7.25.2016

New Cams: 2016

by Topher Dabrowski

With so many manufacturers introducing new cams for 2016, I wanted to take a quick look at the newer cams on the market and do some comparisons to see how much of a benefit they offer. Obviously there is a lot of talk about light weight and improved features,but how much lighter and what is it going to cost you?

I'm going to focus on Black Diamond (BD), Metolius, DMM, Wild Country and Totem cams, since those are the main newer offerings for the year.

Black Diamond and Metolius both announced an ultra light (UL) cam which will supplement their current offerings of Camalot C4s and MasterCams, respectively. Only Metolius has gone as far as putting its entire set of MasterCams on a diet as well as adding two more sizes on the upper end, a number 7 & 8, which is in the range of a Camalot 2 & 3. The larger sized MasterCams of the previous generation tended to be a bit wobbly due to the single flexible stem and the larger mass of the cam lobes. However, with the reduction in mass, it seems like Metolius was willing to go a little bigger and also add a stiffer cable. Black Diamond's new line of UL cams does not include the .3, 5 or 6 yet, so if you wanted a complete set those would have to be made up with the C4s. There is no news yet if BD intends to update those cam sizes and offer a UL version.

DMM has changed up the design of the lobes on its Dragon cams to be a bit "stickier" and profiled to be thicker in the sweet spot for more contact with rock. They offer a full line of cams with extendable slings from size 00-6, which is equivalent to the BD sizes of 0.3-4. It is interesting to note that DMM has color coded its twin axle Dragon cams to match the colors of the BD Camalots for a given size. One would guess this was done to ease interchangeability and familiarity of cam sizes for Camalot aficionados.

Wild Country, too, has updated the Friend to offer a twin axle design cam which also closely resembles the Camalot C4. Wild Country has taken the cue from DMM and added extendable slings to the new units, while also matching the size and colors of the Camalots. Could this be a trend towards an industry standard? Unfortunately, the Friends only come in the 0.5-4 sizes for now so the equivalent smaller 0.3 and 0.4 sizes would have to be made up with either the previous Helium Friend cam or another brand entirely.

Totem, a lesser-known Spanish company, offers a unique cam that is a dual independent stem design. It allows the cam to function in a quasi-offset nature which helps it perform well in flaring cracks and also affords aid climbers the ability to actively place only two lobes of the cam. Totem is expanding the range with two units, one which will be similar in size to the 2.0 Camalot size, which Totem calls a 1.8, slung with orange Dyneema. The other is the 0.5 size, equivalent to a 0.2 Camalot and is slung in black Dyneema.

I wanted to compare the new UL cams to the existing C4 cams as well as the DMM, Wild Country and Totem cams for a common 0.3-4 size set. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a challenge since only the DMM Dragons came as a complete set that covered the range. To try and make a reasonably fair comparison, I supplemented what each manufacturer might have available for the missing sizes. For the Wild Country cams I chose the equivalent Helium Friends. To make a complete set of Camalot ULs I threw in the 0.3 C4. I couldn't do much for Totem since they don't make an equivalent size to the BD 3 or 4. Similarly, the MasterCam ULs don't have a BD 4 equivalent, so I used the Camalot UL 4 to complete that set as it seemed the logical choice.

I made three main comparisons and summarized the mass and costs of a chosen cam set between manufacturers. I highlighted the lightest set and lowest cost in the second set of tables.

(01) - Wild Country offers the smallest set of new cams (six in total) from 0.5-4, so I used this as a basis for the first comparison and substituted in a Camalot UL 4 for the Metolius set. The lightest and lowest cost set is the MasterCam UL with the Camalot UL C4 added as the biggest cam. The new BD Camalot ULs were the most expensive set while the C4 and the new Friends were almost the same mass.

(02) - This comparison is for the common 0.3-4 Camalot set. Again,Metolius has the lightest and lowest cost set of cams and BD has the most expensive set with its ULs. The Friends, Dragons and C4s are all very close in mass but the Friends and Dragons do have the extendable slings.

(03) - Here I tried to bring Totems into the mix. Since they have a set that is limited in the upper range by a Camalot 2 size equivalent, I simply compared an equivalent set from 0.3-2.0. Metolius, again, has the lightest and cheapest set of cams. The Totems are not overly weighty given their added functionality, but they are pricey.

I suppose one could start to look at the savings with reduced number of runners when considering the cams with extendable slings. My typical sling is a Mammut Contact 8 mm with two CAMP Nano ‘biners, all of which weighs in at 78 grams. Given a set of DMM or Friends from 0.3-4 with extendable slings, I might be able to leave those runners behind and save 624 grams off my rack. It would really depend on how much the route wanders and if those extended slings are long enough.

I have yet to get my hands on any of these units but, from a preliminary look at these specs, there are already some glaring differences. In the end, though, only getting out on the rock with these on my rack will tell whether or not these design discrepancies are significant or not.

About the author: Topher Dabrowski started his climbing endeavors early and has been adventuring and climbing all over planet Earth for almost 3 decades. His activities include mountaineering, big walls, alpine, mixed, rock, ice, bouldering and long distance trail running. As an active member of the local ASCA rebolting chapter he can often be found replacing suspect anchors and reducing your chances of an expensive hospital bill.

7.07.2016

IT Project: Status Report

by Sarah Bradham, Mazamas Marketing & Publications Manager 

In 2014 the Mazamas received a major gift from the Weinstein estate, which gave us the resources we needed to tackle one of the longest-awaited projects at the Mazamas—overhauling our information technology (IT) systems. Our existing systems are clearly not meeting the needs or expectations of our members, students or administration, and need to be modernized.

The goal is to create a centralized, online database that directly integrates with our website to manage everything the Mazamas do—from membership renewals to class administration, to volunteer management and donor relations, it'll all run through this new system.

 In 2015 we went to work identifying the needs of the Mazamas. We hired a web development firm, OMBU Web, to complete the Discovery Phase of the project. This involved meetings with staff, key volunteers, and committee members to fully understand what we needed in a new system. The outcome of the Discovery Phase was a comprehensive Features & Requirements list, a Data Model, and Workflows.

We then sent out a Request for Proposal for the Build Phase of the project based on these documents. We received five proposals, which were narrowed down to two serious contenders. Then, in 2016 and after numerous meetings with each company, we decided to proceed with OMBU for the Build Phase of the project.

The Project Kickoff was in May and we are finalizing the Features & Requirements of the new system now. In March, we also hired Peter Tung, an Encore Fellow from Social Venture Partners, to act as our IT Project Manager. This will ensure this important project gets the full support it needs to meet all benchmarks of timeline and quality. Peter comes to us with experience gleaned from 25-years at Intel as an IT Engineering Director.

 We will keep you informed throughout this project in several ways: quarterly project update meetings that are open to the public, and a website, mazamasitproject.org, that will be updated weekly. We look forward to sharing the exciting details of this project as they continue to unfold. Until then, make sure to keep up with us on our website.
Project Objectives
  • Web application for members, volunteers, and the community to access and administer Mazama programs & services.
  • Visually appealing, streamlined, and easy-to-use Mazama website.
  • Robust online calendar that includes all events, activities, and classes that is easily searchable based on a multiple criteria. 
  • Centralized data system that can be accessed anywhere.

7.01.2016

When Fireworks on the Fourth Just Won't Do

Just an hour east of Portland, man and dog find peace and quiet on the noisiest nights of the year

by Matt Carter

When the neighborhood fireworks begin each July, my dog Lily becomes an inconsolable mess of panting, pacing, whining, and shaking. In recent years I have used this as justification to get out of town and into the mountains with her.

In 2014, the Fourth fell on a Friday. The weather forecast was unusual, as it did not include rain, making it a perfect weekend for a backpack. I checked with Lily to see if she was available. She cleared her schedule for me and was ready to go in under a second. It took me a bit longer to load our packs. Our plan was to hike up Tanner Butte Trail to the Tanner-Eagle cutoff, down Eagle Creek to the Wahtum Lake Trail, around the lake past Chinidere Mountain to Benson Plateau, and out Ruckel Creek.

We encountered our first hikers as the trail levels out then grades gently up Tanner Ridge: two young men and their freshly groomed Collie. They were trying without success to coach their pup to jump a log crossing the trial. Without a pause, Lily walked up to the log next to the Collie and hopped over. “This is how it is done newbie,” she wagged. The Collie watched and shortly thereafter hopped the log.

