Womxn of the PNW: Cat Eckrode

Cat is an entrepreneur from Portland, Oregon, who has turned her passion for the outdoors into a business designed to get people started on their own adventures. Camera in hand and canine companion at her side, she can often be found exploring forests, mountains, and more around the Pacific Northwest.

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I grew up in the PNW, with most of my childhood spent in the Columbia River Gorge outside of Washougal, Washington. Although I’ve had the opportunity to travel, no where else feels like “home” and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s the perfect home base with so many incredible adventure opportunities nearby!


Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced? And what are your favorite activities?

I was lucky enough to spend most of my childhood up through my teen years in a rural area, surrounded by northwest forest; I just didn’t know I was lucky at the time and was impatient to move to a city. My family explored some of the old logging roads and mines hidden in the region not far from Washougal, and for a few summers we camped in our trailer near local rivers. Most summers saw us in Eastern Oregon for part of our vacation, and other times we would go to the coast and explore the beaches. Through my teen years and well into adulthood, I was not at all an outdoorsy person! I was out of shape and suffered from horrible allergies, telling myself I was meant to be indoors only. About seven years ago, I moved to a new home with an amazing yard that attracts all kinds of birds; I started bird watching, and started exploring nearby parks to see more. I didn’t know any other birders, so I would often go by myself. Eventually I started venturing further from home, until my hobby turned into an outright obsession with hiking and backpacking!

PC: Stacey Arnold

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW?

I love exploring in the Columbia River Gorge – there is just SO much to discover, year-round. I am often found on the west end of the Oregon side. The steep elevation is such a rewarding challenge, leading past seasonally-changing waterfalls, amazing geology, both young and old growth forests, talus fields, open meadows, and often results in spectacular views. I always feel reinvigorated after an adventure in that region!


What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

My favorite outdoor experience  -so far! – has been reaching the crater rim on Mount Saint Helens for the first time. I was just starting to think seriously about creating some sort of business on my own, and was going through a very personal journey at the time. I had set a goal for myself of reaching the top that summer and felt like I was out to prove something. I obtained the passes, coordinated for my little group of climbers, and trained for months (for this climb as well as other adventures). Our party had to deal with one member having food poisoning set in, and another overcoming a fear of heights, in addition to the expected challenges of the terrain. That last uphill slog through the ash field seemed like it would go on forever…and I will never forget the emotions that rushed through me as I took the last few steps. It was the most incredible view I’ve ever seen, seeming like the entire world had opened up before me; the feeling that I could do anything combined with the beauty and sense of personal accomplishment was overwhelming. It was such an amazing feeling that I walked a little further along the rim laughing until I had tears in my eyes. I don’t know if laughter is what others experience at the top of a mountain, but it was the happiest and most exhilarating thing!

PC: Jess Rembold

What inspired you to start The Outdoor Adventure Kind? How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far (milestones, challenges, etc.)?

As I took up hiking, often solo, I found the experience to be so much more rewarding than I’d ever imagined. Not only was I getting more physically fit, but I was feeling better emotionally while also discovering a new sense of empowerment and confidence. Along the way, I kept hearing from others that they would like to take up hiking or do more than the ‘easy’ hikes but that they couldn’t…and almost all of the reasons they gave were ones I’d at one time faced, too. I started unofficially coaching friends & family, encouraging them to get outdoors. I shared my stories, gave advice, and took people along on adventures with me. It was such an incredible thing to inspire & educate others, and to see people discover their own abilities and start their own adventures, or take them to new levels. I realized I wanted to keep doing that, so I made the leap from a 15-year-long career path to first-time entrepreneur. It’s been a whole new kind of adventure!

The last few months have been all about refining my goals as a small business owner, learning what exactly it means to own my own company, and developing both the structure for an online presence as well as the kinds of supporting services I want to offer to the community. The process has been slower than I initially envisioned, but I have learned so much along the way!  I wholeheartedly believe that anyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors; my goal is to be inclusive, supportive, and encouraging while opening up the definition of “adventure” to encompass pursuits as varied as the individuals who get outdoors. I also endeavor to educate others on good stewardship practices to protect and preserve our wild spaces.


How often does your dog, Bailey, join you on your adventures? What do you enjoy most about hiking with her? 

I adopted Bailey with the intent of her being my Outdoor Adventure Dog, and she’s with me as often as is reasonable when I am on the trail! She has her own gear for hiking and backpacking adventures, and gets super excited anytime she can come along. You wouldn’t know she’s not a PNW native (she’s from Hawaii), because she took to outdoor exploration like a natural. I love having her along for companionship always, as well as an extra sense of security when hiking solo. She takes her job very seriously, keeping eyes and ears alert to our surroundings. When we are in areas where she is allowed off leash, she sticks to the trails without needing to be told and stays close at hand. We’ve just recently adopted another dog into our pack; Ruby Mae is still a puppy, but Bailey’s job will soon include teaching her to be a good adventure companion, too. And for those who are wondering, we absolutely always pack out everything, and follow leash laws & regulations as posted. We do our best to be good stewards for adventure dogs and their owners!

