Friday, May 1, 2015

Volcano Tour Part 2: Mt. Bailey and Mt. Thielsen

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 2:12 PM

On Tuesday morning, the fourth full day of our trip, we headed up Crater Lake Highway, through a tunnel of trees glistening with fresh snow melting in the morning sun. It was a crisp, cold day and the snow was refreshing. We parked on the side of the road between Diamond Lake and the east ridge of Mount Bailey. Without a direct trail to the summit, we decided to bushwhack to the ridge and head straight up 3,000’ to the summit, carrying our skis on our backs until the snow was deep enough to skin. The sun was shining, lighting up Mt. Thielsen to the west and the dark blue waters of Diamond Lake below. Yet the air remained cold enough to keep the fresh snow in its powder form. By the time we reached the top of treeline, I was sinking to my knees as I broke trail. It made for hard work getting up the ridge, but our excitement for Bailey’s east bowls grew with each fluffy step. Storm clouds threatened and at times, the summit became socked in and diminished visibility, but each time, it cleared up again a few minutes later.

We reached the summit, and to our amazement, it wasn’t scoured or wind loaded. There were some enormous cornices across the bowl, but just below us looked good. We did some small tests for stability and quickly realized that not only were we in foot-deep powder, but the snow was totally stable, so we dropped into the bowl and skied the best powder of the year. I know with the lack of snow this year, everyone has said that it was the best powder every time it snowed this year, but seriously. This was legit!

We paid for our powder turns with a long bushwhack back out to the road. The snow down low had melted, leaving partially hidden logs lurking below the snow and brush, waiting to take us down (and they did, more than once). We reached the road with a mix of exhaustion and relief, ready for a beer and a meal. The Pine Drops IPA I had stashed in the snow managed to stay cold even though most of the surrounding snow melted. Then snow flurries reappeared, so we packed up for a trip to Umpqua hot springs. We arrived late, after dark, and were shocked to find a total party scene and all of the springs occupied. We decided to come back at sunrise with our coffee instead. We crawled into our tent, set up next to the roaring Umpqua, which more than drowned out the noise of the partiers and made for an excellent night’s sleep. In the morning, we had the hot springs to ourselves and the hot water reinvigorated my tired muscles that had been cold for days on end. We hiked out and headed back up to Diamond Lake and the Mt. Thielsen trailhead, where we laid our gear in the sun to dry, made breakfast and got ready for our next volcano.

Mt. Thielsen is an easy hike (on a real trail!) that heads pretty much straight up its west ridge, where it intersects the PCT before emerging above the treeline. Its pointy, 9,183’ summit is an aesthetic icon visible from Crater Lake, Highway 97 and the mountains around Bend. We saw coyote tracks in the snow intersecting the trail and disappearing into the forest. We could also see our tracks in the Mt. Bailey bowl to the west. It was a sunny and warm day, the storms finally having seemed to move on. The snow was soft, but it became mushy as we ascended the slope above treeline, quickly lowering our expectations for the descent. But, it was a beautiful day and we had the mountain to ourselves, so we definitely were not complaining.

We reached the top of the ridge and looked over the steep drop off to the east. Crater Lake's glassy blue waters and Phantom Ship on its surface were just barely visible. From the ridge, the final climb to the base of Thielsen’s summit pinnacle looked really close and was tugging at me. We figured we had enough time to get up and down before dark if we didn’t hesitate too long. We couldn’t see the actual route up the summit pinnacle, so we couldn’t tell whether it was covered in ice or clear, but it couldn’t hurt to go up and check it out, so we dropped our skis and started booting up the slope.