This young team was keen to get in front of us, most likely to secure what would surely be the last spot at Dublin Lake on such a beautiful weekend. I picked up the pace to no avail. Youth won out and they arrived at Dublin Lake minutes before we did. I tossed some sticks into the lake for Lily to retrieve and then hiked on. We would not see another person that day.

Shortly after the lake junction the trail picks up an abandoned road. Along the road we encountered two large patches of cut bear grass arranged to make beds. Not aware of any forest critter that cuts bear grass to form a bed, I was allowed to speculate on the cause as either Bigfoot or space aliens. Lily’s nose showed no interest in the piles of vegetation, so we moved on.

When Lily and I arrived at Tanner Springs Campground, we were amazed to find ourselves alone on such a beautiful weekend in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, which lies barely an hour east of Portland. We set up camp along the stream and prepared for the evening. Lily sleeps at the tent door with just the bug screen. From there she can monitor the olfactory action of the night forest as I drift off to sleep.

The next morning, we encountered a few Boy Scouts and their leader, who reported an arduous adventure up from Big Cedar Springs that included losing the trail many times and being trapped in thicket. They looked beat. Lily wasted no time putting their unoccupied hands to use.

This is a well-practiced routine for her. She slowly moves into position alongside of a hiker and places her head into the hiker’s unoccupied hand. Without being much aware of what they are doing, they begin petting her. And if they stop, her head presses gently against their leg and the petting resumes. In the early days of hiking with Lily, I would try to stop her or at least alert the person that they were petting a dog without knowing it. More recently, I’ve just let it happen. When they depart from our trailside conversation, most are unaware they spent the last minute or so petting a dog.
I put Lily in the lead whenever a trail goes faint. She has the advantage of being able to follow scent beacons and can tell the difference between lost and not-lost scents. We are a well-integrated team. Thanks to her, we had no difficulty passing the section described by the scouting group as nearly impassable.

Once past Big Cedar Springs the trail improved and we found our first muddy tarn. Like a magnet, Lily is drawn to water features, and in she went, despite having been trained not to do so while wearing a pack. What emerged from the muck was a half white, half black dog and a pack filled with goo.

As we approached the west fork of Eagle Creek she began her water happy dance. Leading out and turning her head frequently, “Can I?!! Can I?!!” her eyes asked. The siren call of Eagle Creek again defeated her discipline; in she went, pack and all. On the plus side she and her pack cleaned up nicely.
Some time later we meet a young woman coming out from Wahtum Lake. Lily moved into position to receive pets. After the young woman reported that everyone out hiking that day is at Wahtum Lake, I told Lily to knock it off. The young woman pulled her hand away quickly, surprised to realize that she had been petting a dog. Before she departed, she called Lily adorable.

True to the young woman’s report, Wahtum Lake was packed with tents in every available space. Lily retrieved some sticks for me from the lake. On the move again, we headed past Chinidere Mountain toward Benson Plateau. Near Camp Smoky, we encountered a lone hiker. While Lily was working him, he reported a large group ahead of us was headed to the Plateau to camp. Again, the race was on. There are several trails in the Plateau. We took the shortest to Hunters Camp and turned up the wick. Arriving at Hunters Camp, we found ourselves alone again. Lily settles into camp life quickly, taking a position where she can comfortably track my progress setting up camp. Her keen sense of smell allows her to monitor me with her eyes closed.

The next day we began the hike out down Ruckel Creek. Over the years Lily has day-hiked all the trails we covered on this Fourth-of-July excursion. As we started to head down she stopped frequently to bark and stare at me. The message was clear: “This trail leads to the car. No, this can’t end!”

Our last encounter was with a young couple. They were headed up Ruckel Creek just past the Indian pits. The young man pulled out a map and began to tell me where on the map we are (not even close), and asked how much further to Cascade Locks. They had taken the alternate route on the Pacific Crest Trail down Eagle Creek, and rather than walk the Old Highway to Cascade Locks, they were headed back up Ruckel Creek. I advised him that Ruckel Creek via Benson and the PCT to Cascade Locks was a very long way. He assured me I was wrong and they pressed on. Lily had scored pets with the young woman. Near the road they passed us up, retreating without a word.
We returned to a quiet Portland neighborhood. A tired dog is a good dog.


Author Bio: Matt Carter has been a Mazama member for 22 years, as well as a Climb Leader, BCEP Leader, Advanced Rock leader and has served on many committees and Executive Council. Lily, (aka The Lovely Miss Lily to her climber friends), is a nine-year-old Golden Retriever who can be found with Matt most weekends on local trail and off trail adventures. She is an accomplished mountain dog comfortable in pack and harness. 

The Beauty of BCEP: Doing what's not comfortable is the point

by Maureen O’Hagan

The first week in March, twelve students meet for the first time. There is a doctor, a teacher, a salesman. There is a social worker, an IT guy, an engineer. I don’t know any of this at first; it will all come out later (along with a lot of other life-affirming details.) These are utter strangers to me. But it doesn’t take long to understand a few things. First, that these strangers differ in their experience, their fitness, their age, their politics, their backgrounds. But also that they have one thing in common: they want to learn. And somehow, it works.

This is the beauty of the Mazama Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP): take a bunch of strangers, dump a boatload of information on them, put them under just the right amount of stress, and they come out the other end better in more ways than they could have imagined. At least that’s the way I see it.

Why worry?

I applied to BCEP with some trepidation. At age 50, I was convinced I would be the oldest among the group. The slowest. The least experienced.

In retrospect, worrying is always a waste of time. (I know, I know!) But it’s also true that the whole idea of BCEP is uncomfortable. As an adult, it’s not often that you willingly put yourself in a position where you have no idea what you’re doing. Especially when it could actually be dangerous. Mostly, we grownups just keep doing what makes us comfortable.

Yet this kind of discomfort is exactly what we all signed up for.

The second and third rings

At our first lecture, our team co-leader, Patrice Cook, made the point in graphic form, drawing a picture on the blackboard of three concentric circles. The innermost circle was our comfort zone. This is where we live most of the time. The next circle represented activities that are outside our comfort zone. The third represented activities that made us scared out of our wits. For BCEP, she told us, we shouldn’t reach the third ring. But the second one? Well, that’s the whole point.

Our first hike helped clear up some baseline questions for me. Would I get wet? Yes. Cold? Yes. Tired? Yes. Would I have the right gear? No. But will I manage to enjoy it anyway? Again, yes.

It was on another outing where I would learn the more important lessons. The hike itself, up the Elevator Shaft and towards Devil’s Rest, was a bit steep at the start. But then we veered off to practice some of the rope skills we had learned in the previous weeks. And this is where one member of our group began approaching the third circle. We were to travel on a fixed line, then rappel off of Cougar Rock. To my new friend, this was scared witless territory. As she told me to edge past her as we approached the ropes, her fear was palpable.

For a long time, she just sat there. The rest of the group did our rappels. She sat there some more. And we waited.

When we saw her finally setting up for the rappel, the rest of us gasped. When she safely reached the ground, we all cheered.

Later, when I asked her how she managed to change her mind—how she decided to move forward rather than give up and walk away—she talked about the circles, about getting outside her comfort zone. That’s when it occurred to me that courage doesn’t mean fearlessness. It’s a willingness to trust even when you’re scared—to trust the system, to trust your instructors, and to trust your own body. That’s what we were privileged to witness that day. In some ways, it was a small moment, but it’s a moment I don’t think any of us will forget.

A set of keys

Over the course of BCEP, there were other such moments. There was frustration. (I admit it: I got lost trying to find the starting line for the navigation exercise.) There were challenges. But there were so many stories we all shared. I learned that one of my teammates recently suffered a profound loss but had a look of pure joy on her face as she bounded towards a meeting point. That another used to weigh 400 pounds and had utterly changed his life. That a third had a new baby. I learned several of my new friends practiced meditation. That they had climbed peaks that I couldn’t even imagine. That they may look mild-mannered, or live otherwise conventional lives, but that they were adventurers at heart.

So, what do you get over the course of the eight-week BCEP class? A set of keys that can open doors to new adventures. That’s the practical part. But more important are friends that I hope to get to know even more. And concepts that I hope will serve me in life beyond climbing.

