Category Archives: Oregon

Thielsen, Shasta (Clear Creek)

Thielsen and Diamond Lake

Thielsen and Diamond Lake


Mount Thielsen first came to my attention in 2012 when, while being a tourist at Crater Lake, I spied an impressive rock spike to the north. Unlike most of its volcanic brethren, which are mounds or symmetric cones, Thielsen has been worn down to a single pinnacle, with the only easy access from the west. An official trail leads from near Diamond Lake to within a mile of the summit. Beyond there, a good climber’s trail leads to the short class 3-4 summit scramble.

Sunrise on Thielsen

Sunrise on Thielsen

I like to break up my “commutes” between mountain ranges by tagging loner peaks in the drive-through states like Oregon and Nevada. Most of Oregon is endless green blah, but there are enough volcanoes to keep me busy for a few more trips. I was coming off two hard-ish days, and needed to do some chores in town, so Thielsen was a perfect camping spot and morning peak.

Fire near Crater Lake

Fire near Crater Lake

Not needing all the available daylight, I read and enjoyed a mug of hot coffee, then started up the trail a bit after 7:00. It was nice not to be trying for speed or needing to cover ground quickly, and I enjoyed the Sierra-like feel of the cool, dry morning air. The trail climbs gradually until it crosses the PCT, then becomes rougher and steeper as it joins Thielsen’s west ridge.

Choss-thumb

Choss-thumb

The route continues to become steeper as the rock improves, with the final 100 feet a fourth class scramble up the southeast face of the summit pyramid. At its base, I passed my neighbor in the parking lot the night before, an older woman who seemed to be a Thielsen regular, out for her constitutional and in no hurry. The scramble was fun and surprisingly solid, and the view down the sheer east face was impressive (there is even a 5.8 nightmare choss route on it, probably put up by refugees from the Canadian Rockies). I scrambled and jogged back to the parking lot, now filling up with day-hikers, then continued south.

Looking down to Clear Creek

Looking down to Clear Creek

It’s hard to miss Shasta when coming at the Sierra from the north, and I had an extra day, so I decided to check out the Clear Creek route, the one completely snow-free way up the mountain. It turns out to be a grind, with most of the time spent on a broad 5500′ slope above a popular camping area. However, the volcanic rubble is better-behaved than on Jefferson, and there is usually a decent trail to follow. I passed a couple people-herds heading down from camp (why?) with ice axes (why?!), but amazingly had the whole upper mountain to myself. Though the register suggested there was plenty of traffic, I saw no one on the summit or the upper Avalanche Gulch route while I hung out around mid-day. The climb was a slog, but most of the descent was a breeze, with a mixture of scree-ing and boot-skiing the soft snow-patches. I even had the trailhead to myself as I ate my mid-afternoon post-hike meal. Strange.

Jefferson (SW ridge)

Jefferson from the forest road

Jefferson from the forest road


Mount Jefferson is the next volcano south of Adams along the Pacific rim. Though shorter than Adams, Jefferson is a much harder outing, with a lower start, longer approach, more cross-country travel, and a bit of steep snow and class 3-4 rock at the top. From Hood River, Google Maps figured out a tricksy way to get to the Pamelia Lake trailhead, linking two long, paved, single-lane forest roads to cut southwest from highway 93 to Detroit. Not having an Oregon atlas, I was a bit nervous following this winding tunnel through the forest for over an hour, but it worked as advertised, and I reached the trailhead at a reasonable hour. Not having read the instructions carefully, I discovered that Pamelia Lake Trail has an obnoxious special permit system. Normally I would just poach it, but there were signs bragging about $250 fines, and a Forest Service truck parked at the trailhead. I decided to deal with this problem in the morning, and went to sleep.

Do not enter

Do not enter

Looking at the map in the morning, I happened to notice a forest road one drainage north that went to within a mile of the PCT, and decided to check it out. After time in the North Cascades, no mere mile of Oregon bushwhacking could be that bad. My plan worked better than expected: I drove a good road to a gate, hiked 1.6 miles of road to its end, then walked a mile through mostly open forest to the PCT. On the return, I found that there is even a faint trail on the ridge south of the end of the road.

Looking down garbage-hill

Looking down garbage-hill

I passed a few through-hikers on my way south, as well as another $250 fine zone sign at the intersection with the normal route. I was undecided about whether to do the southwest ridge or the longer south ridge, but happened to notice the subtle cairn and use trail for the former. The route goes straight up a gully from the trail, eventually reaching a flatter area where the trail disappears beyond a cairn. From there, the best path seems to go up the left-hand side of a shallow valley. I am not sure of the best way to reach the ridge; I simply slogged up a horrid loose garbage-hill. All the volcanoes are chossy, but Jefferson seems to be in a league of its own.

Finally on SW ridge

Finally on SW ridge

Once on the ridge I made better time, following a faint path and occasionally deviating onto the snow. The ridge crest was still loose, but less awful than the sides, and it was worth staying on the crest even when that required a bit of third class scrambling over steps. Much slogging later, I reached the “red saddle” below the summit knob, where the tricky business begins.

Summit knob

Summit knob

From the south, the normal route traverses across a steep, permanent snowfield to the north side of the gray summit knob, where it is less steep and chossy. After my minimalist climb of Adams the day before, I had been feeling a bit absurd carrying my axe and crampons, but was glad I had the axe when I saw the traverse. People had installed a fresh boot-pack over the weekend, so I did not need crampons, but I cautiously planted my axe every other step. If you slip on the traverse, you won’t stop until you hit the rocks a few thousand feet below.

