sister is a gentle, non-technical snow ascent in the spring. In the fall, it’s a hike on loose scree; I’d rather deal with snow than scree any day.
The Cascade Lakes Highway, along which the trailhead is located, is closed during the winter, and had just been opened and plowed a few days before we went. In some places, the walls of snow on either side of the road were taller than a person.
We set off from the cars in the early afternoon. There was a short approach hike through the forest to an open and fairly flat area at about 6800′ where we made camp. The weather wasn’t ideal. It was windy on the exposed flat area (though we picked a spot that was sheltered by a nearby cornice), and clouds obscured much of the surroundings. We had occasional snow showers on Friday evening and during the night. The temperature hovered around freezing, which was also not ideal for snow camping; it meant that things easily got wet. It was my first snow camping experience, and I picked up a lot of tips from the more experienced mountaineers in the group.
At 5 AM on Saturday morning, a few in the group peeked out of their tents to see if the weather had improved, as was forecast. All they saw was the inside of a cloud, so everyone went back to sleep for an hour. In that time, the clouds started to break up a little. We decided to give it a try. The weather continued to improve as we worked our way above treelike, but the summit remained shrouded in clouds, where, we were told by a skier who was coming down as we went up, high winds pummeled the upper part of the mountain. His unscientific estimate was 90 MPH, an exaggeration perhaps, but we got the point. At 8100′, we decided to call it a day, and head home.
Climbing is about the total experience: adventure, camaraderie, challenge, views, being away from civilization, ect. The summit is the icing on the cake. Even without the summit, it was a fun trip, and a great group to hang out with on a mountainside.
After enormous, juicy burgers and cold Pepsi at the Pilot Butte Drive-In in Bend, Kurt (my carpool/tent partner) and I started the 3 1/2-hour drive back to Portland. Heading north toward Madras, we enjoyed spectacular views of the Sisters, sitting under blue sky and smirking at us.
But I’ll be back.
Mazama Climb of Mt. Hood (south side)
April 18, 2010
Leader: Glenn Widener
Asst. Leader: Robert Joy
Early Springtime is a fantastic time to do Hood. Success, however, often favors those with flexible schedules. Weather can be lousy and/or unpredictable for days or weeks at a time, while weather windows are often brief.
On Friday, I got a short-notice invitation from Glenn to go on a Sunday climb of Hood’s south side. A Sunday-only window of good weather had appeared on the forecast. So at 1:30 AM on Sunday, April 18, I found myself sitting on a bench in the climber’s registration hut at Timberline Lodge, lacing up boots, donning my headlamp, and making final adjustments to my gear and pack.
We were a group of 5: Glenn, Robert, Keegan, Ashley, and me. Other groups of climbers were gathering there as well. There’s always a sense of hushed excitement here during the wee hours of the morning, when climbers congregate to register and do their last preparations for their adventure.
Just past 2:00 AM, we set out across the road, scrambled up the snowbank on the other side, and began our long plod up the Palmer snowfield. Four hours later, as we approached Crater Rock, dawn began to break, and we got our first close-up views of the Mountain. It was breathtaking. The rocks and cliffs of the crater rim were caked with ice and snow, which the wind had chiseled into weird and fantastic textures and shapes, like an abstract relief sculpture. Behind us, the clear sky allowed us an unobstructed view of the land.
The trudge from underneath Crater Rock to the Hogsback was the most exhausting part of the climb for me. An unsettled stomach had made all food unappetizing, and although I’d choked down some energy food, it wasn’t enough, and I was running out of fuel. As I climbed the last 50 feet to the base of the Hogsback, lagging behind the rest of the party, I wondered whether I had the summit in me.
We took a half-hour break at the Hogsback. When I arrived, I sat down in the snow and spent five minutes just sitting there resting before I even took off my pack. After some water, food, and a little more rest, I felt ready to go back into action.
We headed up the Hogsback, and once at the top, traversed west and upward toward the steep chutes leading to the summit. Glenn chose the easternmost of these chutes, which tops out closest to the summit and has the benefit of avoiding the freakishly exposed knife-edge section of the summit ridge. We protected the ascent with a running belay. The sun was starting to hit the ice on the cliffs, and tiny shards of ice rained down on us. The occasional egg-sized chunk of ice came whizzing down as well, and a couple of us came away with bruises on legs from those.