What’s next? I mustered the nerve to apply for a Mt. Hood climb. Sure, it will be hard. But it’s an opportunity to meet even more perfect strangers.

About the Author: Maureen O’Hagan is a journalist who’s written for Willamette Week, The Washington Post, and The Seattle Times. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter and is nearing completion of a cookbook project. Shortly after this essay was submitted, she summited Mt. Hood.

6.07.2016

Ten Hidden Gems of the North Cascades

Steve Marston on Forbidden Peak. Photo: Al Papesh. 
by Barry Maletzky

Most of us know about the snow-clad, rugged giants north of Mt. Rainier. Yet, due to distance and a five-day work week for many Mazamas, these giants only rarely appear on the Climbing Schedule. In my opinion these areas, such as the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the North Cascades National Park, and the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie Wilderness, contain the most spectacular scenery in the lower 48. Blessed with almost too much winter moisture, glaciers abound, cradling gushing streams and waterfalls, feeding the rich volcanic soil, and nurturing gardens of wildflowers seemingly seeded in heaven. These descriptions are written not as definitive guides to access and routes, but to encourage the outdoor enthusiast to seek out these areas off the main tracks we Mazamas so often trod and discover their jeweled treasures.

Sloan Peak (7,835 ft.)

Among these “hidden” gems, Sloan may shine the brightest in terms of Mazama popularity. Ruling in majestic isolation at the western end of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Sloan’s Matterhorn-like, convoluted appearance belies its relatively benign nature as a climb, at least by its regular route. Sloan’s distinctive horn can be easily identified from most other peaks in the western Cascades, from Rainier all the way to the Canadian border. You may have to get your feet wet crossing a branch of the Sauk River, so autumn is the preferred season for Sloan. A steep approach trail is rewarded by campsites in a secret meadow guarded by rugged towers of stone. The gradual ascent of the Sloan Glacier leads the climber from east of the summit almost, but not quite, around the peak (hence the name of the route as “The Corkscrew”); a usually easy climb up the rocks at the highest western point of the glacier brings one to a surprisingly pleasant meadow stroll through alpine flora to the rocky summit (reached by Class 3 scrambling). Views are handsomely rewarded of the Monte Cristos to the southeast and Glacier Peak just across the river.

Fortress (8,760 ft.)

After a long ride on a dirt track, followed by a 9-mile path tempered by the beauty of magic meadows and surrounding peaks, one reaches Buck Creek Pass, surely one of the most glorious places to camp, especially to catch the fading sun setting over Glacier Peak. On climb day, head north on a climber’s track, then ascend the southwest gardens of Fortress, a secret place you’ll usually have to yourself. (Try to keep the meadow in as natural a state as you can—there are rare flowers hidden here.) Turn north at the ridge and scramble stable talus to the rocky top, where a few rare species of alpine floral jewels remain in bloom throughout the summer. The views encompass all of the Glacier Peak Wilderness as well as the North Cascades Peaks in all their glory.

Colonial/Snowfield Peaks (7,771/8,347 ft.)

Climber on the summit of Mt. Larrabee, 1.5 miles south 
of the Canadian border (“All-in-all, no finer view can be 
obtained without a rope in all these ranges”) 
Photo: Beau Ramsey.
These jewels, securing the western end of the National Park, occasionally appear on the Mazama Climb Schedule, and for good reason. Once past the trail to Pinnacle Lake, a climber’s path can be followed to a magnificent ridge that offers vistas north and south into snow-covered heights, including Snowking, the mysterious Illabot range, with its pointed pencil of a peak: Mt. Chaval, and grand views northwest to the Picket Range (and Baker and Shuksan). Most parties climb Colonial but an extra day ascending Snowfield broadens the views further and provides a chance to walk one of the most beautiful glaciers in the range, the Neve Glacier: broad, serene and embraced at both side moraines by flowery gardens interspersed with rugged ramparts of multi-colored rock. Both ascents feature glacier travel ending in brief Class 3 rock scrambles. One further benefit: a view into the Teebone and Backbone Ridges, with names to excite the adventurous, such as The Sacrum, The Coccyx, and Lumbar Point, all rarely seen from any easily-reached vantage point.

Forbidden (8,815 ft.)

Forbidden bears its name well; although not of towering height, abrupt angular landforms lead, more steeply as you ascend, to a summit tip sufficiently edged to make most climbers dread to tread. However, Forbidden has become an increasingly popular climb due to its east ridge, which goes at about 5.7, and its more frequently climbed west ridge, at about 5.5. It also has the benefits of being in one of the most gorgeous settings for a base camp: Boston Basin. Forbidden’s immense obelisk of rock provides chillingly grandiose views from either ridge, as well as from its summit. All the North Cascade peaks up to Baker are there for the taking, but to my eyes, the sawteeth of Ripsaw Ridge, with countless shards of rock jutting above the immense white sheet of the Boston Glacier and stretching all the way to Mt. Buckner, is one of the most overpowering and memorable sights in any range I have visited in the lower 48. Reaching this summit and making it back down again will provide you with more than hero cred; it will inspire dreams of towers and walls previously unimaginable. This is the closest one can come to Patagonia without leaving this country.

Boston Peak (8.894 ft.)

Steve Marston descending the west ridge 
of Forbidden Peak. Photo: Al Papesh.
Boston is a rarely attempted alternative to the crowded Mt. Sahale; the views are similar to those from Sahale but even more far-flung, ranging from Rainier to the south through the sharpened teeth of the Pickets, and most of the significant mountains in the National Park. Do not be alarmed by the view of Boston from Sahale; appearing from the south as a sharpened vertical shroud, the actual climb is graded at Class 3 with a few stretches of brief Class 4. Aficionados of shattered rock will appreciate the ascent up a well-defined line on the southeast face. A relatively large ridge trends eastward toward a series of chimney and face moves with stable holds all the way to the view-laden summit. While hard hats are a necessity, many parties fail to use a cord, fearful of falling rock. Much closer views of the North Cascade giants will be your reward: Eldorado, anchoring the range to the west, its northern ridge of castellated pinnacles terminating in the massifs of Snowfield and Colonial Peaks; and the steeply angled slopes of Terror and Despair; all backcountry views to be savored by the very few venturing beyond Sahale.

Ragged Ridge (7,408—8795 ft.)

An oft-neglected ridge paralleling the North Cascades Highway west to east, Ragged presents the largest unbroken series of rugged summits outside of the Pickets in the entire North Cascades. Beginning in the west with Red Mountain, an easy scramble from a campsite in Fourth of July Basin, the ridge continues with scrambling on flaky rock. The adventurous party could run the entire ridge in several days, traversing high points such as Cosho, Kimtah, and Katsuk Peaks (mostly scrambles at the Class 3 level). Near its east end, the tallest and best-known summit, Mesachie Peak (Class 4 in spots), pierces the Washington sky with fractured gullies and jagged pinnacles. Most of these peaks can be ascended in a single day from bug-infested camps along Fisher Creek. So why go? To stand on a pinnacle here and there that no other person on earth has ever shared? Yes, but I think it’s the views: seemingly world-wide and ever changing. Rarely would anyone have the opportunity to summit a peak and see the full extent of the National Park, from Goode, Logan and Silver Star in the east, to El Dorado in the west.

Silver Star (8,876 ft.)

Anyone travelling the North Cascades Highway can’t help but be impressed with the hulk of Silver Star, with its jagged tottering towers and gables of rock. This marvel of the eastern part of the National Park area, the highest point in the Methow Range, offers spectacular views of its west and north sides from the multiple loops of Highway 20. A relatively easy single-day ascent is feasible from the highway up the eastern gullies, traversing a glacier then scrambling Class 3 rock. Crampons and ice axe are advised: crossing over to the north face, the glacier can be crevassed after mid-summer and portions can be steep. Views of the Yosemite-like eastern faces of Liberty Bell, Early Winters Spires, and Kangaroo Ridge right next door make the trip from Portland more than worthwhile. In addition, the rarely seen Mts. Azurite and Ballard to the north, and the appropriately-named Needles, sharply incised Cutthroat and Mt. Wheeler, all to the northeast, impress from across the highway. Most parties take an extra day camping at Early Winters Campground and visit the ersatz cowboy town of Winthrop for well-earned beer, burgers and ice cream.