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

I try to set a few goals each year to keep myself motivated and continuously growing, and I am super excited about some of this year’s plans: I’m going to run my first full marathon in August, I’m going to summit at least one more volcano (probably Mt. Adams), and I am going to hike the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. And while I am training for all of that, I’m also going to grow The Outdoor Adventure Kind in support of others discovering their own amazing adventures.


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Cat! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

Although a lot of my time & passion goes into my fledgling business and outdoor adventures, I am also a pretty big geek. I’m particularly a fan of fantasy & sci-fi genres; some universes/worlds include Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones (books, then show), and Kim Harrison’s The Hollows book series. I could write a much, much longer list… I also enjoy video games (mostly PC, sometimes console), comic books, graphic novels, and role playing game when I can find the time and opportunity.

I mentioned that bird watching lead to me starting to hike – it also sparked a passion for nature photography. I am still an avid birder and growing my photography skills, and dream of traveling internationally to photograph exotic new species and locations!

You can learn more about Cat and follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and at https://www.theoakind.com/.

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Womxn of the PNW: Stacey Arnold

Stacey is an aspiring Adventureprenuer and adventure-obsessed woman that lives just outside of Portland, Oregon. No matter what kind of adventure she’s on, she always carries her 5lb camera and is well known amongst outdoorsy friends for stopping mid-strike to say “look at that mushroom!” She’s also obsessed with learning about local wildflowers, wild edibles, and picking up way too many rocks at the beach!

Successful summit of Helens with Cat Eckrode (August 5, 2018)

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I’ve been in Oregon since just before I turned three. My parents grew up in the Portland/Tigard/Beaverton area and after they met they ended up moving to Hawaii, getting married, and living there for 10 years. My brother and I were born there, but my parents moved us back here just before I turned three so we could go to better public schools than on the island.


Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced?

Oh man yes! When we lived in Hawaii we lived on several acres in the rainforest and there are pictures of me stark nekkid enjoying the warm breeze! When we moved back to the mainland my parents found a small farm on 8 acres and my brother and I grew up playing in the dirt, mowing the lawn, catching crayfish in the creek and all around being filthy little demons as often as we could be. Mom and her best friend would take us camping all the time in the summer to Eastern Oregon and we’d get dirty in the desert dust and then dunk ourselves in the Prineville Reservoir, chase lizards and go “snipe hunting” and try to catch bats by tossing mini marshmallows up.

Hiking Lava Canyon with my good friend, Carla Wakins (Summer 2018)

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW? 

That is so hard to choose! Like choosing a favorite kid. I love all the places for different reasons. The Gorge is incredible because of the incredible history of the Missoula Flood that carved it. The North Cascades for how rough and wild they are. The area around Mt. Hood for how accessible it is to me, especially for a snow fix in the winter. Eastern Oregon for childhood memories with family and because it’s so different than the green trees near home. The Oregon Coast and Olympic Coast for the sea stacks, tide pools, and rockhounding that is available. Mt. St. Helens because that mountain is personal for me.


What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

Two years ago I set out for a solo hiking/photography weekend near Mt. St. Helens. Even though it was July I was dealing with some seasonal depression-like symptoms from not spending very much time outdoors soaking up vitamin D. I had planned on getting up soon after midnight and driving up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in time for sunrise, but when my alarm went off I felt mentally and emotionally lethargic and drained. Normally I would have stayed in bed, but something got me up and going. I felt really conspicuous walking around the observatory in the super dim light before dawn but finally found a spot I would wait for sunrise from. I fiddled with some timelapse settings while I waited for the conditions I wanted, and as I was waiting I heard what I thought was another photographer coming down the path. I felt SUPER self-conscious and looked around as I sat on my jacket in the middle of the trail over my tripod. No one was there, and when I looked forward there was a deer popping over the hill in front of me. My camera settings were all wrong for a moving subject and I fired off a ton of shots hoping to get a good one. That picture ended up being my favorite one I’ve ever taken. I was so excited about it that after I sent it over to my phone to give a quick edit I was showing everyone I met. On the other side of the mountain that night, a woman from the Mt St. Helens Institute asked if I was climbing the next morning and offered for me to join them. She had no idea but I was absolutely shocked – she asked me so matter-of-fact as if she had no idea that was something that I couldn’t do. I knew I couldn’t climb a volcano!

A couple of months later I did something else completely out of character and went to a Facebook group’s first meetup, though I didn’t know it was the first. I drove 3 hours up to Olallie State Park in Washington and I shook slightly as I got out of the car and fiddled with stuff in the back to calm my hands down. Soon after actually joining everyone I felt right at home, and I hated to leave. Since then most of those people have become close as family to me and the memories I make with them every month or so are so dear to me! Since then, I have done all sorts of crazy things like be on the podcasts of people I’ve admired for years, talk about a “Cluster-Bleep” of a first solo backpacking trip in front of a couple hundred people during a LIVE podcast event in downtown Portland, and gone to many meetups and met and hiked with tons of new people. As a (mostly former) introvert I hardly recognize my life anymore!

