A silent alarm & a change of plans

I was supposed to have gotten up at 4:30 a.m. I would be on the road a little before 5 and arrive at the Mt. Thielsen trailhead by 6. Unfortunately, my cel-phone, which also doubles as my alarm clock, was set to silent, so my wake-up call came and went while I slept in ignorant oblivion. When I did wake up, I immediately realized something was amiss. For starters, it was already getting light outside. I grabbed the phone and looked at the clock. It was 5:57. Shit. I knew I wouldn’t be climbing Thielsen that day.

As a climber you really have to be time-conscious, and getting to the trail by 7 or 7:30 was just going to be a little too late, especially since there was still a ton of snow and I wouldn’t be able to run up the mountain like I could in summer. I wanted to be on the summit by 12 or 1, and I just didn’t think I could get there with that late of a start.

So I got up, made some coffee and thought about my options. After a short time I decided I would just go upriver and take pictures and shoot some film. I told my girlfriend about my change of plans and headed out, determined that the day wouldn’t be a waste.

I am quite fortunate to live so close to such an amazing area of natural beauty. I live on the North Umpqua river, one of the most beautiful rivers on the planet (in my opinion), and fifteen minutes upriver from where I live the canyons narrow and the river becomes increasingly spectacular. I pulled over after a short drive and started shooting film. I did this for a time, stopping somewhere along the highway where the river looked particularly beautiful and getting out my cameras. As I meandered up the highway, I decided that I would go somewhere I hadn’t been before. First I was thinking about heading into the Boulder Creek Wilderness, but as I pondered that option, I realized that construction on the nearby Soda Springs Dam would probably keep me from reaching the trailhead, so I changed plans and decided to head up to the Illahee Rock lookout. I had often wanted to go there, but just hadn’t managed to get there, so I made the decision to go.

Along the way, I continued to stop and take pictures, and spent a little time at Steamboat Creek and Canton Creek:

Beautiful turquoise Canton Creek

Lovely jade color of Canton Creek










Soon I was on the dirt Illahee Road heading up and up, hoping that I would be able to reach the trailhead without running into any snow. I never saw anyone as I drove higher and higher in elevation. Soon I caught a breathtaking glimpse of Mt Bailey through the trees and I was immediately glad I had come this way. Just seeing mountains makes me happy. I drove on, and soon I began to reach the area where a huge fire had stripped most of the forest thus allowing a better look of the drive ahead. In the distance I could see snow on the road, and I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to drive quite all the way to the trailhead. Just when I could see Illahee Rock, several feet of snow on the road brought me to a halt. Being this close, I knew it wasn’t a big deal, so I parked, got my backpack and headed out.

End of the drive.

It was already a hot day, and I foolishly had forgotten my sunscreen, so within five minutes I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I was going to end the day with a sunburn. I turned my baseball cap backwards, since the sun was behind me, and kept on trudging through the slushy snow. Ahead of me I could clearly see the lookout towers that grace the summit of Illahee Rock, but I was even more intrigued by the the rocky bluff to the left of Illahee. Hey, I’m a climber, what can I say?

Reaching a fork in the road, I had planned on taking the right-hand fork, but a rock tower to my left grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. I took the left-hand fork. At first, I was planning on just taking some pictures of it, but since it was so obviously nearby, I knew I could at least get to it pretty easily. I left the road after a quarter mile and followed discontinuous game trails along a gentle ridge. I thought I was seeing a formation known as Rattlesnake Rock, but I would later find out that it is actually named Bartram’s Rock. As I approached, I could see that it was very sheer-sided, but I figured I might find a gentler aspect to it if I kept exploring.

I traversed beneath the rock, and with judicious route-finding, scrambled my way around to the west side of the rock, where I encountered a really interesting rock formation:

A mini ‘Rabbit-ears’ on Bartram’s Rock.

I had come so far around the crag that at this point, I wasn’t certain I could find a way to the top, but I ended up scrambling up through some rather steep terrain, using trees and roots as handholds while making some genuine climbing moves, and after a few minutes, found myself on top of a pretty cool little sub-summit.

I took the time while I was on the precipitous crag to make a short introductory video for my Kickstarter project, and in the midst of doing that, I kept looking across at the main tower and really wishing I could find a way to climb to its summit. When I got done filming, I decided to go for it. I could see a way up along the left side of the rock, so all I had to do was find a way to its base. So I downclimbed from the secondary summit to a notch between the two crags, then started following ledges and gullies, and in a matter of ten minutes or so, I was on top of Bartram’s Rock. I was really happy to have gone for it. Now my day was really made, I had found a new crag and using my wits and experience, found a way to summit. I took some more shots and then scrambled back down.