It was harder going than expected – the snow was deep and really soft, sticking to our boots and causing us to slide backwards. But, we made it to the base of the summit pinnacle, which, it turned out, was partially covered in snow. We still couldn’t make up our minds on whether to try climbing it or head back down to our skis. We were so close. We had been on a roll, bagging the last two peaks, and it was so tempting. Aaron started up the first couple climbing moves to see how it was. I started to follow and lost my confidence after a few moves. I had never climbed rock in my crampons and I wasn’t fully trusting my footing. Plus, it’s not a place where you can take a fall and expect to be okay, and we didn’t have a rope with us. And, even if we made it up, the thought of down climbing was troublesome. We have both been on the summit in summer conditions and decided that it didn’t make sense to take the risk. The descent back down to our skis was still tough in the mushy, slippery snow, and I was scolding myself for pushing it over the top. In the end though, it worked out.

Back at our skis in fading sunlight, we noticed that the snow had firmed up during our little side adventure up to the summit pinnacle. Awesome! We skied down on almost-corn snow for about a thousand feet before it got soft again. Even still, we were able to ski quite a ways down the trail to where we had stashed our shoes for the final hike out on dirt. As we made our way back to the trailhead, we saw the sun light up Thielsen with evening alpenglow before it finally sank behind Mt. Bailey.

Booting up Mt. Thielsen in mushy snow.
  • Booting up Mt. Thielsen in mushy snow.
We cooked burritos and camped at the trailhead for the night. The next day, we would be taking a rest day as we drove north to Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. We also decided that since we didn’t get to ski Lassen Peak at the beginning of the trip, we would tack a day tour of Mt. Rainier onto the final day of our trip. 
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Friday, April 24, 2015

California and Southern Oregon: Blasting Wind and a Surprise Storm

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 10:55 AM

The Volcano Tour kicked off with a series of setbacks that altered our plans right off the bat. First, the California Cascades got up to two feet of snow several days before we left Bend, blocking access to the trailhead we needed for Lassen Peak. So, Mt. Shasta became our first objective. Our plan was to spend the first night camping at Helen Lake, at about 10,400’ and then head for the summit at 14,179’ the following morning. We arrived in Mt. Shasta City on Friday evening and stopped to pick up extra batteries and water. To our dismay, we discovered that The Goat Tavern, where we planned to enjoy a post-climb beer and burger, had gone out of business. We found a quirky pizza joint whose entertainment included ancient looking vending machines with temporary tattoos, questionably old gumballs and a “Love Meter” that we fed quarters to learn our sex appeal (my rating was sadly low). But the pizza was good and they had Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA on tap. With fully bellies, we headed up to the mountain and found a place to camp for the night.

On Saturday morning, we loaded up heavy packs and made our way up toward Helen Lake. It was slow going as we adjusted to the weight on our backs, but we got used to it and made good timing, reaching camp in just over three hours. The weather was sunny with storm clouds shifting through, dropping snow flurries, but it wasn’t too cold. The wind, however, was blustery and powerful gusts were increasing as we made camp and cooked soup, hot tea and hot cocoa. We watched snow getting launched over the ridge above us and occasionally making its way down to us. It felt like getting blasted in the face with sand, and with wind burned faces, we retreated into the tent and set an alarm for 3 am.

Those aren't clouds. That is snow getting blasted in every direction by the wind.
  • Those aren't clouds. That is snow getting blasted in every direction by the wind.
At 3 in the morning, the wind had not let up, and combined with the bitter cold, made for a restless night. Concerned about the risk of a wind slab avalanche on the exposed face we intended to climb, we decided not to attempt the summit on this trip. After 14 uncomfortable hours in the tent, we braved the wind, packed up and skied back down to milder conditions.

From there, we booked it back to Oregon and camped at the summit trailhead at Mt. McLoughlin. The weather was sunny and forecasted to continue improving through the week, so we were feeling optimistic and excited. On Sunday morning, we took our time drinking coffee before hitting the trail around 10:30 am. Compared to Mt. Shasta, we expected a mellow day, with about 4,000 feet of climbing to Mt. McLoughlin’s 9,495 foot summit. The hike was relatively mellow, although the wind reappeared during the final 1,000 feet to the summit, gusting strong enough at times to knock me sideways. The ascent was just steep and icy enough for the wind to stir up my fear, and as I kicked my crampons into the snow, I pleaded with the wind for a break. This time, it did give us a break and we successfully reached the summit, snapped some photos, and switched over to skis for a long ride down the northeast bowl and back to camp. The skiing was tough—a grabby, breakable crust—but the views were incredible. We could see the Crater Lake Rim, Mt. Bailey and Mt. Thielsen to the north, Mt. Shasta to the south, and Fourmile Lake and Klamath Lake down below.

