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!

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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? 

Mount Hood: Cooper Spur

  • Date: May 28, 2018
  • Start: Tilly Jane Sno Park
  • Distance: 9.9 miles
  • Duration: 16 hours 5 minutes
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • References: Mt. Hood Climber’s Guide by Bill Mullee; SummitPost

“Rock!!!” The sound of my voice felt so small and helpless against the vastness of Wy’east’s intimidating northeast flank. I looked behind me to make sure Mack had actually heard my warning. Here we were, practically crawling up the mountain’s “deadliest” route, hoping to not be crushed or thrown off it’s side by the watermelon-sized boulders that were tumbling down in sporadic intervals. Despite the fact that we were together, I’d never felt a greater sense of solitude on a mountain. It was both beautiful and terrifying.

Long before I dreamed of climbing other mountains and even the standard south side route of this mountain, I dreamed of climbing the Cooper Spur route. When we first began hiking more regularly in 2014, the trek to Cooper Spur was my favorite day hike and was the highest I’d ever been on Wy’east at the time. I hoped that the next time I was back up in the same spot that it would be to complete the final 2,000+ feet to the summit. Just under four years later, I was back to fulfill that promise to myself.

After a failed attempt two days earlier due to an accidental long nap at the Cooper Spur shelter on the approach, we decided to take advantage of the three-day holiday weekend and return for another go. We set off from Tilly Jane Sno Park shortly before midnight, moving through an eerie landscape of skeleton trees (remnants of a wildfire that swept through several years earlier), passing the Tilly Jane A-Frame, and finally breaking treeline at the Cooper Spur shelter a couple hours later. It thankfully wasn’t nearly as windy as it had been two days earlier so we didn’t feel the need to take shelter like we had then. We decided this was still a good time to stop for a snack and make any adjustments to clothing before pushing the rest of the way to the base of the snowfield, which still required another 2,000 feet or so of climbing.

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Mack pounding Yerba Mate drinks in order to stay awake

We navigated with surprising ease and swiftness through the steep, boulder field leading up to the spur. I remembered how slow, difficult, and never-ending this section had felt under the hot afternoon sun back in 2014. Definitely a stark contrast to how we were faring now. It made me smile to realize yet again how far we’ve come since our out-of-shape, cotton-wearing, lack-of-ten-essentials-carrying days outside. Upon reaching Cooper Spur, we took another snack break and traded a trekking pole for an ice axe in order to traverse the narrow ridge before us safely. The sun was just starting to rise now and we had a front row seat (well…whenever we turned around at least) as we made our way to the base of the snowfield.

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Lonely but magical ridge walk to the base of the snow field

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Mack on the ridge

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Eliot Glacier and a view of Helens, Rainier, and Adams

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Just another showstopping Wy’east sunrise

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The entire northeast face was engulfed in the warm and radiant light of the now risen sun once we reached the end of the ridge. The salmon pink glow of the steep snow climb before us seemed inviting at first, but the longer I stared at it, allowing my gaze to move upward to the summit, the more that facade began to crumble, forcing me to face the reality of what we were about to attempt and the consequences if we made a mistake. I take every climb I do very seriously, but this was the first time I was filled with more fear than exhilaration. I turned to Mack as I stood there paralyzed and put on a brave face. “You still want to do this?” I asked. Part of me hoped he’d be so scared and nervous that he’d want to turn around, then I wouldn’t feel so bad about backing out. Instead, we took our first steps up the 2,000+ foot climb.

For a short while we were able to walk upright, but it quickly turned into a comparable grade to that of the Hogsback on the south side. We were still a long ways from the summit. Rock crumbled from the bands high above us. The sound stopped us dead in our tracks each time and I could only hope we weren’t directly in the fall line. It was difficult to see the rock cascading down until it was a couple hundred feet away from us. Although we brought along pickets and rope in order to set up a running belay as the slope steepened, we decided against using it when we saw how frequent the rockfall was. Better to move separately and quickly in order to get out of the bowling alley we were stuck in.

