Mount Thielsen

  • Date: May 13, 2018
  • Start: Mount Thielsen Trailhead
  • Distance: 9-10 miles
  • Duration: 10 hours 4 minutes (breaks included)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  •  References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Outdoor Project

I laced up my climbing shoes and took a deep breath. Hischokwolas’ summit spire loomed high above us, its basaltic andesite rock glinting in the sunlight. Three years ago, Mack and I had stood in this exact spot, fearful of the class 3-4 scramble before us. We’d only been seriously hiking for about a year and had never done rock climbing or mountaineering of any sort. Three years ago, we turned around, and the memory of that incomplete adventure both haunted and motivated me. I studied the base for a few more minutes. Eighty feet. Just eighty feet. I took one more deep breath and made my first move.

After a rather tough 50K race and a mostly sleepless and uncomfortable night in the front seats of the car, we hit the trail just before sunrise with our friends, Alyssa and Ryan. First light was already upon us, so headlamps were packed away shortly after we started. The first couple of miles passed quickly with good conversation to wake us all up. Chilly morning temps kept the snow firm for us as we wove through a forest of mountain hemlock and fir before gaining the ridge. Our objective was now in full view, a dark silhouette with the sun still tucked behind it’s northern flank.

We donned our crampons and pulled out ice axes to move more efficiently and safely, especially with the increasingly sketchy run out on either side of the ridge. They quickly became obsolete though once we reached the steep talus slopes. We packed away our steep snow equipment, put on our helmets, then slowly picked our way up the crumbling rock, moving in pairs, careful to stay out of each other’s fall lines in case any rock came loose beneath us. As we neared the final chimney chute leading to the chicken ledge, we were forced to pull out our axes one last time to traverse a short, but rather steep, early season snow field. After that, it was an easy scramble to the base of the summit block.

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One of the first views of Thielsen after emerging from the forest
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Alyssa with Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey in the background
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Alyssa and Mack
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Carefully picking my way up the talus slopes

Mack and I traded our mountaineering boots for climbing shoes at this point. We paced back and forth along the base, seeking out the path of least resistance. Three years ago, every path up looked terrifying and impossible. Now, this final tower was just a fun little puzzle with multiple possibilities! Mack made his first moves and I followed, opting for an alternate starting point that seemed more feasible for me.

I was amazed at how easy each move felt! Although I climbed slowly, it wasn’t out of nerves or fear. I was savoring each moment, each move, relishing in this seemingly newfound confidence (all while staying focused of course). There were plenty of platforms to step onto and the rock was incredibly solid the entire way up. Ironically, the hike up the talus slope down lower was far more nerve-racking! The final eighty feet honestly felt like the easiest part of the entire adventure. It was by far the most rewarding and fun part as well. We stayed on the summit for a short while, scanning for fulgurites on the rocks and enjoying the views of Diamond Lake, Mount Bailey, and the waters of Crater Lake. Mack was anxious to get moving though, feeling nervous about the down climb, so we snapped a few photos and carefully began the descent.

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Mack on the summit
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Me on the summit
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Survey marker
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Summit selfie

The scramble down felt just as easy and straightforward as the climb up. We knew the various holds and platforms well enough that we were actually able to take a few pictures this time around! I was beaming with excitement when we made it back down to the ledge where Alyssa and Ryan were hanging out. If we didn’t have such a tedious descent on talus slopes and slushy snow, as well as a long drive home, I would’ve scrambled up again!

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Scrambling back down the summit block

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As predicted, the descent from the chicken ledge until we were off the west ridge was slow and laborious, especially beneath the hot afternoon sun. Getting off the loose rock and back onto the snow was such a relief, even though it meant post-holing in knee deep snow at times. Once we were back on dirt, away from both snow and talus, we stopped for one last snack (or, in my case, power nap) break before making the final push back to the car. My mind and body were drained and suffering from the heat of the day (and the day before) by this point, and my final push felt more like sleepwalking. Despite being completely spent by the time we reached our cars in the mid-afternoon, we all finished with smiles on our faces. I’m sure it was partly a result of relief for being able to remove our heavy and hot mountaineering boots, but I think it was mostly because we’d had another memorable mountain adventure with the best company.

