Mt. Thielsen and Central Oregon

September 1 – 2, 2007.

After a lazy morning at camp, Kevin and I rolled up to the Mt. Thielsen trailhead and squeezed the car into a full parking lot. A beautiful, Saturday morning on a holiday weekend was sure to draw some crowds. Besides, the hike up to the summit is less than ten miles and less ambitious hikers can walk a few short miles up to fantastic views of this striking peak.

We began our trek around 10 am. In a mere thirty minutes we reached the two mile marker. We continued along this easy pathway, gaining little elevation along the way. The sun was bright and hot, so we took a break at a viewpoint near the junction with the PCT to take some photos, hydrate, and eat trail mix. We guarded our food from a hungry squirrel who wasted no time in checking us out. As we sat, we were passed by one of many groups we’d encounter today.

Soon, we said goodbye to the official trail and continued along the ridge. Herd paths led off in every direction, so we had many options to choose from. The ridge dropped off into a scree slide to our left and intriguing rock formations popped out of the slope in all directions. The rock became steeper and slightly more unstable, so we put our helmets on and tried not to walk directly in a line. There was one really fun section of shale-like rock that we scrambled up using our hands. Compared to the other hellish mountains I’d climbed this summer, the rock was really solid and easy to ascend.

As we approached the summit, it looked less and less daunting. It was nice to stop occasionally and appreciate the scenery into which we had climbed. It was a very alien-like mountain, with interesting “dripping” rock, scree, talus, pinnacles, and unique shapes. It looked different from all directions. There were equally fantastic views of the landscape in every direction. We could see north to the Three Sisters and south to McLoughlin and Shasta. We really lucked out with the weather!

The “crux” of the climb is some fourth class rock at the tippety top, past an area known aptly as Chicken Point. We stopped here to wait for the parties ahead of us to go up and down, since the summit itself is rather small. Kevin and I watched a strange array of climbers come down–both roped and unroped–and plotted our course of ascent. The wait ended up being at least a half hour; it was as if a clown car had unloaded at the top.

The first couple of moves up the vertical rocks were the sketchiest, but here’s where all my rock climbing practice paid off. Kevin bailed after a couple of steps, since he has far less experience on this type of scrambling. I employed a few climbing moves, including my favorite–bashing my knee unexpectedly against a big rock–and quickly reached a belay ledge where a rappel anchor was located. The summit lay just a few steps ahead. At last, Thielsen, I had been waiting for you since December. I was instantly glad that I’d waited for the summit circus to die down because here I stood completely alone. Wind swirled around the prominent spire and I felt very much isolated in the center of this vast wilderness. Awesome.

Downclimbing was slightly more nerve-wracking but I made it back to the waiting area in no time. Now, we were joined by a motley crew of young guys. One had a full rack of trad gear, another had a bicycle helmet, and another was asking what carabiner to put on his harness. Thielsen is by no means a technical peak, but it sure was interesting to watch the “climbers” up here wrestle with their gear.

The scramble back to the ridge was relatively uneventful, save for a near miss of a softball-size rock that was knocked loose by another hiker. Kevin had my back, though, and warned me as the projectile careened down towards my body. The views remained spectacular so I stopped often to take photos and let my brain soak up the scene. Somewhere along the way, Kevin noticed what appeared to be a giant mushroom cloud way off in the distance, looking north. We didn’t remember seeing that on the way up so we figured it was an alien attack in Bend.

Once safely back on the trail, we stopped to chat with a family hanging out up there. We would pass several more groups on our way back to the lot. Kevin and I were almost able to stick to the 1-mile rule: no discussion of non-trail food until we’re less than 1 mile away from the trailhead.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at a convenience store, continued to people-watch, and picked up an expensive bundle of firewood. What a rip off. We soon rolled up to our campsite at Broken Arrow and plopped down at the picnic table. Within an hour, we had a raging fire going and the dinner food was starting to come out. A dinner comprised of corn on the cob and hot dogs, both cooked over the fire, satiated our appetites. We washed it all down with some beers and had our typical, foolish conversations. Since there was much driving to do tomorrow, we also plotted a course back that included a few short stops along the way.

Big Obsidian Flow
Outside of Bend, Oregon is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. One of the points of interest is the Big Obsidian Flow trail loop trail, which is exactly as advertised. The mile-long flow contains large chunks of both obsidian and pumice piled high above the parking lot. A short trail takes you 0.7 miles through the flow area, providing access to exceptional views of Paulina Peak, Newberry Crater, distant peaks, and the flow itself. We read all the interpretive signs, took lots of pictures, and marveled at the unique qualities of the volcanic rock.

What seemed to be a city under siege yesterday turned out to be a vicious forest fire in Central Oregon. Views of the Three Sisters and surrounding mountains were not so good looking through all the haze from the fire. Our original plan to eat lunch on the banks of the Metolius River was thwarted due to the smoke and fire camps right in that area. We stopped at the Mt. Washington view pullout and talked to some fire crewmen about the blaze. Two days old now, the flames threatened the spendy homes at Black Butte Ranch, which gave the crewmen hope that the fire would be contained soon. We watched smoke billow up over the mountainsides as helicopters raced against time to put the fire out. To the west, Mt. Washington watched over the smoke. This area has been ravaged by fire many times before. It was impressive to watch the new burn from a vantage point overlooking the old burn. Nature will always triumph over man.

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