Peakbagging in the Pacific Northwest
July 24- August 1,
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
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.
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
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.