Sunday, June 29, 2008

Middle Sister Climb - East Side Story

Last year I climbed Middle Sister from the west via the Renfrew Glacier, an ascent that did not require crampons or ropes.  This weekend I returned to the Sisters Wilderness for my third attempt via the Hayden Glacier route.  What I found on the east side of the Cascades was just the experience and challenge that I had sought.

A previous climb leader had suggested that since this climb would count towards a Climb Leadership Assist for me, that I request to play more of a lead role.  Climb Leader John Meckle was gracious enough to let me take on more responsibility than is typically given to Mazamas Climb Leader Assistants.  We started at the Pole Creek Trailhead.  It was not long after crossing Soap Creek that we started to loose the trail under the snow.  Climb Leaders from two previous climbs had provided us with GPS coordinates, so we used a combination of GPS, maps, and compass to get to our base camp.  Thankfully most of the hiking on this hot day was under tree cover.  

At base camp we had a grand view of Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister.  The boot tracks along the lateral moraine of the Hayden Glacier were visible to the naked eye. We filled up our water bottles, cooked dinner, and practiced roping up and passing protection on a fixed belay.  Since thunderstorms had been predicted for the afternoon of our climb day, we went to bed timely in order to rest for a very early alpine start.  It was not a quite night.  A thunderstorm moved in and there was frequent lightning with high winds.  Often I would peer out of my tent and see Middle Sister silhouetted by the sky glowing from lighting.

The amazing thing was that we we awoke for our 4am departure, the sky was full of stars, as if the storm had never happened.  We passed through a couple of gullies to the lateral moraine, which looked like a ramp leading towards the saddle between Middle Sister and Prouty Point.  There was a lot of snow up here for late June, hardly any crevasses had opened up on the Hayden Glacier.   While the chance of falling into a crevasse was minimal, the consequence of falling into a crevasse was unacceptable, so I made he call to rope up. 

From the saddle we clipped out of the ropes and scrambled up the scree and talus to a steep snowfield.  Here I ascended under belay, multiple pickets clanging like a cow bells, and placed my first Fixed Belay.  Much to my pleasure my fellow climber Jim told me the pickets that I had buried in the snow had not come out easily.  From here it was a easy scramble to the summit.  My watch read 0919.  I had been told the view from the summit of Middle Sister is the best of the Three Sisters.  To the south we could see Mt. Thielsen, Diamond Peak, South Sister, and Broken Top.  Looking North we could see North Sister, Mt. Washington, Three Finger Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  

Back at the steep snow slope, the climb leader and I set up a rappelling anchor.  As I waited while the rest the team rappelled, the wind picked up.  The snow was soft as we descended to our camp.  As we broke camp we saw the thunder clouds forming.  The threat of a thunderstorm added some drama to our hike out.  Thankfully we were spared a downpour, the few drops that did fall wetted the dusty trail down for us.

Unfortunately upon our return to the trailhead we found that one of our cars had a broken rear windshield.  All that had been stolen had been a cooler and a backpack with clean clothes.  I felt helpless and saddened by this waste.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Camp Parsons 90th Summer Celebration

This weekend I participated in the celebration of the 90th summer of Camp Parsons.  The first part was a dinner Friday evening at the Museum of Flight near Boeing Field.  There must have been two hundred people in attendance.  We have often talked about the Power of Parsons, how our experiences and relationship at this camp have left a deep mark in our psyche.  The fact that former staffers have come from Oregon, Idaho, Texas, Massaschuttes, and Alaska serves as evidence of this.   There was one person in attendance that had attended camp in 1925!  Anyway, it was overwhelming to catch up with some many people, some of whom I had not seen for 15 years.  I also got a pleasant surprise when I saw my favorite high school English teacher, who was a staffer in the 1970s.

The program included a wonderful meal, followed by a speech by Parsons staff alumnus Dan Evans, who was Washington State Governor and United States Senator.  Governor Evans shared some stories about climbing in the Olympics Mountains and taking the boat from Seattle to camp.  Although there is an approximate forty year difference between my tenure at camp and that of Governor Evans, I could strongly related to his experiences.  In addition to an audio/video presentation, there was a performance of the song 'Cows with Guns'.

Saturday morning I drove to camp to continue the celebration.  I took the Washington State Ferry from Edmonds to Kingston.  Along the journey I passed through the town of Port Gamble, which was deep within a Civil War Reenactment.

