When it comes to memorable places, it’s hard to imagine a Cascade peak any more striking than Mt Thielsen. The tall spire, against the dark blue sky and the weird formations’, ancient fumaroles, sculpt by wind rain and snow, in reds, yellows and grays are something you never forget. Maybe it’s the result of exhaustion from the steep climb or lack of oxygen of the 9,182 foot summit, but those images are indelibly etched into my mind. Here is a link for more information about Mt Thielsen:
On Friday August 3, 2010 I left Eugene at 4:30 am to be at the Mt Thielsen trail head at 7:00 am. There was only one car in the parking lot so it looked like I might have the mountain to myself, at least for a little while. This trail head is just a mile or so past the Hwy 138 entrance to Diamond Lake Resort going towards Crater Lake.
It was one of the last warm days, so, even at 7:00 am, at 5,400 feet, there was no need for a jacket. The trail is well used and well maintained and climbs steadily for 4 miles where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail at elevation 7,250. Most of this first section of the trail is in a lodgepole pine forest, but there are sections that have larger pine and fir species. At about 3 miles, you come to a spot where a wind storm of 4 or 5 years ago blew down every tree in about a 100 acre area along the ridge. It’s hard to imagine winds so heavy that it could flatten a forest like that but it does occasionally happen.
There are a few places you can get some views of the west and see Diamond Lake and Mt Bailey. I saw that someone had camped on the ridge by the Pacific Crest Trail, and from the dampness of the ground, it looked like they must have gotten a good thunder storm last night.
From the Pacific Crest Trail, it’s another mile (it could be more like a mile and a half) to the summit and the trail climbs very steeply up the westerly ridge. Once you get above the timberline, which is now predominantly mountain hemlock and white bark pine, it becomes less obvious, as the pumice and scree give way to an even steeper loose rock slope. The moisture from last night’s rain really firmed up the scree and made it much easier going than it would have been if it were dry. By staying high on the ridge, you can avoid the worst of the loose rock while you skirt the south side of the spire. On the southeast side of the spire, there is a chute you climb to an outcrop which creates a landing. This is a great spot to drop a pack before climbing the last 100 feet to the top of the spire.
I took a short break here to enjoy the wonderful views to the east and about that time three guy came down from the top. They were the one’s who had camped on the ridge and had gotten pretty wet. They were hoping it would get warm enough to dry their bags before heading back down to the parking lot.
After the short break, I chose my route up the near vertical face of the spire. It really isn’t so bad because the deep cracks provide good hand holds and foot holds. It didn’t take long to get to the top and soon I had a wonderful 360 degree view. I could see a fire burning in the Klamath Lake direction and there was still a lot of hazy smoke to the north. I could see as far as the Three Sisters and could just make out Mt Jefferson through the haze. To the south, I could see Crater Lake rim, Mt McLaughlin and just make out Mt Shasta.
While I was there, a fellow and his three sons, ages 10-15 joined me. After visiting for some time, I started back down to give them a little time to enjoy the top to themselves. As I was collecting my pack at the outcrop, a few more people started showing up. It took my time and shot a lot of pictures. The sun was high enough now to have good light on most of the mountain. I checked my watch and it was 11:30.
I worked my way down slowly and roamed the south side of the mountain to get good shots of some of the weird outcrops. One of them, just east of the south ridge, looks like a phantom or “The Grim Reaper”. In another place, there was an outcropping that looks like a small bunch of mushrooms. While roaming the side of the hill, I found someone’s trekking pole and about 50 yards below it, balancing on the edge of a cliff, was the other one. I collected both of them and left them hanging in a tree right on the trail in case the owner was still up there and could pick them up coming down. A short time later, I came across a guy looking for his poles and he was very relieved they weren’t lost.
I ran into a lot more people as I got near the Pacific Crest trail again. It was an exceptionally nice day and the temperature had warmed into the mid 60’s. I walked out with a couple fellows from Bend who were planning on climbing several other peaks in the next 2-3 week. They remarked too, how few people there are on the mountains and felt hiking and climbing was probably a dying sport. What a shame, with places like this and no one interested in seeing it.
It had been a perfect day, a wonderful hike, and I had spent some quality time in the outdoors. There is a satisfaction the comes from spending some time it the woods or in the mountains that leaves you feeling so good. It’s like you have your head in the clouds and your feet in the sand.
Keep looking for the beauty in your world and taking time to acknowledge it when you find it.