2.12.2019

Snow (but not mud!) Free Hikes for Off Season Training

 Neahkahnie Mountain from the Cape Falcon trail.
Photo: Darrin Gunkel.
by Darrin Gunkel

Snowshoeing not your thing? Traction devices annoy you? Here are 8 hikes to keep your blood pumping through the winter months that don’t involve strapping anything beyond gaiters to your feet.

One of the beauties of hiking and climbing in the greater Portland area has always been the multitude of 365-day per year (more or less, depending on the occasional ice storm) training options afforded by the Columbia Gorge. That is, until the Eagle Creek Fire shut down most every trail on the Oregon side of the river. The 2017 conflagration put dozens of reliable all-season hikes out of commission indefinitely. And it ruined more than a few winter training schedules.

The speed of the recovery isn’t smiling on the itchy-footed and the impatient. Gorge trails are beginning to reopen, particularly around Multnomah Falls and Angel’s Rest. Unfortunately, the Forest Service warns conditions can be dicey, with downed trees, washed out trails, and lots of loose mud and rock. As a result, expect your favorite off-season training trails to be a bit slower than before. Even if you’re experienced with rough trail conditions, there’s also the matter of conservation to consider. During the wet season, the erosional effects of fire damage are magnified and “normal” wear and tear takes a greater long-run toll. The message here is maybe we should go easy on the Oregon side of the Gorge for a while.

Not like our region doesn’t have plenty other winter hiking options. What follows are some of the better low elevation trails for varying degrees of training. Outside of the occasional winter snow blast, these routes are open year-round, and more or less the same distance from the main population centers as the Gorge trails.

1. Tryon Creek Outer Loop: 5.7 miles, 630 feet elevation gain

If you’ve found yourself a little out of shape after the holidays, Tryon Creek State Park’s a great place to break your hiking fast and begin warming up for the summer. The Outer Loop, as described in the OregonHikers.org field guide is just the right length to begin restretching those (ahem) well-rested muscles. The park has tons of trails through mature second growth forest, though, and with a trail map in hand, you can tailor your own workout to fit whatever mileage and elevation needs you have.

2. Milo McIver Riverside Loop: 6.1 miles, 690 feet

This loop around the north side of Milo McIver State Park drops down the bluff to wander along the banks of the Clackamas River, saving the workout for the end. It also skirts a top-notch disc golf course! Again, Oregon Hikers maps out the details of this particular trip. But as with Tryon Creek, plenty of trails crawl up and down the bluff, allowing you to patch together any sort of workout you like.
Clackamas River Trail. Photo: Darrin Gunkel

3. Clackamas River Trail: 8.2 and 1,550 feet, one way

If you want to bring a bike, or an extra car, you can stash either the Fish Creek or Indian Henry Trailheads on the Clackamas River and through hike this fine portion of the Clackamas River, and sample one of Oregon’s newer protected areas, the Clackamas River Wilderness (established in 2009.) The net elevation gain from Fish Creek to Indian Henry is just 350 feet, but the trail bobs up and down the whole way, stacking up the elevation and making it a better workout than many other lower-elevation river hikes. If you don’t want to car shuttle or bike (or hitchhike) back to your car, an out-and-back trip from Fish Creek to Pup Creek Falls is bit shorter, at 7.8 miles, but adds 145 feet to the total elevation. Or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you could always do entire trail out and back for a workout equal to many of the tougher trails on Hood. 

4. The other Eagle Creek: up to 15.4 miles and up to 1835 feet

Not a lot of people know about the other Eagle Creek, flowing west out of the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness, into the Clackamas, near Estacada. It could be argued that this is a better springtime hike, once the carpets of oxalis on the old growth forest floor start blooming. Then again, there are many things to recommend the deep ancient forest in the depths of winter. Not the least of which is the lack of company. This hike begins and climbs a little higher than the others listed here, so check with the Estacada ranger station about snowpack before you go. 