Crater Mountain (8,128 ft.)

Sometimes it feels good, especially for a weekend punter like me, to just meander up an easy peak from a superb campsite and take in the views without having to worry about making it down alive. (Climbers are the only folks I know who celebrate at half-time—you still have to descend!) Right next to the behemoth of Jack Mountain, but absent the drama of hidden crevasses, impenetrable Class 5.9 brush, and the multiple route choices of its fearsome neighbor to the north, Crater is approached by the well maintained McMillan Park-Jackita Ridge Trail to Crater Lake. A base camp on the ridge above the lake provides ample views of most of the North Cascades plus a vista of Jack (which makes you happy you aren’t attempting that convoluted giant the next day). A climber’s path leads across scree and flower-filled meadows until you are presented with a headwall. But not to fear, the way is marked by huge yellow dots painted on the rocks by an explorer anxious to not lose the way; the dots point out the easiest and most stable holds (Class 3 at most). You emerge again upon a sandy plain dotted with alpine flowers and proceed up the climber’s path to the summit. Views are unique: Azurite and Ballard to the east, while Jack dominates as never before, raising its steely heights above the Jerry Glacier. You can spot (and argue about) the many North Cascades summits visible, including Colonial and Snowfield to the west, the Dome group to the south, and the Needles to the east.

Icy Peak (7,073 ft.)

Who hasn’t climbed Ruth Mountain, northeast of Mt. Baker, and exclaimed, “This is the best view for the easiest climb I’ve ever done.” They may be wrong: the view from Ruth’s southern neighbor, Icy Peak, may be even more magnificent (although it cannot be climbed by the average mountaineer in a day and requires glacier gear). From the Hannegan Pass Trail, haul your pack up the climber’s track to some of the loftiest and most view-worthy campsites in all the North Cascades. You’ll probably have time to tarry a bit to enjoy the luscious blueberries (Vaccinium deliciosum—really!). On climb day you may want to tag Ruth’s summit as you pass very near its top rocks. Gently ascend the glacier on Icy’s western front until you are directly south of the three crags comprising the summit configuration. Most folks then choose the western-most of three gullies (Class 3-4) to the Northwestern Peak, but it’s just as easy to scramble to the true high point, the Southeast Summit, by traversing Class 3 craggy rock and one easy gully (hard hats!). Either provides more than the human eye can fully encompass, all overwhelmed by the astonishingly vertical Nooksack Tower, deemed the toughest climb in all the Cascades. The rumble of seracs collapsing into Nooksack Cirque provides a fitting tribute to this ultimate pleasure of the Hannegan Pass region.

Mt. Larrabee (7,861 Ft.)

Larrabee is a long drive from Portland but well worth the trip; it equals Ruth and Icy as the easiest climb for the most stupendous views. This one-day climb begins after a jarring drive past the trail to Mt. Tomyhoi and Twin Lakes, to the High Pass Trail. As the trail heads up toward High Pass, Mt. Larrabee is the reddish summit straight ahead that looks like a loose pile of rocks (it is) shaped like a pyramid. Climbers aim for the white streak standing out from the iron-rich rock and follow it, with its multiple gullies and fields of loose rock, to the talus slope that leads to the summit. Views extend from Glacier Peak in the distant south along with the entire Dome Range, to Baker and Shuksan, then the Pickets and, closer in, the steep American and Canadian Border Peaks, and the incredibly angled rock spires of the Pleiades to the east. Views rarely seen from any other peak south of the border open up to the north: The snows of Garibaldi shine in the distance while closer at hand, the marvelous Canadian sub-range, the Cheam. Perhaps best of all, the fang of Slesse to the east makes one either cringe at its vertical walls or relish its numerous absurdly technical routes (I cringe). All-in-all, no finer view can be obtained without a rope in all these ranges.


Author Bio: Barry Maletzky, M.D. has been a Mazama since 1967 and made a habit of driving to the North Cascades or Olympics almost every weekend from May through October. He has not kept a detailed record of successes or failures at summiting, for obvious reasons, but will admit that lousy weather may have hampered his attempts at certain times. He has, however, worn out a number of vehicles in these attempts.

6.01.2016

FM101 Rocks! Smith Rock Graduation Trip Recap

by Rich Hunter

Checking my email leading up the trip, I was more anxious than usual. Despite the summer weather that’s been way ahead of schedule this year, the weekend forecast called for a turn—rain and thunderstorms were on the way. Not fair! Having circled this date months ago for the Families Mountaineering 101 (FM101) graduation trip to Smith Rock, I dreaded seeing a cancellation email.

But it never came! Instead, my inbox pinged with optimistic emails about how the Families group would make the most of the weekend with our fellow classmates, instructors and leaders, no matter what the weather brought. As I loaded the last of my daughters’ stuffed bobcats, bears and other animal friends into the car next to our climbing helmets, harnesses and rock shoes, I was literally vibrating with excitement to meet up at Smith and celebrate with the students while assisting in a crag leader capacity.

More than 40 students successfully completed the Families Mountaineering 101 class this year, thanks to the colossal efforts of class leaders, Justin Rotherham and Craig Martin, and a bevy of enthusiastic assistants. Over the past 9 months, the class provided a positive, supportive learning experience that emboldened many of the students to exceed their wildest expectations for climbing and outdoor adventure. This class is a pathway to build the future leaders of the Mazamas.
Assembling in the North Point parking lot Saturday morning, it was clear how excited they were, and how much this trip meant to them as a capstone for all their hard work in the class. We also saw a major progression of the students’ awareness and preparation. Everyone showed up ready to go, signed in, grabbed a rope and joined their group.

I, too, have traversed over some challenging and fun territory since my daughter’s FM101 graduation a year ago. I joined the Families Committee, assisted with FM101 again and enrolled in the new Crag Leader training and Mountaineering First Aid. This Smith trip is a perfect example of why Crag Leader training was created—to build the Families leadership corps from the inside, we need a stepping stone from FM101 into intermediate climbing, a way to provide aspiring assistants with the skills and training needed to safely lead activities that are now in high demand from almost 100 recent graduates of FM101. This Crag Leader training has empowered a half dozen new leaders for sport climbing and top roping activities. Arriving at the Dihedrals on Sunday morning, I was thrilled to lead climb, and set sport anchors and top ropes for our stalwart group of families who wanted to climb even through the drizzle.

So, why didn’t we cancel, even though the weather was iffy? AR had already called off their weekend at Smith—we would have been in good company if we canceled. Exploring a new place, climbing different types of rock routes, and putting our new skills to work in a real life climb were major reasons. Looking deeper, the real reason we powered through the bad weather is the bond we have with each other. The amazing relationships we have formed, and the fun times we would have missed if we let the clouds rain on our parade. Not to mention the chance to make a campfire under a rain tarp that was bigger than my house. Clearly, the families program inspires our inner light to shine, and together, we blaze on to climb new heights.

Congratulations FM 101 and Crag Leader graduates!

4.18.2016

First Wedding Anniversary: The Mazama Way

by Leora Gregory
Photo people, in strict left to right:
Mark Fowler, Dyanne Foster, Jean Hillebrand,
Gary Riggs, Lynne Pedersen, Rita Hansen,
Moriel Arango, Leora Gregory, Jason Vosburgh,
Jay Avery, David Carrier, Jonathan Myers,
Karen Vernier, and Amad Doratotaj. Photo: Aaron
Mendelson (another Mazama who happened
to also be on the mountain)

What better way to follow up a wedding on the summit of Mt. Hood, but by a wedding anniversary on the summit of Mt. Hood?  Mazama members Leora Gregory and Jay Avery did just that, by leading a Mazama climb to the top of Mt. Hood to celebrate their First Wedding Anniversary.  (See article on their Mt. Hood Mazama Marriage climb in the May 2015 Bulletin.)  The idea was born right after their wedding, when so many (and especially, Rita!) couldn’t make what was then a mid-week climb.  This year, the anniversary fell, conveniently, on Saturday, and the fairly regular stream of storms Mt. Hood had been getting subsided long enough for a spectacular climb.

This year, the climb had to be done at night, as the freezing level was forecast to be above the mountain the entire night with clear and sunny skies predicted for the summit day.  The team climbed the western chute of the Pearly Gates (last year, they went up the eastern chute) with pretty much stair steps through the crux, and enjoyed long distance views bathed in sunshine on the summit.