Don't slip here

Don’t slip here

Once past the traverse, I continued all the way around to a gully near the north end of the summit knob, where 10 minutes of class 3-4 climbing lead to the summit. Where a couple hundred people had probably summited Adams with me the day before, fewer than a hundred had summited Jefferson since the register had been placed in 2014. After taking in the view all the way to Rainier to the north, the Sisters and Bachelor to the south, and a decent-sized glacier below the vertical east face, I sat down to snack and enjoy the perfect day.

Glacier with helicopter

Glacier with helicopter

Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a helicopter approaching the mountain, and stuck around to watch. It made a couple slow passes low over the glacier, seeming to pause at crevasse fields, then disappeared around the north side of the mountain. I started down, figuring the action was over, but the chopper returned to pass close enough to the summit that I could see the number, the red crosses on the military bird, and even the pilot and co-pilot. I waved, then continued down.

About to get buzzed near the summit

About to get buzzed near the summit

Crossing the snowfield was trickier in the downward direction, but fortunately my good hand was uphill that way. When I reached the red saddle again, I took off my pack to stow my axe and shove some snow in my bladder. The helicopter buzzed me once again, then went off to search the west face. They were clearly searching for someone, and had no idea where they should be looking. When I got home, I looked it up and confirmed that they were searching for (the remains of) Riley Zickel.

After paying on the slog up, I reaped the rewards of a quick sand descent down the east side of the ridge, then down the garbage hill to the forest, where I stopped to pour gravel and a surprising amount of loamy soil from my shoes. I lucked onto the cairn at the top of the descent gully, then carefully stepped and slid back down to the PCT. I did not pass any hikers as I jogged north, and had the woods to myself for the remainder of an eight or nine hour day.

Sacajawea

Sacajawea is the highpoint of the Wallowas, another small but prominent range in this new-to-me corner of the country. After days of dreary drizzle, I finally manned up, put on the rain jacket I found last month, and headed out to do the peak wet. Other hikers on the trail were evidence that hiking in this sort of weather is “normal” in these parts, and the precipitation never got worse than light drizzle. However, any water combined with Pacific Northwest-level humidity starts my inevitable slide toward mildew and trench-foot.

Leg-washing brush

Leg-washing brush


After forays to a couple of trailside campsites, I found the unmarked trail leading to Thorp Creek, along with a well-maintained pair of logs to cross Hurricane Creek. The trail heads up the left side of some small stream before it makes an awkward crossing and becomes a well-defined series of switchbacks climbing through relatively open forest, eventually gaining a lower ridge between two higher ones.
Trail above Thorpe Creek

Trail above Thorpe Creek

Despite the clouds, I was warm enough in just a t-shirt, with drizzle, dew, and sweat combining to make all my clothes uniformly damp.

Eventually reaching an open valley, I recognized Sacajawea’s standard route, a north-ish ridge hooking east near its base.

Start of ridge

Start of ridge

Though the old Forest Service trail disappears, cairns and bits of use trail continue along the ridge, as expected for a range highpoint. I followed the ridge blindly into the clouds, at some point putting on my wool overshirt and rain jacket to form a humid cocoon.
Blindly upwards!

Blindly upwards!

Sacajawea and its neighbors are made of various friable rock, some red, some gray, all rotten and liable to fracture into loose scree, through which the ridge forms the least-bad path.

Fortunately there was only one possible path, and a red can containing a fairly new register, because visibility along the ridge was never more than 100 yards. I signed the register, looked around for a minute or two, then retraced my steps. Some openings between cloud layers allowed good views of the valley below, but the clouds never opened up to give me a view of the surrounding peaks and ridges.

Reaching the valley, I briefly found the trail, then lost it, and headed off cross-country on a line I thought would soon intersect it. Do not do this! As best I can tell, the trail stays well right (northeast) of the valley floor, while I strayed closer to the stream. I followed various game trails, hoping they would intersect with the main, human one, and side-hilled in the hope of crossing it. While I had hoped for a quick, fun run back to Hurricane Creek, I spent over two hours in what became a grim, steep bushwhack with highlights including getting “streamed out” in a steep, V-shaped valley. I eventually reached the base 1/4 to 1/2 mile above the log crossing, and was at least lucky enough to head downstream far enough to find it. Good practice for the Cascades, I guess.

Mt. Hood (40 deg. snow, 5300ft, 3h up, 6h RT)

Hood from the trailhead.


Mount Hood, which conveniently splits the drive from Washington to the Sierra, gave me one last opportunity to don boots and real crampons. The ski area doesn’t mind car-camping in their parking lot, nor do they apparently mind tailgating, so I had a restless night. What they do mind, though, is people in boots walking on their precious groomed snow. Luckily, I had made it most of the way up the ski slope before they caught me, so I only had to deal with a short stretch of slushy, uncompacted snow. The groomers do a heroic job scraping the bits of available snow into a sort of comb-over, so that even though the mountain is more than half bare rock, it’s still possible to ski almost to the base.

Hood is supposedly one of the most-climbed peaks in the world, but I only saw one party ahead as I made my way up to the volcanic plug. The standard route follows the Palmer glacier to the east of the plug, then ascends a 40-degree chute to the ridge. The air in the crater is sulfurous, though not overwhelming, and there are several steam vents in the rock. The pair ahead of me was moving slowly up the chute; when I caught them near the top, I learned that one was having trouble with his crampons.

Reaching the top, I nearly stumbled over the other side of the ridge. The side I climbed was formed when the crater collapsed, but since then, the other side has been eaten away by a glacier, leaving a surprisingly sharp rim. The summit benchmark, if there is one, was covered by a snowdrift, but one of the surrounding markers was clear, epoxied to a rock that was, in turn, held to the mountain by a system of steel cables.

The other group reached the summit 10 minutes or so later, and we talked for awhile while they waited for the snow to soften. While the upper chute never became skiable, they were able to ski from the plug down, while I walked the whole way — not on the precious groomed snow — and beat them down by a bit.