Mt. Thielsen P2K WSC

Jun 11, 2006

With: Matthew Holliman
Rick Kent

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profiles: 1 2


Mt. Thielsen is another Cascade volcano in the southern part of the state, not far north of Crater Lake. Much of it seems to have been blown away in some cataclysmic explosion, leaving a pointy spire atop one side of the volcano. Now, not being a volcanologist, and not actually having studied anything relating to the history of the mountain, it is quite probable that I have that completely wrong. But that's the way it looks when viewed from most angles. I had climbed the peak some 14 years earlier with my friend Eric, the same trip in which we climbed Mt. Hood and spent the summer in Alaska. We hadn't even heard of Mt. Thielsen until the day we went up there, having been wowwed by its appearance as we drove north from Crater Lake. Not knowing its name, we commented how it would be cool to climb it. Well, lo and behold if not half an hour later we drove right by a sign that said Mt. Thielsen Trailhead. A quick consultation found us both game, so we did a U-turn, stopped at the TH, and bagged the peak. It was the diciest scrambling either of us had done, and we found it exhilarating.

Fast forward 14 years, as we were on our way home after 9 fun days (ok, the first three weren't all that fun) of Cascade peakbagging in Oregon, we planned to stop to climb the peak a second time. Matthew had not been to the peak, so he was more eager than Rick or I to tag it. We had tried to climb it on the first day's drive into Oregon, but foul weather kept us at bay and we made it no further than the trailhead. Today we had much better weather, and though clouds hung high in the sky, it did not threaten to rain as we pulled into the TH around 7a. A large group from a mountaineering club was assembling as we parked. They had all stared intently at us as we did so (later I found in a chat with one of the leaders that they were hoping we were the last ones they were waiting for).

We took off with light packs (carrying axe/crampons although we found we didn't need them). The first few miles of the trail were largely free of snow which surprised us - only a week earlier there was tons of snow around the trailhead. Matthew took off ahead of Rick and I at a pace I couldn't maintain and didn't even try. Neither did Rick, and Matthew was soon out of sight. Rick remembered the layout of the trail from his previous visit a year earlier, and recalled a couple of very long switchbacks that we decided to shortcut through the forest. Whether this put us ahead of Matthew or not wasn't clear, but we didn't see him for hours after this point. It was 8:40a by the time we reached the long, curving west ridge, taking a much longer time than I had remembered. Looking ahead, it seemed the peak, now finally in view, was much further off as well. I had thought this was more like a few hours hike, but I could see now this was not the case.

The climb of the West Ridge might be described as scenic but tedious. A use trail leads through a few miles of talus that goes on relentlessly. Matthew was nowhere ahead (he had waited for us back in the forest at a trail junction, but since we weren't following the trail, we never crossed paths), and Rick fell behind as I waded through the talus fields. Ugh. Double ugh.

I got to the summit pinnacle well ahead of the others and took some of the spare time to check out the 5.6 route up the NW side. It was a fun scramble to the start of the more serious part, a steep climb up a block ridge for maybe 80 feet to the summit. I looked at it a good deal but decided it was too rich for my liking without a rope. I scrambled back down and then around to the south side where the standard class 4 route goes up. There are many possiblities on this side, and I picked one close to the righthand side. Rick and Matthew would choose entirely different routes up. Rick was about 15 minutes behind me, Matthew another 30 minutes behind Rick. We had the summit to ourselves for the time we were there before heading down. A party of 2 had just arrived, about to make the final ascent.

We ran into the large group we'd met in the parking lot taking a break on the talus slopes about 20 minutes from the summit. There looked to be 15-20 in all, taking a rest break to let the laggards catch up to the rest. The remaining part of the decent was uneventful, though fairly quick, boot-skiing as much as possible. Back in the van, it was time for a long, long drive back to California and San Jose. We managed a total of nine peaks in ten days, a rather good haul considering how in the beginning things had looked so bleak. We didn't make it to Mt. Rainier as we had originally hoped, but there seems to be enough peaks in Washington to make another similar trip next year!

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