Photo taken by Jason Vosburgh of the anniversary
couple kissing on the summit, with Gary
Riggs looking on.
Some notable aspects of the climb: 
  • As was the wedding climb, this anniversary climb was led by Mazama climb leader Leora Gregory, and assisted by (now husband) Mazama Classic member Jay Avery.
  • This was Mazama climb leader Lynne Pedersen’s first *successful* Mazama climb of Mt. Hood!
  • The couple’s officiant, Mazama member Karen Vernier, freshly recovered from the flu wanted so much to join in the celebration that she did a simultaneous solo climb.
  • Mazama member David Carrier started his solo climb several hours later than the team, but skinned up in time to meet the team going though the Pearly Gates!
  • Four of the wedding climb participants (all Mazamas) were able to join the climb: Dyanne Foster, Mark Fowler, Jean Hillebrand, and Gary Riggs.
  • This was Jay Avery’s 95th successful climb of Mt. Hood, and Leora Gregory’s 57th, which also happens to match her age!

Explaining the reason for the large group (12!) to other climbers caused them to help celebrate, and removed the annoyance some climbers experienced when the team (and many other climbers) happened to clog up the chute on the way down. Providing a handline, and allowing everyone to use it, helped to speed up the descent. It would have been even smarter to have had the team descend the eastern chute of the Pearly Gates. . .  (Take-aways for the next climb!)

The entire team worked together to make the climb a fun, rewarding, and celebratory event for all! Many have already mentioned making this an annual event!

3.11.2016

6,000 Miles in the Company of Canines: Meet Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa

by Kristie Perry
Over the past 20 years, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa has logged more than 6,000 trail miles in the company of canines. 

LaRuffa’s journey to becoming an expert on backpacking with dogs started with a chance encounter while thru-hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 1996. 

He and a buddy had been on the trail for about a month when in mid-March they reached the Bald Mountains, an 841-square-mile sub-range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They made camp atop 5,516-foot Big Bald Mountain, which offered them a 360-degree panorama of the North Carolina–Tennessee border and a fierce wind.

“We’d been getting beat down by the wind all night long,” LaRuffa recounts. “Our tents were hitting us in the face. We hadn’t gotten any sleep. It was cold. There was snow on the trail.”

By 3 a.m., LaRuffa and his hiking buddy had had enough. They packed up their gear and headed down the mountain, collecting three more friends who perhaps more wisely had opted to stay in a lower-elevation shelter. 

They all trudged into the sprawling little town of Erwin, Tennessee. At that time, Erwin was a one-motel burg notorious for being the site of an elephant hanging in 1916.


“When I finally got to my motel, I was greeted at the front porch by this little mutt,” LaRuffa says. “I just sat down and played with him.”

Saved from the pound
For many weeks that little mutt had been following thru-hikers in and out of the Smokey Mountains. When LaRuffa and his friends were ready to hit the trail again, they decided to take the mutt with them.

Photo: Jeremiah “Sasquatch” Wright. One of the highlights 
of the Appalachian Trail is hiking through the Grayson Highlands 
of Mt. Rodgers State Park in Virginia. Wild shetland ponies are 
year-round residents in the park and are very accustomed to 
the numerous hikers. Photo: Kelley “Marmot” Douglas.

“The motel owner was threatening to take him to the pound,” LaRuffa says. We went to the store across the street and bought him a two-dollar collar and a bag of Gravy Train. We didn’t want to leave him in a town famous for hanging an elephant. We figured we’d keep him if he stuck with us.”
Officially dubbed Erwin, the dog stuck with LaRuffa and his friends all the way to the Maine border.
Along the way, he was repeatedly skunked; hailed by hikers who’d encountered him elsewhere on the trail; and equipped with a pack and ID tag by Damascus Dave of Mt. Rogers Outfitters in Damascus, Virginia. He faked an injury in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to get out of wearing his pack. He was examined by a veterinarian in Troutville, Virginia, who pronounced Erwin bulletproof. 

Throwing up liverwurst
LaRuffa’s parents collected Erwin when the pair arrived at the New Hampshire-Maine border so LaRuffa could continue on to Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which prohibits dogs.

Above, from left: LaRuffa and his current canine 
companion, Karluk, summited Mt. Adams in 
July 2012. Karluk ran alongside LaRuffa’s 
glissade path on the way down. 

“After spending the better part of three and a half months with Erwin, parting with him was one of the toughest parts of my AT thru-hike,” LaRuffa says. He and his hiking buddies ... cried. “There were many days when we wished Erwin was with us as it was the first sustained stretch of good weather on the entire trip and I could envision him enjoying the romp through the Bigelow Mountains.”

After LaRuffa and his friends returned to the trail, LaRuffa’s parents discovered Erwin wasn’t so bullet proof, after all.

“My parents like to tell the story of bringing my ‘feral dog’ home,” LaRuffa says. He speculates that Erwin had been tossed from a car and abandoned at some point in his life, causing him to tend toward carsickness. “I told my father to give Erwin Dramamine and showed him how to pry open Erwin’s jaw and shove a pill down his throat. My father was too nervous to do that so he bought some liverwurst and put the pills in it. To quote my father, ‘there’s nothing like going down I-95 and having a dog throw up liverwurst in the back of the car on a 95 degree day’.” 

LaRuffa pounded out the miles, finishing up his AT adventure about three weeks later. When he returned home to New York, Erwin, naturally, was overjoyed, and greeted LaRuffa in a quintessentially canine way: “I remember lying on the floor of my parents’ kitchen with my pack still on my back, just loving on him.”

Disarming hikers

LaRuffa and Erwin spent the following two summers patrolling a 75-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania as Ridgerunners. 

Ridgerunners provide an important service on the Appalachian Trail, acting as ambassadors, educating people about Leave No Trace Principles, doing light trail maintenance, administering first aid, and discouraging bad behavior. “The program is designed to keep a pulse on what’s going on out there in the woods,” LaRuffa says. “It was a great gig in the summer for a college guy who liked hiking.”

And it was a great opportunity for LaRuffa to hone his backpacking-with-dog skills. Erwin almost always wore a pack on the trail. “And that was back in the day before doggie backpacks were popular,” LaRuffa says. “That always disarmed people and encouraged them to ask questions. It also raised a lot of spirits. It can be really lonely out there for thru-hikers.”


The dog comes first
LaRuffa and Erwin went on to log many more trail miles throughout the United States, including within the South Dakota Badlands and the Cascade Range. Erwin accompanied LaRuffa on his first trip to the top of Mount St. Helens. 

For that outing, Erwin got a special jacket—fleece with a waterproof shell.

LaRuffa had no nervousness about that climb because he had already walked 5,000 miles with Erwin. “Having a dog with me at times can help calm my nerves,” LaRuffa says. 

Still, climbing or backpacking with your dog is a lot of work, LaRuffa acknowledges. “If you’re going to do those things, you need to understand that it really becomes your dog’s outing.”

 “You have to take care of your dog before you take care of you. If your dog is having a bad time, you’ve got to leave.”


For the Mount St. Helens climb, “The hardest thing was teaching Erwin to hike behind me so I wouldn’t step on him with a crampon. The main femoral artery in a dog is right through their leg. If they get cut there, they’ll bleed to death.”

Erwin has also been up through Mt. Hood’s Pearly Gates.
After 13 years of hiking together, LaRuffa said goodbye to Erwin when he could no longer walk. “Thanks to Erwin, I developed a deep love for hiking with dogs that continues on.”


Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa is a Leave No Trace Master Educator. Over the last twenty years he has shared his tips with countless people who want to backpack with their dogs and has helped spread the gospel of how Leave No Trace principles can be applied to dogs in the backcountry. He shares his home in North Portland with Suzy, his wife of 12 years, and Karluk, a black lab mix adopted from the Oregon Humane Society in 2008. LaRuffa is a brand ambassador for Ruffwear Dog Gear, TurboPup, Barker Bags, Gossamer Gear, Mont-bell, Sawyer, Toaks, Purple Rain Adventure Skirts, Salazon Chocolate, UGO Bars, and Point 6 Socks. To learn more about Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and his tips for traveling in the backcountry with dogs, visit his website at www.allgoodsk9adventures.com.