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Ryan and Alyssa enjoying the views at the base of the summit block
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Mack, Ryan, and Alyssa traversing one of the few remaining snow-covered slopes
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Almost there!
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Couldn’t ask for a better crew!
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Getting in a quick power nap and resting my poor legs and feet

 

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Mount Thielsen/Crater Lake Weekend

(Original post date: August 9, 2015)

Date: August 6-8, 2015

This past weekend, Mack and I shared a mini-adventure (our final trip of the summer) at Crater Lake National Park to participate in the Crater Lake half marathon (http://www.craterlakerimruns.com/). Since driving to Crater Lake isn’t exactly convenient, we decided to make the most of it by turning our single event into a three day adventure. Below is the itinerary we ended up with:

  • Day 1: Mount Thielsen climb; camp at Broken Arrow Campground near Diamond Lake
  • Day 2: Crater Lake exploration/relaxation day; camp at Mazama Village Campground
  • Day 3: Crater Lake Rim Runs!

Preparing/packing for this trip was a little more complex due to the activities comprising the trip (day hiking and road running), as well as the fact that we planned on car camping instead of backpacking. In my opinion, preparing for a backpacking trip is much easier because you’re limited on what you can carry. Without that boundary (and a giant backpack to organize everything), things get a little chaotic. Nonetheless, it was nice not having to worry about pack weight for a change.

 

Day 1: Mount Thielsen climb (9.7 miles round trip, 5 hours 26 minutes, breaks not included)

With its notable horn-shaped summit and nearly vertical slopes, Thielsen is easily distinguished from other peaks in the area. It is also notorious for being struck by lightning more often than any other peak in the Cascade range; it’s known as the “lightning rod of the Cascades.” With that in mind, Mack and I headed out early to avoid the possibility of getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm.

The first 3.8 miles of the Mount Thielsen Trail were a cakewalk. Although mostly uphill, the gain was gradual. Along the way we got lovely views of nearby Diamond Lake. That all changed in the final 0.9 miles. The views remained stunning (and continued to improve the higher we got), but the climb became a grueling task following the junction with the PCT. If I hadn’t brought my trekking poles, I probably would’ve been crawling on my hands and knees. The climb was that steep. And the terrain was comprised of scree. Above timberline, the terrain became rock slabs and boulders. The near vertical climb in this section was the closest we’ve ever come to rock climbing. We were constantly searching for handholds and footholds to pull ourselves up.

View of the West Ridge
Scrambling up the ridge

It took us nearly an hour and a half to reach Thielsen’s summit pinnacle. The first 3.8 miles took less than that. When I first researched the Mount Thielsen climb, most of the photos show people roped in while attempting this final portion. Mack and I don’t have any sort of rock climbing gear and had our fingers crossed about being able to attempt the summit without it. However, once we were at the base of this 80 ft rock spire, staring up at the vertical mass in front of us, common sense trumped ambition. We made it to 9,100 ft. Risking our lives for the last 80 ft just didn’t seem worth it. We enjoyed lunch—at least Mack did; I lost my appetite after gazing over the drop off on Thielsen’s east face—on the “chicken ledge” and watched two other hikers (with obvious rock climbing experience) successfully complete the summit.

After descending back down to the trailhead, we headed over to Broken Arrow Campground to car camp for the night. We rewarded ourselves with hot showers at the campground’s (surprisingly clean) bathrooms. I’m pretty sure it was the first time either of us went to bed feeling squeaky clean while camping.

