From Rambler to Scrambler

Group picking our way up Old Snowy.

by Sue Griffith
Photos by Sue Griffith

Do you love hiking but crave a little more challenge? Is the specter of ropes and harnesses keeping you from reaching summits? To get a taste of what climbing is all about, you might want to start with a scramble.

The term scrambling is highly subjective and means different things to different people. Experience, trail conditions, and fitness can make one person’s scramble another person’s climb. Though most agree it falls somewhere between hiking and climbing, the Yosemite Decimal System provides a more precise standard: Class 2 (simple scrambling, with possible occasional use of hands) and Class 3 (scrambling; hands are used for balance; a rope might be carried). Scrambling is often a hiker’s next step toward climbing and typically means leaving the maintained trails, navigating a steep slope, or slogging through talus and scree—or any combination of these. For me, it means getting my hands dirty, my knees bruised, and a huge sense of accomplishment.

Scrambling is often associated with non-technical summits but don’t be fooled—all un-roped climbing carries risk. Be smart and know your limits. Do not underestimate the effort required simply because a route is called a scramble, rather than a climb. Turn around if you feel unsafe and bear in mind that what goes up must come down—don’t put yourself in a position where the trip down is trickier than the scrambling up and might possibly exceed your abilities.

Listed below are three of my favorite scrambles. While they all offer non-technical summits, each is strenuous and none should be attempted without appropriate skills and conditioning. Need more inspiration? Check out Barbara Bond’s 75 Scrambles in Oregon—Best Nontechnical Ascents.

North and Middle Sister from South Sister

South Sister

Camp at the trailhead and plan on an early start to tackle this six mile route up a 10,358 ft. stratovolcano. After following a pleasant forest trail to a high plateau, get ready for a steep climb as you scramble up loose cinder and scree to the crater rim. Once on top, the views of the Cascade Range and beyond will make you forget the pain of getting there.

Looking north from the top of Old Snowy.

Old Snowy Mountain

Nestled in the center of Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness, this 7,930 ft. extinct volcano is a popular summer hike, rewarding climbers with 360 degree views on a clear day. While primarily a long, 14 mile round-trip hike through beautiful scenery, the last mile or so leads you along a steep, exposed ridge with plenty of loose rock. Be cautious. At one point you will need your hands and solid footholds to continue up. This is a strenuous climb but determination, stamina, and a bit of scrambling will get you to the top for those spectacular views!

Kings Mountain Summit

Elk/Kings Loop

Plan to do this rugged coastal hike after a period of dry weather, as wet or muddy conditions can render it nearly impassible in spots. I like to hike the full ten-mile loop, but if pressed for time, you can eliminate more than three miles by using a shuttle car and skipping the relatively flat, but lovely, Wilson River Trail segment. Heading counterclockwise from the Kings Mountain trailhead, prepare to get dirty as you leave the Wilson River Trail and scramble up a steep, sometimes rocky, trail to the Elk Mountain summit. Sign the register and enjoy the views then continue down an even steeper trail—roped in one particularly tricky spot—before climbing again to the Kings Mountain summit and possibly better views. For an extra treat, time your outing to coincide with the spring or summer wildflowers.


Injured During Climbing Season

by Jonathan Barrett
The author attempts some therapeutic yoga
while being supervised by his unimpressed
“downward dog” mentor and family pet, Dino.

This is not medical advice. If you are looking for the top ten ways to overcome shoulder pain, A2 pulley tears, or knee aches, these words are not for you. I am not a doctor, physical therapist, or even a legitimate quack. Actually, I am not even a great climber. My top ticks are the easy and accessible routes compiled by Beckey, Nelson, or Steck and Roper. What I am skilled at is being injured.
In August of 2008, I lay on my couch doped up on percocet. Maybe it was vicodin, possibly oxycodone. The Olympic opening ceremonies were on the tube, and the fireworks being shot from the Birdsnest meshed nicely with my semi-hallucinogenic state. 

Several days earlier, I had my second surgery to repair a torn labrum in my left shoulder; the result of a climbing injury. Multiple pins were inserted to replace and reinforce similar hardware that had been implanted for the same purpose four years prior. My body was as broken as my spirit. The doctors and physical therapists said that the road to recovery was at least eighteen months, possibly longer. Eighteen months. The first trip through physical therapy had only been six months, but it had failed. The joint was not made stable. I was depressed despite the painkillers with which my wife dosed me. Perhaps they just aggravated the issue. Who knows.
The author exploring potential mixed ground on Illumination Rock.

As everyone is aware, August is prime alpine rock season. The days are still long enough, and the last patches of snow are gone from the ledges and shoulders of high ridge lines. The bivy at the base of the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart is almost pleasant with a down jacket and legs stuffed into a pack. And September. Oh, September is such a stellar month for rock climbs in Oregon and Washington. Beacon catches the cooling breezes through the Gorge, and the intensity of the sun on the south facing routes mellows. Then of course Send-tober follows right behind. Cooler temps means finally red-pointing that project that has bedeviled you for months. Then November brings the first ice lines into some regions of the Rockies, while December means mixed lines on the backside of Illumination Rock. Not to be outdone, January and February follow where we start to get some ice in the Northwest; maybe even long cold snaps freeze the Gorge like last winter. And on and on and on.

I lay on the couch watching the Olympic performers pounding their drums and hear the driving rhythms. All I could think about was how once again I would miss the tiny window for the Northeast Buttress of Slesse. Da-da-dum! Da-da-dum! Dumb indeed that I am busted up on purpose.

Weeks later, I was up and mobile. Occasionally I might wander around the base of Ozone and pretend to be one of the people who discovered the trail on the side of highway 14 and wondered why the tiny lot was packed with Subarus on a Saturday morning. Once I even pretended to know nothing about climbing at all. “How do you get the ropes up there?,” I asked. “What happens if you fall? Do you die?” It was easier to feign ignorance with my arm in a sling and climbing out of reach.

There are a myriad ways to end up being busted as a climber. It isn’t hard to wind up with a shoulder injury (dynamic gym moves), knee pain (descending Ulrich’s Couloir), or a finger strain (mono pockets). Just this last fall, I was feeling really healthy for the first time in ages. My most recent plague, plantar fasciitis, had finally subsided, and the off-camber lilt that I thought would become a permanent part of my movement patterns had indeed actually vanished. Feeling normal had never felt so foreign.

I returned to the gym hoping to ascend that sick red V5 on the back wall. You know the route. It’s one of the few crimpy problems there because setters know that tiny holds lead to injuries. I didn’t experience the common “pop” sound that many other climbers report when their A2 pulley tears. Perhaps this is why it was easy to live in a state of denial. I did not tape the joint like so many people do to provide support. After all, I was not really injured. It was just sore. If you have ever tried to lift your ring finger while gripping with your other four digits, you understand my problem. I floundered up a V1. Too hard. The V0 was almost right.

For the next few days I rolled my thumb across the thick flesh below my knuckle. It felt like gristle and almost crunched. Did it hurt? Yes minorly, so I took some vitamin i. Extending the finger was impossible; tucking the tip tight against my palm was unattainable. The joint felt best when formed into a half-moon-shaped claw. About ten days later, I went back to the gym, not because the tendon was better but because force of habit said that I had to go climbing. Staying home was like holding my breath. Eventually I would gasp for air. Almost a month went by like this. I would go, feel pain, try to persevere, give up, and return home reluctantly. If this had been a relationship, I would have been John Cusack outside the Circuit with a boombox over my head pumping out Peter Gabriel.

