2009 - Thielsen's Prerequisite:Papa Smashy (aka my Subaru) has just swerved sideways off the road and into a ditch, taking out a vertical road reflector, but I’m only half startled for a second or two before losing consciousness again. This occurrence took place one year ago, after my friend Isaiah and I climbed Thielsen - I guess pushing the limits on a thirty-six hour day was our way of having a post climb celebration. The plan was to camp at the Thielsen trail and head out early, but to our surprise the full days work and five hour drive south hadn’t hindered our enthusiasm to begin climbing, so without delay off we went into a moonless night where the stars never seemed so bright! Pre dawn light began to emerge behind the Sawtooth range at four o-clock, silhouetting Howlock and Thielsen. Isaiah and I arrived below the summit pinnacle at five forty five, just in time to see the sun rise over the horizon. This trip revealed to me the Sawtooth ridge (Howlock) to the north and Hollys ridge leading off to the east. I knew I’d be back sooner or later to check these areas out, namely Thielsen East Peak.
Day 1 - Up To Speed:Almost exactly one year later I found myself looking at a very similar sunrise along the Crater Lake rim. As not to repeat history I opted to car camp here. The night before I had driven down I-5 from Portland and proceeded along highway 58 until arriving at the Lake six hours after my initial departure. Along the way I had stopped off in Eugene to see my folks, and although I knew it meant sacrificing a sunset at the rim I felt catching an easy meal was more important. How blessed I am. At the house I shared my climbing itinerary with my dad, who believed I was climbing the Dread and Terror range. Initial presumptions had me thinking this could be true. Even though I knew I was climbing the Sawtooths I had thought perhaps this was an older name for the same range, a very fitting and appropriate name no less. As it turns out the mountains associated to Dread and Terror are positioned a few miles to the northwest of the Sawtooth range and do not warrant such a name, since there aren’t any scary or dreadful features about them. The name Sawtooth carries it’s own strengths anyway, but the major problem here is that there are a hundred different Sawtooth ridges in this world and at least one other in Oregon. This is why I have opted to include the intersecting Hollys ridge to the south in my page title. To my surprise the elapsed time from Eugene to Crater Lake was a mere two hours and I had made it in time to catch the final touches of color in the setting sun after all. I quickly found a spot to park for the night at the Lightning Springs picnic area and immediately went on a multi-mile walk along the rim before reading my bible and turning in. It finally felt as though my weekend journey was beginning.
Day 2 - Conditioning:Yet again I find myself blessed with the desire to take photos of my surroundings, because in an instant I had pushed myself up and out for the morning before my alarm had even gone off. It’s almost as good as a cold splash of water. Once I had photographed the sunrise I returned to my car and decided it would be a good idea to park along an open stretch so Ashley could easily find me. She was the deciding factor in taking my trip at this time. She had just hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Ashland to Crater Lake and was now about to tackle some mountains with me – I greatly admire that woman’s drive. Before she arrived I ran into a PCT friend of hers named Yellowstone and we talked while I had breakfast. A few minutes later Ashley showed up and we were now going to backtrack along the Pumice Flat Trail to a junction with the PCT to meet up with her friends, Bob Holtel and Pattie Dempsey. Once there we slack-packed their bags back out the Pumice Flat trail while they ran up the PCT. We would later meet them along highway 62. While Ashley and I were hiking back to the car under the hot sun and blue skies all I could think about was how happy I was, especially considering Portland was likely still cloudy. Assuming Bob and Pattie wouldn’t make it to the highway until mid-afternoon we decided to make a quick go at Mount Scott. This five-mile round-trip hike was easier than Angels Rest in the Columbia River Gorge, but it was also far more scenic. At the summit the fire lookout crew greeted us. They had just opened the station for the season only minutes earlier and were still making radio signals with surrounding lookouts. They told us Monday’s forecasted thunderstorm had now been predicted to arrive Saturday night into Sunday.
Despite making good time on Scott, and arriving for pickup on queue, Bob and Pattie had been waiting for some time. Feeling bad about miscalculating the time it would take them to meet us we promptly purchased several beers (Dead Guy and SOB) at the local re-supply store within the Mazama Village. After the cashiers made their point of bagging our beer for legal reasons we sat on the tables out in front of the store and cracked one after another open without any opposition. With my IPA in hand I pondered what to do next. Thinking of what the lookout crew had said about the incoming storm had me a little concerned and I knew my original climbing plan was about to change. Ashley and I talked it over and decided to bump things up, leaving for the Tipsoo Trail Head that night. Our aim for camp on top of Tipsoo Peak was cut short when night fell and exhaustion kicked in full force less than a mile from the mark, so we decided to bivouac along the trail. At first I was a little bummed not to have a bedtime view of the ridge, but later felt happy about it since I wouldn’t be sidetracked by taking photos and I could instead focus on sleeping.