5. Silver Falls

There’s a lot more to Silver Falls State Park than the Silver Falls and Ten Falls Loops. The Perimeter Loop rewards your efforts with 16.8 miles and 2470 feet gained, but could be a bit snowy or icy. If you do the Buck Mountain Loop and add the Howard Creek and Cutoff Trails, you not only clock 8.6 miles and nearly 1,000 feet, you get to admire some fine old growth trees, as well.

6. South Molalla River Trails: up to 9.9 miles and 1,375 feet—or more!

 As with Tryon and Milo McGiver, many trails in BLM managed Molalla River Recreation Area wind up and down the bluff and along the river. Half the fun here is just picking a route. And there’s another possibility in this neck of the woods. Just 20 minutes further down the road, and you come to the Old Bridge Trailhead for Table Rock Wilderness. The trail into the wilderness here leaps up 1800 feet in the first 2.5 miles. This would put you at 3000 feet, not entirely out of the question in a low snowpack year like 2019. Not a bad jaunt, if you feel the need to do something steep with your day. 
The pyramid wall at Macks Canyon. Photo: Darrin Gunkel.

7. Macks Canyon Skyline: as much mileage as you want, and up to 1,800 feet elevation

The Deschutes River Canyon east of Tygh Valley, where Oregon Route 216 crosses the river, doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. A BLM road leads north from the river crossing, winding through a spectacular collection of basalt pyramids, ridges, and walls, ending at Macks Canyon campground. From here, you could march 23.6 miles, slowly and steadily downstream, to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area at the Columbia. Or, you can pick a route up one of those ridges. The pyramid walling the east bank of the river just past the campground is a good option. Traversing it south to north and returning via the river trail will earn you 1800 feet up and down in 4.8 miles. And views of Adams, Hood, and Jefferson from the canyon rim. 

8. Oregon Coast Trail from Shingle Mill to Short Sands 15.9 miles, 2,750 feet. 

You can drive within a half mile of Short Sands Beach, but unless you’re carrying three kids and four surfboards, why would you want to do that? To get a real workout, and a real feel of the Pacific Coast, spend a whole day on this leg of the Oregon Coast Trail. Beginning just off Highway 101, at the OCT Shingle Mill Trailhead, it’s the nearest true hiking stretch of the OCT to the Portland-Vancouver area—a little more than an hour and a half. As long as the traffic gods smile upon you or leave early enough to beat the day-tripper traffic on Route 26 (which you probably want to do anyway, given the mileage on the route) you should have plenty of time to hike, dawdle among ancient Sitka spruce, lounge above the Pacific Ocean at Cape Falcon, and watch surfers compete for waves at Short Sands.

2.06.2019

Lightweight, Nutritious, Sustainable, Delicious

by Ali Gray



Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay
If you’re anything like me, you get super hungry when you’re out in the backcountry. After a long day of backpacking or climbing, all I want is to sit down to a hot meal and load up on calories. An outdoor meal should leave me feeling satisfied and happy. Food that’s local, created sustainably, tastes great, and doesn’t break the bank is a definite plus.

When you’re craving a burger, fries, and a cold beer, re-hydrating a package of freeze-dried mediocre linguine from the store can be a bit of a letdown. But it doesn’t have to be! There are tons of options for do-it-yourself adventure food, and just as many non-corporate, tastier options than the wall of Mountain House at REI.

Enter: the dehydrator.

You can pick one of these up for pretty cheap (around $60 from many online stores), and they’re well worth the investment. Any beginner knows a home dehydrator is perfect for dried fruit of any kind. Apple rings (tip: cut the apple through the core for pretty star patterns in your rings), banana chips, mango, kiwi, strawberry, the list goes on. Feeling adventurous? Try adding some spices—spicy dried mango, anyone? Home-dehydrated fruits are cheap, easy, flavorful, and don’t contain added sugar and chemical preservatives.