At least when my shoulder was jacked up, I looked the part. People opened doors for me, pulled back my chair, helped me slice my sympathy steak. Trying to escape from the bathroom while babying my ring finger just left me looking like a germ-o-phobe. But I persevered in quitting climbing long enough to get healthy again. I did a lot of push-ups. And squats. And core work. When my finger was better, I was going to come back as a total stud. John Gill was going to envy my one armed front levers. Kenyan runners would marvel at my blistering pace.

And I did, at least for a while, until I tore my hamstring trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I figured that if I couldn’t climb, I could run. If I was just going to run, I was going to run really fast and really far. I did manage to stagger over the finish line with a time that allowed me the privilege of registering for the marathon, but I was left with literal pain in my butt. The diagnosis was a proximal hamstring tear. However, by that time climbing was possible again. I threw myself at training because I hoped to drown my anxiety about not being able to participate in the Boston Marathon on account of my hamstring.

At the gym, I started working V7’s and adding heavier weights to my lifting sessions. Driving home at night, I stank like aspirations drenched in perspiration. Pseudo-experts on YouTube educated me on ways to wring the last bits of power and endurance from my uninspiring musculature. Then one day in early March, I felt a distinct weakness in my right bicep. That night, I had to shimmy out of my shirt. Lifting my arm perpendicular to my body was almost impossible. Something had snapped again. Whether it had its locus in my arm or shoulder or back was impossible to tell. My status was frighteningly similar to that of August of 2008: depressed with only one good arm.

I do yoga now. Not since college when I took it as a throw-away elective have I engaged in the practice which was profoundly exasperating for me. Folding myself up like some sort of spiritual pretzel seemed insane. I have few choices in my current injured state. I can’t run because my butt is busted. Climbing or lifting weights of any sort is also out unless I want to end up like a fiddler crab. My downward facing dog is appalling, but my warrior pose is improving, if you ignore my right arm. At the end of it all, as I lay on the floor focusing on my breathing in shavasana, I am thankful that this one pose simply could not possibly lead to further pain. In goes the good air. Out goes the bad. The oxygen causes me to have the following hallucination: I am injury free.


Vacation Cragging

by Radek Chalupa
Photos by Radek Chalupa

So you have a bit of time off and are looking for a climbing trip that’s easy to plan and to pull off: no lengthy approaches, no pre-arranged visas, no on-the-ground fixers, no travel advisories to worry about. You want to throw the gear together and drive; or perhaps you’re willing to go that extra mile (and can spend those extra dollars) and book airfare and pre-arrange some ground transport. Either way, you’re looking for an easy rock climbing fix.

The climbs that follow are not exactly off the beaten path but may get overlooked by many Northwest climbers; often taking a backseat to a more popular destination nearby—say doing your twelfth trip to Red Rocks instead of sampling Cochise. The choices below are roughly broken down by available vacation time and season.
Steins Pillar

A quick climbing fix that allows you to sleep in your own bed and yet still provides a satisfying outing does not need to involve Beacon Rock, Smith, Index, or Trout Creek. Washington and Oregon are chock-full of interesting formations scattered throughout the foothills of the Cascades. Many involve only a couple hours of driving and a few have a decent quality rock. The two formations mentioned here have seen some recent route development and so they should each be good for a few outings.

Steins Pillar is an approximately 350 ft. volcanic plug located about a 30-minute drive east of Prineville, Oregon. It is like a sibling of Monkey Face with slightly worse rock but in a more dramatic setting. The original summit route, the 5-pitch Northeast Face, is a fun aid climb for most and a good step up in difficulty from the Pioneer Route. Additionally, the 5-pitch 5.10+ Southwest Face offers good free (or free-ish) climbing with some dramatic exposure and only a touch of chossy stone. The route has updated hardware and traverses a mix of traditional and bolted terrain. Lastly, the Tammy Joe Memorial route, a modern 5.11+ sport affair reportedly located on the proud arête just left of the Southwest Face offers the hard wo/men something to get excited about as well. The best season for Steins is probably fall when the larch trees in the valley below turn gold.
Wolf Rock

The sunny southeast face of Wolf Rock (45 minute drive NE of Blue River, Oregon) offers some of the longer crag routes in Oregon. From rarely repeated aid climbs to modern, mostly bolted pitches, and the in-between, classic Barad-Dur route, an 8-pitch 5.11- (or 5.10 A0) that features a mix of updated and original fixed gear as well as some trad protected pitches. An easier (modernized) option is a route called Morgul Vale—similar in length and about 5.9-5.10- in difficulty depending on the variations taken. Both routes reach the summit (neither would be any fun to rappel) and feature a somewhat adventurous descent. In addition to a section in the Climbing Guide to Northwest Oregon book by Tim Olson (which also includes descriptions for the multitude of single pitch routes along the base of the wall), good information can be found online. The best season for Wolf is likely spring to early summer or fall.



Here are a couple of granite climbing options to fill up a winter or summer weekend that involves flying. Cochise Stronghold, about an hour east of Tucson, is a collection of granite domes and spires. It seems that places like Red Rocks or Joshua Tree absorb most of the climbing snowbirds migrating down from the Pacific Northwest in the winter while overlooking Cochise. If you enjoy mid-sized multi-pitch climbing (both trad and bolted), this area is well worth your effort. Pulling this off on a weekend involves flying into Phoenix on Friday night and driving about 2.5 hours. You can camp either on the east side (established) or the west side (primitive) of the Stronghold, with the two being separated by about an hour of driving time. The route options range from slabby, 10-ish pitch affairs on The Sheepshead formation (west) to steeper, more crimpy and with occasional cracks, 4-6 pitch outings on the spectacular Rockfellow Domes (east). Although there’s an outstanding 5.6 (with A0) route called What’s My Line which involves about 3 long pitches of the famous “chicken head” pulling, the options really open up at 5.10- and above. Routes such as Endgame (5 pitch, 5.10-), Days of Future Passed (4 pitch, 5.10), Absinthe of Mallet (8 pitch, 5.9+) and Abracadaver (5 pitch, 5.11-) are not to be missed. Two excellent guidebooks are available: one by Geir Hundal and one (2-volume set) by Tanya Bok. Keep in mind that many of the routes are closed for nesting birds starting in late winter.

A somewhat similar, summer-time option is the famous Needles crag in southern California. Doing this trip on a 2-day weekend involves some caffeine-enhanced driving enthusiasm as the closest airports with good connections are in the LA area. Though the colorful lichen covered granite formations remind one of Cochise, the area is more compact and the climbing routes tend to involve crisp crack systems. There are a handful of camping spots right at the trailhead and the closest town (Kernville) is about an hour’s drive away. Classic routes start at about 5.8 (e.g. White Punks on Dope) and the grades quickly increase. Moderate lines of Igor Unchained (4 pitch, 5.9) and Thin Ice (4 pitch, 5.10-) are outstanding. A new guidebook by Kris Solem is available online.

Devil's Tower


For those 4-5 day “weekends”, two monoliths offer some interesting climbing in somewhat different settings and with vastly different climbing styles.

Devils Tower in the northeastern corner of Wyoming would be a great short weekend option were it not located in the middle of nowhere. There are currently no direct flights to any nearby airports from Portland. As such, you’re looking at some flying and driving (4hrs from Billings, MT) or a ton of driving (18hrs from Portland). The destination justifies the effort, however, soaring crack systems put you on the summit of this stunning geological oddity in about 4-6 pitches. The entry level climb is the North American Classic of Durrance Route—a 6-pitch line originally rated 5.6 but this rating has crept up as a high as 5.8 in some modern descriptions. The harder but equally classic El Matador (5 pitch, 5.10+) is also not to be missed. The crowning jewel of that route is an approximate 140 ft. stem box formed by the columnar basalt that will make your calves scream. The routes are overwhelmingly crack climbs (trad) and there’s much to do in the 5.8 to 5.11 range. The KOA campground at the foot of The Tower offers decent tent sites. Though we’ve once snuck in a day of climbing in mid-February, Devils Tower is a good shoulder-season destination.