(Side note: The photo Stacey refers to in the above response can be seen below)

The picture and morning that changed my life

You mentioned that Mount St. Helens is “personal” for you. Would you be comfortable elaborating on this?

Like I mentioned about one of my favorite outdoor memories – I was asked to join a group heading up the next morning on a climb, and the woman thought nothing of asking me, like it was a given that I could – or would even be interested in – climbing Mt. St. Helens.  I’d never even thought of it before, and I made my excuses about not having a permit, as well as recovering a toe from a car accident. I wrote her asking me off at the time, but later on when I saw a post from the Mt. St. Helens Institute announcing when permit sales would be, something poked me in the brain and I found myself sitting on a pallet in the stockroom at work furiously trying for permits during the Great 2018 Permit Sale Catastrophe. I promised my employee I’d give up as many breaks in the coming days or weeks as it took for me to get permits. I miraculously ended up getting 4 of them for 1 year to the day from the day I took the picture that ended up changing my life. I started training my out-of-shape self for the climb, and convinced a co-worker to climb with me.  A couple of other friends were going to go, but had to bail, and it ended up being just the two of us. I gave Heather, my co-worker turned climbing partner, her trail name – Belch while we climbed up. The night before we climbed we were good girls and went to bed early. It poured so hard we couldn’t sleep part of the night. Heather is a sleep-flailer and I was on the receiving end of a couple of flying elbows and a spooning leg, to which I informed her I was not her husband and to kindly get off me, lol. Then at one point when I woke up it was an hour later than when my alarm was supposed to go off and we scrambled to get out of camp as soon as possible.

We finally started hiking up, and once we got to the boulder field I pulled the gloves I’d bought the previous day and stuffed in my pack. I had two left gloves! It was awkward but it worked. The snow obscured the first few poles showing the way, and we ended up scrambling up a very ashy/slidy area that made me super nervous having not been on a scramble like this before. Once we gained the ridge it was a little better, but I continued to feel slightly panicky, and it only got worse as we climbed up. I wasn’t eating properly on the way up because the foods I normally enjoyed were grossing me out! 2/3 of the way up I began to have a very quiet meltdown with silent, very pathetic looking tears. I’d looked ahead and everyone was scaling this wall of stone that went from about 30 degrees to what appeared to be 60 degrees, and I just could not see myself getting up it safely, let alone down!  I found myself irrationally irritated at the chipmunks cavorting around me showing absolutely no fear at the height they were at. Over the course of the next half hour I inched up further, before finally giving up. I was so damned embarrassed telling everyone coming up that we hadn’t made it when they asked how the top had been. I was embarrassed ahead of time to tell friends, family, and coworkers that I’d failed to due an anxiety attack doing something I loved.

Later that week I wrote about the failure as a way to get closure. I thought it was something I’d never try to do again – the idea was terrifying and I just knew I couldn’t do it. Then I got a  message from a woman who had read my story. I’d never met her, and never interacted with her online before. But my story resonated with her – she’d also had a screwy first ascent, and she had an opening in a group that she wanted me to have – one month after my failed attempt. Her group ended up cancelling, but she gave me two permits so I  could find someone to go with. This meant telling someone I was going to go, which I wasn’t going to do until the day of. I reached out to a couple of friends, but they couldn’t make it, so I posted in Toward the Mountaintop and a woman named Cat Eckrode said she would go. I ended up meeting her at the trailhead and realized I’d been interacting with her in a coaching group Anastasia Allison was hosting weekly. Cat had climbed it two weeks prior to my second attempt, and lead me up. When we got to the “Wall” as I thought of it – the part I’d freaked on the month before I saw zigzags of dust on the rock that had been washed off in the rain the month before. Switchbacks! You don’t have to go straight up the mountain! I laughed hard, and we kept climbing. At one point when we stopped for an hourly snack I got this beautiful, clear feeling and knew I would make it to the top that day. Once we got to the ash field I began to panic again but at that point there was no effing way I was going to turn around, even if I had to crawl the rest of the way up. And at times I did crawl, feeling like I would tip right off the mountain. One other climber asked if I was ok at one point, flat to the mountain. I told her I thought Helens and I both needed a hug.

When I got to the top, I laughed, and choked, and cried all at the same time. I had made it.

Now I dream of climbing all the Northwest volcanoes, and I am going to do it.

You eventually became an ambassador for the Facebook group you mentioned in one of your previous responses! What inspired you to become an ambassador for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch? What do you do as an ambassador for TTMTIBI? How has this group influenced you? 

