Thielsen rocks.

It took me quite a while to dig out after last weekend, as you can tell by the fact that I didn’t write about Hood to Coast for days after the race. With all the running and so little sleep, I needed that time to recover. Plus, I was gone for two and a half days and missed my weekend around the house; I was running behind on all sorts of chores, e-mails, etc. On Thursday, I finally managed to clean out my room and wash all the laundry from the weekend. Yeah, that’s kind of gross.

I knew I had a three day weekend coming up and that I should do something awesome with it, but I just wasn’t in any sort of shape to make plans. As the weekend drew closer and closer I figured that I would improvise and figure something out.

Luckily, my housemate Laura came to my rescue! She and her friends wanted to go climb Mount Thielsen, down in the southern part of the state, and asked me to come along. Hooray!

We left town around 6 on Friday and drove down to the Umpqua Hot Springs, which were some of the best I’ve ever visited. By the time we got to the parking lot it was dark and we were starving, so we sat on the bumpers of our cars and ate leftovers and drank beer. Two of our friends had brought their dogs along, who were happy to finally be out of the cars. It didn’t last long though; we put the dogs back in the cars and hiked the steep quarter-mile up to the hot springs.

When we got there, the main pool, which has a roof over it, was full, and there were a few people in one of the side pools as well. But with quite a few pools to choose from, there was plenty of space for us. We immediately jumped into the hottest one, which was quite a shock, and lay back gazing at the stars. We eventually had to move down the hill to a cooler pool because we were cooking ourselves. The whole spot was lovely – and I can only imagine how pretty it would have been in the daytime!

After we finished soaking, we hopped back in the car and drove a few miles until we found a nice camping spot under some big trees. I slept like a log – still exhausted, a week later, from Hood to Coast!

The next morning we got up early and headed south towards Mount Thielsen. We only got one glance at the mountain on the drive, but it looked just as it had been advertised: really, really pointy. But after that one quick view it disappeared into the trees and we didn’t see it again until we had hiked a few miles.

From four miles out, it looked incredibly steep and also very far away. By the time we reached the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail, the mountain looked closer and also not quite as steep. We paused for a snack – the apple tree in my front yard has been producing the most amazing sweet, crisp, white apples – and other hikers admired the dogs as they went by.

When we started climbing again, we realized that even though it hadn’t looked quite as steep as before, it was actually even steeper. We had all known this in the back of our minds, but things got serious pretty fast after that initial four-mile hike in. For a while, we were still in the trees, which was nice: it was shady and the trail was solid.

Then we were above treeline and heading ever-upward through loose dirt, scree, and boulders. Cyrus eventually had to stop with his dog, Zula, because the eight-year-old lab was having trouble scrambling up the loose slope. Cyrus eventually rejoined us after tying Zula to a tree, but she didn’t like the whole situation and even after we reached the top of the mountain we could hear her barking occasionally.

Autumn, unlike Cyrus, decided to take her dog Marley all the way to the top. Marley is a young Australian shepherd, and had no trouble finding his footing; he had more energy than the four people and Zula combined! Unfortunately, though, he didn’t have our understanding of hiking safety, and a few times set relatively big rocks rolling down the screefield towards us. While it was great to have him along, it probably wasn’t the best place to bring a dog.

As the climbing got more and more difficult – I am ashamed to say that I started to feel the altitude, too, and to get a little shaky – I sometimes tried climbing up the actual bedrock outcroppings, since they were more solid than the scree. In some places, the trail was great; in others, it was barely a trail (or maybe we had lost it!). But eventually we got close enough that we could see people sitting up on a ledge eating lunch.

We had known that the last 100 feet or so of Mount Thielsen is especially tricky; it calls for actual rock climbing. We had heard conflicting reports about whether it was simply class four hiking/climbing/scrambling, or something you actually needed ropes for. I guess it’s all a matter of perception. When we reached the “chicken ledge” below that last pitch, we saw a large group of people setting up ropes on the rock. It looked totally climbable without ropes, but they had taken over and were throwing ropes back and forth, sometimes knocking off rocks in the process, so we didn’t want to try to climb up in their midst. It was a little disappointing, but not too much, because even from the ledge below the view was spectacular!

In one direction, we saw Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey, which despite having almost the opposite shape as Thielsen is actually roughly the same height. To the south, we could see Crater Lake, somewhere I haven’t been yet but is definitely on my list. There were wildfires burning in several places so the sky was a bit hazy; the pictures don’t do justice to the amazing views.

We spent a long time sitting on the ledge enjoying our lunch at 9,182 feet. Occasionally we would see another hiker coming up and get a sense of what we had just accomplished. Looking down and watching their slow progress really brought it home exactly how steep the climb had been.

And if you looked off the other side, you would see why the group was using ropes: even though the rock was craggy and there were plenty of handholds and places to stick your feet, the consequences of any errors would have been pretty horrendous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t just steep from the top of the last pitch to its bottom (left). There was also a thousand-foot sheer drop-off  below (right). Would I still have climbed it? Yes, absolutely. But as it was, we ate our lunches and chatted with the other hikers who were stymied by the group with the ropes. Meanwhile, I thought about how nice it would be to have a mountain dog, even if he did kick rocks down on my sometimes.

Finally, it was time to leave, and to go rescue the increasingly distraught Zula. Another hiker suggested that instead of taking the trail down, we hike down a steep ridge until we got to a screefield made up of small pieces of pumice. While it wouldn’t be solid, the pieces of rock were so small and light that you could run or “ski” down them, sliding along with them, and it was much easier and faster than tediously stepping down the rock piles on the trail. We took her up on her suggestion and headed off.

I didn’t think it was so bad, but I have a bit of experience both in scree and glissading on snow. Autumn did not enjoy our route. Luckily, we all ended up back with Zula without any accidents, so it all turned out fine in the end! I got to check out some more cool geology along the way – look at these awesome striations in the rock.

When we finally made it back to the parking lot, sore in a million different places, the temperature had soared to the high 80s. We took a five minute drive to the picnic area on Diamond Lake and jumped in! It was really shallow for a very long way, so it was a little anti-climactic to have to wade and wade and wade until the water was finally waist-deep, but it was really nice to cool off and the dogs loved it. On the way home, we stopped at the Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge, where I got a pint of Black Wooly Jumper straight from the cask and some fish and chips – well, fish and sweet potato fries, even better!

So: it was Saturday night, and I had already packed more into the weekend than I possibly could have hoped. What a great Labor Day!

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