3.09.2016

Thank You: Insert Name Here

by Preston Corless

Clockwise, from left: Mark Luscher and Rick Posekany. 
Photo: Preston Corless. 
This May during the long, slow, cathartic, soul-cleansing slog up one of our local volcanoes, I began reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had in the past 15 years of climbing. My thoughts moved to the people who have expanded my horizons, pushed me to overcome bigger challenges, and taught me the craft of climbing. I thought about people like Rick Posekany. Within a month, I was shocked and saddened to learn that Rick had passed away.

In 2003 I was a young, headstrong climber at the start of my career. I signed up for Posey’s climb of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. I was in over my head, even more than I realized at the time. 

Soon after arriving at Plaza de Argentina base camp (just under 14,000 feet), I started feeling lousy. Really lousy. Rick took me to see the camp doctor, who confirmed what Rick suspected—I had acute mountain sickness. They put this little contraption on my finger, which recorded the oxygen saturation of the hemoglobin in my blood. While at sea level this would read around 99 percent, but at that time it was in the low 80s, which somewhat explained why I felt about half as good as normal. Imagine a bad hangover with a dose of heavy lethargy. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally wrecked. I was 20 years younger than the other guys, and yet I was the one who wasn’t going to make it anywhere near the summit. I had a deep, sinking feeling about all the time and effort that I had committed to this trip–for naught.

They started me on Diamox and told me to rest. In his gruff, terse, gentle way, Rick kept tabs on me and told me not to give up hope. The next day Rick, Mark Luscher, and John Peters carried loads to camp 1 while I rested. The following day the pulse oximeter read 88 percent. I was feeling better and cleared to keep ascending. We moved on to camp 1, then camp 2. I moved a little slower, humbled by my own frailty. We got pinned down by a bad storm at camp 2 for six days, testing our patience, supplies and determination. We had carried a load to another camp called Piedras Blancas, at about the same elevation but closer to the ascent route. Nearing the end of our allotment of time and supplies, the weather began to clear. We scrapped our plan to move; instead Rick and Mark retrieved our cache of gear from Piedras Blancas. It was a short, flat traverse, but the wind was such that they had to break trail through the snow both ways. 

(Willy’s wagon) is on the approach along the
Rio Vacas.  Photo: Preston Corless. 
The skies opened and camp 2 turned into a bustle of activity as nearly everyone mobilized for the summit. After so much bad weather and luck, I could hardly believe we were actually headed out. It was an incredible day—dark, blue, cloudless skies and no wind—and hard to believe after the weeks we’d spent there. On Aconcagua the wind is a nearly constant challenge. It blows tents away. You can hear gusts coming, like an airplane. It is visible in the form of lenticular clouds–the viento blanco. I was getting used to the cold, the wind, not eating enough, and hanging out in those stinking tents reading Atlas Shrugged

Rick was exhausted from breaking trail to get our boots and supplies from Piedras Blancas. The trail out of camp 2 was deep with snow. The day seemed long as the sun cut through the high, thin air. 

The final approach is a dusty slog. We labored slowly up the slope, fighting the thin air. Rick was unselfishly carrying a lot of group gear–first aid, extra food, extra gloves and so on. He was falling off the pace. I waited for him; we fell behind the pack. After many, many rest stops I finally convinced him to switch backpacks with me. There was no way I was going to the summit without Rick. After all the extra work he had done for the team, I would not have made it without him; I would not have earned it.

Our pace picked up a bit with the weight redistributed. As we climbed higher, the views opened to the northwest, west, and southwest. We reached the summit around 7 p.m. and spent all of 15 or 20 minutes on top, after two weeks of hard effort. Coming down the sunset was pretty amazing. Rick and I didn’t make it back to camp until after midnight. It took us 19 hours to climb 4,000 feet. 
I had never felt so physically and emotionally exhausted. I can’t say I was elated that I summited, although I know I would have been disappointed to come all that way, put forth all that effort and expenditure, and never make it past Piedras Blancas. More than anything I felt a great sense of relief about not going home empty handed.

Rick and Preston on the summit. Photo: Rick Posekany.
Together we made it to the summit. That climb taught me a powerful lesson–that climbing is a team sport. Life is a team sport.

The things I learned on that climb helped form the foundation of my climbing experience. We talk about climbing in terms of mountains, cliffs, routes, grades, ratings, buttresses, glaciers, faces and couloirs. New climbers quickly accumulate the latest, most-improved gear, mileage, summits, and routes. With maturity we begin to appreciate more and more the importance of partners and community to the climbing experience. To quote Gaston Rebuffat: “The choice of companion is as important as the choice of the climb.” As specific climbs fade in memory and significance, the bonds forged between partners only become more meaningful—and transcend the climbing experience. 

Very soon two of my other mentors will be heading out on an epic adventure. They have motivated and inspired me to be a better climber and a better person. Our mentors are not always older or more experienced.


Wherever you are in your journey of life, stop and take a moment to reflect on who your mentors have been, and how they’ve influenced your life. Thank them, and pass it on.

3.08.2016

Ecology & Conservation: The Cascade Red Fox

by Jocelyn Akins, Ph.D. Candidate, Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Laboratory, University of California, Davis and Project Coordinator, Cascades Carnivore Project

The fox padded lightly through six inches of new snow in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, her nose leading the way to a cocktail of smells at the base of a mountain hemlock. She was so intent on the scented mixture of skunk, castor, and muskrat musk with undertones of chicken from the bait that she did not even hear the click of the camera that caught her image. 

Later, on a dark winter afternoon in front of my computer, I sat flipping through thousands of photos that revealed the elusive residents of the Mt. Adams Wilderness: a nervous snowshoe hare, a stealthy bobcat, a gamboling trio of Pacific martens. But then I saw a critter I knew nothing about: a Cascade red fox, a rare mountain subspecies of red fox. This photo shifted the focus of my newly formed conservation initiative targeting wolverines in southern Washington—the Cascades Carnivore Project—to one that focused on the population status, community interactions, and ecological role of this rare and little-known forest carnivore. 

Wildlife managers have only recently begun to appreciate the unique contributions the Cascade red fox makes to the fauna of the high Cascades. It is not, however, a simple story.

The Global Red Fox

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has had a bum rap for as long as our civilization has been telling stories. Due to its omnivorous diet and innate curiosity, this small carnivore has been considered a trickster in folklore, and persecuted as a pesky chicken killer and a sly and devious predator. It is one of the most widespread carnivores on Earth and is considered an invasive pest in many areas. The species evolved in Africa or Eurasia from a now-extinct fox and is currently distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere from deserts to temperate rainforests to tundra. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the red fox as a Species of Least Concern globally, i.e., one that is widespread and abundant. Before the advent of modern genetic techniques, subspecies divisions of red fox were based solely on geography and morphology, but the distinguishing features among all red fox are a white tipped tail, black tipped ears, and black stockinged feet. Coat color is highly variable. Although this historical subspecies classification scheme does not mesh perfectly with the genetic characteristics of these populations, there are three mountain and 11 lowland red fox subspecies, including a subspecies first described in 2010 that inhabits the Sacramento River valley. These 14 subspecies occupy a variety of habitats and coat colors from deep red to black and silver. Some of this biodiversity has been threatened recently by a lack of conservation concern for these unique red foxes, which are distinct in many important ways from their abundant nonnative cousins inhabiting the lowlands. In North America this has resulted in conservationists largely ignoring potential population declines in this rare and little-studied mountain fox, and making little attempt to understand how their populations, which occur in an archipelago of high-elevation habitat “islands,” could be impacted by human activities, encroachment by potential competitors, and climate change. This begs the question: What factors could impact this animal, which is so far removed from people, and derived from a larger species considered well distributed and common?