Many of the core people in the group are like family, and have allowed me to change and grow in ways that I never, ever would have guessed would happen to me. Instead of feeling like a dud because no one wanted to hang out with me, especially outdoors, I now have the opposite problem and end up wringing my hands trying to figure out how to make more time to spend with these wonderful people. I have become so much more than I was before I met them, and I thought it would be a great way to show them my gratitude and my love. As an ambassador to the group I reach out to members that have questions, lead hikes and meetups, and try to let new people feel the same incredibly warm hug of a welcome that I got during that first meetup just before my 30th birthday.

The first group of strangers I felt totally comfortable around that have become my community and family. First ever meetup for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch

You’ve described yourself as an “aspiring Adventurepreneur.” For those who are unfamiliar, can you provide your personal definition of an adventurepreneur and describe your aspirations?

I take my definition of Adventureprenuer from Anastasia Allison. She has made a living doing outdoor-inspired things that most people would (and often do) say are nuts to think you’d be able to make money doing! My own brand of this is a company called Inclined to Adventure. I spent so much time when I was a kid climbing trees and walking the dry creek bed and all sorts of outdoor things that as an adult when I realized I was more and more depressed if I didn’t spend time outdoors. I currently work retail and have a super limited adventure budget. I want to be able to lead guided trips, photography classes, foraging classes, geology classes, orienteering, and a ton more on a sliding scale for those that need an extra boost to be able to get out there. I realize that the way my brain works to collect info that is interesting to me and not be overwhelmed by it is kind of unusual by the posts I see on PNWOW, WHC and other forums and I want to be able to make information more accessible to folks that don’t have what I do. I eventually even want to have a goat/llama/alpaca rental service on a sliding scale for those that have mobility issues. I already teach 1-on-1 photo classes now, and I have a plan in place to free up more time to go further down the Adventureprenuer path!


What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

My adventure list!

    • Climb Helens in the snow
    • Climb a 2nd volcano – Adams likely
    • Circumnavigate 2 volcanoes
    • Walk/run the entire ~30 mile Wildwood Trail in one day
    • Swim in Colchuk Lake (in Allison Tapert’s wetsuit that she will be hucking up and down to said lake. This is her hairbrained way of getting me over my fear of swimming in open water)
    • Learn to surf (also Allison’s hairbrain!)
    • Start learning to climb
    • Run/Walk a 5k (and maybe a 10k?)
    • Go on a 5-night backpacking trip
    • Finally visit the Wallowas!
    • Spend at least 15 nights in a tent this year
    • Hike 300+ miles
    • Sell my house and…..? The 2nd half is a secret for now! But it will be very, very cool!
Snowshoeing at Packwood Lake with Kellie Dawson (February 2018)

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Stacey! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

I used to be afraid of garbage trucks! I’ve built birthing tubs with my dad for maternity wards. I rebuilt and drove a 1970 Ford Falcon when I was 14-16, and then I drove it for 13 years. I still have it, and I’m hoping to be able to fix the issue currently keeping it in storage soon! That little car was a beast on logging roads heading to trailheads! I’m obsessed with finding and identifying mushrooms, wildflowers, and wild edibles, and I am an info-holic!

Snow backpacking with Anastasia Allison, Allison Tapert, and Brenda Ullinski at Mt. Rainier (March 2019)

You can learn more about Stacey and follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and at www.inclinedtoadventure.com.

Hood & Helens in a Day

  • Date: March 17, 2019
  • Start: Timberline Lodge & Marble Mountain Sno Park
  • Distance: 17 miles total
  • Duration: 19 hours (breaks, lunch stop, and drive time included)
  • Elevation gain: 11,000 feet total
  • Type: Out-and-back (for both climbs)
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot

Out in the open above timberline, the hot, merciless sun beat down on our tired bodies. Less than 10 hours earlier I’d been wiggling my fingers and toes to keep them from going numb while hiking up to the Hogsback on Mount Hood. Now here we were shedding layer after layer and taking giant swigs of Gatorade every couple hundred feet of climbing. The snow had turned to mush from the heat of the sun. I groaned with each sinking step, trudging slowly up the steep slopes of unconsolidated snow. Just a few thousand more feet to go.

Back in January, the PNW was graced with an unbelievably gorgeous weather window for Saturday and Sunday. On a whim, Mack and I decided it would be fun to attempt a doubleheader mountain weekend: Helens on Saturday, then Hood on Sunday. Unfortunately, neither summit was reached despite enviable conditions. We’d have to wait for another opportunity to arise. Fast forward to March…

After spending over two weeks sick with the flu and having to forgo numerous climbing opportunities and general social engagements, I was desperate to get back out to the mountains. The PNW was gifted yet another beautiful weekend and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste. On Friday afternoon, we decided to give the Saturday-Sunday doubleheader another go. Earlier in the day [Friday], I’d attempted a pre-work Hood climb, which threw off my sleep schedule and left me physically and mentally depleted by the time Friday evening rolled around. When our midnight alarm went off for Helens, I reluctantly told Mack that I didn’t think I could do it and we went back to sleep. Helens was off the table, and I hated myself for it. At least we were still planning to climb Hood.

