Category Archives: Climbing

Mt. Washington — West Ridge Variation

September 22, 2012.

Mt Washington Oregon

After a peaceful evening at the Big Lake campground listening to our neighbors’ blaring country and rap music mix, we were ready for a dark-thirty start of a Mt. Washington climb.

Somehow Lee got me roped into a West Ridge climb as part of a 5-person team. Most (sane) people climb Mt. Washington via the North Ridge. While it is as dirty and loose as the best Oregon rock, the North Ridge is do-able by beginner climbers with a competent leader. The West Ridge is pretty much never climbed by anyone of any ability. It was our task to find out why.

We left the campground at 5 am and started walking before 5:30. It was pitch black and the light of my feeble headlamp was hardly enough for me to move forward without stumbling. We reached the North Ridge climber’s trail before sunrise, and started making our way up the mountain. The trail was fairly braided and faint in some places. We wandered up to a viewpoint on the North Ridge to take a gander at our distant objective. There didn’t seem to be any great way to get over there without traversing the rocks pouring down the west side of the mountain. Eventually we crossed over the North Ridge and descended to the base of the talus. Then, we began the arduous task of walking horizontally across the shifting field of rocks. Our intention was to stay close to the treed areas, in an effort to walk on the most stable slope. However, there were huge gaps between the vegetation and so there was no avoiding the loose terrain.

At the other end of the scree and talus field, we turned up the slope, following a thin fin of rock. The rock was semi-solid, but covered with ball-bearings, er, pebbles in places. The slope steepened, and we grabbed on to any little tree or rock we could to make upward progress. At the top of this rock and tree section we reached the portion of the West Ridge where we would start our climb.

Mt Washington Oregon shadowThe sun was hiding behind the mountain and the wind was gently beginning to pick up. We searched for a place to build a belay anchor. Most of the rock was loosely adhered together, so it was useless to try to place rock protection in it. Chris eventually found a large boulder with some cracks in it that we could throw a few cams in. Now we were ready to go.

West Ridge Variation start Mt Washington Oregon
Or so we thought. It took two people and nearly two hours to get a body to the top of pitch one. It was frighteningly loose. Two more people followed on a single rope and the last two team members followed simultaneously on a pair of half ropes. Time had somehow drifted into the early afternoon so now it would be a race to ensure we could top out and get off the technical stuff before the sun set.

We pitched out the rest of the route based on rope drag and the location of the most solid rock. Above pitch one we tried to skirt the “Cascade Dinner Plates” as best as we could. The dinner plates were flattened rocks that stacked up in vertical piles and sent waves of fear and panic to all who touched them. We all gingerly climbed on and around them, trying desperately not to dislodge any of the rock. Doing so would cause the climber to fall or the belayer to get beaned on some really useful and sentimental body part.

West Ridge Mt Washington Oregon/></a><br />
Chris and Lee did the routefinding on the single rope, while our team of myself, Karin and Andrew followed on a pair of half ropes. In order to speed things up, team one left the rock protection in and I led team two on the half ropes, clipping through the pre-placed gear and then simul-belaying the two followers up on a BD Guide. Rope drag was an incredible nuisance. It was the worst on the “piton pitch”–probably the best section of the entire ridge. I got so bogged down in rope drag that I couldn’t move forward. I had to build an anchor halfway through that pitch and bring the others up before continuing. The “piton pitch” included two slanting offwidth cracks and the occasional precariously positioned loose rock. There were two pitons along the way that Chris must have loved seeing. I know I did.</p>
<p><a href=West Ridge Mt Washington Oregon
Pole Creek Fire from Mt Washington Summit
The exposure on the route was really awesome in some places. It was a long way down to the base of the mountain. Although the sun was shining for most of the climb, the wind was blowing and we all climbed the route in our puffy coats. As the day drew to a close, the wind picked up even more and a sheet of ominous, gray clouds poured in. All the while we found amazing views of the raging Pole Creek Fire to the southeast.

It took 6 or 7 pitches of climbing, but we all reached the summit after 5pm and were ready to rappel by 6. The sky grew grayer by the second and we knew we needed to move. We had 5 people, 3 ropes, and 4 rappels to make. We managed to get everybody down in about an hour. We were cruising now.

descending Mt Washington Oregon North Ridge
There was just one tricky section on the mountain left to negotiate, then it would be smooth sailing from there. The slope at the base of the rappel was steep and screelicious. The easier sections had a deep enough layer of scree for plunge-stepping. The harder sections had hard rock beneath a thin layer of pebbles and dust. I made it down with a combination of techniques, including the graceful and technical butt-slide. In the fading daylight, I could barely make out the climbers descent trail that would take us back to the forest. Around 7:30pm it was time to get the headlamps back out and begin the two hour walk back to the cars.