It’s not very often that we have to kick steps on the routes we climb because they’re usually so well worn that we’re almost always following in someone else’s tracks. This was not the case on Cooper Spur. I expended nearly all of my energy kicking steps for us until we reached the first rock band a few hundred feet or less below the summit. By this time, we were mostly out of the danger zone (in regards to rockfall), but now we were on the steepest part of the climb and the snow quality was less than ideal since the sun had been warming it for a couple of hours. One slip could easily send either one of us rocketing down into the Eliot Glacier a couple thousand feet below. One slip could easily mean death.

I pushed past my physical and mental exhaustion to stay as focused and cognizant as possible, acutely aware of the quality of each kick step and ice axe purchase. I could only hope that Mack, who was now in front of me kicking our steps through the Chimneys, was doing the same. Above the Chimneys, the end was now in sight. Despite being far easier than what we’d just come through, we were both moving pretty slowly up the final part of the slope. After nearly ten hours, we meekly pulled ourselves up and over the rim at the feet of some skiers eyeing the line we’d just ascended. Damn were we looking forward to descending the south side.

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Bracing myself

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Before it got really steep

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Mack starting to weave his way through the rock bands

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Just a few more steps until the summit!

After a few words with the skiers, we realized our south side decent was not going to be the cakewalk we were hoping for. Maybe an hour or so before we summited, three roped climbers had fallen on the Hogsback and a rescue was underway. (Side note: all party members survived) We stayed on the summit longer than planned while deciding which way to descend (and so Mack could take care of some altitude-induced bowel movement). In the end, we opted for Pearly Gates. Neither of us was in the mood to traverse the knife edge leading to the Old Chute.

Unfortunately, the gates were not in the excellent shape they’d been in two weeks prior. The consolidated snow and kick steps were almost completely worn away, leaving crumbling ice instead of firm platforms. Once past the gates, we could see the rescue taking place below us. I decided to climb down facing into the slope so I wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. The last thing I wanted was to get freaked out, make a mistake, and cause another accident for PMR to deal with. We made our way down extra slow now that the snow was complete mush and we had a gaping bergschrund to contend with. On the way down, we passed off our handwarmers to the group of rescuers who were seeking out resources to warm one of the patients as they waited for a helicopter. I felt bad there wasn’t more we could offer.

Just below Devil’s Kitchen, we finally took a more relaxing break and were able to breathe again (a little ironic if you’ve been to Devil’s Kitchen). We removed our crampons, but I kept my axe out since the rest of the way down looked unpleasantly icy and not at all ideal for plunge stepping. We hiked the rest of the way down at a far slower pace than we’d hoped due to the conditions. Numerous, well-equipped rescuers were now making their way up to the Hogsback as we descended and once we were within a half mile or less of Timberline, we heard the whirring blades of a helicopter overhead. We stumbled into the parking lot dazed and dehydrated but extremely happy to have made it through our climb unscathed. Cooper Spur was maybe a little more than we’d bargained for (mainly due to the rockfall that intensified the exposure), but I was absolutely ecstatic that we’d pushed and supported each other through it, and that we’d completed the most “out-of-our-comfort-zone” climbing route so far. I’m not sure we’ll be back to do this one again for awhile, but I have to say I’m pretty excited for us to try many more routes on this incredible backyard mountain of ours.

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Finally back at the car (although we still needed to pick up my car at Tilly Jane)

 

A few photos from our first attempt:

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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

 

Bryce Canyon Fairyland, Queens Garden, and Navajo Trails

  • Date: March 24, 2018
  • Start: Sunset Point
  • Distance: 12-13 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 36 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Type: Two different loops

The packed dirt beneath my feet was heaven to my restless legs. After 16+ hours cramped in a car over 1,000 miles, we were finally hitting the trails on our long awaited Southwest run-cation. Despite how anxious I was to get moving and pick up speed, I was stopped in my tracks almost immediately. There’s nothing like experiencing a sunrise in a new (to us), unexplored landscape. And this one, with its warm, golden rays stretching out slowly over these curious desert formations, was one for the books.