After drying some fruit, it’s time to branch out into the wider world of amazing dehydrator meals. Believe it or not, a simple dehydrator is capable of drying all sorts of foods, including vegetables, sauces, meats, soups, and beans (no soak time required).

Breakfast

Dose Juice on Unsplash

  • Trail smoothie: Simply blend up your favorite smoothie and spread it out on a dehydrator tray. Once it’s brittle, grind it up in a coffee grinder and put it in a resealable bag. Out on the trail, add a little water and you have a smoothie, just like at home.
  • DIY oatmeal: Packaged oatmeal is a little…gross. Sugar and mystery ingredients, anyone? Instead, add whatever you want to some instant oats and you’re all set. Some fun ideas are chia seeds, hemp seeds, oat bran (fiber), powdered milk (creaminess), sugar or substitute (if you have a sweet tooth), vanilla bean powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon or other spices, dried fruits, and nuts.

Lunch and snacks


  • DIY trail mix: Home-dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate, coconut...
  • DIY granola bars: Easier than you think to make at home. There are plenty of recipes online, including for KIND bars.
  • Summer sausage or home-dehydrator jerky paired with a hard cheese (safe without refrigeration in cooler temps). Eat on whole grain crackers, or rehydrate some hummus and make a wrap.
  • Consider rehydrating a meal pouch at breakfast and letting it soak until lunch. Many foods are just as good cold as they are warm.

Dinner

StockSnap on Pixabay

  • Soup: Use your favorite soup recipe: dehydrate the veggies and add all the ingredients in a resealable bag. If you’re adding meat, consider purchasing freeze-dried meats since they don’t rehydrate very well when dehydrated. I did read that dehydrated canned chicken works fairly well.
  • Couscous, pasta, and instant rice: Same instructions as for soup. There are tons of recipes online—risotto, curry, jambalaya, and many more. Consider dehydrating a marinara or curry sauce in your dehydrator!
  • Ramen: Ditch the nutrient-deficient spice packet, and use the instant noodles with your own blend of dehydrated veggies and spices.
  • Other ideas: Instant mashed potatoes or polenta.
  • Dessert: Rice pudding (instant rice, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, water to rehydrate), fruit leather (DIY), apple crisp (granola, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, dried apples, water to rehydrate).

Online dried ingredient marketplaces


Don’t want to invest in a dehydrator or don’t have the time or space? There are online shops that cater to backpackers and sell pre-dried individual ingredients, reusable rehydration pouches, and single-serve condiments.

These stores are more expensive that doing it yourself, but if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to figure out how to dry some of the more persnickety foods (I’ve always struggled with squash), they’re a fantastic option. I’ve used Packit Gourmet (they also sell tasty meal pouches), but other options are Harmony House Foods and FoodStorage.com.

Other quick tips

Save your boil-in-a-bag pouches. Wash them out and re-use them for your own dehydrator meals.
Organize your dehydrator meals in clear, resealable bags. Write on the bag what is inside (and the day you plan to eat it on a multi-day trip), and place breakfasts, lunches/snacks, and dinners in separate stuff sacks for easy sorting.

Dry dark leafy greens in your dehydrator, then grind them into a powder in your coffee grinder. This is an easy way to add nutrients to your morning smoothie or oatmeal, or into a dinner pouch. “Power green” powders are also available online, but it’s much cheaper to do it yourself. All those grains and nuts take a toll on our digestive systems and adding greens can really help.

Alternatives to Mountain House

Mountain House meals are fine, but they can quickly get old. And 2 servings? More like 1. Found that one out the hard way.

There are plenty of smaller companies producing dried meals popping up in local shops and online.