The day ended about 16 hours after it began. I was feeling pretty wiped out, but content that we’d had a successful climb. The team was solid and fun to be around. Everyone worked together well and made good decisions. The weather, albeit cold at times, held out for us. We didn’t get the thunderstorms that could have made for a very bad day. No one got injured, even on the incredibly awful rock.

This is a route best left to the history books, not to be repeated again. Maybe in a few hundred or thousand years, when all the loose rock is gone and a gorgeous, airtight, knife-edge ridge remains, it would shape up to be a worthy climbing route. Until then, set your sights on something, anything, else.

West McMillan Spire

September 7-9, 2012.

West McMillan Spire

Goodell Creek trailhead > Terror Basin > West McMillan Spire and back

Approximately 20 miles | 9000′ ele. gain

Picasa Photo Album

This was my first venture into the Picket Range in the North Cascades. The Pickets are notorious for the burly approaches and challenging, remote peaks. I was really excited to get going but a bit nervous about what to expect.

The original plan for our team of four was to tackle the South Face of Inspiration Peak, a multi-pitch 5.8 rock climb accessed only after crossing a heavily crevassed glacier. I was a bit skeptical of this objective since we were getting such a late start to the approach, but I was just happy to have the opportunity to poke around up there.

On Friday morning we picked up permits in Marblemount and drove to the Goodell Creek climber’s trailhead. We got off to a casual start around noon and began hiking up the trail. The trail followed an old roadbed for about 3.5 miles. It was flat and extremely well-maintained for a climber’s trail. But the pleasantness was immediately over when we reached a large cairn and arrow made of rocks that directed us straight uphill. Over the next few miles, we gained about 6000′ of elevation.


It was hot, and we were working really hard. Eventually we popped out of the forest, traversed along some cute heather meadows and then continued up some more. I was happy to find ripe huckleberries along much of the approach. They were like miniature morale-boosters.

The sky was growing dim and we were still nowhere near our camp. We finally approached the saddle that we’d cross to drop into Terror Basin. On the other side was a steep slope and a snow gully with a moat near loose rock and vertical dirt. I assumed we’d have to descend the moat, so without delay I began downclimbing. It was really crappy and loose but with the snow directly to the side it felt less exposed than downclimbing the slab. At the bottom, however, the loose stuff continued and the snow went away. We all made it down this treacherous nastiness without incident, and hightailed it across more snow and rock to find a camp. Just as the sun went down we settled in near a big boulder with a flat, sandy sleeping spot.

In the morning, our team dropped from four to three as one person opted for a rest day. Again, we were off to a late start. I knew Inspiration was out of the question. An hour of walking brought us to the camp we’d hoped to reach last night. Another hour brought us to the foot of the glacier. It was heavily cracked up and it would take some skillful navigating to find a direct and safe route to the rock. Then, there were several hours of climbing left on territory that was new to all of us.

Terror Basin
I asked if there was an alternate peak we could get up from here. Glenn suggested the west ridge of West McMillan Spire, a third-class scramble. We could clearly see the gently sloping ridge from where we stood. it looked totally doable, so we changed our itinerary and set out towards the spire.

The glacier crossing here was very moderately sloped and crevasse-free. We took our sweet time ascending the snow, stopping every so often to look around at the awesome scenery and to guzzle down some water. It was murderously hot! The air was almost perfectly still and the sun was blazing.

We stopped short on the glacier, avoiding the steep snow finger that led to the base of the west ridge. Instead we angled onto some rock and decided to “lead” a couple of pitches to get some use out of all the rock gear we’d hauled up here. We stashed most everything else, including 2 packs and all the snow gear here. Then I started up a vertical-ish slab and placed a couple of pieces for the hell of it as I quickly scrambled up easier and easier rock. I belayed my partners up and Glenn wandered further to pick out another crappy vertical section and we got some simul-climbing practice in. Yeah, not for me. Now I know.

West Ridge West McMillan Spire
Once we put all our toys away we each chose our own adventures up the mellow west ridge. I went for the more solid, vertical sections since they were short and fun and not that exposed. The guys seemed to prefer the loose talus and scree for whatever reason. Either way, we all made it up to the false summit and then completed the final traverse to the small summit block. The views up here were hard to beat. The mountain dropped away steeply in all directions. We had amazing views of the Picket Range and beyond. Glacier Peak, Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan and the Liberty Bell Group all stood proudly among the glaciers and spires. I could see no evidence of human civilization in all 360 degrees around me. It was spectacular.

Summit shot

Descending the ridge was mostly easy. We had to avoid the steep stuff near the bottom that we’d simulclimbed up. Instead we took a loose, exposed gully back down to a point where we could see our packs. Here Glenn veered off across ball-bearing covered slab to another loose gully where he was cornered in a moat. Brad and I chose the awesome slab on the other side and got down pretty easily. It was amusing to watch Glenn in action as he self-belayed with a nut tool over the narrow but deep snow moat.