Most climbers have heard of the multi-pitch sport climbing mecca of El Potrero Chico outside of Monterrey in Mexico (itself a very reasonable place to go for 4 or 5 days). The place is indeed one of those perfect climbing-holiday destination. For something a little bit off the beaten path, with far fewer routes but equally friendly bolting, Pena de Bernal monolith in central Mexico offers enough multi-pitch climbs to justify a 4-5 day stay. Climbs that reach the summit are in the 5-6 pitch range and vary in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.12. Typically it is crimpy face climbing on some unusual but solid stone. At least two new moderate (5.10-ish) routes have gone up in the last 2 years and so it’s worthwhile to let your fingers do a bit of online exploring before you go. Older routes are described in two guidebooks available at rockclimbing-mexico.com. The logistics involve flying into either Mexico City (probably cheaper and the inner-city airport makes for some interesting driving) or Queretaro. From there you have to drive to the charming town of Bernal (one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos) in the state of Queretaro. Not sure about camping but affordable motel options seemed abundant. Good climbing and excellent gorditas.


Todra Gorge
For those times when you have a full week available, two potential destinations on two different continents should make your list: Todra Gorge in central Morocco, ideal for early to late spring (or fall); and Los Arenales in Argentina whose prime rock climbing season is in the dead of our winter.

Todra (or Todgha) Gorge, some 20 km north of the town of Tinghir, is an about one kilometer long, dramatically narrow cleft with limestone walls. The climbs are up to a few hundred meters long (about 10 pitches) and the vast majority of the classics are essentially bolted (though a few friends might come in handy). The rock is a sharp, golden color limestone and the geometry of the gorge makes it possible to tailor your climbs to sunny vs. shady faces depending on the ambient temperature. Two classic lines that are not to be missed are Tiwira (8 pitches, 6a+) and Voie Abert a.k.a. Classic (9 pitches, 6b). Both easier and harder options are available with just enough multi-pitch climbing to last about a week. The recommended place to stay is at the Tiwira Guest House some 15-20 minute walk from most climbs. Here you’ll not only find a very welcoming family atmosphere (including home-cooked, tagine meals), but you can also get advice and a general area orientation from the local climber Abdul. In addition, cab rides from and to Marrakesh (the closest international airport, some 6–7 scenic driving hours away and, in 2017, about 140 Euros each way) can be pre-arranged through Abdul and his family (brah.fadil_85@hotmail.com). On rest days, you can check out Kasbah, the next-door hike in the surrounding mountains, or take a taxi to the nearby (2 hrs.) Dades Gorge for some sightseeing.

Los Arenales Valley
Los Arenales is an alpine valley in the Argentinian foothills of the Andes some 3-4 hours driving time from the town of Mendoza. It features some excellent granite trad climbing on buttresses and towers up to 500 meters in length (though the vast majority of the routes are a bit shorter). Although there are probably a few weeks’ worth of classic moderate lines here, our favorites included Mejor No Hablar de Ciertas Cosas or MNHCC route on El Cohete (~11 pitches, 6b) and Armonica en Campanille (7 pitches, 6a+). The logistics involve flying into Mendoza, renting a car and stocking up on food supplies (as well as some excellent local Malbec), then driving south, and either car camping or hiking up valley some 20 minutes to a “refugio” that offers an enclosed cooking space. Once established in camp, the majority of the climbs can be done tent-to-tent in a day. We have found the weather here to be more stable than crags further south (e.g. Frey or Cochamo in Chile). All the climbing beta can be found in the new guidebook arenalesclimbing.com.


Really, the only limitations here are the budget and your imagination. Trips longer than a week are usually reserved for those destinations that are either a little bit harder to access and/or have slightly more unstable weather. Two possible locales that fit this bill are the Dolomites in northeastern Italy (great for the height of our summer) and the Australian island of Tasmania (ideal during the depths of our winter). Both involve flying in, renting a car, and driving yourself to the multitude of climbs that each area has to offer. Neither require visas and both can be planned as a mix of camping and hotel or alpine hut stays. Both can have capricious weather: 2 or 3 days of rain followed by a couple days of climbable conditions.

The Dolomites are a range of steep, limestone mountains—picture brightly colored, jagged peaks contrasting with the picturesque verdant valleys below. Many airports would work as access points and we’ve used both Munich (just over the border in Germany) as well as Venice for our trips there. The classic routes span a wide range of difficulties (5.4 and up) and the lengths can be tailored to one’s desires; from a few pitches and up to 15 or more. The classic routes have some in-situ protection, mainly fixed pitons of questionable quality, and most belays are fixed (though almost never with modern bolts). A light to mid-sized trad rack is almost always a necessity. There are simply too many classic routes to list, but the ones we found memorable were the famous Spigolo Giallo on Cima Piccola (13 pitches and 5.9) and the Comici route on the north face of Cima Grande (16 pitches and 5.10)—both are in the Tre Cime di Lavaredo area. We also enjoyed the 18-pitch (5.9ish) Pillar Rib on Tofana di Rozes and the Tissi route on the south face of Torre Venezia (15 pitch, 5.8). Very good climbing information can be found in the book by Kohler and Memmel (English edition available).

The rock climbs in Tasmania cannot match the length of the Dolomite classics but what they lack in scale, they more than make up for in variety: from dramatic sea stacks that often require a swim to access, to the multi-pitch splitter crack routes of the Ben Lomond Plateau (a bit like Devils Tower), to the granite domes of the Freycinet Peninsula. There is even some suburban cragging at Mt. Wellington located high above the island’s principle town of Hobart. Both the west side and the interior of the island feature some multi-pitch mountain routes (Frenchman Cap) but the weather never cooperated sufficiently for us to attempt them during our two week stay. With a longish approach hike, a mandatory swim and two exciting tyroleans to set up, climbing The Candlestick sea stack was likely the highlight of our trip. Good and free climbing data can be found at thesarvo.com/confluence/display/thesarvo/Tasmania. Otherwise, a book of select climbs by Gerry Narkowicz can be purchased online.


Hiking Among Frozen Giants

Summer Glacier Insights and Escapades

Sandy Glacier Cave. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Andrew Stohner. 

by Kevin Machtelinckx

Mountaineering evokes images of vast glacial flows nestled in high mountain valleys. Spring and winter are prime times to explore glaciers. Spring is a transition period where snowpacks begin to stabilize and snowbridges are still intact. Winter is a perfect opportunity to test your cold-weather gear, when crevasses are filled and the white beast is less likely to swallow you up.

Although many of us mountaineers in the Pacific Northwest choose to hit the alpine rock in the summer, as soon as the mountainsides are liberated from snow, it’s worth remembering that some glaciers are still around. While some of us see our main activity as hiking, we don’t necessarily see the fun in plunging crampons into the flanks of these frozen rivers in 5 degrees Fahrenheit on a winter night. Summer and early fall offer excellent opportunities to visit these glaciers in more agreeable conditions. We lay out a few of these slow-moving wonders that are well worth a summer escape.