Aaron skiing NE bowl of Mt. McLoughlin with Fourmile Lake below.
  • Aaron skiing NE bowl of Mt. McLoughlin with Fourmile Lake below.
Skiing the NE bowl of Mt. McLoughlin.
  • Skiing the NE bowl of Mt. McLoughlin.
Back at the trailhead, we opened celebratory beers (Deschutes Pine Drops IPA) and began cooking dinner. We noticed the temperature had dropped and clouds rolled in, but with the sun low in the sky and a sunny forecast for the week, we didn't think much of it. Then it began spitting rain and lightly hailing, but we laughed, thinking it was just a passing squall. By the time it was dumping snow, we were running back and forth from the picnic table to the car, throwing gear wherever it would fit. We devoured our dinner in the car and then headed out, intending to drive to Mt. Bailey via Medford and the Crater Lake Hwy. As we turned from the forest road to the highway, a full on white out had descended on us. Crawling through the snow at maximum speeds of 25 mph, I was still in denial, thinking that this storm would soon dissipate as quickly as it had appeared. But that didn’t happen. The snow stayed with us almost the entire way to Medford, and exhausted, we pulled onto the first quiet forest road we found and called it good for the night.

In the morning, we woke up to sunshine and blue skies, surrounded by forest of old growth blanketed in sparkly white snow. Feeling revived from the previous night’s ordeal, we made our way up Crater Lake Highway toward Diamond Lake, where  we would spend the next two days climbing and skiing Mt. Bailey and Mt. Thielsen. To be continued... 

Camp along Crater Lake Highway.
  • Camp along Crater Lake Highway.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Local Climbing Competition is Friendly Competition

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 10:54 AM

A large crowd of parents, coaches, climbers and onlookers gather in the center of the Bend Rock Gym as Melina, a top female and overall competitor pulls, presses and grips her way up the 50-ft rock wall. She is poised to take first place at the SCS Local Competition—if she can make it to the top of this particular route. This route is considered the second hardest of the competition and has yet to see a single ascent. But Melina is climbing it with ease and its not before long that the crowd is cheering her along as she reaches the final holds of the route, guaranteeing first place at the competition. 

Meanwhile, there are 49 other routes and approximately 100 other competitors either climbing or resting before there next climb. Teams from Portland, Spokane, Seattle and of course Bend have all come to participate in this friendly competitive event. For many of the climbers this is a stepping stone towards regional or even national competitions. But for most it’s about enjoying climbing and cheering each other on.

Parents and competitors alike show little stress or concern for the outcomes of their climbs. Sure, some climbers show disappointment but nothing seems to last longer than time it takes to tie-in for their next climb. Some parents are gathered along the bouldering mats eating boxed lunches and enjoying a relaxed view of the competition. Cheers flow easily from every corner of the gym and to every climber on the wall. 

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sherpas vs. Climbers: World’s Highest Altitude Brawl

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 9:56 AM

  • Jon Griffith

Ever since the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, chronicled in Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," it's become clear that the world's highest mountain needs a break. Too many people on the same route has led to excessive trash, dangerous climbing conditions and a general disrespect of local Sherpa culture, experts say. But lately Everest is seeing even more attempts by Westerners, not less, thanks to expensive "luxury expeditions," which cater to those who can pay exorbitant guiding costs.

This weekend, tempers flared when a group of tired Sherpas perceived an air of disrespect from three experienced, professional solo climbers: Italian Simone Moro, Swiss Ueli Steck, and Briton Jonathan Griffith.