At camp the celebration consisted of a picnic lunch, Staff and Camper Pictures by decade, and a dedication of a new Arboretum.  However, the most meaningful part of the weekend was spending time with my brethren.  Whether reliving memories, meeting the children of my fellows, or just hanging out in Queets cabin, I think it is the relationships that is really the secret sauce of the Power of Parsons.

The weekend did not end as I pulled out of the camp parking lot.  Sunday I hiked along the South Fork of the Skokomish River with my Parsons friend Scott and his girlfriend Kristine.  Due to hidden Forest Service Road markers it took awhile to get to the trail head, so we passed the time by playing One Fat Hen.  Once we got on the trail we were treated to a wonderful walk past gigantic Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars, and Silver Firs.  Even the Trillium flowers were big on this hike.  After 2.2 miles we hit deep snow, which seemed like a good place to turn around.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It seems that potlucks have been the theme of the week.  The first was by bike and part of the Pedalpalooza extravaganza.  The idea behind the Pedal Picnic Potluck was to assemble on Alberta Street and then bike 3 - 5 miles to an undisclosed city park for a potluck.  On Tuesday I joined over twenty bikers who followed our leader, meandering through Northeast Portland, resisting the temptation to ask him where we were going.  I am quite used to biking by myself, but I have been enjoying the empowering feeling of cycling with a group.

We crossed the Broadway bridge and entered downtown Portland.  We arrived at City Hall for the Carfree Cities Art Show Opening.  It was quite the scene for a potluck.  Two guys were welding a tall bike together, there was live music, and the Sprockettes were dancing.  We borrowed a table from a group of artists and spread out our goodies.

The next day I took Trimet to Northwest Portland to join the Adventurous Young Mazamas for a Evening Ramble and dessert potluck.  Before joining my Mazama friends I stopped at my favorite place in Northwest Portland, the Healing Garden at Good Samaritan Hospital.  This place is a serene oasis in the urban concrete desert.  There are beds of roses, native plants, perennials, and many others.  On many levels this place has a special place in my heart. 

Our hike started along the Lower Macleay Trail and passed through the Balch Creek Canyon.  Here the foliage is thick and green and the trail is lined with large fir trees.   After passing a interesting stone structure, we continued up the Wildwood Trail to Pittock Mansion.  What made this hike interesting was that I was carrying a Strawberry Pie most of the way up.  It certainly was worth the effort, since that pie was sweet and tasty.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pedalpalooza and other adventures

I have been spending a lot of time on my bike this week.  Wednesday I biked to the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland.  If you could visit only one McMenamins joint, this would be the one.  Built in 1915 , this building was a elementary school until it closed its doors after the 1974-1975 school year.  22 years later it re-opended as part of the McMenamins universe.  Here I have watched second run movies in the Theater Pub, relaxed in the hot soaking pool, square danced in the gym, and dined with friends, family, and co-workers.  What I love about this place is walking down the halls and enjoying the artwork, savoring the nostalgia of my time as a elementary school student.  The occasion tonight was to meet with Dan and go over the Basic Climb class evaluation that he had written for my Climb Leader Development.  I certainly appreciated the insights and knowledge that he has given me.  I consider myself fortunate to have had great mentors in the Mazamas.

Thursday evening I biked further from home, this time to the Hawthorne District in Southeast Portland.  Here was the graduation party for the Intermediate Climbing School that I had helped out with the last nine months.  I was quite pleased to see that so many people had biked to this event.  Not wanting to bike such a long way home, I put my bike on a Trimet bus that brought me within a mile of home.

The next evening I set out to do something that was not Mazamas related.  I pointed the front tire of my bike towards the Alberta Street area to take part in a Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl.  This was part of Pedalpalooza, which is two weeks of bikey fun with events ranging from bike rides to bike jousting.  Tonight's plan was to visit a variety of vegan friendly pubs.  This is in conjunction with PDX Try Vegan Week.   While I am not vegan, nor am I a vegetarian, this looked like fun.  And it was. The toughest part was arriving at the Bye and Bye Pub and finding the Pedalpalooza crowd.  One I did I settled into conversation until it was boldly announced that the Vegan Pub Crawl would be moving on.  Next thing we had 30 + cyclists steaming down Alberta Street to our next destination, the Mash Tun Pub.  After some pool and a wonderful Porter, we headed south through the Irvington neighborhood to the Hungary Tiger Too.  There was one more pub on the agenda, but it was time for me to head home.  You can read a recap of the Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl here.  Stay tuned for more Pedalpalooza reports, since there are a couple of other events that I plan on attending.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hunchback Mountain

What started out as a straightforward hike up Hunchback Mountain in Mt Hood National Forest ended up as a bushwhacking adventure.  Brett and I picked a great day to hike up this forested ridge crest trail.  I must admit, having gone on several hikes with the 'old but bold' crowd, it was an adjustment to hike with someone younger than me who had just returned from a marathon.  Anyway, we did not have the first viewpoint of the Salmon River Valley to ourselves.  Several of the Zigzag Hotshots were just descending from a hike, carrying their chainsaws and shovels.  There was also a large group of Mazamas taking a break, some of whom I recognized.  After enjoying the view of this evergreen covered valley we continued on to the Great Pyramid where we paused for lunch.  