I woke up well rested a few hours later but couldn’t shake the guilt of having let our doubleheader weekend slip through the cracks yet again! Then, all of a sudden, something switched on in my head. From my sulking and self loathing, an idea came about. One that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t even considered before. Why not climb both mountains on the same day? Mack agreed to it without hesitation–BEST. ADVENTURE PARTNER. EVER!–and before we knew it we were driving out to Timberline Lodge for the start of a long, adventurous Sunday.

We met up with our friend, Emily (who was climbing Hood for the first time!), and proceeded up the climber’s trail. With a good deal of people having climbed up the previous day, numerous tracks were in place and made the overall ascent very quick. We were doing so well that we made it to Devil’s Kitchen over an hour earlier than I’d anticipated! Extremities began to succumb to the cold, so we decided not to linger despite being so early. We hiked up to the Hogsback and began the ever steepening crawl up the narrow spine. The Pearly Gates were a breeze–compared to the sheet of ice it had been at the end of January during my last climb–and we followed previous tracks all the way to the summit. The sun had yet to rise, but we made it for blue hour!

Sunrise was still 10-15 minutes away. On our way up (while we were still near Devil’s Kitchen), we saw behind us the inevitable stream of headlamps gradually moving up the mountain. Not looking forward to down climbing the gates and sharing such a small space with potentially large groups (or having to wait our turn while our fingers and toes froze), we opted not to wait for sunrise and descend while the crowds were still down lower. Still in the shadows and not having been exposed to the sun yet, the gates were in fantastic shape for easy down climbing. Probably the best shape I’ve ever seen them! 

We could see light from the sunrise slowly wash over the lower slopes where we were headed. The ever majestic shadow of the mountain, a sight I’ve been fortunate enough to experience numerous times now, stretched out to the west. It’s a sight that never fails to breathe life into me no matter how exhausted I am from climbing through the night. Aside from the unfailingly breathtaking sunrises, one of my favorite reasons for climbing so early is getting to witness the life cycle of this shadow. You’re only graced with its presence for a short window before it dissipates with the rising sun. 

After the Hogsback, the rest of the descent passed fairly quickly. The snow was mostly soft enough to plunge step all the way down to the parking lot. We arrived back at our cars shortly before 10 am and enjoyed a late breakfast/early lunch in Government Camp with Emily before we began the long drive out to our next objective, Mount St. Helens. 

The three hour drive to Marble Mountain Sno Park (which Mack was kind enough to do so I could get some sleep) meant most everyone was finishing up their climb by the time we pulled into the parking lot. Folks were either packing up or lounging about enjoying celebratory beers. The air was warm and the sun high in the sky when we stepped out of the car. Were we really going to do this climb in the hot afternoon sun and crappy snow?

By happenstance, we ran into our friends, Ali and Brad (we all climbed Eldorado Peak together over the summer), who had just finished skiing the mountain. It was tempting to just skip out on the climb altogether and enjoy some post-climb beers and BBQ (I mean, we’d already summited a mountain that morning!), especially after getting beta from them about the snow conditions. We pushed past the temptation and headed over to the trailhead. 

The hike up Swift Ski Trail wasn’t too bad despite the mushy snow. We stepped aside for numerous skiers flying down the trail, envious that we weren’t quite at that level yet (and that we didn’t own our own set-up to even give it a try). One day that’ll be us, I thought. Unfortunately, the cool air and shade of the forest gave way to complete sun exposure and softer, deeper snow once we reached timberline and started up the ridge. We received a few confused glances from climbers descending the mountain and one seemingly veiled warning from the climbing ranger (or volunteer?) who inquired about our equipment (mainly checking to see if we had emergency overnight gear and headlamps) and informed us we were still a few hours from the summit.

We encountered less and less people as we climbed higher, until it was only us two. As expected, the going was slow as we sank into the snow with each step. We kept a pretty good pace for awhile though, but near the seismic station (which sits about 2,000 feet below the summit) we were hit with strong, sustained winds. Our energy began to dwindle, sucked out by the incessant gusts that bombarded us. The final climb up the snow field to the crater rim, and subsequently the quarter mile climb along the rim to the true summit, felt never-ending. It was certainly the slowest we’d moved all day, but just as we’d hoped, we made the summit before sunset. 

Daylight was on its final leg now. Shadows had spilled into the mountain’s crater, but to the north, Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier were illuminated by the remaining light. To the south stood Mount Hood, and we suddenly remembered that that climb had taken place several hours earlier! It already felt like an entirely different day.

Mack took out his phone to take pictures of his own and realized it had died. We’d been tracking and mapping our route on Gaia so we could easily navigate the descent. We’ve always mixed it up one way or another on every Helens climb we’ve done together. Not particularly interested in digging out my map and compass, especially with the wind still being an issue, we booked it off the summit and followed the boot track while we still had light. I knew once we made it off the snowfield and onto the correct ridge we would be fine.  