Jefferson Park Glacier

As with the other glaciers on Mt. Jefferson, the Jefferson Park Glacier was named by Ira Williams of the Oregon Bureau of Mines in 1915 (Hatch, 1917). Of the approximately 35 permanent snow and ice fields on the mountain, Jefferson Park Glacier is set in one of the most spectacular alpine areas in the Oregon Cascades. The glacier rests between two parallel moraines, which are evidence of a massive glacial retreat that was documented as early as 1917 (Hatch, 1917). In the last two decades, climbing the glacier itself has evolved. The famed Jeff Park Glacier route to the summit has gone from a straight-forward glacier trudge toward the obvious saddle to what is now a navigational quandary through a labyrinth of crevasses and bergschrunds. And the glacier continues to break up.

Jefferson Park. Photo by Outdoor
Project Contributor Lance Beck.
However, one does not have to attempt the summit in order to experience the glacier firsthand. A highly rated option is to start from the Whitewater Creek trailhead (trail number 3429). This option allows for a very scenic hike toward the glacier and lakes surrounding the mountain. The trail takes you up through lupine and beargrass meadows lined with pine and mountain hemlock toward the plateau of the park itself. Once in these flatlands, formed from centuries of high mountain lakes breaking through their sand dams and flooding the areas below, some off-trail navigation is required to pick out and follow one of the many climber’s trails that head toward Jefferson Park Glacier. The hike is best done with good visibility, as you will want to set your bearings as soon as you get sight of the toe of the glacier. This is a strenuous and remote hike, and it is advisable to do it as an overnight trip, so as to leave plenty of time for exploration and navigation.

Sandy Glacier Ice Caves
Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination, and Frozen Minotaur. With names like these, the expectations should be high. These ice caves are found on Mt. Hood’s Sandy Glacier, about a mile uphill from the very well-known McNeil Point. In 2011, Eddy Cartaya and Brent McGregor, among others, documented and mapped the ice cave known as Snow Dragon. In the process, two additional caves were discovered, dubbed Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur. These are thought to be the most extensive cave systems in the contiguous United States (Chakalian, 2015). The ever-evolving tunnels of ice are being created and destroyed by the Sandy Glacier’s extremely hasty retreat from the sides of the mountain. These cave systems are temporary, and will undoubtedly succumb to the same fate as the ones in Mt. Rainier’s Paradise Glacier, which once held some of the nation’s largest ice caves before their roofs collapsed.

Sandy Glacier. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Tyson Gillard.
It should be noted that, because of how precarious and fragile these caves can be, entering them should be done only after very careful consideration. In fact, in 2015, the roof of Snow Dragon collapsed, marking a sign of the continuously-changing structure of the cave system. As the average temperature of our summers continues to rise, warm air makes its way deeper into the caves, creating new openings and destroying old ones. 

To attain the caves, or at least get a glimpse of them from a safe distance, it’s ideal to start from the Top Spur trailhead and follow the signs for McNeil Point. Once past McNeil Point, the trail continues upward onto an obvious rocky ridge with the trail eventually fading into the climber’s left side of the Sandy Glacier. Keep an eye out for openings in the glacier to spot the cave entrances. Getting to the caves will require knowledge in glacier travel and a sense of adventure. For most of us, seeing the Pacific Northwest’s (current) premier cave system from a respectable distance is a treat in itself.

One would be forgiven if the Wallowa Mountains in remote eastern Oregon did not come to mind when talking about glaciers. By definition, a glacier is a body of permanent snow and ice which experiences relatively slow movement, evidenced by crevasses, icefalls, and a constantly changing geometry and is formed by decades of snowfall exceeding the rate of snowmelt. A perennial snowfield, on the other hand, does not have the characteristic of movement. Oftentimes, a glacier will form if a snowfield grows large enough that part of it spans onto sloped terrain, initiating a very gradual movement of the snowpack and ice.

The Benson Glacier circa 1992. Photo: David Jensen.

By this definition, it is hard to imagine the Wallowas actually featuring any glaciers. However, among the Wallowa’s 131 snow and ice features, one of them is actually named by the US Geological Survey; the Benson Glacier. Situated on Eagle Cap, photos from 1920 show this glacier extending down the steep north east face of Eagle Cap and toward the aptly-named Glacier Lake. Crevasses are readily apparent in the convexities of the ice feature. A repeat photo from 1992, shows a dramatic reduction in size, with the areas that once showed gaping crevasses now only exposed rock (Skovlin, 2000). Today, the Benson Glacier is perhaps better defined as a permanent snowfield and is confined to an area of the Eagle Cap face with an abundance of shade. 

Scars of a miniature ice age full of glaciers are obvious throughout the wilderness area. Moraines, tarns, and rock fields sculpted by eons of glacial grinding has resulted in a pristine landscape filled with dramatic arêtes, granite cirques and, appropriately, a number of permanent snow features feeding the Wallowa River. 

The true definition of the snow and ice feature adorning Eagle Cap’s sides is best left to those willing to make the trip to see it in person. The trip to Glacier Lake, from which the Benson Glacier can easily be seen, is a 13-mile one-way trip from Wallowa Lake. Of course, for the more adventurous, Eagle Cap can also be climbed by several largely non-technical routes, which requires a good degree of fitness if done in one day. 

Still alive and clinging on through torching summers, the glaciers of our beloved Pacific Northwest are as majestic as they are impermanent. Some are extinct, others are only remembered by the artistic remnants they have carved into the mountainsides we climb. If the summer heat has you thinking about calling off your hike, consider one of these cooler destinations. They offer routes to get your miles in and to appreciate the continuous battle for permanency these slow-moving ice giants wage on an annual basis. 

Chakalian, Paul. April 7, 2015. Ice Cave Collapses on Mt. Hood. tinyurl.com/maz-62017
Hatch, L., 1917, The Glaciers of Mount Jefferson [Oregon]: Mazama, v. 5, no. 2, p. 136-139.
Skovlin, J. M., 2000, Interpreting landscape change in high mountains of northeastern Oregon from long-term repeat photography: Portland, Or., U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.


Secret Local Watering Holes

Top: Siouxon Creek. Photo: Oregonhikers.org
Bottom Left: Buck Lake. Photo: Oregondiscovery.com
Bottom Right: Serene Lake. Photo: Jamey Pyles at nwhiker.org

by Karoline Gottschild

Most kids and adults agree that Portland's often brilliant July and August sunshine and heat are a divine and well-earned respite from the leaden winter skies and seemingly ceaseless winter rains. We also know that they reward us with the lush greenery, rushing rivers, and sparkling pools that we get to enjoy all summer long.

Many may lament the bygone years where Portland’s reputation for drear and drizzle kept much of the world away from its doors and shores. But it’s 2017, and we’re a bustling popular and ever-growing city, a mecca for all kinds, including ever greater numbers of outdoor lovers. Yet it’s still possible to evade the horrendous summer hordes. There are gems in the woods to be found, if you only go a little off the most beaten paths.

Following are few hidden gems just a drive, hike, and secret (sort of) jaunt away. Some are a bit farther away (but not much more than 2 hours), some are a bit more difficult or longer to get to, and some offer additional bonuses, such as mosquitoes, horse flies, or just plain frigid waters. Hey, it is precisely those natural features that help separate the cooler carriers from the Mazama hikers.
So go for it. Grab your lunch (or stop along the way and support a local business), remember your water (reusable bottle and water filter), sunscreen (biodegradable), sunglasses (polarized), emergency aids ... well, you know, your Mazama ten essentials. Leave some room for your frivolous favorites—a water toy, book, water shoes—and then head on out. If you are bringing along a friend with less fortitude (or you are just smarter), you may wish to consider a wetsuit. Whether you get out earlier or later in the season, beat the summer crowds and float leisurely in frigid snow-fed mountain streams and lakes while your friends barely break the water surface before scurrying, in a shivering self-embrace, back to the sun-warmed shores.

