September 4, 2011.
10 miles | 3782′ ele. gain | 6.5 hours
My friends came in late last night to join me for the final two days of my Labor Day Weekend Trip. The last two peaks to tick off my to-do list were Mt. Thielsen and Mt. Bailey. I’d been up Thielsen twice before and I had fond memories of the hike.
We got what we thought was an early start, and I was surprised to see a few other groups taking off at about the same time, around 7:30 am. This was clearly more popular than any of the other hikes on my list. The trail was just as I’d remembered for the first mile or two, until we hit a hillside that had been ravaged by something: a windstorm? flood? Who knows. Trees were knocked sideways, piled high, while pioneer species such as fireweed and red huckleberry were growing alongside the trail. This disturbance must have happened no earlier than four years ago, since I don’t recall any of this from my last hike through.
Just before reaching the end of the trail we walked by a tent located not 2 feet off the trail (ugh) and then hit the junction with the PCT. A large cairn marked the start of one of many climbing trails, which were all heavily eroded and in a sorry state. The ground was dry and sandy, making upward progress harder than walking on the trail. It was nice to break free from the trees and walk uphill on whatever path we liked. There were a couple of folks ahead of us, and once we started scrambling on big chunks of rock I put my helmet on as a precaution in case of rockfall. Although the view of the summit pinnacle was pretty, the landscape was very gray and boring. We all made it to the big ledge below the summit block, where we dropped our packs and assessed the last bit of scrambling. Sue decided to wait at the ledge while Brody and I headed for the top. A short bit of fun scrambling took us to the summit where a welcoming party of swarming flies were awaiting us. We enjoyed the views briefly before returning to the ledge for a snack. Compared to the hike up, the summit block was composed of bomber rock with huge handholds and ledges; it was the most solid climbing I’d done all summer! I’d done a fair amount of rock climbing since first summitting this peak, making the “climb” much more blah than I’d remembered.
We ate and chatted with several other folks also enjoying the safety of the ledge. It was an interesting and entertaining mixture of people, an unexpected pleasure of the day. We knew the day was only going to get hotter so we parted ways with the others and started heading down. My group had varying experience on this type of terrain so the going was a little slow. I headed left towards a nice looking scree field for a faster way down where I would not have to worry about people below. I quickly realized that my speedy descent had put me way off track, since some rock formations we’d seen on the way up were now on my right, and I knew they should have been on my left. I begrudgingly traversed the scree towards the rock towers and noticed a gorgeous, colorful gully that appeared to offer an alternate descent route. Since my friends were following me (oops) I decided to take them down the gully to check out the flowers and multi-colored rock. The ground was more solid here, interspersed with sections of gravel, which offered different challenges. It was far prettier than the slog up, so I was glad for this little detour.
Once we reached treeline we rejoined one of the climber’s trails and returned to the big PCT junction. Now there were several groups on their way up as well as a few who bailed well short of the summit and were returning back. The varying personalities and preparation level of the new influx of people on the mountain were intriguing. These prominent features seem to attract every type.
The walk out was unremarkable, save for the large number of people going up and the two folks on horses with their (tired and hot!) dogs.
Would I do this one again? No chance. Too many people, not enough pretty scenery, and little payoff for the effort. I’d recommend this one for a first-timer as a mid-week jaunt, if possible, or at least not on a holiday weekend. I’d consider camping up here in the winter again, but this one has dropped off my radar for a dayhike. Besides, its dull-looking neighbor to the west, Mt. Bailey, would prove to be a surprisingly good choice tomorrow…