Attempting the summit pinnacle
Lunching on the “chicken ledge”

Watching other hikers climb the pinnacle

Chicken ledge

Diamond Lake

 

Day 2: Exploring Crater Lake and “glamping” at Mazama Village Campground

With a relaxing day ahead of us, Mack and I took our time to get ready and pack up. Mack even spoiled himself with another shower. As we drove into Crater Lake National Park, we saw several PCT-ers along the highway (and many more once we got to Rim Village and Mazama Village). It got me very excited about our own PCT thru hike that we hope to do in a few years! We made it onto West Rim Drive around 9:30 am and were greeted with our first view of the lake. Needless to say, pictures will never do it justice. After making a few more stops along the rim to bask in the magnificence that is Crater Lake, we arrived at Mazama Village.

First view of Crater Lake

Wizard Island
Phantom Ship

Now, glamping (or “glamorous camping”) probably means different things to different people. The presence of a decent restaurant, bathrooms/showers, and a camper store was enough to consider this our first glamping experience. After setting up camp, enjoying a hot meal at Annie Creek restaurant, and letting our food settle, we hopped in the car and drove along the East Rim to Cleetwood Cove Trail. If one of your goals is to swim in Crater Lake when you visit, then Cleetwood Cove is a must on your “to do” list. Most people, especially parents with their children, tend to swim close to the boat ramp, so it can get pretty crowded. However, if you venture further left along the rocky shoreline—like we did—it’s easy to find a more secluded spot.

Following our short swim break, we trekked back up to the car and continued our drive along the rim. We stopped for a few more pictures at the Watchman Overlook, then headed back to Mazama Village, where we indulged in yet another hot meal at Annie Creek restaurant (and even splurged on some candy and ice cream at the camper store) before turning in for the night.

Swimming at Cleetwood Cove

 

Day 3: Crater Lake Rim Runs!

Since we needed to make the 6 am bus that would shuttle us to Watchman Overlook (the starting line for all the races), our day began early at around 4:30 am. I was happy we brought our Osprey Rev 1.5 hydration packs to run with. They were just spacious enough to fit our base layer shirts after we no longer needed to wear them; it was freezing up until the start of the race at 7:30 am, so the shirts were a definite must.

Although we hiked up to 9,100 ft two days prior, Mack and I never acclimated our bodies to running at the elevation of Crater Lake. I was actually kind of nervous when the 0.25 mile run to the bus wore me out. Fortunately, our bodies were so cold when the race finally began that it actually felt good to move fast. In fact, I can’t recall having any sort of negative reaction to the elevation—other than that 0.25 mile jaunt to the shuttle bus—throughout the entire race. Nonetheless, I know that going for a short run the day before would’ve been a smart thing to do.

The Crater Lake 13 miler extends from Watchman Overlook to the Whitebark Pine picnic area. It is an incredibly scenic run (all on Rim Drive) and the weather was downright perfect. However, it also proved to be incredibly difficult. Not only does the run take place at an altitude above 5,900 ft (nearing 8,000 ft by the end), but it gains about 2,000 ft. Nearly all of that gain is in the final 3 to 4 miles, which felt like one giant, endless hill. Despite all my uphill running in Forest Park, nothing could’ve prepared me for that final 3 to 4 mile stretch. At mile 11.5, Mack and I went our separate ways since we both deal with uphill running differently. Ironically, we still placed side by side (25th and 26th out of about 130) with only a minute separating our finishing times.

At the finish line, we were greeted with the works: Gatorade, bagels with peanut butter and/or cream cheese, bananas, graham crackers, and watermelon. (Sidenote: watermelon is the best post run snack ever.) We received our tech shirts and medals, and I found out that I placed 2nd in my age group! All in all, it was a successful race. Mack and I both agree that we’d definitely do this race again, and maybe next time run the full marathon!

Another note: we saw a PCT thru hiker (carrying all of his gear!) run past the 13 mile mark as if heading towards the marathon finish. We found out that he had been running the entire course! Wonder if he actually finished…

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Post-race at our Mazama campsite