From The Telegraph:

The climbers descended the slopes to Camp 2 where a “mob” of 100 Sherpas kicked them and pelted them with rocks, they said. They “owed their lives” to a small group of Western climbers at the camp who “acted as a buffer between the out of control mob and the climbers”. Later however they were warned “if they weren't gone in one hour that they would all be killed”.

Continue reading »

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Local Film Follows Local Climber Up the Gnar

Posted By on Fri, Dec 28, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Remember this summer when we reported about Bend resident Ryan Palo's ascent of Just Do It, a famous 5.14c at Smith Rock State Park?

Yeah, well it's one of the hardest routes in America. Man, if only we could see what it was like...
Wait! You can! Lucky for us Palo was followed by the camera-toting Greg Garretson. Here's his short film—well made and set to good beats. Inspiring.

Continue reading »

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Bend Climber Claims First Ascent in the Himalaya

Posted on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 8:55 AM

Chris Wright on a climb last winter
  • Chris Wright on a climb last winter
This past Friday Bend's Chris Wright, a local climbing guide, and partner Geoff Unger topped on what they suspect is a first ascent on the Lunag Massif in the Khumbu Himal region of Southeast Asia.
The pair were climbing fast and light in alpine style on the 5,777 meter peak (18,953 feet) and called the 350-meter route (1,148 feet) "WI4/M3."
That's pretty hard. "WI" is a water ice rating and a WI4 grade translates to near-vercial ice climbing. "M" is a grade for mixed rock and ice climbing and M3 is said to feel like 5.7 rock climbing. Remember though, that this is at nearly 19,000 feet in the bitter cold in the middle of nowhere. That's burly.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Nothing's Happening

Reynvaan on climbing in winter.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 9:27 PM

There’s something I really appreciate about people who are stoked to climb in less than optimal conditions. In theory, my favorite climbing partners are the ones throwing in a backwards fist pump or two while quickdraws slam to the beat of a violent metal soundtrack below. Regardless, whichever way you see it, climbing in bad conditions is still better than working, blogging, or learning how to navigate I seem to survive by implementing my favorite new ill-weather tactic: the fetal position rest. The unique aspect of the fetal position rest is that it can be used both on the wall (preferably after punting), or mid-siesta to increase your psyche. The way of the armadillo never seemed so practical… 


Saturday. The morning glory wall belonged to only 4 armadillos for a large chunk of the day.

Since August, I’d pretty much written off Churning in the Wake. Due to emotional problems, we sort of ‘broke up’ and have been talking shit about each other ever since. Jespy and Daniel recommended that, instead of blaming what was clearly communication and commitment issues, I try it again—only with slightly different beta. I surprised myself by falling in or around the dime edge four times this weekend.  In a way, I’m pretty excited to make a quick tick of what has been my white whale since it tore my hand and put me out for three months. In other ways I’m way more excited to try ‘prettier’ lines that I’m more attracted to, like Last Waltz. I’ll probably keep trying Churning here and there but I don’t see myself accepting a promise ring or prom date from it anytime soon.


POP! Goes the Tendon

In other news, while taking somewhat of a ‘resting’ weekend from Scarface in order to heal a skin injury, Greg put down three hard 5.13s in one day. On Sunday the Crusher sent Taco Chips, 5.13a, Aggro Monkey, 5.13b, and Rude Boys, 5.13c. This is super amazing, however, in true Smith fashion you’re only allowed to complete one hard route a season. Any more is foul play.


Luck Dragon, Ruby, and Casey

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trout Creek Closure Now Voluntary

Climbing at Trout is now up to you.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM


So after the climbing community gave the Bureau of Land Management the business for its "emergency closure" of the popular crack climbing spot, the BLM rescinded and is now calling the closure "voluntary." See? Sometimes government agencies do listen.

As of Feb. 1, the Trout Creek climbing area was officially closed in an effort to allow golden eagles an opportunity to nest in peace. The thing is, the eagles haven't successfully procreated near the crags since 2002. Climbers argue that they're environmentalists too and want what's best for the land, but feel dissed after they were originally left out of the BLM's decision-making process.