Going Back to the Pleistocene Ice Ages (or Getting to know the Mountain Foxes)
Red foxes have a unique evolutionary history in North America that was elucidated by United States Forest Service (USFS) biologist Dr. Keith Aubry and his colleagues in recent decades. The colonization of North America by red foxes was shaped by two waves of migration from Eurasia. Half a million years ago, during the Illinoian Ice Age, red foxes first colonized North America from Asia over the Bering LandBridge, which became established due to the lowering of sea level by the formation of continental glaciers. When the glaciers melted and the Bering Strait was reestablished, red foxes became isolated on separate continents. These foxes swept south and east across the boreal forest. Then, during our most recent glaciation (the Wisconsin Ice Age), the Bering LandBridge formed again and a second wave of red foxes migrated to North America from Asia, which resulted in limited genetic exchange between the Eurasian and North American red foxes. During this last glaciation, the earlier fox migrants were pushed by the ice sheets into the vast, windswept plains and relatively low-elevation forests of the western and central United States, south of the ice. Here they presumably adapted to the colder, glacial climate, which lasted for the next 100,000 years. Once the ice sheets had receded, these foxes moved up into the mountains of the West where habitat conditions were similar to those they occupied during glacial times, leaving the thawing plains of the American Midwest devoid of red foxes. This long separation from their ancestors in the Old World allowed time for their DNA, shaped by chance and environment, to diverge. North American red foxes have now been separated from Eurasian populations for 300,000–600,000 years, and are genetically different from other red foxes. University of California at Davis molecular ecologist Mark Statham and his colleagues recently suggested that all North American red foxes be reclassified as a distinct species, Vulpes fulva—the North American red fox.

The descendants of those early Illinoian Ice Age migrants comprise the three mountain subspecies (V. v. cascadensis, necator, and macroura) that now inhabit the Cascade Range, the Sierra Nevada, and the Rocky Mountains, respectively (with the exception that red foxes in the Cascade Range of Oregon are now believed to belong to the Sierra Nevada subspecies). The valley bottoms are generally assumed to be inhabited by invader foxes that originated on the East Coast and were brought west for fur farming and hound hunting. The mountain foxes live at high elevations year-round in relatively open forests and subalpine parkland. Mountain foxes are typically smaller in size and exhibit a greater variation in their coat colors than lowland red foxes. These are not just the red-coated foxes of fairytales and wildlife calendars; mountain foxes occur in coat colors ranging from straw yellow to red to black and silver. There is also a relatively common “cross” variant whose name is derived from the cross formed by a thin black stripe that extends over the shoulders and crosses one along the backbone. More importantly, the mountain foxes are ecologically unique, feeding exclusively on alpine and subalpine prey such as snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbit, pocket gophers, voles, winter-killed mountain goats, ground-nesting birds, and high-elevation plants. Molded by two ice ages, they have become well adapted to the cold. They rarely occur in the western hemlock and silver fir forests that cover lower elevations of the Cascade Range. They do not leave their snowy abode during the harshest blizzards of winter nor interbreed with red foxes in the valleys. They are finely tuned for life at altitude. 

A Fox By Any Other Name

Throughout the year, the Cascade red fox relies heavily upon high-elevation meadows and tree copses to forage for small mammal and lagomorph prey. The eastern slope of the Cascade Range contains relatively dry and open mountain hemlock, subalpine fir, and whitebark pine forests and krummholz copses, as well as ragged pinnacles of rock that support mountain goats, whose carcasses are an important source of food. Like most furbearers, the Cascade red fox has suffered significant declines in abundance and distribution as a result of trapping and poisoning over the last century. Despite the absence of these activities for many decades, Cascade red foxes appear to have experienced range losses recently, perhaps due to the shrinking of high-elevation parklands and meadows from climate change, the loss of subalpine conifers to drought, fire, and disease, or the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) into the high-elevation habitats that Cascade foxes rely on. Historical patterns of land use during the past 100 years, including timber harvest, recreational use, and road building, continue to influence habitat conditions at various spatial scales and affect the ability of native wildlife to survive and reproduce.


What’s in a Ph.D.?

In founding the Cascades Carnivore Project, I am following in the footsteps of two inspiring scientists. Dr. Keith Aubry, an emeritus scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, began the first field study of mountain foxes in 1978 (the year I was born) in Mt. Rainier National Park and the Crystal Mountain area in Washington. This study provided important baseline information about the evolutionary and distributional history of both mountain and lowland red foxes, as well as seminal findings on the ecological relations of the Cascade red fox. Dr. Ben Sacks, Director of the Mammalian Diversity and Conservation Lab and my supervising professor at the University of California at Davis, where I am a graduate student, is an expert in wild dog genetics and conservation. The groundbreaking work of these scientists and their collaborators on the evolutionary history of the red fox in North America showed not only how unique mountain foxes are among the red foxes, but also that the Cascade red fox is the most genetically distinct of the mountain foxes, and occurs only in Washington state. 

My research aims to develop a better understanding of how environmental changes in the western mountains impact the conservation of this rare mountain carnivore. I have been working with volunteer wildlife biologists and citizen scientists to conduct non-invasive surveys throughout the year at high elevations within the National Forest and National Park systems in the Cascades. We have deployed hundreds of remotely triggered wildlife cameras and walked, snowshoed, and skied endless miles collecting hair, scat, and urine from which DNA can be extracted to determine where Cascade red foxes live and where they don’t. I am concerned that the distribution of the Cascade red fox may be largely restricted to a few isolated, high-elevation areas of the Cascades. By examining if and how well fox populations are connected, and how this connectivity is predicted to change with climate change, we can begin to understand the long-term prospects for this unique carnivore. I am investigating whether the low number and fragmented distribution of the Cascade red fox is sufficient for them to successfully reproduce and maintain adequate levels of genetic diversity. For conservationists, genetic diversity is important for predicting how likely a species is to persist over the long term. With a diverse complement of genes, a population is more likely to include at least some individuals that can survive future environmental changes, such as the introduction of new diseases or parasites or rising global temperatures. The process by which such initially exceptional individuals survive and contribute their genetic characteristics to the next generation is known as natural selection, and results in the continuing evolution of species to their changing environment. 

The farther one travels to find a mate, the more likely that mate will be genetically distinct from oneself, resulting in more diverse offspring contributed to the population’s gene pool. Cascade red foxes may be scattered across a vast mountain landscape with huge distances and major barriers between them. My work suggests their strongholds are Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and the Goat Rocks Wilderness. They seem to have been gone from Mount St. Helens since the 1980 eruption. There have been some foxes detected in the William O. Douglas and Norse Peak Wildernesses. They may occur in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and their presence in the North Cascades is largely unknown. 
For the conservation of the Cascade red fox, its unique genetic makeup may be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we hypothesize that its unique genetic history confers adaptations that have allowed the fox to thrive where others could not. On the other hand, such specialized adaptations can make it more difficult for the fox to adapt to changing habitats and climates. Consequently, our goal should be to preserve as much genetic diversity within the mountain red foxes as possible. Part of the solution will be to identify the best corridors to ensure movement of individuals among islands of suitable habitat. 

A Warming World

How does climate change affect the Cascade red fox? The reality is we do not know yet. But there are some strong hypotheses worth testing. Impacts of climate change in the alpine environment have been well documented. Two key measures of climate change are temperature and precipitation patterns. In the mountains, changes manifest as rising temperatures and precipitation falling increasingly as rain, rather than snow, resulting in shorter, warmer, wetter, and less snowy winters. 

So what is the relationship between these climatic changes and Cascade red fox conservation? The Cascade red fox is strongly associated with high-elevation mountain habitats and is well adapted for life in snowy conditions. Compared to lowland red foxes, mountain foxes have much more fur lining the soles of their feet, which helps them function as snowshoes, and a smaller body size, which allows them to move with greater ease in deep, powdery snow. The Cascade red fox may use the mountain biome to escape predation from the coyote, which is a lowland-adapted species. Coyote abundance has been on the rise since the extirpation of the gray wolf in Washington in the 1920s and state and federal restrictions on lethal predator control. In addition, Cascade red foxes rely upon the subnivium for preying on winter-active small mammals. Unpredictable changes to the space that forms between the ground and deep snowpacks could have significant consequences for the Cascade red fox. Warming conditions can alter the insulating qualities of snow due to decreased depth and increased density, which is predicted to lower the temperature of this stable environment and reduce the abundance of small mammal prey. In addition, these foxes prey on small mammals in winter by pouncing through the snow to catch them as they move within this protected habitat. However, once the first winter rains fall on the loosely compacted snow, the snow pack hardens and may prevent foxes from accessing the subnivium for periods of time. This pattern is expected to become more prevalent as rain becomes increasingly common in the mountains. Hardening of the snowpack may also have the adverse effect of encouraging new predators and competitors to invade alpine and subalpine areas from which they would normally be excluded due to their reduced ability to travel in soft, deep snow. This encroachment may be the single greatest proximate threat to the Cascade red fox as it could result in competition during winter scarcity as well as increased mortality rates at the paws of predators such as the coyote.