We’d hoped to save time and effort by glissading down, but the paths were too icy now that the temps had dropped. Thankfully, the snow was still soft enough for plunge stepping (or, rather, plunge step running with how fast we were trying to move). The tracks were easy enough to follow though and I didn’t fear us getting off route this time around. Alpenglow now stretched across the horizon in bands of rosy pink and orange. The last light of the day. I thought back to that morning. How fortunate we were to have witnessed all the beauty and magic that comes with the start of a new day, and now to see it all again at the end while still in the mountains!

We were finally forced to turn on our headlamps somewhere around the seismic station. At least we’d already descended 2,000 feet! We even managed a little bit of glissading below that since the paths were less icy and steep, but it was short lived when the zipper on Mack’s snow pants got stuck and he could no longer zip up the side of his pants. The last part of the ridge just before reaching the forest was the worst. The post-holing had been bad, but tolerable, on the way up. Now that we were exhausted and ready to be back, I was no longer feeling tolerant about sinking into knee, thigh, and sometimes waist deep snow. Once we made it back into the trees we were able to start moving uninhibited again and finally collapsed at the car shortly before 10 pm. We were starving, dehydrated, and a little delirious from lack of sleep, but the experience of climbing two of our favorite mountains in a single day, something we never would have thought as being fun or reasonable for us even a couple years earlier, was more than worth it. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Hopefully when we repeat it, we might even be capable of skiing down both mountains!

Mount Hood: Leuthold Couloir

  • Date: March 31, 2019
  • Start: Timberline Lodge
  • Distance: 8.1 miles
  • Duration: 9 hours 16 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 5,640 feet
  • Type: Balloon
  • References: Mt. Hood Climber’s Guide by Bill Mullee; SummitPost

Left tool, right tool, step up, step up. Breathe. Left tool, right tool, step up, step up. Breathe, and don’t forget to look around. Behind me stretched a vast, glaciated slope punctuated by rocky ridge lines and pinnacles. Above me stood the gatekeepers of the upper mountain, towers embodying the perfect marriage of rock and ice, a symbol of the mountain’s harsh yet captivating exterior. Time to move again. Left tool, right tool, step up, step up.

Ever since climbing Cooper Spur, I’ve made it a goal to attempt at least one new route on Hood each year (as long as I’m equipped with the necessary skills). After doing some research and receiving feedback from fellow mountaineers last spring, I set my sights on Leuthold, a steep snow and glacier climb on the mountain’s western flank. Although we started planning the climb back in January–obsessing over weekly snow and weather conditions, poring over maps and route descriptions, and practicing crevasse rescue in our living room a couple times a week–setbacks forced us to postpone weekend after weekend. By the final week of March I was feeling pretty defeated and certain that we’d have to wait until next year. That Saturday I happened to check Mountain Forecast for the following day. Sunny, clear skies. High of 16. It had snowed a little over the past few days, so I checked NWAC next. I could feel my face light up with joy as the map loaded. Green. Mount Hood was green. This was it. This was our window. I casually sauntered out of the room, trying not to appear too excited/desperate as I approached Mack, knowing full well that we already had other plans in place for the next day. “Any interest in climbing Hood tomorrow?”

We arrived at Timberline the next morning around 2:30 am. My mind and body were aching for sleep. The previous afternoon had been a hectic one after our last minute decision to climb. Following a day of volunteering in Tillamook State Forest, I hastily packed up our gear so we could attempt to sleep a little before driving out to the mountain. Sometimes I envy Mack for his ability to fall into a deep sleep at the drop of a hat. The night before our climb was one of those times, especially as I laid awake with butterflies fluttering around in my stomach, my mind envisioning all the various aspects of the route, while he slept peacefully next to me. 

We signed in at the climber’s register and began the all too familiar slog up to the Palmer chairlift upper terminal. It was nearly 4 am already, and the thought of daylight arriving in a couple short hours revitalized me somewhat. Save for a few headlamps high above and well below us, the mountain was surprisingly void of the climbing crowd. It was a calm, clear, and quiet morning. No howling wind. No human voices. Just the sound of our own breathing and our feet punching into the soft snow. The moon became a faint glow in the sky as blue hour struck near Illumination Saddle. A lone, little orange tent sat perched there overlooking the glacier. Even though I knew it wasn’t my tent and I wasn’t going to be wrapped up inside a sleeping bag when I arrived, the mere fact that it represented warmth made me pick up my pace.

At the saddle, I got to work getting our rope flaked out and attaching our glacier gear to our harnesses as sunrise colors lit up the sky behind us. Perfect timing. Aside from Mack’s poop break, our transition into glacier travel was relatively quick thanks to consistent practice at home. We walked to the edge of the saddle, peering down onto Reid Glacier and visually assessing the boot path leading to the base of the couloir. The boot path was a godsend and made for a speedy traverse. In these particular conditions, the rope actually felt like overkill (not that we regretted bringing it)! 