Day 3 - The Sawtooth Ridge:Come morning the surrounding mosquitoes prompted a quick escape. Soon we were in the clear, atop Tipsoo Peak, where the wind kept our bloodthirsty friends at bay. The view was incredible and continued to leave us guessing a bit about what to expect along the ridge. Tipsoo became a base of sorts and after breakfast we ditched any non-essential gear to lighten our load. It was between this decision and the incoming storm that I began coming to terms with the reality of Thielsen East Peak being out of reach. Dropping down into the meadow below signaled the start of an amazing cross-country journey. We attained the Sawtooth Ridge, then climbed up and down a couple of sub peaks, skirting around or on top of a few mild gendarmes before coming back into view with Howlock. From here the ridge is impassable and the immediate choice down into the northeastern bowl, then back up to the saddle between summits, did not look enjoyable. Opting to avoid this route Ashley and I approached the dinner plate traverse below Howlock’s northern buttress and western cliff faces. No rocks fell during our traverse, but the potential seemed it could be high and it certainly was no place to linger. Ashley was amazing through this section of the climb and although it was the hardest part for her mentally she kept her cool, never once losing focus.
Having gingerly worked our way across the dinner plates brought into view the main course and soon I was working my way toward the pinnacle summit. I say pinnacle summit instead of false summit because of the apparent controversy over which of Howlock’s two summits is truly the highest. The fourth class climb up the pinnacle’s northwestern side was shorter and no more intimidating than Thielsen’s pinnacle, but the rock is totally rotten on Howlock, making caution a priority. Ashley had decided to take it easy and said she wasn’t going any further, so I shouted down to her that I would be right back after tagging Howlock’s second summit. I followed the pinnacle’s small knife ridge south and downclimbed the southeastern side. The rock here was even less reliable and the exposure a bit more severe. Midway down I knew I should not have taken this route and was nearly rim rocked, but I had finally found a couple of solid hand holds and felt confident I could lower myself to a safer section. A beautiful green humming bird buzzed around me as I assessed my situation, making certain that my plan was good. From here the scramble to the official summit was a cakewalk and I made good time getting there and back. By now Ashley had decided to take one last step forward and was to my surprise atop the pinnacle.
Heading back up the southern face was out of the question, so I worked my way around the lower portions of rock until I found an easier way up the west side. When I reconnected with Ashley I was in shock to see she not only found a spot to sunbathe, but also climbed the pinnacle in her flip-flops! I’ve now gone from admiring the girl to questioning her sanity. By this point I had made the decision not to climb Thielsen East Peak, which felt good, and we began our descent off the pinnacle one at a time. We aimed for the PCT again and had an absurdly fun time scree skiing down the western slope toward the lower meadows. The PCT was easy enough to find and we followed it over the Oregon/Washington high point back to the meadow below Tipsoo peak where we veered back to cross-country travel. Our water rations had been depleted by the time we’d reached our base, so it was time to melt some snow and enjoy an early dinner atop Tipsoo’s beloved mosquito free zone. Ashley and I lounged on the summit for two hours eating and resting before braving the most hellish mosquito haven I have ever encountered. Our day finally came to a close back along Crater Lake’s rim at the Lightning Springs Campground. With a summit of two mountains twice under our belts, a small fire, dinner, another beautiful sunset and some additional bedtime reading we both felt very accomplished.
Day 4 - The Best Of Not Climbing:The original plan was to climb Mount Scott, Mount Bailey, Howlock Mountain and Thielsen East Peak. Sunday morning I awoke to Ashley preparing coffee and knew I wasn’t doing any more climbing. All that either of us wanted was to shower and relax. Having the opportunity to do both of these things on the premises seemed so luxurious. We met a couple more northbound PCT through hikers picking up their caches, one of whom went by the name Sandbag. I ran back to my car, grabbed my last two Terminal Gravity IPA’s, and handed them off to Sandbag and his friend. I then purchased a coffee and danish from the store before rejoining them outside. They were both extremely nice, but obviously tired and looked as though a rest day was in need. With a final warning to them about the approaching thunderstorm we all said our goodbyes and Ashley and I went our separate ways – her to Bend and me back toward Eugene. Not long after forking off onto highway 58 two incoming cars passing in my lane forced me off the road onto the shoulder and I was reminded how much more dangerous people are than mountains. With slightly rattled nerves I decided to pull off at Salt Creek falls and relax. An even better decision was made when I entered Oakridge and stopped off at the Brewers Union, Local 180 pub. Their guest beers selection is incredible, but nothing compares to their cask-conditioned ales brewed fifty feet from the tap. With this in mind I gladly put down some change on a Union Dew IPA. Wait a minute. Make it two Union Dews. By now the thunderclouds had rolled over Diamond Peak. I felt so much better drinking these tasty beverages knowing lightning on Mount Thielsen wasn’t zapping me. It took a little while before I felt kosher enough to drive again, but meandering through my hometown was a pleasurable way of doing it. My journey finally ended safely heading home along I-5 with the thunderclouds still chasing me from behind and alpenglow views of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson ahead.
There are more great images in the gallery below that didn't fit in here. They're worth checking out for the sake of fun and/or beta.