  • Food for the Sole: Originally a mom making meals for her son hiking the John Muir Trail, they now make “tasty health-conscious adventure foods”. And they’re based in Bend!
  • Backpackers Pantry: Becoming widely available at local stores. They do actually serve 2 people, use high-quality ingredients, and are a member of 1% for the Planet.
  • Heather’s Choice: Small batch, healthy, and handmade in Alaska.
  • Fishpeople: Soups and chowders made with wild, sustainably caught seafood.
  • Packit Gourmet: Tex-Mex inspired meals from a mother-and-daughter team.
  • Outdoor Herbivore: Vegetarian and vegan options with no additives, less sodium, and no artificial anything.


Now get out there and plan some tasty meals!

2.02.2019

Groundhog Day

by Jonathan Barrett

It is Groundhog Day ... again. In honor of the movie (and the holiday), I have five suggestions for how to break out of your climbing and hiking deja vu. From the gear that we use, to the goals that we set for ourselves, a repeated outing is given context by these things. Although we are to some degree trapped by the fact that the Gorge is only so large and that there are a limited number of crags within an hour or two of home, we don’t need to feel like Bill Murray’s character waking up every day to the same bars of Sonny and Cher: “Then put your little hand in mine/There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.” It is possible to expand the universe without leaving the confines of its boundaries.
The author considers the merits of eating ice cream on a saddle
during a summer climbing road trip. Photo: Andrew Barnes. 

Use someone else’s gear

We all get used to the gear that we employ: our cams, our pack, our tent. This breeds familiarity, and frankly it makes our lives easier. Setting up your personal tent in a downpour takes only moments because you have done it a thousand times before. Plugging your gold Camalot into the hand-jam-sized crack becomes second nature. Every so often, I get the opportunity to climb on a partner’s gear such as during my most recent ice trip to Hyalite. I have climbed on Petzl Nomics since they were first introduced; my partner had brought a pair of Trango Raptors. Midway up The Dribbles, right before the WI4 headwall pitch, I asked to use his tools. The first couple of swings were awkward. The ice axes felt weirdly imbalanced. To compensate, I turned to using better footwork and looked down instead of up. The features of the ice curtain were transformed. Blobs appeared that I might not have noticed before, and I stepped on them gently, like they were features on a rock climb. In the minutes that followed, I climbed a completely new route with improved technique.
John Sharp investigates up-close the elusive (and viviparous)
rubber boa on the approach to Goode Mountain.
Photo: Jonathan Barrett. 

Climb at an odd time of day (or year)

“You know what I want to do?” Jarred asked me. Frankly I couldn’t guess, given his proclivity for provocative ideas. “Climb Dod’s Jam in the dark,” he said. In the dark? Why? When pressed, he didn’t have an answer really, something about the moonrise over the Bonneville Dam. Because I acquiesced, two weeks later I found myself face to face with a bushy-tailed woodrat, otherwise known as the infamous snafflehound. It’s eyes were glowing spheres under the light of my headlamp. He (or maybe she) tried to squeeze its shivering body into the fissure at the back of the “bird’s nest” belay stance. The moon had not yet risen over the cliffs of the Gorge, so beyond the wan circle of light, it was exceedingly dark: a hold-your-hand-two-inches- from-your-face-and-not-see-anything dark. Typically when I stem up the off-width corner on that climb, the exposure rattles my nerves a little. The climbing isn’t very hard relative to some of the sequences on the rest of the route, but there is something about the way that feature pitches ever so slightly towards the river that normally makes me sweat. That night, though, I didn’t feel any trepidation. I could turn my light towards the Oregon side of the Columbia and view only a wall of black. I carefully pasted the rubber of my shoes against the wrinkled edges and moved upwards with uncommon confidence because I could not see. Three months later, Jarred and I found ourselves finishing Young Warriors in the dark after attempting a multi-route link-up. As I belayed him up onto the final ridgeline, I turned my headlamp toward the remaining slabs and cracks. A familiar set of glowing eyes looked back at me in what must have been disbelief. Or perhaps it was annoyance. What was the little bugger thinking? Maybe: Oh! Not this guy again!