Daylight gradually swept over the rolling, forested hills far below and beyond. We knew we likely wouldn’t experience its warmth until we were on the summit ridge. At the end of the traverse, we opted to un-rope (especially since the boot track was so good) and take out a second tool to aid with the steep climbing of the next section. I looked back often as we climbed higher, expecting to see another party approaching the couloir on this unbelievably gorgeous spring day. Never saw a single soul. 

Directly above us, rime encrusted rock formations guarded the entrance to Leuthold, a brief, but narrow stretch known as the Hourglass. This section is notorious for raining down ice on climbers seeking to attain the upper reaches of the couloir. Somehow, on this day, we were graced with no ice fall whatsover! I was even able to stop and savor the rugged, crystalline beauty surrounding me and take photos of Mack as he climbed up shortly after. 

After topping out above the Hourglass, we’d now completed the steepest portion of the climb and the couloir had expanded into a wide, open slope. From here up to the summit ridge was fairly mellow climbing and, thanks to the continuation of the boot track, very straightforward navigation. On climber’s left we had an incredible view of the gnarly Yocum Ridge, a daunting, jagged spine that snakes its way up to the summit ridge alongside our much more manageable route. Definitely one of my favorite sights of the day (and one of those “maybe one day in the distant future” goals). At the top of the couloir, we were greeted by long awaited sunshine and warmth. We were now within a few hundred feet–maybe less!–of the summit.

I’ll admit the ridge felt a bit longer and more tedious than I’d expected (or I was just being impatient), but once the catwalk came into view, I couldn’t bring myself to keep moving. Up until this point, I’d only ever seen a small portion of this undulating crest from the times I’d ascended via Old Chute. Starting back further and being graced with an even wider, more zoomed out perspective made for one of the most picturesque scenes of the entire morning. We made our way across one at a time. I looked down at the Hogsback, expecting to see the typical swarm of late morning climbers. I was pleasantly surprised to see less than a dozen! We reached the summit at 10 am and celebrated with a few other climbers who had just ascended the Pearly Gates, and another who climbed via North Face Left Gully. After a celebratory photo we started our descent.

The Pearly Gates were in decent condition. It wasn’t quite as prime as it had been two weekends earlier, but it didn’t require much effort to get through. Also, the low traffic of climbers made the descent of this section much faster than the previous time. I was still in awe that the mountain wasn’t a complete zoo right now! Mack made a semi-serious joke that everyone was probably on Mount St. Helens since it was the final day you could climb without reserving a permit. The remainder of the descent was non-eventful and characterized by our continuous efforts to avoid overheating and escape the harshness of direct sunlight (which proved to be futile). Those last couple hours in the sun coupled with a near complete lack of sleep left me deflated and dizzy by the time we stumbled into the parking lot. Regardless of the hot mess I turned into by the end, I can still say with certainty that this was one of the most–if not THE most–perfect day of climbing I’ve experienced on this incredible mountain. Leuthold is by and large my new favorite route on Hood. I can’t wait to give it another go and start researching some other routes for next season! Maybe it’s time to try one of the headwalls? 

Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’

  • Date: November 25, 2018
  • Start: Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, Starvation Creek Trailhead, and Dog Mountain Trailhead
  • Distance: 26.6 miles
  • Duration: 11 hours (commute time between trailheads included)
  • Elevation gain: 10,000 feet
  • Type: Loop (Devil’s Rest) and out-and-back (Defiance and Dog)
  • Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West

A glimmer of daybreak shone faintly in the distance as we moved like shadows through the darkness. I don’t generally like running during non-daylight hours, but the paved, even trail leading to the top of Multnomah Falls presented no threat to my footing and I was able to move with confidence and certainty. We paced ourselves as we climbed switchback after switchback, reminding ourselves that we still had a number of miles and a good chunk of vert ahead of us. Afterall, this was only the beginning of a beautiful first weekend back on some of our favorite gorge trails on the Oregon side since the devastating wildfire over a year prior. What better way to celebrate their reopening and continued healing than with a little adventure run?

Devil’s Rest (8 miles; 2 hours 44 minutes, breaks included)

The Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’ challenge has been on our ultra-running bucket list since before we had even completed an ultra distance! We put off doing it for the longest time though because the gorge is our “backyard” and using our precious weekends to head there instead of a place we’d never explored seemed silly. We took this beautiful place for granted, and it took the Eagle Creek Fire sweeping through this beloved area for us to realize it. Dog Mountain remained open of course since it’s located on the Washington side, and Mount Defiance eventually reopened in the spring or early summer, but Devil’s Rest remained the missing ‘D’. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, we got the good news. After a failed attempt Saturday–which at least allowed us the chance to run up Angel’s Rest–we returned on Sunday determined to push on and put it all together.

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The run up to the top of Multnomah from the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead brought us into the first moments of daylight as we crossed the culvert bridge over the creek. We continued through Dutchman Tunnel and up past Weisendanger Falls, struck with sadness by the sight of the scorched landscape, yet amazed and overjoyed by the vibrant signs of recovery. The gorge was still the gorge, resilient and adaptable in the face of human-induced trauma.

