Peakbagging in the Pacific Northwest

July 24- August 1, 2003

Howard Herndon, Jim Egan, and Alan Nakashima on the summit of Mt. Hood.

Report by Jim Egan, Photos by Jim Egan, Jim Albamont, Ali Haghi, and Alan Nakashima
On Thursday, July 24th, my wife, Pat, and I met Alan Nakashima, Howard Herndon and Gill Shellcross to begin our quest to climb some significant peaks while visiting the beautiful Northwest. We headed north through Reno to the trailhead for Mt. Shasta (14,162’) at Bunny Flat which is located at 6,950’ elevation and about 680 miles from Las Vegas. There we met my friends, Richard Natale and Eva who had staked out a great camp area across from the trailhead and hauled up plenty of water for our use the next day and a half. This climb of Shasta was to be a difficult warm-up for our highpoints quest. After a quick supper, we turned in to try to rest before our 2:30 a.m. rising for breakfast.
The next morning, we headed out about 3:20 a.m. We trooped up the trail past the Sierra Club horse camp using our headlamps and carrying our crampons, ice axes and helmets. By the time we reached the snowfields below Lake Helen, dawn was breaking and we put on our crampons for the rest of the climb up past the Red Banks. Shortly after this point, the long drive and short night combined with the elevation to cause Gill, and then Howard, to turn back. Alan, Richard, Eva and I continued our ascents as the sun slowly rose. We passed an outcrop of rocks known as the Heart to our left, and headed steeply up toward the Red Banks where we encountered some Class 3 mixed rock and ice. Above the Red Banks, we hit a small plateau and then started up Misery Hill from the top of which we were able to see the summit. After a short trip across the crater, we reached the base of the true summit and climbed up to sign the register and take photos before heading back due to windy and cold conditions. The glissades down past Helen Lake were exciting and a quick way down to the trail leading back to Horse Camp. That evening, we celebrated with some good food and turned in early feeling the effects of a truly tough trip. The distance to the summit is about 14 miles roundtrip and the elevation gain is over 7,200 feet from Bunny Flat.
On Saturday, we made breakfast and broke camp to drive to Mt. Hood (11,239’), the highpoint for Oregon, which is a little over 400 miles by car from Mt. Shasta. We arrived in the afternoon to find all the campsites full at the Alpine Campground which is close to the Timberline Lodge trailhead. We picked up our free climbing permit at the lodge and learned that it might be possible to camp at the south edge of the parking lot where there were several nice spots up a small hill. After studying the route from the parking lot and reading about the technical difficulty, only Alan and Howard were interested in joining me for the 3 a.m. start in the morning.
Early Sunday morning, we had some breakfast and packed up the gear we needed, heading out before 3:30 from the parking lot since the option of taking a snowcat to the top of the ski lifts was not available this late in the season. With some route-finding difficulty, we headed up to the top of the Palmer ski lift using our headlamps and then our crampons after the trail became icy. After gaining 2,400 feet to that point, we were at 8,400 feet and started heading up to the right side of Crater Rock which is on the flanks of the hogback leading up toward the Pearly Gates. When we reached that area, we started passing climbers who had started earlier and were slowing down due to the steepness and altitude. I went ahead to scout the route and check the conditions of the bergschrund which can make climbing Hood very difficult as the season progresses. It was still possible to work around it on the left which I did and shortly I was up to the Pearly Gates which were mixed ice and rock. As I passed this section, I was in what seemed like deep sand. I felt like I was climbing a sand dune with crampons for several hundred feet up to the summit. On top the wind was blowing, but if you dropped a few feet on the north side, it was almost calm and the sun was warm. After Alan and Howard joined me, in the distance we could see our next goal, Mt Rainier (14,410’) the highpoint for Washington, along with Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. To the south, we could see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters.
We were able to glissade down the ski slopes joining hundreds of skiers and snowboarders from the top of the Palmer ski lift to the trail down to Timberline Lodge and arrived in time to enjoy some lunch before hitting the road again to meet the rest of the LVMC group that night at Paradise Inn less than 200 driving miles from Mt. Hood. We had dinner there with the balance of our group and discussed our plans for hiking up to Camp Muir in the morning after breakfast and a trip to the ranger station to complete our check-in and briefing on conditions. After dinner, we packed our gear to prevent delays in getting started the next morning.