There are two primary environmental alterations associated with a warming climate that could potentially impact the Cascade red fox. The first is the encroachment of meadows by shrub and tree species. Climate change is causing tree line to shift upward in elevation, reducing the extent of the alpine meadows upon which the fox relies. The invasion of shrubs and conifer saplings into subalpine meadows has been well documented on Mt. Adams in photographs of particular locations taken 50 years apart. Subalpine meadows and their small mammal communities provide the primary foraging grounds for Cascade foxes throughout most of the year. The second is the increased spread of plant diseases and pests. Fungal and beetle infestations are decimating the subalpine forest. The loss of whitebark pines from warming temperatures and increases in disease are becoming more and more prevalent on the dry eastern slopes of the Cascade Range where mountain foxes are most likely to live. The Cascade red fox relies upon copses of these high-elevation pines and firs to hunt for snowshoe hares and white-tailed jackrabbits during the winter months, and for cover to use as daybeds and rest sites during the harshest winter blizzards. Finally, recent wildfires have severely affected some of the subalpine parklands and upper elevation forests that the Cascade red fox calls home on Mt. Adams and throughout the Cascades. This year, wildfires in the Cascades were the largest and most destructive on record. Wildfires are a natural part of ecological cycles but modern blazes burn so intensely due to the huge fuel loads that were created by 100 years of forest fire suppression and drought.

An Unpredictable Future

What can we do to ensure that Cascade red fox populations will remain viable? A primary goal should be to continue systematic surveys over the long term and in the North Cascades to establish baseline conditions and monitor changes in their abundance and genetic diversity. Increasingly, occurrence records obtained by citizens are becoming an essential part of this process. Such records enable scientists to identify new areas of current presence and may encourage the establishment of new ecological studies, which will be essential for the effective conservation of this unique and intrepid little fox. Research investigating habitat selection at multiple spatial scales, movement patterns, predator-prey relationships, and home-range ecology is desperately needed to fill many key knowledge gaps about the conservation needs of this species. In addition, we should protect denning sites. This is especially important in preventing unnecessary pup mortalities when they emerge from their dens. The next phase of the Cascades Carnivore Project aims to investigate microhabitats most important to the Cascade red fox and determine how the essential components of their habitats will be affected by future changes to the composition and climate of the landscapes they occupy in their mountain home. Ultimately the fate of all alpine species lies within our ability, or inability, to care for our unique alpine landscape, and to address the potential threats to their persistence. The Cascade red fox has been evolving its unique character for hundreds of thousands of years in North America. With a little more attention from scientists, resource managers, and the public, I am hopeful that we will find a way to help our mountaineering friend persist well into the future.
Report your mountain red fox sightings to cascadescarnivore@gmail.com


This research on the Cascade red fox is generously funded by the Mazamas, the Mammalian Diversity and Conservation Laboratory (University of California, Davis), Gifford Pinchot, Mt. Hood, and Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forests, Mt. Rainier National Park, the Mountaineers, Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Oregon Zoo Foundation, The Wildlife Society Washington, WDFW Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, Washington Foundation for the Environment, Washington’s National Park Fund, and the tireless efforts of many citizen scientists, wildlife biologists, and laboratory genetics interns at the University of California, Davis.

3.07.2016

Mt. Cruiser Climb: A Rare Sighting



by John Rettig

It’s not on every Mazama climb that you get to summit a mountain AND encounter a rarely observed animal. 

But that’s exactly what happened on June 20, 2015, when seven Mazamas stumbled up Mt. Cruiser in the Olympics’ Sawtooth Range with me. 

It was a good reminder that while summit views are almost always spectacular, the things that happen on the way to the summit can be just as spectacular, if not more so.

Mt. Cruiser Needle.
Photo: Glenn Widener
Our group had just stopped for a break, when a little critter suddenly popped out to have a look at us. We were sitting in a rocky area above the tree line between The Needle and Mt. Cruiser. (The exact location is being withheld, in agreement with the US Forest Service (USFS) and National Park Service (NPS) scientists, to protect the individual marten). At first, I dismissed the animal as just another marmot or pika. But after a second, more careful, look, I recognized the narrow-set binocular eyes and very slender build that characterizes members of the weasel family. That the animal was extremely curious about us and our activities, and generally was not particularly wary of our presence, was another indicator that this critter belonged to the Mustelidae family.

The size of the animal suggested it was a marten or fisher, and after some group discussion, we realized we were probably looking at something quite rare. I knew that sightings in the Pacific Northwest have been very rare for any of the Martes genus, as they are known to live at a very low population density, even within their normal range. But this marten was living at the extreme of its documented range. So the sighting was doubly significant. Fortunately, one member of our team, Shem Harding, had his camera ready and was able to take several photographs. We also took note of the marten’s behavior, which included a breathtakingly exposed four-foot jump. We marked the GPS waypoint, then carried on with our climb. When we returned to Portland, I quickly submitted a report and pictures to the USFS, not knowing if there would be any follow-through.

How rare was this sighting? On the Tuesday following the climb, within a half hour of the report reaching the NPS and USFS wildlife scientists, my email inbox ignited with descriptions of how meaningful our sighting was, along with kind words of thanks for documenting and reporting it.
According to Dr. Patricia Happe, Wildlife Branch Chief at Olympic National Park, “Neither I nor any of my crew is likely to go near [Mt. Cruiser]—we are all hikers, but no one is a climber—maybe that is why we have not been finding any marten after all these years of looking …The last verified sighting of a marten in our region was in 2008 near Mt. Rose … [And then] the fisher study JUST (June 3, 2015) picked up a marten in the upper Hoh Valley. Your sighting [on top of this one] near Mt. Cruiser, in a completely different area, is really exciting.”

Betsy Howell, Wildlife Biologist with the Olympic National Forest wrote, “We have been trying for many years to get information on where marten are residing in the park and forest and haven’t had much luck … Olympic National Park and National Forest, along with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Geological Survey, are planning more marten surveys this winter and we’ll be having a meeting soon to discuss. We’ll definitely be talking about your sighting.”

The lesson that our marten sighting drives home for me is just how extremely important it is that we all act as responsible stewards for the alpine areas that we love. This encounter is an example of yet another way we can manifest that stewardship. Buried in the email clamor in my inbox was the suggestion that future studies might be able to take advantage of the Mazamas frequent access to the rocky summit areas above tree line. We’ve since prevailed upon other climbs headed into the area to be on the lookout and to observe and record. 

Learning how to observe and photograph animals in the wilderness, especially for gender identification, and recording GPS coordinates and gathering scat samples for DNA and other studies will help scientists evaluate the diversity, diet, and health of a given population. Reporting any marten or fisher sightings on the Olympic Peninsula will further this important work. You may submit information about a sighting or request a training by sending an email to conservation@mazamas.org.

Pacific Marten: The Facts

The Pacific marten, Martes Caurina, is a rarely seen mammal in Washington’s Olympic National Forest. It is a carnivore from the Mustelidae family, which includes wolverines, badgers, otters, skunks, minks, martens, fishers, weasels, and ferrets. Because it was heavily trapped from the 1890s through the 1940s, it was nearly extirpated. In spite of formal winter studies conducted from 2001 onward, there have been only four verified sightings in 27 years. In 1988, one was seen alive and photographed near The Brothers Wilderness; a spotted owl study found two in a live trap in 1990 in the Buckhorn Wilderness (they were released); in 2008 a deceased juvenile Pacific marten was found by hikers near Mt. Rose; and in 2015 one was photographed in the Hoh Valley with an automated wildlife camera, as part of a fisher study. Our discovery—during a Mazama climb up Mt. Cruiser in June 2015—now brings the number to five verified sightings, and the first one in 25 years to be seen alive in person. 

In spite of significant efforts to locate and document the Pacific marten (the 2013-14 winter study involved 15 volunteers working 12 different days, which equates to 78 working days) the studies did not yield any martens (although they did result in documenting a rich and diverse wildlife population of cougars, bobcats, coyote, deer, elk, and yes—humans and domestic dogs). We have, in fact, encountered wolves in Oregon more times than we have martens in the Olympics—and we know there are only 77 wolves in nine packs in Oregon, as of the end of 2014. The contrast is quite stark!