Mt Thielsen Trip Report August 03 2007
IntroductionFresh from success on North and Middle Sisters a couple of days before, Graham, Tony and I felt that a pièce de resistance was required to finish off our trip south in suitable style. We decided that Thielsen fitted the bill nicely. On this jaunt we were joined by my cousin Patsy and her husband Keith visiting from the UK.
We drove into the parking lot at the trailhead off highway 178 at about 7.45am after a hot and restless night enjoying the dubious hospitality of the Chemult Motel. What do you expect for $30! Every parking spot in the lot was empty. However, parked right in the middle of all that available space (but not between any lines) was a small yellow school bus. Big lettering proclaimed that it belonged to “Boondocksville Christian Fellowship” or some such (not its real name of course). It was surrounded by a crowd of young people who were clearly on their way to a day at the beach. The guys in their best crotch-below-the-knees shorts and singlets and the girls in their skimpiest just-about-legal outfits that seem to be standard wear for young women from the age of about 10 nowadays. All except one were wearing sneakers.
Like me you might struggle to express what it is about religious zealots that irritates you. The intensity? The single mindedness that they alone are right and that the Almighty (and parking space) exists only for them? The eagerness to turn even the vaguest opportunity into a chance to sing His praises? Maybe right on all counts, but not quite, and too long-winded anyway.
I’ve always admired British humour with its ability to sum up a situation, particularly one involving rank stupidity, with that unique brand of mischievous pithiness that doesn’t seem to be quite matched anywhere else in the world.
“God-Botherers” said Keith.
The ApproachAt exactly 8am we were ready to go and set off up the excellent trail in equally excellent spirits. My altimeter read 1,620m and was probably a bit low.
Our reverie, however, was soon disturbed by a racket of voices that seemed to be going on below us, above us, even around us. The answer was soon apparent. The GB’s were not going to the beach. Beachwear, sneakers and all, they were off to climb a 9,000 foot mountain with lots of loose rock, a reputation for attracting inclement weather and all topped off by an exposed Class 4 summit tower that acts as the most effective – and notorious - lightning rod in the Cascades. The racket was them prattling away to each other on two-way radios.
“God help us,” I thought. Notice that I only thought it. Saying it might well have produced a sermon. I was adapting fast.
The initial part of the route up through the forest to the crossing with the PCT is well built, wide and an entire pleasure. There’s enough room for everyone and we soon found our own group pace that kept us nicely out of earshot of everyone but ourselves. We gained altitude briskly enough and arrived at the PCT at 9.40 and 2,130 metres after a couple of pleasant breaks along the way. Thielsen towered impressively above looking decidedly un-Class 4 like.
Beyond the PCT the Thielsen trail gradually becomes less benign as it makes its way up and on to the west ridge. Various routes are possible as the trail starts to become braided. We stayed on the south side at first and gradually worked our way up to the crest of the ridge.
As the going got looser and more exposed first Patsy and then Keith decided that they didn’t feel happy about proceeding. We left Patsy on a nice bench looking across to Diamond Lake and Keith went down to join her there when he reached his own comfort limit about 20 minutes above.
At about this point the GB’s began to make their re-appearance; scrabbling furiously past us up the loose scree in their sneakers only to stop red faced and panting 2 minutes later to give a report on their last 5 minutes of activity on those damned radios. Compared to our experience with the volcanic scree of North Sister, this stuff was a paved highway. The trick is not to fight it. Tread so softly that you can’t hear the sound of your own footfall and it allows a problem free passage. We tried to tell the GB’s this to no avail; so all the way up the ridge we passed and re-passed them as they literally fought their way up.
Approximately 50 vertical metres below the obvious notch on the skyline at the base of the summit tower, the route becomes a scramble requiring regular use of the hands. This took us to the base of the 30 metre high summit tower at 11.40am.
The Summit Tower
Two or three GB’s were there ahead of us and, to our abject horror, were un-coiling a rope. Any thoughts we’d had about discussing the pitch beforehand, what to take, might we want to rappel etc., went out the window. We’re all comfy on Class 4, so we dropped the packs, tightened the boots, picked a line and went for it. Trending left at first and then back right to the SE edge we were up in less than 10 minutes. I must say that I found it stiffer than expected but entirely enjoyable.
There was just room for the three of us on an airy summit that, unsurprisingly, fell off abruptly on all sides except the one we’d come up – and that wasn’t exactly horizontal. We spent 15 minutes admiring the views from Shasta in the south to the Sisters in the north and were even high enough not only to see the hills around Crater Lake but the south end of the lake itself. Interesting also were the countless fulgurites, the “burns” produced by, seemingly, every lightning storm that has ever passed this way. There’s a USGS benchmark and a container for a summit register but no book. We left our names on a scrap of paper.
As soon as we poked our noses over the top of the wall going down to the base of the tower the GB’s confronted us once more. We’d lingered too long on the summit and they were well into their adventure. I’m going to be as kind and generous as I can on this next bit, so bear in mind that the reality of the situation was probably worse.
GB technique is fundamentally based on simul-climbing. No harness or other gear is required, just a rope. I didn’t see how the leader was tied in but the next person in line does so with a slipknot. Using this technique injury from a fall may be mild compared to the effects of the tightened rope. The third stands at the bottom of the pitch holding the rope but not attached to it in any way and admires any view but that of the climbers above. The leader does not build an anchor. He just stands there with the rope around his waist and waits to be pulled off.
We watched in horror as all this unfolded. The second reached the leader just as we came into view. She loosened the slipknot, pulled the loop - or should I say noose - over her head and chucked it off. The slipknot unraveled automatically as the rope fell. Another climber prepared to move up – naturally right in our line of descent.
Downclimbing carefully we were into the mess in no time. This was no time for sensibility. “We have to cross your rope” I said, “don’t move a f*****g muscle”. Bless them; they complied like lambs.
Five minutes later we were back at the packs and scoffing lunch. The mealtime entertainment was free as we watched the GB’s performing above us. It would have been funny if the possible consequences had not been so dire. None of the GB’s reached the top, so we should be grateful at least for small mercies. In fact it was surprising how many people up there regarded the base of the tower as the summit of Thielsen. Something about 30 metres not being significant. If I can risk a pun, I think you miss the point folks.
About 1pm we bade a final farewell to the GB’s, headed down and joined Patsy and Keith at 1.30. They were looking a bit sunburned by this time and were glad to get into the trees.
We crossed the PCT once more at 2.05 and then plodded down through the forest arriving at the cars at 3.35.
A lovely drive west on Highway 178 alongside the North Umpqua River brought us at 5.15 to Roseburg and my favourite Super8. No prizes for guessing the main component of our celebratory evening to conclude yet another great trip to the Cascades – beer – of course.
EpilogueThe next day we were off at 8 on our journey home and looking for the first highway pull-off that seemed likely to offer steak and eggs for breakfast. We had hardly begun our search when I5 informed us that the next turn-off was for, you guessed it, “Boondocksville”.
I pressed hard on the accelerator and the exit slipped smoothly and quickly behind us.