I wandered my way back to the road, and began looking for ways up to the top of Illahee Rock. I could see what appeared to be an old trailhead marker, but it seemed really overgrown and I didn’t feel like doing to much bushwhacking so I decided to go back to the fork in the road and take the right hand road, hoping I could find the right trail. I trudged through the snow, but I never did see what looked like the main trail, so I eventually decided to head up what was obviously an overgrown logging road, and so I ended up doing quite a bit of bushwhacking. Clambering over deadfall, shoving my way through dense stands of young firs, all the while repeatedly post-holing up to my knees in soft snow made what would have ordinarily been an easy hike into a grueling thrash. Later I would figure out that I was nowhere near the main trail. I believe I found what might have been a trail to the lookouts long, long ago, but for the most part, the route I picked to hike up Illahee was pretty much entirely trailless. It was definitely an adventure though.

Eventually I reached a craggy area that at the very least looked like it might provide some fun scrambling, but once I was on the rocks, a better trail revealed itself to me (this still wasn’t the main trail, but was in much better shape than what I had been following so far.)

After numerous switchbacks and more than a few snowbanks, I arrived at an area I began calling the Goblin Gardens, a craggy slope of small, twisted rocks that reminded me of a stony menagerie of goblins or trolls. I could also tell that I was now quite near to the summit of Illahee rock.

The petrified menagerie

Looking down on the garden

I continued on, and in short order the slope eased, and I saw the lookout tower for the first time.

I started to climb up the stairs, but a warning sign requesting visitors to stay off persuaded me to be respectful and leave it alone. I was happy enough as it was. There are actually two lookouts on top of Illahee, the tall one, and a small cabin a short distance away. I inspected both before finding a rock platform where I could take a break and film. The views were magnificent, to the north I could see the Three Sisters, Mt Yoran and Diamond Peak, while almost due east were Mts. Bailey and Thielsen.

I called my girlfriend back home and assured her of my continued existence, then filmed another brief bit for my Kickstarter project. I did not, however, have a lot of time. Thunder clouds were building, and even though Illahee Rock isn’t the highest mountain, it is one of the highest in the area, and I had no desire to become a human lightning rod, so I didn’t linger long.

It took me perhaps an hour to arrive back at my Jeep, sunburned, scratched and weary, but more than happy to have salvaged the afternoon.

Here is the complete video of my day:


Zeus update

I talked to the vet today and it sounds like Zeus is going to make it! He still isn’t wanting to eat but he is vomiting less and having less diarrhea as well and if he can keep his meds down tonight without barfing them back up then we should be able to bring him home tomorrow. So I am still keeping my fingers crossed but it sounds great.

Zeus in happier times

A ray of hope

We finally got Zeus into the vet. We would have done it sooner but no one would take us without money, and we don’t have any. After finally getting a hold of our friend who has a mobile vet service, she steered us in the direction of Douglas County Low Cost Veterinary Services, a low cost animal clinic in Roseburg, and after just a few phone calls we had everything arranged and got our ailing old guy in the back of the Subaru. The people at the clinic are really awesome and we very quickly got a positive stool sample for salmon poisoning, in fact, he was full of ‘flukes’ as they call them. So he is going to have at least a two night hospital stay, get pumped full of antibiotics and IV fluids, but it looks much better now, so we are all feeling much more optimistic. We will keep praying, but hopefully, hopefully, we will have our beloved doggie back in a few days. Keep your fingers crossed.

My Climbing Career (thus far). Part II

It’s funny to realize how far I have come in all this. From being that frightened kid climbing Mt. Thielsen to being someone who has climbed two thirds of the Cascade volcanoes, taught rock climbing for a community college, and climbed the Grand Teton. Since that first time, I have returned to climb Thielsen four more times successfully and had one unsuccessful winter attempt. In fact, it was funny, returning to Thielsen for the second time, over ten years since my first climb, and finding in the intervening years that the summit pinnacle was not nearly as bad as I remembered, and with all my experience, the climb was now much more fun than frightening.

Mt. Thielsen from the trail.

My second year of climbing was all about getting used to the mountain environment rather than getting over-ambitious. An older retired climber named Gary took me under his wing and was incredibly supportive, driving me to trailheads for conditioning climbs, rarely charging me for gas, and then just sitting there reading while I went off to climb for half a day. I hiked to the top of Black Crater, the Belknap Craters, and spent a day hiking all around Smith Rock State Park. I will always be grateful to him for his generosity.

What I remember the most about these hikes is the memorable one up Black Crater. At over seven thousand feet, this peak is one of the taller mountains in the area, though nowhere near as massive as the nearby Three Sisters. That winter and spring had witnessed one of the largest snowfalls in Cascade range history and even in late July there was snow just above six thousand feet. Gary dropped me off at a snow-free trailhead, where another vehicle was parked. I said goodbye to Gary and headed off up the trail. After a short distance, perhaps an eight of a mile, the snow began and the trail disappeared. Shortly after that I encountered the only other group on the trail, a young couple and their middle-aged parents. They had turned around when shortly after the trail vanished, but I continued on, having a fair idea about the lay of the land. I knew I could get myself up and back if I used my smarts and my compass.