On Monday, we had breakfast together and headed over to the ranger station about 8 a.m. By 8:30, we were headed up the trail to Camp Muir with heavy packs carrying tents, stoves, fuel for melting ice for water, sleeping bags, ropes, crampons, helmets, harnesses, biners, Texas prusicks, cold weather clothing, food, etc…HEAVY PACKS!! The camp is on the snow and ice at about 10,200 feet elevation and it is about 4.5 miles and 4,600 feet up onto the Muir glacier. The weather was beautiful as it was for the entire trip. We reached the camp between 1 and 2 p.m. and picked out tent sites and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Tuesday, we met after breakfast to practice crevasse rescue, ice axe arrest and rope team maneuvers. This was the day that I received the most sun and was burned above my ears to my hat line. After dinner, we tried to get some sleep, mostly without success, until we got busy with dressing and breakfast about midnight.
On Wednesday, we met with each of our three rope teams about 1 a.m. and were treated to a wonderous sight…lines of twinkling headlamps stretching across the Cowlitz glacier heading for Cathedral Gap and our first break point at Ingraham flats where we started across the Ingraham glacier. Ahead was Disappointment Cleaver, a steep loose rock ridge that we had to climb to reach the Emmons glacier. The trail was nearly impossible to find using headlamps due to the loose rocks shifting as each climber passes. After casting about with little success, we finally reached a point where the trail could be seen again as we struggled upward. Shortly above the Cleaver, we began to encounter climbers heading back who were too sick or fatigued from the altitude to continue toward the summit. Of about 10,000 who attempt Mt. Rainier each year, only about half succeed.
Partway up the Emmons glacier, we had another break where people have to be placed in sleeping bags and staked to the side of the mountain if they are not able to continue. They are then picked up when their group returns for the difficult climb back down to Camp Muir. On this trip, none of our group needed to be bagged, so we dropped the weight of several of the bags we had carried up to ease the balance of the climb. The sun was now up and starting to warm us. Right before sunrise, the wind had started blowing and I had put on just about all my layers to keep from losing body heat. With the sun came promise that all would work out and cold would not keep me from reaching the summit. I was wearing polypro tights and top with heavy fleece pants, fleece jacket and a shell jacket along with lined waterproof mittens and plastic mountaineering boots. I had brought shell pants and baklava and fleece hat for additional protection if needed, but on this beautiful day they remained in my pack.
Finally, we reached the crater rim and most of us dropped our packs and hiked across the top of the crater to the true summit on the other side. After a few quick summit photos and signing the register, we had to get on the move back down. As the sun warms the snow and ice, there is great danger of falling rock and seracs on the glaciers. Also the crevasses can open up to swallow careless climbers and we did not want to put our crevasse rescue techniques into practice. It was much easier to negotiate the Disappointment Cleaver in broad daylight, but still very difficult footing wearing crampons which grated and skidded on the hard and loose rock. We arrived back at Camp Muir about 12 hours after our early start and Pat and I packed up and headed back to Paradise to start our last segment of the journey over to climb the highpoint in Idaho. Alan, Howard and Gill decided that a brief trip to Seattle was more appealing along with a visit to Mt. St. Helens, so we headed separate ways at this point.
Pat and I drove about three hours to Yakima, Washington, stopping along the way for dinner. Yakima is about 115 miles from the Paradise Inn where we found a motel and enjoyed a shower and a bath. The next morning we headed over toward Sun Valley, Idaho, and were very concerned to see a large wildfire generating much smoke as we approached Ketchum and Sun Valley. We nearly decided to cut and run toward Las Vegas, but wisely chose to continue to the trailhead for Mt. Borah and see if the smoke was reaching that far in the morning. The Sun Valley road over the mountains east of town was breathtaking and turned into a narrow high gravel road for about 30 miles. It wound through passes and meadows with streams where we spotted fly-fishermen plying their obsession. On the east end of the road, we hit Hwy 93 and between mileposts 129 and 130 there was a good sign marking the gravel road leading a few miles to the trailhead. The road ends at the trailhead and the state of Idaho has put a first-class toilet there. There were numerous campsites, so we put up our tent and marveled at the quantity of stars that were visible due to the lack of light pollution. The trip from Yakima was about 545 miles.
At 5 a.m., I hit the trail up Mt. Borah (12,662’), the highpoint for Idaho, and reached the summit before 8:00, since it is only about 3.5 miles of mostly trail (other than a brief third-class climb over Chicken Ridge) with an elevation gain of roughly 5,200 feet. After a couple of summit photos I raced back down reaching the campsite at 9:30 after which we packed our tent and gear and hit the road south on 93 to Arco, Idaho. We then headed east over to I-15 for the trip back to Vegas. It is about 720 miles to Las Vegas from Borah Peak. We reached Mesquite about 8 p.m. and stopped for dinner and a break from driving. After an excellent seafood buffet at the Casa Blanca, we drove the final stretch, arriving home about 11:15 p.m.

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