We walked back down the glacier, staying to the left this time, to avoid crossing the waterfalls and having to downclimb the steep, polished slabs we came up. From there, it was a mostly straightforward snow and slab traverse back to camp. By now I was pretty worn down and was really looking forward to taking off my boots and settling down in camp. Even though we just did an easy scramble, it was still an 11-hour day.

Dan was looking rested and spry as he had a nice, mellow day hanging around the beautiful camp area. No one else had been down in the basin since we’d arrived. We all ate dinner and watched the sun set, then happily headed off to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke in a hanging mist and couldn’t see a thing from camp. We were totally socked in with clouds. That was going to make for a super fun day.

Another lazy start (arg!) this morning meant it was also going to be a long day. We were all dreading the awful moat we’d had to descend from the saddle to enter the basin and had been strategizing alternate routes for the way out. We left camp at 7:45 am and trudged up the snow to the more solid-looking rock beneath the moat to our right. It looked mostly easy and straightforward, but it was steep and exposed and we’d had our heavy packs on. We ended up protecting two pitches–one on the slabs beneath the moat and the moat itself. This was the smart thing to do, but it did cost us a couple of hours. At 9:45 we were finally up and over the saddle and began the long walk out.

We wandered through the clouds, following trails worn through the heather and cairns marking the rock as we slowly began the long, traversing descent. But the mood changed rather quickly when the real descent began. Just as surely as the trail shot straight up a couple of days ago, it dropped straight down in a hurry. This was the most heinous descent I’d ever done. my quads and knees were screaming for mercy. My feet weren’t faring any better. There was no relief along the way, it was just all down all at once. I relished every tiny bump that led uphill as opportunities to give my poor muscles a rest.

Cloudy forest

But all was well as we dropped down the final bit of trail to the old forest road. From here, walking would be a breeze. I kept my internal radio station on mindless, mellow songs as we cruised all the way back to the car. By 3 pm we were done.

This was arguably the most challenging trip in recent memory for me. What surprised me the most was that my muscles didn’t feel completely spent the next day. I guess that means I could have pushed harder. And THAT means I will be back in the Pickets again soon.

Sahale Climb

August 26-27, 2012.

With my Forbidden Peak climb plans falling through, I quickly made plans with Lee to take his son up Sahale. We left Portland early Saturday morning to pick up permits at the Marblemount Ranger Station for the next two nights. Luckily, permits were available since we hadn’t come up with a backup plan.

After killing a day chasing bunnies and trying the various eating establishments in Marblemount, we drove to the end of Cascade River Road and prepared for a long day of hiking. We had an 8-year old with us and I had no idea how that was going to go. I assumed the worst.

The hike began on the trail to Cascade Pass, which was extremely well graded, with the most switchbacks I have ever seen. Nonetheless, about 5 minutes of walking passed before the little guy wanted to sit down and take a break. So, it was going to be like this…

Lee was good about setting short goals, like we’ll take a break after X switchbacks, but there was still an awful lot of resting and not a lot of walking. I was hoping to at least be able to hunt for huckleberries as we plodded along, but as this was a very popular trail, the berries were mostly picked over. I got a few, but quickly lost interest in looking.

Cascade Pass

Hours later we made it to Cascade Pass and took a lunch break. The views were breathtaking from here. A huge, wide valley opened up in front of us and throngs of hikers came and went across the trail. Once we left the pass, the trail switchbacked a bit steeper now. Up on Sahale Arm, the grade dropped and the views became more enthralling. We walked through green meadows dotted with patches of wildflowers. Dramatic, craggy peaks rose up from the valley on all sides. I could recognize Eldorado, Forbidden, and Johannesburg, and the others were too numerous to count. It was here that I broke away from the other two (sorry…) and blasted away towards camp.

The end of the trail rose sharply up a loose talus field to the camp, which was perched atop a gravelly moraine. A hiker we passed earlier recommended the camp on the second of three domes, so I chose that one for us. I unpacked, ate some food, drank lots of water, and took some pictures. It felt so good to have that heavy pack off my back and Crocs on my feet.


45 minutes later, the boys rolled into camp and G was instantly bored. I was flabbergasted. I will spare the details of the hours whiled away at camp.

The sunset was spectacular. Pink clouds decorated a dimming sky and the moon rose over the snow-capped peaks. I took a walk to the composting toilet, which was right out in the open on the ridge to camp. Using the loo was not for the shy camper. I was tempted to linger there, as the views were particularly gorgeous.


The next morning, we awoke to clear skies and a cool breeze. It was going to be a great day. We motivated to get breakfast going quickly and start climbing the mountain. It would take some time to gear up at each of the switchovers, so the more time we had, the better.

