Climbing Mount Thielsen
While I was in Washington for my level 2 avalanche course, I wanted to do some climbing with a fellow climber, Scotty, I had met previously on Summit Post. The first problem arose when I came down with a chest cold. This made it hard to breathe. It was probably due to only getting 2 hours of sleep because I drove 3.5 hours to O’ Hare to catch an early flight to Seattle. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest all weekend. To make things worse, cold air from being outside for the avalanche course made my chest tighter and made it even harder to breathe. While this made me more conservative toward climbing, I decided I was going to still give Thielsen a try. We worked out all the details to climb Mount Thielsen over the phone in the weeks leading up to my trip. Thielsen is not as tall when compared to the large mountains around it (Hood, Rainer, and Adams). It stands 9,182 feet tall. This proved to be quite the undertaking due to the other factors that played into this trip, ie: lack of sleep and sickness.
I left my Avalanche course on Sunday at 4 pm. This left me with a 7 hour drive to Scotty’s house in central Oregon. I arrived about midnight and we got our gear together, ate and I took a 2.5 hour nap. After I woke up around 2:30 am, we did one final gear check and packed up to drive another 2 hours to the base of Mount Thielsen. We ran into a small problem. In Oregon, they have a law that all gas stations are full service so you can’t pump your own gas. This is a problem if you need gas at 3 am. We finally found a gas station that was open and we were on our way for an “Alpine Start” to the climb. I slept on and off most of the trip to the base of Thielsen, which took about 2 hours. After a final gear check and packing up all our climbing gear, we headed off on the trail toward the mountain. We had planned on a 2–3 hour approach to the west ridge. The trail was not very well marked higher up and we ended up following prior footprints most of the way and blazing our own trail the last half mile. Once on the west ridge we had amazing views of the Three Sisters mountain range, vast forests, and, of course, a view of the Summit of Mount Thielsen 2000 vertical feet above. This was our first real rest break as we took about 15 minutes to rest, drink water, and try to eat something. I had a hard time as I always do when I go up in altitude and exert a lot of energy. I lose my appetite. So I was able to force down a granola bar but that was all. The west ridge is where the pain really started.
The ridge was a long heavily corniced area with highly exposed left side (a nearly vertical cliff that went for about 750 feet to a forest). I struggled more than I had on previous climbs at getting air to breathe. Between hacks and coughs, I struggled to get air in my lungs. Every time we stopped, I almost instantly felt better. My body was struggling to get air to my muscles. After about another hour and a half of this on the ridge, I looked over at Scotty and he said (due to his lack of sleep also and going rock climbing the day before) that “this is really feeling like work today” I agreed and mentioned I was feeling the same. We then decided it would be best if we climbed just up to the next open area, get pictures of our summit and descend the mountain. It was the right thing to do. This really sticks with my personal climbing philosophy that there is no summit on earth worth dieing for. We had very little regret turning around knowing that the decision was the right one, especially given the set of circumstances that surrounded the climb. We took some final pictures and turned around. We descended for about 20 minutes. Scotty skied down while I snow shoed. From this point we had found a nice spot on the ridge sheltered from the winds and in the sun. We stopped there and took about an hour and a half rest/nap break to soak in the scenery that was around us. We agreed that the saying is true: A bad day on a mountain beats a good day at work, any day. After this break we descended the rest of the mountain and drove back to Scotty’s house. We had a good time and I really enjoyed the climb. I think Mount Thielsen is highly under rated especially in the winter time. I would love to get another chance at the mountain when situations are different.
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