Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain-tops are within reach.~ John Muir
In this post I reminisce.
When I was much younger I got the idea in my head that I would climb a mountain. The idea was planted by my reading the book Everest Diary based on the personal diary of Luther “Lute” Jerstad, one of the first Americans to climb Mount Everest. I loved the book, still do. I quickly became an armchair mountaineer, which I still am. I read many climbing books, especially ones about climbing Everest (a.k.a Chomolungma). In college, however, I decided to embrace my dreaming and actually climb a mountain.
Given that I am a “book person” I learned how to climb mountains first by reading books on the topic. I learned how to use crampons and an ice ax. I learned to use a rope and belay another climber. But no amount of book reading compares with putting on your boots and trying to scale a mountain. So eventually I had to do it. I have to say, though, that I am not mountaineer, just an enthusiast, and mostly still from the armchair.
The following are the mountains I have summited, or nearly summited. All are in Oregon except Longs Peak, which is in Colorado. All these were climbed by me more than 15 years ago.
North Sister (10,085 feet, 3074 meters)
The North Sister is a beautiful peak and one of a group of three dormant volcanoes called The Three Sisters. Of the three it is the most rugged, the oldest, and the most difficult to climb. I have summited it twice. The first time I climbed with a friend – both of us were essentially novices and we traversed an exposed slope near the top without a rope. I vowed never to do that again. The next time I climbed with the local Mountain Rescue team – plenty of ropes this time! I held my own, but was in so much pain getting back to the car that I vowed never to climb another mountain unless I was in sufficient physical shape.
Middle Sister (10,047 feet, 3062 meters)
I climbed the Middle Sister with my dad. I felt strong and the weather was beautiful. For my dad it was his first mountain climb. The Middle Sister is not a technical climb from the North, which is the way we went. The North East face, however, is a good training ground for steep snow climbing.
South Sister (10,358 feet, 3157 meters)
The South Sister is the third highest peak in Oregon. I have summited the South Sister twice and it was my first mountain summit. The climb is essentially non-technical climb. It is therefore is a popular climb for many first-time climbers. It is one of the most climbed mountains in Oregon. Mostly it is just a long 5.5 mile hike uphill from the trailhead (or an 11 mile round trip from the car with a mountain in the middle). On any weekend in August one might find 10 to 50 people on the summit. On its summit is a small lake (when not frozen over) called teardrop pool. It is the highest lake in Oregon.
Mount Thielsen (9,182 feet2,799 meters)
Mt. Thielsen is called the lighting rod of the Cascades because of its spire-like summit. This is an old volcano. Most of the mountain has fallen away and what remains is the inner plug. Most of the climb is easy, but the last 50 feet is a rocky scramble to a small pinnacle that can hold about three people. Many climbers rope up at that point, but I didn’t, and didn’t feel the need to.
Mount McLaughlin (9495 feet, 2894 meters)
The day before climbing Mt. Thielsen I climbed Mt. McLaughlin. The trip went something like this: Saturday drive five hours to Mt. McLaughlin, climb it, then drive to Mt. Thielsen trailhead, sleep on the ground under the stars, Sunday morning climb Thielsen, then drive three hours home, sleep in comfy bed for ten hours. It was a long weekend, but was also a lot of fun. Climbing Mt. McLaughlin is as technically easy as the South Sister, but not as long.
Longs Peak (14,259 feet, 4,346 meters)
In the Spring of 1984 I and a group of fellow students tried to climb Longs Peak. We got up to 13,200 feet elevation, about 1000 feet below the summit at a place know as the keyhole. We had to turn back because of a storm that had blown in. Climbers were coming off the top and telling us that it was getting dangerous above. The wind where we were was very strong coming through the keyhole. There is a stone climbers hut near the keyhole where we met a bunch other folks. The heavy wooden door to the hut had been blown off its hinges and was no longer to be seen. To make up for the disappointment of not summiting several of us decided to race each other back to the cars. We ran in heavy hiking boots and carrying daypacks about 6 or 7 miles downhill. Needless to say I wish I could do that today, but my knees won’t let me and my lungs thank my knees.
Mount Hood (11,249 feet, 3,429 meters)
Mount Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon and one of the most climbed mountains in the world. I and two friends attempted to climb it in the early 1990s. We started from Timberline Lodge at around 1:00 AM. The day was stunningly beautiful. We could see all the way South to Mount Shasta in California! We got very near the summit, but then one of my friends got sick and couldn’t go any further. We decided to head down, ascribing to the philosophy that we would be back soon enough. I have not been back. But I still plan on climbing it someday.
Many people believe that climbing mountains is something they could never do. Climbing mountains is very near lunacy they assume. Why would anyone want to do such a thing, they ask. Maybe they are right, but I have to say that there is nothing quite like the experience. Many peaks are technically easy to climb, most are just an uphill trail to the top. Standing on top of a mountain is glorious. The exercise is tremendous. I say pick one and go! Of course, do your homework and be prepared.