Serene Lake—Estacada Region, Oregon
Its relatively remote location from Portland and the almost 7 mile return hike from the nearest parking lot means Serene Lake is still one of the more peaceful swimming holes. The trek provides a wonderful way to combine a hike with gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, other volcanoes, and lakes. Add on backpacking, camping, and fishing, and you can create a multi-day adventure. If your idea of swimming fun includes jumping off rocks, try the south end of Serene Lake which is 25 feet deep (always check for safety first—rocks move and things change).
To get there, you can choose the 8-mile Serene Lake Trail or a shorter 6.6-mile hike that starts at 4,700 ft. at Frazier Trailhead, and still takes you through three beautiful lakes—Middle, Upper, and Serene Lakes with an elevation gain of 900 feet.

Drive from Portland: 2 hours plus. Timing: Summer–fall, with early summer having more mosquitoes, colder water, and fewer people. Hiking Distance: 6.6 miles. Permits: No fee. Fill out Wilderness Permit at Trailhead. Crowds: Little. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. For detailed hike info, and links to driving directions: tinyurl.com/serenelake

Buck Lake—Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Are you trying to convince your new mate to join the Mazamas? Are you still playing nice, and don’t want to shock them with a 10 mile hike to a freezing ‘swimming’ river? Then head to postcard-perfect Buck Lake for a more balmy water experience. At 4,080 feet elevation, Buck Lake is only 30 feet deep, often warming up to 72 degrees in August. It can be reached by a moderate ½-mile ascending trail. Depending on the sunlight, the water can look sparkling emerald to a more moss green; either way it’s fabulous. Usually only having moderate crowds, weekends in high summer might bring out a varied assortment of less than zen-like holidaymakers. So for romance and peace, go early in the day or early in the season.

Drive from Portland: 2 hours, 10 minutes. 61.5 miles east of Oregon City. Timing: Summer-fall. If swimming isn’t so important, or you are an ice bear, the maples in the area turn orange and red in the fall (it’s gorgeous and less crowded). Hiking Distance: 1-mile round-trip. Permits: No. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Info and driving instructions to trailhead: tinyurl.com/bucklake

Siouxon Creek—Gifford Pinchot Park Area, Washington
Near Amboy, Washington, you can do it all—hike, bike, camp, and swim—and with your dog. A 9-mile hike will take you through mossy forest, along the cold and sparkling creek, and by 4 waterfalls. You’ll find numerous camping sites along the way, but all are in permanent shade, so bring the necessary moisture-proof gear. Some of the trail can be popular during the hottest and sunniest days, so be warned or go during cloudier and cooler times; carry a thermos with hot cocoa for your after-swim warm up. For hard core hikers, the trails are extensive, and you can easily hike for 10-15 miles.

Drive from Portland: 1 hour, 30 minutes near Mount St. Helens. Hiking Distance: 9-miles round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: No. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/siouxoncreekhike

Alder Flats—Mt. Hood, Clackamas Area, Oregon
This hike is 47 miles east of Oregon City, and although many of the Clackamas area river spots are crowded, this one tends to be less so. The 1.9-mile return hike keeps the people volume down. You’ll walk through magical moss covered mixed old-growth forest (remember to bear right at 0.2 miles) to be greeted by fairly cold, clear moving waters, and some basic campsites right along the river, if you wish to stay the night. The current here is moderate to strong, leading to downstream rapids. Water levels can fluctuate dramatically, so do take care. Some shallows exist, and there is a 40-foot-long sandy swimming beach which makes for a nice place to swim.

Drive from Portland: 70 minutes. Hiking Distance: 1.9-mile round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/alderflatshike


Trailside Tasty Treats

by Wendy Marshall

When I was a youth, my kitchen creations of steamed stinging nettles and butter-sautéed shaggy mane mushrooms invoked a few raised eyebrows and hesitancy in my mom. But I still recall the excitement and pride I felt at having conjured a meal out of things I'd found growing wild in our forest. The idea of living off the land, eating foods you collect and prepare yourself, can be a romantic one. In this age of mass-produced everything, I've read increasing accounts by people who feel disconnected from nature, who wish to be closer to the land and water we dwell on, as well as better stewards of its riches. Not without good reason, either. With concerns about survival haunting our current mindset and issues cropping up daily about the hazards of corporate manufactured foods, there is a real practicality to cultivating a harmonious partnership with our native landscape. Not only rewarding and nourishing to body and spirit—such a relationship may solve a few of our modern troubles.

Besides eating organic, what if you're hungry on a hike? Instead of an invisible stranger, a plant by the path can becomplant for salvation. Other incredibly nutritious plants are as close as your backyard or readily available in meadows and woods: chickweed, purslane, and of course, dandelion. The roots of dandelion, burdock, and Queen Anne's lace—the ancestor of a store-bought carrot—can be stewed into a hearty soup. As spring ripens into early summer and beyond, fruits and berries pop up by the bushel, such as huckleberry, thimbleberry, and salal.

e a familiar personality, a helping spirit, and maybe even a part of your body. This time of year, you'll find some of our finest food plants disguised as irksome weeds. Stinging nettles, for instance, are tasty steamed like kale, but can be eaten fresh! Let the leaves wilt, rub them with a spoon, and they lose their sting. Nettle, which is high in iron, silicon, and potassium, can help those pesky allergies and arthritis, by cleaning your blood and lungs of toxins. Miner's lettuce is another example, easily spotted by the round, succulent leaves that encircle its stems. California gold miners, desperate for fresh fruits and vegetables, turned to this

I met John Kallas, director of Wild Food Adventures, at the Belmont Street Fair last summer. This wickedly humorous fellow presided over a beautiful display of native foods, from clams and berries to flour made from acorns. Kallas, whose 35 years of experience teaching about wild foods make my kenning of local plants seem a bit like child's play, presented a slideshow at the Mazama Mountaineering Center on March 8, where he signed copies of his new book, Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. From June 23 to 26, he'll be leading the GingerRoot Rendezvous intensive course in Silverton, Oregon. Participants will learn to identify and prepare edible wild plants from all over North America. However, Kallas, a trained botanist, isn't just an expert on plants. He also leads courses on edible coastal animals, such as razor clams, and ocean vegetables (seaweeds). Besides the intensives, Wild Food Adventures offers a range of affordable day classes throughout the year, which I look forward to exploring. Find out more at: wildfoodadventures.com.

As in any outdoor pursuit, harvesting wild foods comes with its own ethics. Herbalism has taught me that a group of wild plants is a family, part of a larger community. Wild communities can be irreparably damaged by someone who takes too much, as in the tragic case I read about a with patch of wild ginger—the razing or raping of a whole patch is definitely not a responsible approach. A good rule is to gather only one of every four plants in a particular species group, at most. This ensures a few always remain to produce future generations, resulting in more sustainable ecosystems. Remember you're consuming life forms, and they deserve respect.

Additionally, safety is a consideration. Some plants have serious attitude! The notorious poison hemlock is not, gram for gram, the nation's most noxious plant, but it is our top poisoner because it looks like a lot of other tasty herbs. It's no coincidence. Poison hemlock is in fact related to its look-alikes, including celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, and carrot. Again, an experienced teacher such as Kallas can help you make these critical distinctions. (For example, to distinguish poison hemlock from its Umbelliferae cousins, look for small maroon spots on its stems, and a musty smell.)