A short jaunt from the camp brought us to the base of the glacier, where we put on crampons and roped up. I would head the team with Lee on the other end and his son just about 10 feet away from him on the middle of the rope. I thought that would put me out of earshot, but I got to deal with being ordered around by an 8-year old screaming to “slow down” or “speed up,” depending on what he felt like doing. Actually, this is not much different from roping up with adults; being on a roped snow climb is obnoxious unless you have a really killer team of climbers who are all on the same page.

Sahale glacier

The glacier was mellow and short. Soon we were taking off our crampons to ascend a rocky pile to the base of the summit block. This also took some time, as the rocks were loose and I didn’t take the time to coil the rope nicely so I was dealing with a mangled rope butterfly held over one shoulder. We didn’t know exactly where the climb started and Lee mistakenly sent me, the worst routefinder in the universe, to scope it out. I stopped basically where I didn’t feel comfy scrambling without a belay and built an anchor there. I led up and over a rocky corner just a short ways until I found a rock slung with a red piece of webbing. I belayed them up and led a second pitch. This time I found a legitimate route on solid rock with good gear placements. I also found a sweet fist crack that had some webbing inside it, which I clipped and climbed over.

The summit area was small, but there was more webbing there so I quickly got safe and put the dudes on belay. It was windy and cold up there, so I hunkered down and appreciated bringing the BD guide to make the belaying chore a bit more bearable.

On the summit

View of Glacier Peak

With the 50 m rope, two raps brought us down to safe terrain and we hiked back to the snow from there. Crampons on, ropes on. This time I took the tail end of the rope as the kiddo and his dad led out. This was perfect. I kept enough rope in my hand as a buffer to allow me to walk at a reasonable pace and I may have let the rope pile up a bit on my end in places. There were a few big cracks in the glacier but our route was well away from them and so we were in a very safe situation. We made it back to camp around 1pm, in time for lunch.

The plan was to hike out and drive home today, so lunch was casual as we packed up and prepared to leave. Still, it was over an hour before we took off. The area was so beautiful I hardly cared. I took this opportunity to look around and enjoy the scenery. We even spotted a bear grazing in the meadows beneath the trail. Cool! But, walking behind an 8-year old was taking its toll on me. Rushing forward, then stopping every 10 seconds for no apparent reason, taking snack breaks at least 4 times an hour, and making funny noises just pushed every button I had. I jumped ahead of the crew once we got to the edge of the Sahale Arm and waited for them at Cascade Pass. There I chatted with some other hikers and tried to stomp on a critter scoping the area for dropped crumbs. We stuck together through the rocky section just beyond the pass, but as soon as it was time to stop AGAIN I made a break for it and finished the trip down on my own.


Forbidden Peak

It was nice to have some space to breathe and get lost in my own thoughts. As I turned one switchback after another, I drew little images in the dirt to amuse the child who was hopefully following close behind. I hoped that it would break up some of the monotony for him. It’s hard enough for big people do climb mountains; I could only imagine that it would feel like a huge undertaking for a child.

Overall, Sahale is big bang for the buck climbing. It’s mostly a hike, with a little bit of mild snow climbing and a short rock climb. Incredible views make this a five star trip. Go during the week for the best chance to get a permit or make it a day climb to avoid the permitting hassle.

Gear: 50 m rope, crampons/axe, light alpine rack to 1″, long runners

Rock Climbing at City of Rocks, Idaho

June 16-June 23, 2012.

School’s out! It was time to hit the rock. I was able to spend 8 days climbing and hiking in this beautiful park. It was my first trip there, and so I hit many of the classics. It took a few days to warm up to granite slab climbing, which is much unlike what there is to climb in Oregon.

I took some pictures on this trip, and I also went for a hike.

My favorites:

Lost ArrowBloody Fingers (5.10a)—WOW. Here’s a climb that lives up to its reputation. A strenuous start leads to sweet hand and finger jams above. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, the crack disappears into a friction slab with some minor stress-inducing moves to the top. Very enjoyable route. We toproped it; I think it would be a scary lead down below. Trad.

Classic Route on the Lost Arrow (5.7)—I was glad Tom led the first pitch, because it would have been very heady for me. The second pitch was exciting on lead as well with an airy step around the corner to reach the slab. I bootied an old #1 Camalot from the upper crack. In fact, I wasn’t even expecting an upper crack but it came in handy to protect the so-called runout finish. Great views from the top followed by a nice free rappel make this a definite classic. Trad.

Columbian CrackColumbian Crack (5.7)—If you asked me while I was leading this, I wouldn’t have but it on my favorites list but in hindsight I think it was a stellar route. It begins in a wide to narrow chimney, then you pop up onto a block before stepping into the crack. Minimal crack skills are required since there are holds and ledges all over the face. Scary runout on top unless you bring the right gear (duh)–think, WIDE.