Bring different food

Knowing that a little levity can ease a tedious activity,
Andrew Ault takes the time to posedown mid-slog up
Mt. Adams. Photo: Jonathan Barrett.
Food is fuel, but also culture. As anyone who has traveled internationally knows, cuisine defines an experience, even if it is just Le Big Mac consumed on the streets of Paris. As such, the meals that we bring color our experiences in the outdoors. For better or worse, freeze-dried options have transformed backcountry dining and the way that people move through wild spaces. I have both a Jetboil and a Whisperlite. The choice between the two affects the culture of the trip. Typically, I bring the former for many of the obvious reasons: weight, fuel efficiency, and speed of eating. Consider the impact that this kind of choice has on a trip up the Emmons Glacier. With a night before and potentially after the climb at Camp Sherman, the instinct is to go as light as possible. However, a pot of tortellini smothered in pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and sausage is worth the weight. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to suppress a smug smile as you watched other parties scarf so-called “Chicken and Rice” from a plasticized foil pouch knowing that the only GI distress you will suffer will be altitude-related and not a function of the food. This is true in other ways as well. Last summer I brought with me the makings for a no-bake cheesecake when climbing in the Bugaboos. A bank of snow served as a refrigerator. Dinner that night felt Michelin five-star luxurious as I spooned out servings for my partner and I.

Find a new partner

Who one climbs with determines the vibe as much as what one climbs. With established partnerships, it is easy to warm up on the same routes, eat breakfast at the same joints, and pack in a matter of minutes, which is generally preferable. A new partner can breathe life into stale routines and jolt one out of tunnel vision. For years, my goal when traveling to distant climbing destinations was to climb as much as possible. This seemed to me like the logical thing to do given the financial outlay involved. Once, on an overseas trip, I was stunned to learn that my partner wanted to take the train into a neighboring country just to have lunch. I argued that it wasn’t raining that hard and would probably stop soon. He chuckled at my stupidity and pointed out that there was more to do than climb from sunrise to sunset. Through that new partnership, I have recalibrated and reconsidered my goals when traveling for climbing. This can be just as true for a local spot as well. Who knows how many times I drove past the Beacon Rock Cafe before a new partner once pointed out that we could climb all morning, drive a short distance down the road for a burger, and then head back for more laps. Suddenly that Clif bar in my pocket seemed slightly moronic.

Set completely different goals

I tend to want to hike fast and climb as many pitches as possible. My regular partners give me a hard time for always setting my watch to see how long it took from belay to belay. My goal is efficiency, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, per se. However, it does flavor the outing with a sense of urgency. Consider instead the influence that other goals might lend. Photography is not a hobby of mine, and in the attempt to move quickly, I don’t take many pictures. When I return to share my adventures with friends, the sloppy and ill-framed images are nearly useless. This is not to say that I should be asking my partner to reclimb a pitch multiple times to allow me the benefit of having a perfectly captured and Instagram-worthy photo. I do however envy the care and effort that folks like Steph Abegg have taken to thoughtfully and completely document a trip. This goal-setting philosophy can be applied in other ways as well. Out for a hike on a familiar trail? Maybe try to engage others in conversation or at least friendly banter. How many new acquaintances could you make over a dozen miles? Bring a bird, flower, or tree guidebook and stop to actually investigate that glorious flora that you have seen so many times. Use familiar terrain as an opportunity to try out a new piece of technology. What better place to learn the mapping software than in an area where you can double-check your work?

Some final thoughts

What benefits do these changes have for us as climbers and human beings? If Groundhog Day can teach us anything, it is that being stuck in a loop is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. How we respond to the conditions of our confinement is the question. In reflection, I can honestly say that making these kinds of changes myself have made me a better and more thoughtful climber. As someone who looks at my life and actions through the lens of climbing, they have also reframed the way that I travel, engage with people, and consider the possessions in my life. In doing so, I am equipped so that there is no hill or mountain I can’t climb.