Mushrooms are a different matter. I mentioned shaggy mane mushrooms, a member of the Coprinus or "inky cap" family, and a good edible. But inky caps are only edible up to a point, and a similar species has a toxin that only activates when you drink alcohol! You'd need to stay dry for five days after this dinner. Many mushrooms, like chantrelles, are wonderful foods, while others have the wildest poisons in the woods. Fortunately, courses in Oregon mushroom identification are offered several times a year by Bark and other organizations.

I've found that learning about wild foods can be intensely fulfilling, bringing you more in tune with the outdoors as well as your own spirit. As participants in outdoor recreation, our responsibility as caretakers and advocates of wild places need not be a chore. Rather, it can be an excellent adventure, an ongoing and ever-deepening love affair with the earth that sustains us and with all the living things we meet along the way, through one of the most intimate connections we have—our next meal.
Wendy Marshall has been an amateur herbalist for seven years. In addition to mountain climbing and hiking, she is a perpetual student of life and periodically takes courses in curious things, such as how to make stone tools.


Pack-Training Your Pup

Tired of carrying Fido’s food on the trail? John Rettig shares a few tips for training your favorite four-leggeds to haul their own.

Edited by Kristie Perry

I have seen far too many people attempt to make a dog carry a pack for the first time right at the trailhead, and it looked very unpleasant for the dog. I have also twice found packs abandoned along the trails, and my assumption was that the dog ran off, squirmed out of it, and just left it there.
So when it was time to for my Siberian Husky, Leila, to start carrying her own kibble, I took a different approach:

I started her by having Leila wear an empty pack in the house for just a minute or two at a time, and rewarded her with treats and praise. After a few days of this, she seemed agreeable to wearing the pack for longer intervals, and stopped paying much attention to it when it was on.

Next, I took her for walks around the neighborhood with an empty pack. Like most dogs, Leila loved walks, and she started associating seeing the pack with having fun. That was the key, and from that point forward Leila donned her pack without protest.

After a couple of days of walking Leila around the neighborhood with empty panniers, I stuffed them with crumpled newspaper to bulk the pack up. Occasionally, I’d have to help her if she caught a tree with a pannier.

Once Leila became accustomed to the pack's width, I started adding a bit of weight, always being careful to keep the panniers balanced.

Within two weeks time, Leila was easily carrying five pounds—the equivalent of two liters of water, plus her kibble. So we hit the trails.

After a month of hiking every weekend, Leila was ready for Mt. Defiance. And she knew when she saw my pack and hers come out, fun was on the agenda.

The results of this gentle acclimation was that Leila took the pack for granted and never tried to squirm out of it—it was just part of the trail experience. The flip side: she also learned what it meant when only my pack came out and hers didn’t. She knew I was heading out, and she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t going. I suffered many a withering scowl, something Siberians are famous for.

Long-time Mazama member John Rettig has been a Mazama member since 1999. He is currently serving his third year on the Executive Council, where has also served as Secretary for all three years. He has completed the 16 Northwest Peaks, was awarded the Parker Cup in 2012 for service to the organization, and the Montague Conservation award in 2014.


Tramping Down Under

Author pauses on the shores of the Kepler Track's Lake Manapouri
Article and photos by Sue Griffith

New Zealand is one of those magical places that demands unhurried exploration. Home to miles of jaw-dropping beauty, and water so pure you can drink it from the source, it begs to be explored on foot. Hiking, or “tramping” as the Kiwi’s call it, is my favorite way to explore. Not only does it offer a chance to experience natural splendors up close, but it provides an opportunity to meet like-minded folks who share a passion for the outdoors. With only two weeks to invest down under, the biggest problem is deciding where to start.

Lake at MacKinnon Pass on Milford Track.
In 1993, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) selected what it considered the country's nine best hiking routes and developed those crown jewels into a hut and track network of premier hiking trails. Scattered around the North and South Islands, a land area the size of Colorado, these Great Walks serve as gateways to some of the best backcountry scenery in the world. Fiordlands National Park in the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area of southwestern New Zealand is home to two of the Great Walks: the famous Milford Track with its stunning waterfalls and verdant valleys and the lesser-known Kepler Track featuring misty mountain tops and tussock-lined ridges. These two tracks offer a range of habitats in a single region. Problem solved.

Swing bridge at the start of the Milford Track.
The four-day, 33-mile Milford Track is the best-known of the Great Walks and requires considerable advance planning as a consequence (see www.greatwalks.co.nz). Up until 1965, the Milford was open only to fee-paying guided walkers staying in expensive, privately operated lodges. This scheme did not sit well with locals and spurred the little-known ‘Milford Freedom Walk’, a protest that led to today’s parallel system of guided and independent walkers. By chance, I met a hut warden who had taken part in that illegal 1964 hike of the Milford. A small, lean woman with time-worn features, she paused a moment remembering her teenage self of 50 years ago, then laughed as she recounted her tale. Like merry pranksters, they slept in soggy tents, forded dangerously swollen rivers clutching at hastily strung ropes, and barely persuaded a local boat owner to shuttle them back to their cars in Milford. Their bold actions convinced the DOC to revamp their fee rules and now everyone has free access to the track, paying only for accommodations. Guided walkers, or “pamper trampers”, enjoy fully serviced luxury lodges with hot showers, fluffy bedding, and gourmet meals. Independent walkers travel the same track but carry food, cooking utensils, and bedding, and stay in the more spartan DOC huts. Costs differ by a factor of ten. It was an easy choice. The Milford is a one-way track, hiked south to north. To maintain the wilderness experience, the government limits the number of trampers starting each day to 40 independent walkers and 50 guided walkers. The outfitters stage the guided walkers throughout the morning to further minimize crowding on the track. The independent walkers must advance each day to the next hut. No exceptions, not even for foul weather. A reminder to pack accordingly.

Mountain vistas along the Kepler Track.
Guided or independent, the Milford adventure begins with an unforgettable 85-minute ferry ride to the northern tip of Lake Te Anau. I braved the unprotected top deck to soak in my surroundings—knife-edged mountains dusted with fresh snow, icy spray from the lake, and but for the primitive landing at Glade Wharf, not a sign of civilization.

There are plenty of books and websites describing the natural features of the Milford Track—its spectacular river valleys, sky-scraping peaks, and breathtaking waterfalls. But what sticks in my mind isn’t found in these accounts. My memories fix on the day-to-day hut and trail experiences, those things you can’t Instagram: the 250-foot suspension bridge with just a little too much swing to it; hikers from around the globe chattering in a dozen different languages; the post-hike dips in glacier-fed waters; a late-night trip to the outhouse with an impromptu astronomy lesson when a stranger points out the Southern Cross and its pointer stars (Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri); the nocturnal call of a lonely kiwi desperate for a mate; the eery blue-green luminescence of glow-worms tucked among forest ferns; cheeky kea, alpine parrots working in tandem to steal your food in a choreographed performance where one bird cavorts in front of you while his co-conspirator sneaks behind to grab your lunch; rivers of liquid jade, so clear you can see not just the stones on the bottoms but the mile-long trout that call it home. Now we’re talking about the finest walk in the world.
Kepler Track ridgeline.

The Kepler Track opened in 1988 to relieve pressure from the over-subscribed Milford. The 37-mile loop offers trampers more flexibility than the Milford. It can be hiked in either direction, or to a single hut and back, and offers both DOC huts and camping sites. The whole loop can be completed in three or four days.