Double Trouble (5.8)—Slab to hand crack to chimney. Varied and enjoyable, albeit soft for an 8. It was nice to finally get some crack moves in as they are pretty hard to find in the moderates here. Trad.

Night Vision (5.9)—Really interesting opening sequence made me think and grunt a bit. With the right counterbalancing and body position, you can get up to the more straightforward slab. Toprope.

SinocraniumSinocranium (5.8)—Super fun, 5 pitch bolted multipitch route on Stinefell’s Dome. Most of the slab is easier than 5.7, with one 5.8 pitch that follows a dike full of quartzite crystals. There are a ton of bolts, so you can skip some to make things more interesting. This was definitely worth the hike. Sport.

Raindance (5.7)—This very well bolted route has a traversing lower pitch and a long slab for the upper pitch. It was an excellent introduction to the type of climbing here. I really enjoyed the second pitch. Sport.

Snack Break (5.9)—This is a very sparsely bolted route with a spicy opening sequence. There was a lot of reaching up and feeling around for jugs that weren’t visible. Mixed.

Snack Break Direct (5.8)—Same feeling as Snack Break, but considerably easier. Mixed.

White FlakeTennish Anyone? (5.10a)—Easy lower half gives way to some thoughtful, balancey slab moves on the upper half. Enjoyable route with very minimal 10 climbing. Mixed?

Triple Roofs (5.7)—The roofs aren’t the hard part. My crux came much higher, and it took a long time to commit to the moves to bypass it. This one made me think! There were a couple of bolts that may or may not have been for this route; I clipped one somewhere below the large roof. Trad.

Wheat Thin (5.7)—Followed Nate up this mellow flake/crack. Pretty straightforward and fun! Trad.

White Flake (5.8)—This would be my favorite climb if it wasn’t for the strange, smooth bowl in the middle of the route beneath the triangular rock. I had no idea what to do or how to protect it, so I stepped left onto the adjacent sport route and clipped a bolt before delicately traversing back right. The white flake at the top of the climb provides fun climbing, and I was so happy to jam my hands into a great crack at the top. Spectacular route! Trad.

And the rest:

Adolescent Homosapien/Homosexual (5.7)—I hated the opening chimney, which colored the rest of the route for me. It was incredibly windy and I was stressed out the whole time. I’d forgotten the beta for a “difficult to protect upper crux” so it took me a while to work through that. Not my best effort. Trad.

Cruel Shoes (5.7)—I wanted to do Dikes of Gastonia but my partners preferred this route. Nothing special, just another long, well-protected slab with remarkably uncomfortable belay stations. Sport.

Eastside Groove (5.6)—A not-so-memorable climb on the east side of Bath Rock. Trad.

Finer Niner (5.9)—This route is a bit contrived, but we did the best we could. The roof move is excellent and not that difficult, and the rest of the route is much easier. Sport.

Fledgling (5.7)—A really awkward leaning crack led to more interesting, but easier climbing on top. I was not happy with the bottom. Trad.

Fred Rasmussen (5.8)—This climb seemed to only go about 40 feet, unless we missed something. Too short to be much fun. Trad.

Funky Bolt (5.9)—I really wanted to like this one. I don’t know if my feet were trashed by this route or before I started, but my feet were in raging pain by the end. The sequence at the “funky bolt” was really reachy and stressful, even when following. The anchor is a ton of slings wrapped around a gigantic horn. Trad.

Pure Pleasure on the rightIntruding Dike (5.7)—Maybe because this was my first gear lead at the City, or because of the lousy walk-off, this was not one of my favorites. I wished I had more than one 0.5 Camalot. Trad.

Pure Pleasure (5.6)—Longish slab leads to a shortish crack. A reasonable warm-up if you’re in the area. The coolest part was exploring the window arch and algae-filled potholes above the top of the climb. Trad with one bolt.

Theater of Shadows (5.7)—I thought this was so easy and devoid of interesting moves that it was a waste. I’d never recommend it to anyone besides a first time climber who wanted to get on a multi-pitch. Yawn. Sport.

Too Much Fun (5.8)—The tricky move at the start for “short people” was definitely the crux for me. I had to deadpoint to an undercling before being able to reach up to a jug. It was good, but not sure what all the fuss is about this route. Sport.

Twist and Crawl (5.8)—Long, runout start. Tom put a big cam in a horizontal crack before the first bolt. Slab climbing leads to a crack at the top. We climbed this route to set a TR on Bloody Fingers. Mixed.

Overall, I must say I was a little intimidated by the City. I did not push my climbing grade at all, since I felt humbled by several 5.7 leads. Climbing on granite is a different experience, and I felt like I improved my footwork considerably over the course of the trip. I was happy for the opportunity to place a lot of gear and travel to a new destination. Back in Portland, I’m already sick of the weather and desperately missing Idaho’s sunshine.

