I made it back “home” to Oregon earlier this month for the wedding of two of my best friends & climbing partners, Fred Gomez and Heather Wales. “Freather”, as they like to be called, are rare examples of high school sweethearts that stuck together for the long run. The wedding was amazing and I wish Freather the best of luck on their journey together.
Since most of my family still lives on the West Coast we had a brief but action-packed reunion, involving camping, boating, road biking, mountain biking, rock climbing and a short back pack trip. The temps were ridiculous (high 90’s) which made rockclimbing somewhat unpleasant, but we made it out to my spiritual climbing home of Smith Rock for an evening of easy pitches.
The highlight of the trip was our overnight backpack trip to Green Lake, which is perched at the foot of South Sister and Broken Top, two of Oregon’s breath-taking Cascade Volcanoes. These volcanoes provided pivotal inspiration for my climbing career. I could see the Three Sisters from my childhood home in Corvallis, and as a young boy I would dream of some day climbing them. My first real summit was Middle Sister, and my first roped climb was on Mt. Washington, the next volcanic plug north of the Sisters. These beautiful peaks were the perfect training ground; just technical enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming. Of course I should mention the rock is horrendous. Absolute garbage; but the plus side is that even to this day the Canadian Rockies seem solid by comparison.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dash up nearby Broken Top, which offers a few more technical challenges and 1000′ less vertical gain than South Sister. My brother Mike was along with his family, and he was keen to lead his son Lucas (just shy of 7 years old) up his first “real” mountain. I gave them a good headstart before departing from our 6500′ camp just after 6pm. Not exactly an alpine start, but I had been riding my bike a lot at altitude so I expected to make good time.
The trail goes pretty much straight up through loose scree and pumice to the Northwest Ridge, then follows the ridge to the summit. I caught up to Mike & Lucas just before the ridge, then pushed on to scout out the tricky summit pinnacle. Most of the climb is pretty trivial class 2 scramble, but the final pitch requires easy 5th class climbing on putrid “rock”. Following my nose around to the northeast corner, I reached the 9175′ summit 52 minutes after I left camp. Not too shabby for an old, fat, bald(ing) guy. I doubt I could have beat that time even in my college days.
The views were outstanding, but I decided to head back down to give Mike a hand with Lucas. I met them about a third of the way up the Northwest Ridge. Lucas was making good progress despite lots of big steps and loose rock. We made good progress to the top of the ridge, then Mike & Lucas harnessed-up for the top. Lucas had no trouble with the technical climbing, but it was really nice to have two adults to spot and route-find.
Literally 10 feet below the summit Lucas announced he had gone far enough, and didn’t really need to go to the top. Figuring he might regret that decision later, we were eventually able to pursuade him to continue by telling him if we sang “Happy Birthday”, he would be on top before the song was over.
That seemed to do the trick, but we I had to pick him up and hoist him over my head to get his feet on the summit block just as we finsihed the final “…to you!”
The descent was a blast with Lucas bouncing from boulder to boulder like a pinball. He was pretending to be some type of video game character I’m not familiar with, holding my hand as he literally ran down the ridge. It was all I could do to remain upright, but I was psyched to get back to camp before dark and I enjoyed the challenge. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on descending a high peak.