Like the Milford, you don’t have to search long for mile by mile descriptions of the Kepler Track’s beech forests, tussock grasslands, and mountain ridges. And again, the memorable moments are the unscripted ones: tramping through the towering, Suess-like fern forests; the ranger-led nature walks full of information about the local flora and fauna; learning to carve a shallow line in the dirt to attract curious robins for an up close and personal encounter; that top-of-the-world feeling when the clouds finally clear on Mt. Luxmore’s 5,000 foot summit; surviving the 90-plus knee-numbing switchbacks on the 3,000 foot drop to the Iris Burn Hut; the backcountry outhouses set in the most stunning scenery imaginable; intense quiet and air so pure it has no scent; inky nights lit only by the moon and stars; and looking back up the mountain to see what you’ve accomplished.
The highest point on Milford Track.

The Kiwis are a friendly bunch, and the hospitality did not stop at the end of the trail. A sparsely populated country with ten times more livestock than people, over the course of my two week visit I ran into the same bus driver three times. Soon we were on a first name basis. Like so many folks I’d met, Allan was a natural-born storyteller and added a new episode each time we met. After learning I had completed the Kepler, he asked me about the trail’s notorious winds. He listened to my report of 50 mph gusts, then launched into his own tale of a Swiss hiker who had encountered 110 mph winds on the Luxmore Saddle. The hiking group turned back, but this guy figured since he had summited both Everest and K-2, he could navigate the Luxmore Saddle on his own. Indeed, he completed the track but spent four hours on hands and knees traversing the two miles of exposed saddle. By now, it felt like Allan and I were old friends.

Milford Sound greets us at the end of the track.
With so many beautiful hiking options at home, why travel halfway around the globe to hike? The cross-cultural connections. The sense of a common human language in a troubled world. The suspension of time and place. For two wonderful weeks, New Zealand embraced me and delivered a perfect adventure I hoped would never end.


Planning Your Next Adventure Just Got Easier

Planning your summer adventure? Thinking of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing Mt. Hood? Or how about upping your climbing game or refining your rope skills? Ever wondered what climbing Everest was like in the 1960s or the early history of Andes exploration? As a member of the Mazamas, you have access to over 2500 hiking and climbing guides, technical and how-to books, DVDs, maps, and more! Finding those resources got a whole lot easier.

The Mazama Library is launching an online library catalog! For the first time in the library’s 101 year history, we’ll know what is on the shelf at any given time. Beginning June 1, you’ll be able to search the catalog by going to mazamalibrary.org and clicking on the Search Library Catalog link.

What does this mean for you? The online catalog will allow you to search the collection and put books on hold. You will still need to come to the library to check out and pick up your books. You do not need your patron number to put books on hold, but you will need a number to check books out. The library will begin giving out patron numbers on the first of June. See the librarian or a library volunteer on your first visit to get your patron number. They will also assist you in checking out books until you become familiar with the new system. (We strongly recommend that you do not put your patron number sticker on the back of your Mazamas ID card. You are issued a new ID card every year when you renew your dues with the organization. Your library number is good for as long as you are member in good standing and will not be reissued each year. We recommend that you put the barcode sticker on the back of your driver’s license or other semi-permanent card in your wallet.)

Along with the new system, we are also updating the library’s circulation policies. You will now be able to check out five books at a time for a month. We are also introducing a new, shorter loan time of two weeks on new releases. You will be able to renew new releases as long as no one has put the title on hold. The non-circulating policies remain the same for journals and special collection rare books.

Whether you're planning your next weekend away or want to increase your mountaineering knowledge, save yourself time and money and start your research with the Mazama Library. Remember, it’s yours to use!

The Mazama Library is open Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m.–2 p.m. 

Searching the Catalog:
Visit www.mazamas.org/resources/library and click on the Search Library Catalog link. You will be redirected to the new library online catalog. At the top of the page you will see the search box. The default is to search by “All Words,” this will search all the catalog records, across all the catalog fields (title, author, publisher, terms, etc) and return a list of titles that contain that word. You can refine your search by clicking the down arrow next to “All Words” and selecting Title, Author, Subject, etc. This will help narrow your list of results. 

Putting a title on hold: 
The search results screen you will see the title, author, call number, ISBN (if present), publisher info, and any local holding notes. To the right you’ll see the number of holdings and number available. Click on the Request Hold button. The next screen asks for your name, patron number, and email. Your name is required, and while optional, your patron number and email will help us better serve you. You are also given a space for any special requests or questions related to your hold request. After filling in all the fields, click the “Request Hold” button at the bottom of the screen. If the title is available, it will be put on the holds shelf at the library. If the title is currently checked out, you will be put on a waitlist for the title and we will email you when it becomes available.


The Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim in One Day

Amy, Michah and Keith at Bright Angel Point on the North
Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Photo: Keith Daellenbach

by Keith K. Daellenbach

In June 2016, a month after starting a new engineering manager job at a Portland company, my boss allowed me to head out on an epic 24-day road trip with my wife, Amy, and our 10-year old son, Micah. I am grateful for the generous vacation right after starting a new job. We made the most of it driving over 5,100 miles, hiking 103 miles, and visiting nine National Parks, two National Monuments, one National Recreation Area, and two Native American tribal parks in the desert southwest and in Colorado. It reminded me of the road trips I took with my family when I was a kid in the Brown family Ford Ranch Wagon, a veritable boat launched each summer for discovery. The highlight of last summer’s tour was the one-day, rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Of the Grand Canyon, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.” While the Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, it was President Theodore Roosevelt that first established it as a National Monument in 1908.

A little more than half way through our trip exploring the Colorado Plateau, we arrived to Grand Canyon National Park. Earlier in the trip, we were only a few miles from the headwaters of the 1,450 mile long Colorado River at Milner Pass (10,759’) on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park approximately 750 miles upriver from Phantom Ranch. The drive up to the South Rim is admittedly not particularly noteworthy, but once at the edge of the Grand Canyon itself, the earth opens up with a vast maw miles across and over a mile deep. I could not help but chuckle recalling the irony of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold’s character in Vacation (1983) who, upon first seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, impatiently responds to his wife’s question, “Don’t you want to look at the Grand Canyon?”, with an abrupt scenery scan and, “Ok, let’s go.”

Originally, I figured we would split up the hike with a stay at Phantom Ranch lodging at the Colorado River crossing, but by the time I planned this hike, those accommodations had long since been snapped up. So too were all sites at backcountry campgrounds (Cottonwood, Bright Angel, Indian Garden) along the route. The application for these backcountry permits occurs some five months before the hike. Not to take anything away from staying overnight in the Grand Canyon, completing the 23.5 mile hike in one day means far less gear required as it is essentially reduced to a long day hike. The beauty is no backcountry permit is required for a day hike.

Each year, this National Park receives over 350 requests for assistance by hikers experiencing a variety of issues including fatigue, heat exhaustion, underlying medical conditions, and lack of preparation or planning. Warning signs along the rim are ubiquitous, including those blaring “Caution! Down is Optional, Up is Mandatory!”. Given the summer heat an be suffocating, paying heed to these warnings is warranted. We planned for each of us to have plenty of caloric food, lots of salty snacks and protein, and plenty of water and electrolyte drinks. Amy made sure we each had lightweight hiking pants, full sleeve shirts, sun hats, and sun screen. If we had to stop at night, where the desert temperature can drop dramatically, each of us had a lightweight down or polar fleece jacket and an emergency space blanket just in case.