Climbing at Madrone

April 15, 2012.

I was so worried about posting this trip report that I waited until 2018 to make it visible online. Madrone Wall is presently open to climbing, but in 2012 it was most certainly not. That’s pretty much all I knew about it. But a friend really wanted to take me climbing there, and he assured me that people climbed at Madrone all the time.

I cringed as I walked past the “No Tresspassing” signs. I did not consider myself a rule-breaker. I didn’t understand why climbing was not allowed there, but I assumed there was a good reason. A couple other friends joined us after we got there, so it began to feel like just a normal thing that regular people did. These weren’t outlaws, just friendly, respectable climbing folks.

I took the first lead of the day to get it out of my system: Route Crafters. This was a fun, ledgy, 5.8 sport route that served as an excellent warm-up. Next I followed several trad routes: Cornick’s Corner, Tangerine Dream and Wild Blue Yonder. They were all enjoyable in their own way. I struggled on some tricky start moves on Tangerine Dream but once I got going I found my flow.

Solidly following in the tens, my friend encouraged me to lead a 5.10a: Rising Desperation. I’d never led a 5.10 on gear before, so I was pretty nervous but I trusted his judgment and knew I could always bail off gear. I had trouble placing gear in flaring, weird spots and while I was on lead I felt exasperated and unsafe at nearly every move. I hung on the rope a lot. And after topping out and coming down, I looked up at the way I’d sewn up the route. It was, ahem…very well-protected!

Super stoked to have led a 10 on gear, I was excited for the next climb. I belayed my buddy on one of his projects, then led the sport climb Pillow Talk, a 5.10b. Another climber in our group had bailed after the first bolt so I picked up where she left off. I survived by climbing bolt-to-bolt and hanging after each clip. It took me several tries to figure out the roof sequence before I nailed it. The climb was short but interesting and worthwhile.

I followed one more climb: Whatever Blows Your Skirt Up, a 5.10b. It was pumpy and overhanging, which made for a fun free-rappel at the end. An amazing day of climbing! This place is truly a gem.

Mt. Hood, West Crater Rim

December 11, 2011.

Today I was excited to join an experienced team up Mt. Hood using a route that was new to me: West Crater Rim. I was invited by a trusted climb partner so I didn’t do much research on the route ahead of time. I was just there to play follow-the-leader.

We left at an ungodly hour so as to climb in the coldest and darkest part of the day. Rock and icefall is a hazard, so an early start helps to mitigate some of that danger. I took a photo of the team just before we began, and never touched my camera again that day. I was just trying to keep up and be a good team member!

The route began up the standard south side, something I was quite familiar with. Near the base of Crater Rock we veered left and climbed up on the other side towards the crater rim.

The terrain here was crumbly rock covered by a thin layer of snow and ice; quite possibly the most terrifying portion of the climb. We climbed with no ropes, just ice axes and crampons, so I paid real close attention to every step and knew that each one was taking me closer to better climbing conditions. I breathed a huge sigh of relief once that was over.

Back on good snow, the climbing became enjoyable again. The sun rose higher over our heads as we approached the rim and traversed to the true summit. It was a nice place to take a break and enjoy the progress we’d made up the mountain. Also a good time to remember that we were only at the halfway point: we needed to get back down!

We descended the south side route with all the others on the mountain that day. Near the bottom of the route, the snow surface was chunky and made of unstable blocks. My formerly broken foot was in a lot of pain from having to negotiate the blocks. My pace slowed down considerably and Linda stayed behind to keep me company on the final bit to the car.

I was happy to have another successful ascent of Mt. Hood under my belt! And I was reminded again of the consequences of having that broken foot. Just when you think everything’s under control…the universe has a different idea about how things are going to feel.



Smith Rock Frontside

October 29, 2011.

This weekend I headed down to Smith to climb with some friends. Today we hit the frontside of the rock for some mixed sport and trad climbing.

We decided to warm up on Lion’s Jaw, a 5.8 traditional route. It felt really burly for me and it took me a while to finish it. Upon later reflection I wondered if it was because: it was my first trad lead in a month or that I was using someone else’s rack. Maybe it was a combination of the two.

Next we had to get out of the sun so we headed for the sporty Hesitation Blues (5.10b). It was a tricky but fun follow for me.

Next, Tom led Toys in the Attic, a 5.9 hand crack that widens to off-width below a big roof. Oh bt it’s not over yet, a horizontal finger crack traverse with smeary feet leads over to the anchor. That was the scariest part for me!