Our drive from Portland to Bryce Canyon was beautiful, but draining. We spent the night–well, barely a couple of hours–sleeping in the car off a forest road right outside of the park. I was adamant about getting to the trailhead by sunrise so 1) I could see it, and 2) so we could start our mini-adventure/shakeout run before the trails were crawling with hordes of people. We timed it just right, beginning the Fairyland Loop before anyone else was on the trail. We started out high, running along the rim gazing out over this vast canyon dotted with limestone hoodoos (those aforementioned “curious formations”), pinyon pine-juniper forests, and patches of snow. So different compared to any place we’d ever run! It was definitely turning into one of those adventures where I stop every two minutes to “oooh” and “ahhhh” at the scenery and capture it all on camera.

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Sunset Point

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Looking down on the Navajo Loop Trail

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Running the Rim Trail

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As we dropped down into the canyon, the formerly hardened, frozen dirt began to soften beneath the warmth of the sun, transforming into a thick, goopy clay that latched onto our shoes and refused to come off. Scraping and cleaning was futile as the continuation of this sludge-y tread made it impossible for our shoes to stay clay-free. With two-pound weights essentially strapped to our feet, we continued at a slower pace. Of course, we couldn’t really complain. There was so much to see I probably wouldn’t have been moving that fast anyway.

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Losing elevation and heading down into the canyon

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Hopelessly trying to clean his shoes

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We climbed out of the forested area and wound our way through the ever fascinating hoodoos, eventually making our way up to a ridge where we were able to look out over the park again. We stood here for a good while in complete awe of this vibrant landscape with its multicolored layers of sedimentary rock dating back millions of years, bands of orange, pink, and white stretched across the hillsides in giant waves as far as the eye could see. From here, we dropped down, following the gentle curves of the route and making the pit stop at Tower Bridge before climbing back up to the rim to start our next running route: Queens Garden-Navajo Loop.

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One last look at Fairyland Canyon

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Dropping down from the ridge/viewpoint

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Tower Bridge

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Heading back up to the rim

As expected, solitude was long gone by the time we made it up to Sunrise Point, and the Queens Garden Trail is one of the most popular in the park. After a short break on the rim to get a snack and clean the clay and rocks out of our shoes, we started the descent into the amphitheater via Queens Garden. Since the final part of the Fairyland Loop had been uphill, we took full advantage of this downhill section, flying down the trail, weaving our way through hikers and camera-toting tourists, all while getting up close and personal with the tightly packed maze of pinnacles and other myriad shapes and structures.

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Once on the Navajo Trail, we found ourselves running through the forest again until reaching the final narrow uphill stretch leading to Sunset Point. (Note: We ascended the Two Bridges side of the loop, not the famous Wall Street side since it is closed during the winter months) Aside from the beauty of the towering rock walls on either side of us, we also admired (i.e. geeked out about) the stonework of the meticulous man-made retaining walls that helped form the switchbacks leading out of the canyon.

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Looking up at the switchbacks leading out of the canyon

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Look at that beautiful wall!

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All done!

We jogged back to the parking lot, which was now completely full, and proceeded to throw on a change of clothes and unpack some food to make lunch. The line of cars circling the lot waiting for spaces to open up made me so grateful that we’d arrived early to avoid this mess. “No, we’re not leaving,” became a pretty standard phrase in the short time we were at the car. With fresh clothes and bagel sandwiches, we walked back out to the rim, found an empty bench, and enjoyed a few final moments basking in the beauty of Bryce Canyon before getting back on the road to our next run-cation destination and the crux of our entire trip: the Grand Canyon.

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