There are probably several ways to dial in logistics for this point-to-point hike. It makes sense to start at the North Rim and hike to the South Rim because trailhead at the North Rim (8,241’) is over thirteen hundred feet higher than the trailhead at the South Rim (6,860’), so there is less elevation gain than elevation to descend. For transportation to the North Rim, we packed our day packs and, wearing only our hiking clothes and shoes, parked our car at the Maswik Lodge and took the one-way Trans-Canyon Shuttle (www.trans-canyonshuttle.com, $90/per person). This van shuttle departs twice daily from the South Rim at Bright Angel Lodge for a 215 mile, four and a half hour trip. It crosses the Colorado River over Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon (river mile 684.2 as measured from U.S./Mexico border) just down river from Lees Ferry on the way to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. There, we checked into our frontier cabin adjacent to the historic lodge (ca. 1930’s) and had a feast in the cavernous main lodge dining room. One last niggling bit of logistics required arrangements for transport from the Lodge two miles back up the road to the North Kaibab trailhead. I didn’t want to add any distance to the already long hike, so I offered “Jack” our Trans-Canyon Shuttle driver, who was staying on the North Rim overnight, forty dollars to take us there at three in the morning. He responded by saying he would be able to do it if we could agree on the price of twenty dollars. Sold!

So, after our feast and evening stroll around the grounds of the lodge, we retired to soft, warm beds and set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. We awoke, and Jack was outside waiting for us with the engine running and drove us over to the trailhead under cover of darkness. By 3 a.m. we were underway. An ominous flash of lightning lit up the forest, and a few rain sprinkles dried up quickly in the desiccated air. Over 14.5 miles, the trail descends 5,761 feet to where it crosses the Colorado River at 2,480 feet. For the most part, it is a gradual descent along a wide hiking trail. The upper sections navigate across cliffs of sedimentary rock hundreds of feet thick; in some places the route has been blasted into the cliff itself so it is nearly a tunnel with only one side open out to a precipitous drop. There is, in fact, one short section blasted directly through buttress of rock named Supai Tunnel. While expertly trained, this descent on the back of a mule would be unnerving for me.

As the morning wore on, the stars overhead lost their illumination and the first hints of sunlight striking the upper cliffs now high above us took on colors of purple, red, orange, yellow, and cream. We continued our descent. One of the remarkable things about this hike is the abundance of potable water. The Kaibab Plateau through which the Colorado River cuts the Grand Canyon dips north to south, so surface water and melted snow permeating rocks on the north side of the canyon essentially flow towards the river while surface water permeating rock on the south side of the canyon essentially flows away from the river. This manifests itself at Roaring Springs, 4.7 miles hiking below the North Rim. Here, tremendous volumes of year-round water emanate from a Paleozoic layer between permeable Muav limestone resting on top of an impermeable Bright Angel shale.

This water is treated at Roaring Springs and is pumped both up to the North Rim and, conversely, allowed to drain down to Phantom Ranch where it is pumped across the river in a pipe on the underside of the silver suspension bridge (ca. late 1960’s, river mile 601.15) and up to the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Nearly six million people visited Grand Canyon National Park last year and most of them came to the South Rim, so it is a tribute to the bountiful Roaring Springs and the engineering feat which pumps 500,000 gallons of water a day up to the South Rim Village. When all drinking water fountains are in operation along this trail, which are between one and seven miles apart, cool, clear water from Roaring Springs is available. It is possible that this pipe distribution system could erode and break leading to no potable water at the fountains for sections of the trail. Always carry plenty of water on all trail sections and note that water from Bright Angel Creek (north side of river) and Garden Creek (south side of river) can be filtered for use if the fountains are not in operation.

Keith, Amy and Micah beside the Colorado River in Grand
Canyon National Park. Photo: Keith Daellenbach.
As the day warmed, at each fountain, we religiously stopped, ate, drank water, and doused our hiking shirt and caps in water and put them back on. Evaporative cooling fended off overheating for some time before our shirts and hats dried out before the next stop. Once in the canyon, the perspective changes from the glorious vistas over the gaping chasm to close in-cliffs, side canyons, and desert scrub flora, including prickly pear cactus and blackbrush. Along the way, we saw desert spiny lizards and mule deer.

We reached Phantom Ranch (built ca. 1922) before noon and poked our heads into the dormitory accommodations. While clean, to me, it looked a little dodgy given some of the region’s rodents carry infectious diseases like hantavirus. While we were there tanking up on water, a ground squirrel tore into the backpack of one of the Phantom Ranch guests. If it were me staying there, I’d prefer a tent. In any case, don’t feed the wildlife as they can not only spread infectious diseases through fleas and ticks, they can also be aggressive causing injury.

It was here, where clear Bright Angel Creek deposits into the Colorado River, that one-armed Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell and his pioneering geographic expedition arrived on the 84th day of their expedition on 16 August 1869. Starting in the Wyoming Territory and down the great unknown of the Green and Colorado Rivers, they explored and mapped one of the last truly unexplored regions of the contiguous United States. They spent a couple days repairing their wooden boats and drying out meager rations. His original name for this creek was Silver Creek, but later renamed it to its present name. We went down to the river’s edge and watched the muddy water race by; the river there is about 150 feet wide.

We crossed over the silver bridge, and the temperature was hovering slightly over 100˚F. Amy felt like we were walking through time, starting with the Precambrian basement Vishnu Schist rock—1.7 billion years old and containing intrusions of red-flecked Zoroaster granite. Indeed, the Grand Canyon is one of the most complete records of exposed geologic layering in the world. While the rocks are ancient, the canyon itself is young. Like a layer cake rising against a blade, it formed primarily in the last six million years as the Kaibab Plateau uplifted allowing greater river gradient and therefore fast erosion by the river.

Hiking up 4,380 ft. in elevation from the river over 9 miles along the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim, one eventually leaves the metamorphic schist of the Inner Gorge and passes through layer after layer of sandstone, shale, and limestone formations that were the result of millions of years of marine depositions into the Panthalassic Ocean prior to the formation of the supercontinent Pangea. The rock layer that caps the South Rim is 270 million years old. Along our way, we broke one of the cardinal park rules by hiking during the oppressive mid-day heat but we took our time. We were careful not to overexert and actually felt fine, taking frequent rest and water/food breaks. We ended up in semi-rescue mode of a former infantry soldier who had served in Iraq and, while very tough mentally, was woefully unprepared lacking basic provisions. We leap-frogged each other out of the canyon and by the last time we saw him a couple miles below the South Rim we had given him water, food, ibuprofen, ace bandage, a trekking pole, and a headlamp (which he returned to our lodging later that night).

The last push to the top above Indian Garden Campground climbs through a wall comprised of 3,000 ft. of cliff formations that look impenetrable from below. This remarkable trail threads its way through natural weaknesses in the cliffs. In the evening, as we were nearing the rim, we saw a flash of lightning . I measured 45 seconds on my wristwatch—a little over 9 miles away (speed of sound is roughly 5 seconds per mile). Indeed, the storm cell appeared to be parked about that distance away over Phantom Ranch. As the measured time between flash and sound decreased to 35 seconds (about 7 miles away), I told Amy and Micah we would have to pick up the pace on this exposed trail near the rim to make sure we reached the safety of buildings on the rim before the storm overtook us. Fortunately, after 16:44 hours of hiking, we arrived at the South Rim just after sunset and dove into the gift store at Bright Angel Lodge just as it started to pour. Here, we purchased “rim to rim” T-shirts. Micah gave his all on that final push to the top and threw up in the restroom, feeling better afterwards. Tough kid. With that behind us, we celebrated our accomplishment that night with a hot shower, meal, and a soft bed at Maswik Lodge a few hundred yards from the Rim—our epic completed.

Americans have a propensity to boast about how great our country is, and the Grand Canyon is truly one place that will not disappoint. If you’re planning a visit the Grand Canyon and want to hike, consider skipping the bureaucracy and heavy pack and hike through geologic history on a long day-hike traverse of this amazing national treasure.