2.01.2019

Skiing the Summit—Reflections on a December Mt. Hood Ski Descent

Words by Jordan Machtelinckx. Photos by Kevin Machtelinckx.

Faraway sounds wake me periodically from a fitful sleep. Giant machines meander around the empty parking lot, putting my REM cycles just out of reach each time they rumble by. Through my iced-up windows I can see windblown snow pass under glowing streetlamps. The wind creaks as it passes between the glass and the metal of my frozen-half-shut window. I continue to straddle the worlds of the waking and that of dreams as I drift off a few more times.

A sharp knock on my window scares the sleep away for good.

Assuming that’s my brother bundled up in the dark out there, then it must be five o’clock. I’ve slept in this parking lot at Timberline Lodge a number of times before, and I fall into the same ritual of emotions brought by an alpine start in December.

It’s cold. I’m tired. Maybe this was a bad idea.

I could be in a real bed.

There are many key attributes to the perfect climbing partner, but the most important one right now is that it’s someone who holds you accountable to get up at a ridiculous hour, in a ridiculous place, to do a ridiculous thing, when the last bits of slumber inject an ominous sense of doom into the day’s undertaking.

I force down a pre-dawn granola breakfast and reward myself with as many sips of thermos-tepid coffee as I can force into my waking body. Freezing fog gently coats my sleeping bag with ice crystals and going back to bed becomes significantly less appealing.

Packs are closed. The beeps from our avalanche beacons are swallowed by the gloomy dark of the overflow parking lot. I realize I’ve got more neighbors now than when I went to bed in the back of my Element. Lights flicker on through foggy windows in one car. Another van lays newly empty as its owner also starts his way toward the edge of the parking lot; the first steps toward the frequently-sought summit of Oregon’s Mt. Hood.

Clicking into my bindings, I tune into the music playing through the wires from my pocket to try to pass the time slogging through the last trees and onto the slopes.

I’m not wearing a watch today, but the milestones are familiar.

Breaking through the final trees: scrambled thoughts contained within the ring of my headlamp on the snow.

Passing by the rime-covered Silcox Hut: doubt.

Starting up along the Palmer express lift: anxiety.

I see climbers’ headlamps shining through the last siege of darkness above, hours ahead of us. Maybe we should have started earlier, too.

A rest near the Palmer lift house—the highest outpost of civilization, past which hikers become climbers. I watch as daybreak washes away the self-doubt. Rays of sunlight illuminate safe, mellow skies.

Not much further up, climbers who have reached the summit are passing us on their way back to the waking lodge, now 3,000 feet below. I leave my self-doubt below Illumination Rock as I enter the spectacular, rime-encrusted cirque of the summit crater. We are now committed to a summit attempt, graced with pleasant weather and agreeable snow conditions, and my rational mind knows that self-doubt has no place in this final 1,500 feet of technical terrain.

The question is no longer “if,” let alone “why,” but “how.” Which of the many routes up the final headwall will present us with the optimal balance of challenge and safe passage? We opt for an exciting attempt on the spectacular Pearly Gates, climbing a few hundred feet of steep, deep snow into a narrowing couloir. The right Gate is occupied by a slow-moving rope team, and melting chunks of ice from the sunlit cliffs above warn us that we have no time to wait around.
I ascend the left Gate, hoping it goes, because I dread downclimbing our steep, unconsolidated boot track extending below.

But alas, I’m stopped by a six-foot vertical wall of hard, blue ice. The longer I debate whether I should attempt it, the more I realize my forearms may not hold out long enough. The obstacle is spectacular, well-featured. A boulder problem of ice. I want to climb it, but more importantly I want to have climbed it. I want to push the threshold of my climbing past this icy couloir.
I take a few steps toward the feature, shattering holds with the tips of my ice tools. I search for solid foot placements, but my calves are burning. I reach up, hesitate, and reach down.