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Above Weisendanger we turned onto Wahkeena Trail for a brief stretch before the gradual ascent to the summit via Devil’s Rest Trail. Upon reaching the treed in high point–characterized by giant, mossy boulders and a seemingly unofficial wooden sign hanging off one of the nearby trees–we grabbed a quick selfie then proceeded to enjoy the long, rewarding downhill back to the car, pausing every so often to savor some sorely missed gorge sights, especially the quaint but magical Fairy Falls. By mid morning, just as many others were beginning their hike up, we were back at the car and ready to tackle the next, and most difficult, ‘D’ of our challenge: Mount Defiance.

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Mount Defiance (11.76 miles; 4 hours 50 minutes, breaks included)

At 4,960 feet, Defiance is considered to be the highest point in the Columbia River Gorge. By itself, it comprises nearly half of the elevation gain for the Triple ‘D’ challenge! We were extremely pleased to be starting the route at a reasonable late morning time. As anticipated, there was very little running involved once we left the Historic Columbia River Highway. The gain was mild at first past Lancaster Falls and through the powerline corridor. Then we entered the forest, where the trail’s notoriety truly begins. It’s unrelenting steepness made even power hiking a struggle at times. Mack and I had only ever hiked Defiance once nearly three years prior. Within those three years I’d somehow managed to downplay the difficulty of the route in my memory.

A couple miles into our crawl up the mountain, we met a hiker coming down and casually inquired about the conditions further up. His response: at least a foot of snow–likely more than that–in the last mile or two before the summit. Oops. I looked down at my blown out Altras covered in holes and also remembered that we’d left our microspikes in the the car. We continued up anyway since we hadn’t reached the snow yet. No point in turning around until we absolutely had to. What started out as a light dusting further up very quickly turned into well over a foot of relatively fresh snow. Fortunately for us, hikers from the past couple of days had packed down a pretty decent boot path that we were able to walk/run on even without the aid of microspikes! Nonetheless it was another important reminder about being better prepared with potentially necessary gear and research regarding snow levels.

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The views over the the final couple of miles were just as stunning as I remembered, especially with Pahto standing guard to the north and Wy’east practically glowing beneath the early afternoon sun to the south. The wintry conditions made things slow going since we weren’t able to run even some of the flatter sections in the deep snow but soon enough the out-of-place radio tower came into view, signaling the end of our second big climb of the day. Our feet were soaked and freezing as we jogged the last few feet to the summit. Our breather at the top lasted all of 30 seconds–enough time to take out my camera and snap a selfie–before we hightailed it out of there, excited to reach dry trail again and warm up/air out our cold, wet shoes, socks, and feet.

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The struggle of the steep climbs and deep snow were forgotten as we flew down the trail with reckless abandon, filled with endless stoke about having completed our second summit. Only one more to go! We were doing it. We were finally doing it. The fog from earlier in the day had lifted at last as we re-entered the powerline corridor. I looked out across the Columbia to the Washington side. The unmistakable bare summit of Dog Mountain was staring right back at me. I smiled and held my gaze. Just a couple more hours.

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Dog Mountain (6.9 miles; 2 hours 9 minutes, breaks included)

The parking lot was nearly empty as we pulled in. Sunset was scheduled for something like 4:30 or 4:40 pm. It was nearing 3:30 as we laced up our shoes for the last time and started up the trail. Our legs were pretty shot by this point, having covered nearly 20 miles and over 7,000 feet of gain since 6:30 am. Our power hike was more of a desperate crawl but at least we were making steady progress. Within the first mile, we passed most of the remaining Dog Mountain hikers as they were descending to their cars. One of them was actually the hiker we’d run into on Defiance who had warned us about the snow! He recognized us and congratulated us on our efforts that day.

Daylight was fading fast at the lower viewpoint, so I decided to snap our “summit selfie” here in the event it was too dark for a real one at the top. It had been a long time since we’d done an adventure that both started and ended in the dark. There’s something so fulfilling about being outside from dawn until dusk, pushing your limits and making every second count. In the final minutes before sunset, we were en route to the summit on the last exposed and winding stretch along the dry meadow grasses.

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Blue hour descended upon us as we completed the last hill and stepped onto the summit. We took a few minutes to let our accomplishment soak in as we stood side by side in complete solitude, reflecting on the millennia of cataclysmic events that led to the remarkable landscape that now lay before us, and how this place will continue to survive and adapt to our constantly changing world long after our generation has passed. How fortunate we are to be seeing so much of it while we’re still here, I thought.

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It wasn’t quite dark enough to warrant headlamps as we began our run down the mountain but we put them on anyways to avoid further breaks and stops. Although the Dog Mountain Trail isn’t nearly has “polished” as the switchbacks heading up Multnomah, I still felt that same sense of security and confidence that I’d experienced in the morning, even when complete darkness finally set in and we were picking our way over rocks and roots. We arrived back at the car within the hour (of leaving the summit), thus concluding our first–of hopefully many–full day run-ventures in the Columbia River Gorge.

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