We decided to make a loop by continuing on to the Green Canyon Way trail, descending to the Salmon River, and hiking along the River by trail and road.  As we descended from the Great Pyramid we started to encounter larger snow patches and more downfallen trees.  Looking back, I think the two of us did a great job of reading the map and finding the Green Canyon Way Trail.  It was clear if we descended west from the ridge we would eventually end up at the Salmon River.  The trick was to find the general path of the trail.  In retrospect I think we veered north too early and allowed ourselves to get sucked into a creek valley.  In this case, the path less travelled was very picturesque.  There were several cascading waterfalls and the moss covered banks of this creek were indeed a pleasant sight.  Fortunately we were able to descend the steep hillsides and navigate around the drop-offs.  Brett had taken a GPS waypoint where we left the Hunchback Mountain trail, so I felt good that we could get back if we had run into a dead end.  However, the slopes leveled out and we slowly bushwhacked along the creek.  It was hard work, so the Salmon River trail was a very welcome sight.

After the river trail ended we started walking down the road towards the trailhead.  We were very grateful to the couple that gave us a lift back to the car.  Our adventure hardy was not over when we reached the car.  In the parking lot a USFS law enforcement officer was talking via cellphone with a hiker who was lost on Hunchback Mountain.  We pulled out our maps and helped the officer determine the approximate location of the hiker.  This story also had a happy ending and you can read about it in the Seattle Times and Oregonian.

Once again my appreciation grew for the various organizations that help maintain the trails.  I would strongly suggest that you check out the Washington Trails Association and Mazamas Trail Tending.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Six degrees of Edgefield

My day started out with household chores and then trimming the Rhododendron on the west side of my house.  With those tasks completed, I set out for a surprise birthday party for a Mazamas friend at the McMemamins Edgefield in Troutdale.  This place is a 38 acre farmland that includes a movie theater, hotel, fine dining, pitch and putt golf course, distillery, and much more.  The Mazamas were well represented here - both of the climb leaders that I have assisted with for the basic climbing class were here.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see a long time friend of my parents there.  It was good thing that we have arrived early, because this place was packed.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mt. Hood in June

It was one year today that I climbed Mt. Hood for the first time.  It was a balmy night with very little wind.  As we ascended up the Palmer snow field the mountain glowed from the light of a full moon.  It was a magical experience with the added bonus of reaching the summit and safely returning to tell the tale.  Now, exactly one year later, I found myself on an another Mazamas climb up the South Side of Mt. Hood.  The question in my mind was how would it compare to my experience last year.

Mazamas Climb Leader Dan Schuster invited me to assist with this climb.  It was his basic climbing class group that I had worked with this spring.  I welcomed the opportunity to climb with those people, so I accepted.  While I have been the Assistant Climb Leader on a handful of climbs, I have yet to do one where we would rope up.  

The weather report was iffy, so we started at 2am to avoid the showers that were predicted for Saturday night.  When we departed the Timberline parking lot there was a slight wind with cloud patches.  As we ascended the Palmer snow field the sky opened up, studded with stars.  At one point we could see a sliver of the moon to the east.  As the light of day overtook the night, we could see that we were climbing above the clouds.  We could also see climbers lined up, waiting to ascend the final 1000 feet.   As we were approaching the Devil's Kitchen one member of our party started to complain of nausea and dizziness.  At first I thought she was suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness, but it turned out to be a case of Vertigo.  Since we could not spare anyone to descend with her, the call was made for the group to descend.  At that point I led the group down.  There was a chute for glissading, but I felt it was too icy and steep.  Once we reached the level of the Palmer Ski Lift the snow was softer, so we removed our crampons as enjoyed the glissade down part of the way.

Not only was it was a glorious day, but I got some insights into what climb leaders consider when facing tough calls.  Before this climb started I thought my education as a Assistant Climb Leader would take place as I led the group down from the summit ridge.  Instead the most valuable lesson of day took place 1000 feet lower in the Devil's Kitchen.

Thanks to Jared Townsley for the photos.