Then, we all took turns on Double Trouble, 5.10b sport. My partners left the quickdraws up so I could try a lead. It was doable but there were some really heady moves for me. Coming on to the face from the arete was scary, since I had to step off the lower block. I had to hang on the draws quite a bit but I pulled it together and topped out.
From there we moved over to Blasphemy (5.11a). At the time they told me it was 5.10d so I figured I’d give it a go (I should always read the book myself). It was fun but very challenging with some delicate and precarious stems mid-way up followed by a not straightforward bulge. They were just dying to shout up beta for it but I just wanted to figure it out myself. I did.

We sneaked in one last climb at the end of the day: Pack Animal Direct (5.10b). I flew up the lower finger crack and came to a screeching halt at the roof because I couldn’t figure out how to go around it. Once I figured out how to move my right foot a couple inches higher I was able to reach a giant jug and pull through the move. Duh.

A fun day followed by pumpkin carving at camp later that evening!

Goat Rocks: Old Snowy and Ives

September 24, 2011.

about 14 miles | 3700′ ele. gain | 8 hours
Snowgrass Flats > PCT > Old Snowy > Ives > down talus to PCT and out

Photos from this trip are on Picasa.

Sue and I left Portland early to arrive at what we thought was a reasonable time. When we pulled into the Snowgrass Flats trailhead parking area just before 9 am, the place was overflowing with cars. I was already not excited about my first trip to the Goat Rocks.

We walked for a couple of hours through unremarkable, forested terrain. The trail was well-maintained and well-graded, so we were able to cover a good amount of miles without too much work. We saw a handful of people who were mostly carrying overnight packs. I was happy to cruise by with just a small daypack.

Once we broke free of the trees and entered one gorgeous meadow after another, I began warming up to the hike. An undulating ridge overlooked the colorful wildflower display at our feet. Remnant snow patches still lingered on the rocky slopes. Paintbrush, lupine, gentian, and asters provided a never-ending show of beautiful hues. We followed the trail as it gradually gained elevation along zillions of switchbacks that ascended to the highest point of the PCT in Washington State. Along the way we watched a train of horses heading up the trail, spied a lazy marmot enjoying the sunshine, and admired the intriguing rock formations. There was never a dull moment.

Once we hit the apex of the PCT we turned left to climb the north ridge of Old Snowy, our destination for the day. Ahead of us was another group of hikers with a small child, moving upwards at a glacial pace. We cruised by and were greeted at the summit by a Mazama team who were enjoying some snacks. Once the other group caught up, it got awfully crowded up there and we wanted to leave. I had gotten the idea that we could tag Ives while we were up here and it was so close. I didn’t have any specific details besides follow the ridge to the summit.

It didn’t take much convincing to get Sue to agree with the new plan, so we happily departed under sunny skies along the bumpy ridge connecting the two peaks. The route turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. We had to negotiate our way around several large gendarmes along the ridge that looked more challenging than they actually were. Along the way we came across bits and pieces of climber’s trails and the occasional series of boot tracks. There was a considerable amount of loose rock on the route that reminded me of climbing back in Oregon. We essentially followed the ridge as it rose and fell, passing by an interesting rock arch and other notable geological features, until we hit one steep talus slope taking us to the base of the summit’s ramp. From the base of the ramp we were able to follow a climber’s path up the rock to the top.

It took an hour to reach summit #2. We stopped here to soak in the solitude that we longed for on summit #1. It was beautiful up here; we got a great view of Gilbert Gottfried Peak (or Curtis-Gilbert or whatever the kids are calling it these days) as well as Mt. Adams. Although I could have sat up there for hours, we had some friends to meet at a car campground that evening, so we packed it up and eyed a route down.

It was easy to see the PCT junction in a huge patch of dirt far below us. We headed down a talus field, crossed over some snow, then lots more rocks, until we bottomed out in the meadows. After dumping the rocks out of our boots we glided across the wildflowers to reach the trail again for some easy walking. The time from summit to trail: 1 hour.

As we walked out, we kept turning back to burn the images of the expansive and lovely Goat Rocks into our retinas. I was sad to leave the open meadows, and didn’t look forward to the treed-in slog ahead. We passed several more backpackers on their way up and I was glad that I would not be camping up here with everyone else. I suppose since the Goat Rocks are accessible for such a short period of time, that all the use is concentrated in that fleeting window.

I will certainly return to the Goat Rocks, preferably in the off-season with some snowshoes or skis. There are some other peaks and areas that I am interested in exploring. This was certainly a nice introduction to the area. We took a quick jaunt up Nannie Peak the next morning before taking the long drive back to Portland.

Smith Rock: Lower Gorge

September 17, 2011.

Today was a nice day for trad climbing at Smith Rock. I tagged along with a friend and his climbing buddy for the day. Since both were much better climbers than me I was able to look forward to a day of following hard trad routes!

