Andy: Weather this spring has been unusually fickle. The snow pack is well above normal (nearly double in some regions of the Northwest) and rivers are pushing the boundaries of their banks. The mountains have been continually hammered by storms, allowing brief weather windows in the past few months and frustrating many of our plans. As this weekend approached we scanned the Cascades for any possible high-pressure pockets and found a glimmer of hope around Diamond Lake.
On Saturday we toured up Mount Bailey, skinning all the way to the summit in good weather and found a few slopes with excellent corn skiing. Refueling with a few cold ones and some homemade cookies on the tailgate in the evening sun reminded us of just how awesome volcano skiing is in the Spring.
The next morning we left the Mount Thielsen parking lot around 5am, skinning right from the trailhead. As of April 23rd, there was still a good 4 feet of snow at the parking lot, and much of the trail will likely remain under snow for much of May. The path towards Mount Thielsen is relatively well-marked but we found several deviations off the actual trail. However, the terrain is forgiving and there are many more direct options that do not add significant elevation gain or milage. Once the trail deposited us on the coalescence of the West Ridge, the travel became significantly more laborious. Large wind lips and ridges slowed our progress and had us hunting for more even terrain in the trees on the south side of the ridge. Eventually we crested the treeline and starting rapidly gaining elevation while the clouds and fog moved in, limiting visibility.
Upon arriving at Chicken Ledge, the clouds enveloped us but occasionally broke to views of the spectacular terrain that is Mount Thielsen plastered in rime and snow. The sharp relief of the upper portion of the mountain enjoys massive cornices and spires draped in waves of wind-sculpted snow. These landscapes moved in and out of view in the banks of clouds and curtains of fog that swirled around the summit. The spire looked to be in good condition with several options of snow and rime between exposed sections of rock. The climbing was engaging and while it not did not seem particularly difficult, it demanded attention. I am not very good at climbing our Pacific Northwest variety of rime ice yet, but I am becoming increasingly fond of it.
The sun seemed to break through the higher we got and by the time we arrived on the summit, it was nearly through the clouds. We celebrated quickly and fruitlessly tried digging for the rap slings. We never found them, so there's another sling and a 'biner around a horn up there for next lucky climber! The descent and ski was unremarkable - both in terms of quality and duration aside from the wet, heavy snow that fell on us for the last few miles and eventually turned to rain by the time we reached the parking lot. I was a bit surprised and totally psyched to summit Mount Thielsen in these conditions - it was full value!
Corie: With Spring slowly making its way into our lives, we're getting back into the swing of "alpine starts" aka, "sleeping less." But, with a narrow weather window and questionable conditions up high, we knew we'd need an early start. After our quick and casual trip up Mount Bailey the previous day, we were able to get to sleep at 7:30pm. It was glorious. The parking lot was empty and aside from some occasional road noise, we slept like babies. The next morning, we enjoyed some casual skinning in the dark, slipping and sliding on frozen snow that gave us little to no traction around the tree wells- exciting! We gradually gained elevation, navigating successfully in the dark and cutting a few corners off of the normal climber's trail. It started alternating rain and sleet on us for close to an hour and I saw my dreams of soft corn skiing on the descent disappear. Oh well, we skied the day before, we were trekking up Thielsen for the climbing!
Once we gained the ridge, as Andy mentioned, we found ourselves navigating a heavily corniced ridge and completely socked-in. We had maybe 10' of good visibility and the series of icy windlips left me swearing and sweating. We tried navigating up and down them for a hot minute before dropping down into the trees to make better progress. Ski crampons did us no good and we decided to leave our skis at 8,200' in favor of lighter packs and faster traveling. The sun was fighting its way through the clouds at intervals and we found ourselves cheering it on. "COME ON, SUN!" I would shout when it made its way brightly through the fog. We were eventually gifted with views of the rimed-up summit pinnacle and with each glimpse, our psych increased.
The traverse up and over to Chicken Ledge went quickly- we ditched our trekking poles around 8,700' and got our tools out- more weight lost! The snow was frozen and grippy, inspiring a lot of confidence in our upward momentum. Being able to see very little of our surroundings was eerie... and sort of cool, if I'm honest. Since Andy had taken the first (and only) pitch on our Mount Washington attempt, it was my turn to lead. We decided to go with the typical line you climb during the summer months and I started up, placing pro where I could and trying to suss out exactly where the route should take us... I dead-ended about 75' up the pinnacle with the option to either climb pretty vertical, rime-covered rock or skirting my way across a corniced ledge.
Andy noticed what looked like an easier route the traversed left below me so I down-climbed back to him and gave him the lead, shiver-dancing through the belay. As soon as Andy crested the summit, the sun came out and I followed him shortly thereafter. We enjoyed an uneventful trip down, very little skiing, and got rained and snowed on for a few more miles. Overall, super engaging climbing, really fun day, great mountain (and zero views).
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 40m 9.1mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- 3 ice screws*
- 1 picket*
- BD Ultralight cams .5-1*
- 1/2 rack nuts*
- 7 alpine draws
- Materials for 2 anchors
- Skis, AT Boots, Poles
*Pro used: one slung horn, one 13cm screw, one #1 cam, one medium nut
Total Time: 10 hours 25 mins
Total Distance: 8.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,800'
Starting Elevation: 5,426'
Ending Elevation: 9,183'
Andy's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/955513030
Corie's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/955506087