Now the BLM seems to be listening. Friends of Trout Creek, a climbing community group, is calling the voluntary closure, an agreement reached on Feb. 17, a "a great gesture of good faith by the BLM."

Read more about the update in this week's issue of the Source. For background, see Kids and the Government in last week's issue.

Full press release from the BLM below:

BLM asks public to help protect golden eagles PRINEVILLE, Ore. – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Prineville District Office is replacing an earlier wildlife closure with a voluntary closure for the Trout Creek Recreation Area. This shift allows BLM to better communicate objectives, provide information about golden eagles and local habitat, and complete an ongoing environmental assessment analyzing management options with maximum public involvement.
The voluntary closure maintains open access on the developed Trout Creek Trail and between the Trout Creek Trail and the Lower Deschutes River.  Through the voluntary closure, the BLM asks the public to choose recreation locations other than those south and east (uphill) of the Trout Creek Trail until the BLM can determine if golden eagles will occupy nesting sites this year.  The nesting season for Golden Eagles begins February 1, and if nests are occupied, extends through
August 31.  
The Lower Deschutes Wild & Scenic River has abundant recreation opportunities, including fishing, floating, camping, wildlife and scenic viewing.  In addition to providing exceptional crack climbing, the local Trout Creek area includes traditional nesting habitat for golden eagles. Nesting raptors are sensitive to human disturbance. Monitoring data shows that golden eagles annually occupy nests in the local territory but have only successfully reproduced once since 2002. Representatives from the BLM Prineville District will work with local organizations and community groups to discuss alternate recreation opportunities while sharing responsibility to ensure nesting potential for golden eagles in the Trout Creek area.
The BLM balances the protection of natural resources while providing access and use to public lands.  If you’d like to be included in the mailing list for the environmental assessment for this project please email your contact information to: (Subject Line:  ATTN:  Trout Creek).

(photo: Ben Herndon,

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Spidey Trailer Shakes Up Blockbuster Race

New Spidey trailer heats up blockbuster race.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 8:24 PM

The summer of super heroes is fast approaching. In major cities across the globe, lucky fans of the web-slinging teenager were recently treated to a six-minute preview of Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. The preview draws comparison to the prologue released by Warner Bros. for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. Following suit, Spidey's new trailer hit the web today.

Along with The Avengers, the trailer for which debuted during the Superbowl, these three comic book powerhouses are putting together a more competitive race than the GOP nomination. Looks like Hollywood is going to cash in on the comic book industry again this summer.




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Mt. Hood Climber Found Dead, Two Days After Local Guide Leads Group to Summit

TMG takes two to the top in good weather, hours before the Tigard man's fatal fall.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 7:09 PM


This morning, authorities found the body of a climber who went missing on Mt. Hood early Monday morning.

Jared Townsley of Tigard was found dead after having fallen into White River Canyon (near the 9,000-foot level) while descending the mountain.

Though it was reportedly very icy, conditions were otherwise ideal for a summit bid, said Cliff Agocs, a guide who works for the Bend based Timberline Mountain Guides. Agocs led a small group to the summit of Mt. Hood early Sunday morning. They safely returned to Timberline lodge later in the day, but never ran across Townsley, 32.

"The weather was perfect," Agocs said, noting that the wind was minimal and skies were clear.

Agocs did say that his team met another group who reported that a woman climber was injured and rescued on Sunday after sliding 300 feet near Crater Rock.

Agocs, an experienced guide, said he purposely led his clients down a more circuitous route while descending, in an attempt to bypass the iciest sections.

"The slopes were pretty icy if you were to just B-line it back," Agocs said.

Just another unfortunate reminder that guides do serve a valuable purpose, even for the "experienced climber." The Oregonian reports that Townsley, who was climbing alone, had summited Mt. Hood at least a dozen times, according to his father, Gregg Townsley.

"I better call my mom, she'll be worried sick," said Agocs, originally from Philadelphia and now based out of Eugene.


(photo credit: Chris J. Wright)



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