Finally, just after 10:00 AM, we kicked our way up the last steep and icy section of the chute and came out on the summit ridge, with the summit just a gentle stroll of a few minutes to our east. Once there, we did the usual summit stuff: snapped pictures, had a snack, and took in the panoramic views. The clear skies meant that we could see all the Cascade volcanoes from Rainier to the Sisters.
Although the views were beautiful and it felt great to be on the summit, it was cold and breezy, and soon we were packing up and planning our descent. We got back to the top of the chute we had come up, and Glenn belayed us down the steepest and iciest section. We picked our way down carefully until the slope became more moderate and it was easy to plunge step.
We got back to the Hogsback at about 12:30. There we had time to relax, snack, and take off crampons. Then we began the long, hot slog down the soft snow back to Timberline. Glenn and Keegan glissaded as far as they could down Palmer, and covered some good distance, despite being slowed by mushy snow and low, non-glissadable slope angles between the steep sections.
A little after 3:30, thirteen-and-a-half hours after we left the climber’s register, we stepped off the snow and onto the parking lot, joining the crowds of skiers, snowboarders, and tourists. Looking up at the Mountain, it was hard for me to believe that we’d just been up there. After congratulating each other, we prepared for the hour-and-a-half drive back to Portland… perhaps the most dangerous part of our adventure that day.
It was another rocking day in the mountains.
I thought my climbing season was over for the year… until I got the e-mail invitation from Tom to climb Mt. Thielsen in southern Oregon. Furthermore, a side trip to Crater Lake was planned. There were six of us: Jean, Dan, Jim, and John were in the group as well.
I was born in Oregon, and I’ve lived here all my life except for one year. But until this trip, I had never been to our sole national park: Crater Lake. It had been on my list for years. I had driven up and down I-5 more times than I could count, coming within 100 miles’ drive of the famed lake every time. But never closer.
I rose at 5:00 on September 19, a drizzly, gray morning in Portland. I sleepily threw together my gear and headed out to meet my friends at the Mazama Mountaineering Center. I carpooled with Jim and John, both good friends I had gotten to know on Mazama hikes this year. On our way down I-5, we found ourselves in the company of hundreds of Duck fans, many sporting green and yellow pom-poms and fluttering flags on their cars, who were flocking to the University of Oregon in Eugene to watch the football match between the Ducks and Utah Utes. Since John is a Oregon State Beavers fan (the Ducks’ archrival), Duck fans we encountered that weekend were subjected to good-natured ribbing.
When we got to Diamond Lake, we found a nice campsite and set up tents. Then all of us took off for Crater Lake…all of us except John, who elected to follow the match going on in Eugene on TV at Diamond Lake resort. (The Ducks won, 31-24.)
The drive to the lake wasn’t long. As we approached the crater rim, I held my breath, waiting for my first glimpse. That’s the thing about Crater Lake: you can’t really see it from a distance unless you’re in an airplane. When you drive to the rim, the landscape will look like nothing special… and then, all at once, the entire lake appears before your eyes, almost overpowering your senses. No picture can prepare you for it.
We drove to the visitor center, strolled around, then sat out on the deck, staring at the lake and enjoying some delicious soup from the restaurant. It was a perfect evening.
At sunset, as we were driving back to Diamond Lake, the clouds moved in, and it began to drizzle. The night was damp and very cold. We rose early the next morning to temperatures that must have been in the upper thirties (2 or 3° C), had a chilly breakfast, and hastily took down our tents. Then it was off to the trailhead… the beginning of our bid for the summit of Mt. Thielsen.
Mt. Thielsen is an ancient and long-quiet shield volcano, heavily eroded through the millennia by glacier activity. Today, there remains just one tiny glacier on the Mountain, but that glacier is plenty enough to make Thielsen’s summiteers eligible for membership in the Mazamas. The mountain has an interesting geological history, which you can read on the USGS Website.