For the most part this hike is in the trees, making landmarks impossible to see, but I could seen enough to keep me heading in the right direction, and after an hour and a half or so, I left the deep woods and open pumice slopes began to reveal the glorious vistas the McKenzie Pass area is famous for.

I had noticed that there were clouds in the sky, but they were innocuous looking enough, small, white cotton-balls that added to the beauty of the day. I honestly never felt any trepidation about the weather as I ascended higher towards the summit. Even as I reached the broad, cliff-edged summit, I paid little heed to the clouds. I was happy to have made it to the top with no trail and on my own.

On the very crown of the peak, on a little volcanic outcrop, a collection of strange bugs was swarming, weird, narrow beetles, and for some odd reason, seeing them there, swarming on the literal top rock of the mountain, made me feel uneasy, afraid even. Suddenly I knew I needed to get off the mountain, and now. I got out of there. The instinct was so strong there was no way I could ignore it. I hustled down the north side of the mountain, glissading (sliding) on the snow slopes, racing back into the bigger timber, and as soon as I was back in the trees, all hell broke loose.

Flash. Boom. Flash. Boom. Lightning would strike, and almost no time would elapse before the thunder would crash, deafening and cataclysmic. I ran, trying my best to keep going in the right direction, but more urgently trying to get down. I was on the tallest peak for several miles in either direction and this sudden thunderstorm was unleashing a bolt every twenty seconds or so. I raced through the woods, using only instinct to guide my way down, flinching and cringing with every flash and rumble. Amazingly enough, after about half an hour of running, I found myself on the trail again! My instincts had been dead on. I was feeling pretty satisfied about myself as I leapt over a fallen log a few hundred yards from the car and rolled my ankle. My ego suitably bruised, I limped back to the car with a little less pride.

That year, my second as a climber, after warming up on the previously-mentioned peaks, I also climbed Mt. McLoughlin, Diamond Peak, and South Sister, third highest peak in Oregon.

Mike and I were climbing McLoughlin in the early morning, once again with his pack dogs, Albert and Eva, the German Shepherds. We were in the big woods again, talking and hiking. In the distance we could hear a jet, and didn’t think anything of it. The next instant it was much louder, but it happened so fast, we didn’t have time to react. In the space between one moment and the next, the sound went from distant to ear-splitting, and I looked up in time to see an F-18 Hornet, fifty feet above the treetops. I could see it clearly, the cockpit, the wings, all of it, for one brief instant. The ground was shaking, the dogs scattered in terror and we just froze. Then it was gone, and the sound receded as quickly as it had come. I remember the two of us standing frozen, gripping our chests in fear, but already laughing at the experience. The dogs came back quickly and we resumed our hike.

McLoughlin's upper slopes (from a more recent climb)

The first several climbs I did with Mike, he was quite slow because of his severely arthritic hip and back, and he would generally give me permission to move ahead once we were within sight of the summit, since he could tell that I was going slower than I needed to. Climbing towards the summit of this gentle mountain, there were small puffy clouds in the sky just like the week before at Black Crater, and a feeling of anxiety grew in me as I ascended alone towards the summit. Several times I considered turning back, but I decided to push on, and soon enough I was standing on the summit rocks. My anxiety was undiminished with this, my second ‘real’ mountain. I snapped a couple of summit pictures and then raced off the mountain, meeting Mike about half a mile below the top. I told him of my fears and he sort of gave me a puzzled expression before heading up. I rested and enjoyed the views from 8000′. After a time I realized that there was not going to be a thunderstorm that afternoon, I was merely spooked. Mike, who wasn’t spooked, made it to the summit and enjoyed a much longer period on the apex before coming back down to meet me.

Climbing Diamond Peak a short time later began a long-time love affair with the mountain, and was also the first of many times I climbed and trained with the Obsidians, the climbing/hiking/skiing/biking club based out of Eugene.

The upper ridge to the summit of Diamond Peak (also a later climb)

South Sister, at 10,358′ is the third highest mountain in Oregon, but when the snow melts in mid-summer, a well-worn path winds its way up the peak’s gentle south side, skirting cobalt lakes and glaciers on the way. I slept in a borrowed car at Devils Lake, the traditional departing point for climbs from the south. At 5:30 in the morning I headed out, truly alone on a big mountain for the first time, winding my way through a dense forest for several miles before emerging  onto a broad, undulating plain above Moraine Lake.  South Sister dominates the horizon from west to east. After several more hours of dusty climbing, I found myself witness to one of the most astonishing mountain views in the Northwest. Middle Sister and North Sister, both above ten thousand feet, lie just a few miles to the north, while Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and astonishingly, even Mt. Rainier could be seen on this day, the latter lying nearly two hundred miles away! (On a later summit of the same mountain, I couldn’t even see Adams and St. Helens, much less Rainier.)

My second year of climbing had seen me climb a few smaller peaks and three bigger volcanoes, momentum had been established, and the dreams only got bigger. Now I was dreaming of snow peaks and glaciers, and envisioning an ice axe in my hands. I was ready for more. The apprenticeship continued.