First they graciously offered to let me lead something easy. I chose Two Gentlemen’s Pneumonia (5.7) at Shakespeare Cliff. I struggled majorly at the bottom, where smeary feet led to an off-width. After lots of gear-hopping and takes, I made it past that section to better moves. When I reached the chockstone, I opted to squeeze into the chimney behind a pillar instead of pull up and over on the face.

Next, a couple more climbs on this side of the river, with my buddies on lead. I followed them both: Azog (5.9) and Much Ado about Nothing (5.10d/5.9). The upper pitch has the 10d moves so I just completed the 5.9 variation. These were both really fun crack climbs with some bouldery finishing moves.

Back across the river, we chose a couple more climbs. On lead again, I tackled Dire Wolf (5.8). This was nut-tastic! The gear was so good and the climbing felt easy that I just cruised up it.

The last, and best climb of the day was Morning Star (5.10 c), which I toproped. It was a sustained, challenging finger crack. There were also some crazy stemming/chimneying moves thrown in for good measure. I fell once and yelled a lot but otherwise climbed it well. What a satisfying day!

Diamond Peak

September 3, 2011.

Rockpile Trail > PCT > Climber’s trail up South Ridge of Diamond Peak

12 miles | 3750′ ele. gain | 6.5 hours

Photos from this trip are on Picasa.

I had two sets of instructions for climbing the peak: one from Sullivan’s green book and one from the Oregon Scrambles book. Sullivan’s route included much less off-trail travel, and all of the “climber’s route” was in open terrain. The Scrambles route seemed to require much more off-trail navigation, and to make things worse, there was quite a bit of it in the depths of the trees. In making the switch from one backpack to another, I had forgotten to grab my compass before leaving town and I was not comfortable wandering through the woods with no directional cues. So I decided to follow Sullivan’s description.

I set out at about 7 am to enjoy the coolest part of the day during this hot streak. I proceeded to walk through a pretty forest on a well-graded trail. There was very little elevation gain over several miles of travel. It was very quiet. I stopped occasionally to observe the plants growing on the forest floor but overall I was able to maintain a quick pace. In no time at all, I found myself at the lakes. In a wave of confusion I ended up dead-ending at Marie Lake, having to backtrack my steps and return to the last junction before getting to the PCT junction and turning left.

Once on the PCT I timed myself carefully so as to not miss the climber’s trail mentioned in Sullivan’s book. As noted, there was a huge cairn about 50 feet from the obvious hairpin turn in the trail. Perfect! The trail immediately detoured uphill, a huge change from the last 5 miles or so. This was one of the best climber’s trail I’d ever walked upon; the route was clear and the tread was well worn. A great effort was put into building cairns frequently along the path as well. I stopped to rebuild several of them on my way up. As the trail left the trees, the ground turned to a steadily ascending slope of rocks and debris. Among the rock and gravel, there appeared to be footsteps all over the place as well as cairns barely discernible from the other rocky piles. It was easy for me to find the way up but I was concerned about the way down. I stopped several times to turn around and gain the opposite perspective, as well as make a few mental notes to help me navigate back down to the trail. With huge and distinct volcanic peaks sticking up everywhere as well as obvious features on Diamond Peak, it was pretty easy to get my bearings.

The slog uphill was long but absolutely gorgeous. It was like walking through an ornate rock garden. Delicate and hardy alpine plants emerged from the seemingly lifeless dust covering the rock. The hillside was adorned with buckwheat, stonecrop and paintbrush of various colors.

Upon gaining the false summit, I looked north to my final destination. A half-mile rocky, undulating ridge lay between me and the top of the peak. This interesting section of climb took me past several cliffy rock outcrops that I had to navigate down and around. Squeezing in the space left by melting snow as it parted ways from the rock wall, I pondered how much easier this would have been just a few weeks earlier with a more hefty snowpack.

The summit area was flat and broad; it was a great place to sit and relax before heading back down. In the sun and haze I was able to see several peaks including the Three Sisters (at least two of them), Mt. Thielsen (aka “Tomorrow”) and Mt. Yoran (aka “Yesterday”). It was remarkable to have this beautiful place to myself at 10:30 am on a holiday weekend.

But I knew I had to get down before it really got hot. I sadly left the summit behind, hopping across the rock to a narrow snow ridge that I walked across until it got a little too narrow for my liking. I squirmed through the moat again, returning briefly to the rock ridge before barreling down the talus and scree. I edged right to another snowfield and plunge-stepped down as far as I could before moving back to the rock. About an hour later I reached the trail, immediately encountering people. I passed another couple at the corner and then three backpackers further down the trail. After that short rush of congestion I swiftly walked out to the car in peace and quiet.

Summit 2 out of 4 for this trip is also highly recommended. The flat approach provides a nice warm-up for the climb itself, and the off trail navigation is pretty straightforward. This would likely offer an interesting snow climb for most of the year as well, although it would be a shame to miss the spectacular alpine flora during its brief bloom.