We started up the trail at a brisk pace. I huffed and puffed the whole way to keep up with Tom. We reached a point on a ridge that had a grand view of the mountain; this is where we left the maintained trail and started up the steep slope. It got steeper and less trail-like the further we went. Soon, we were slogging up loose scree and talus. About the time we reached the point where all fours were needed, I began to understand our need for speed: there was a party of inexperienced people behind us, complete with a dog, and we didn’t want them knocking rocks down on us.
We finally scrambled our way to the base of the summit pinnacle, where we faced about 60 feet of near-vertical 4th-class scrambling… not difficult climbing, but definitely exposed, and probably really bad if you took a good fall. Tom climbed it first, and fixed a rope to an anchor on the top. Neither I nor Jim felt comfortable free-climbing this last part, so we got harnesses on, prusik cords out, and climbed with a prusik on the rope for protection.
We had done it… we were on top of the mountain that had looked so daunting at first sight. But the stampede was just behind us. More than a dozen people were congregating at the base of the summit pinnacle, and we didn’t have the summit to ourselves for long. My summit photo taken, I headed toward Tom’s anchor, off of which we would rappel to get to the base of the summit pinnacle. As I rappelled down, I accidently sent a tomato-sized rock whizzing down toward the climbers and hikers milling below, most of whom were not wearing helmets. I screamed “ROCK!” at the top of my lungs, and although it narrowly missed someone, thankfully it didn’t cause any injury.
To get down, we descended the south ridge for a while before turning west… straight down a scree slope. We part punge stepped, part “skied”, part scrambled down the loose slope until we hit the trees. It was just a few hundred yards from there to the PCT, which we took back to the Mt. Thielsen trail. Since we were carpooling together, Jim, John and I took off ahead of the rest of the group, and made it down to the cars in plenty of time to get to the Diamond Lake Resort and relax for a while before dinner.
A scenic drive up Oregon Highway 58 to I-5 as the sun set capped off a perfect weekend. We drove the rest of the way back to Portland under a star-studded sky.
I climbed Middle Sister on June 27-28, 2009 with a Mazama group led by Sarah Bradham and assisted by Joe Fitzpatrick.
Middle Sister is part of the “Three Sisters” in central Oregon. It’s a beautiful part of the state, and it is possible to see nearly a dozen major volcanoes from her summit, from Bachelor to Adams. Our group of 8 had a great time, and for those of us fresh out of BCEP, it was a great opportunity to practice a variety of skills to safely take on the mountain’s challenges.
I was a little lazier than usual about taking pictures, partly because I was outgunned both in equipment and skill: Joe Fitzpatrick, a.k.a. “Fitz,” who was assisting our climb leader, Sarah, had a Nikon D300, two lenses, and a good eye. His pictures can be viewed at: http://snapfitz.com/gallery/v/climbing/2009/middle/
Mazama climb of Mt. Hood, 14 June 2009
Jeff Welter, leader — Kirby Young, assistant
On 3 August 2008 — a month before I had even looked into the Mazamas — I wrote a list of personal goals. One of these stated: “Climb to the summit of Mt. Hood.” At the time, it seemed like something that belonged in a category with such far-out goals as “Sailing around the world” or “Competing in the Olympics” — a nice daydream, but not likely in this lifetime. Little did I know.
Fast-forward ten months. 13 June 2009. A overcast Saturday evening in Portland. It doesn’t look promising. On the hour-long drive to Timberline Lodge, I am uneasy. What does the mountain have waiting for the group gathering to ascend its south flank?
Government Camp is blanketed in clouds. The winding road up to Timberline looks no better. My poor little car struggles up the steep road. It is dusk. The last curve before arriving at the lodge appears in the headlights. And there, standing faintly against a deep, blue-black sky against which a few stars are already appearing, is a massive heap of volcanic rock covered with snow. My jaw drops as I realize I am now above the clouds…
After hosting my photos on various sites, I’ve decided to take the plunge and build my own photoblog. I’m still in the process of figuring out how Wordpress works, and how to customize things. This blog, at the moment pretty bare, will hopefully be filled with great photos soon.