I want to be good enough. I want to live up to my expectations. But my instincts know better. I’m tired. My pack is heavy. One slip and the weight of the skis on my back will catapult me off the wall, tumbling a thousand feet into the summit crater. It would be foolish.

I curse myself for not bringing a rope and ice screws to make an attempt realistic. I immediately thank myself for leaving them behind since we made good time without the extra weight. I am terrified of the downclimb out of this couloir. I am wrestling with the thought that I may have sacrificed our summit because of my selfish desire to climb a route that is beyond me.

My mind is running wild but I am still clinging to the steep ice by the metal tips of my crampons and tools. I acknowledge the rampant emotions and set them aside, one by one. They have no place here. I have a job to do and I know how to do it. Nothing else matters until I get back to the ledge below the couloir.

Downclimbing seems endless. I hate my footholds and my ice tools plunge deep into useless powder.

We meet back at the ledge. I think we both know it was my lust for the Gates that cost us an hour and a half in that couloir. Our skis will save us hours on the descent compared with our previous bootpacking attempts on this mountain, so we agree to make a second attempt up the Old Chute, where most parties are summitting today. I let Kevin take the lead across the wide-open slope. I’m not going to let my ego fuck this one up, too.

The slope steepens, the chutes narrow, and we pick our way through the final rime formations to the summit ridge. Two hundred easy meters take us to a breezy summit, where we realize our fingers are frigid and we have no time to waste.

The summit is the halfway mark to safety. Long, deep breaths lower my heart rate from its frenzied battle against 11,241 feet of thinning air. I have to maintain control of my body so it can keep me safe as I cross a dizzying 20 meters of one-slip-and-you’re-dead knife-edge summit ridge to gain the descent chute.

The steep, soft snow is a cakewalk after that. We find the highest spot to feasibly transition to skis, as skiing off the true summit is impossible for us amateurs.

Perspectives change in downhill mode. Steep slopes which intimidate the uphill climber in me now appear as ideal ski terrain. My interface with the mountain changes as I now want to be sliding across its surface. I distance myself from the summit, with no more desire to be there.

I ski back toward the lodge, my car. To civilization, to safety, to satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Away from fear, self-doubt, and primal danger.

Back down to where I may find the courage to face my demons once again on another dark, cold morning with my brother knocking at my window.

Wake up. We’re going climbing.

1.28.2019

New Hike Leader! Reid Vandewiele

Get to know one of our newest hike leaders, Reid Vandewiele:

Hometown? home·town / noun / the town where one was born or grew up, or the town of one’s present fixed residence. Therefore: Woodland Hills, UT; Eagle Creek, OR; Portland, OR–in chronological and strongly reverse-preferential order!

Years with the Mazamas? I heard about and attended my first Mazamas AYM pub night two and a half years ago. By total coincidence, it happened to be the night Matt Reeder (then the AYM chair) was presenting on his newly published book 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region.

Favorite trips that you’ve led with AYM? My first and still-favorite “leader”-ish role was assisting on an AYM Q (alpine) hike led by Toby Creelan; a summer summit of Mount McLoughlin.

What is one thing that you always bring on a hike that is not one of the 10 essentials? Five-finger hiking shoes. Best. shoes. ever.

Favorite Leader Treat? Surprises (surprise!) of the fruit or chocolate family.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up and why? A bear. I have no idea why. It’s on video. Now, I AM getting hairier as I get older, but assuming a life expectancy of >100 years the curve is not looking good...

What is one surprising thing about yourself that people don’t usually know about you? I have to dig a bit to answer this, most of the really interesting things about me many people already know. Um... I have a 2nd Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do / Kyusho Jitsu / Hapkido mixed martial arts (though I haven’t practiced in years).

People should sign up for a trip with you if.... you like to get your heartbeat up when you’re hiking! I hope to lead some longer, faster, or higher hikes once 2019 gets rolling. If I don’t get an Enchantments permit this year you can bet I’m going to put together a thru-hike!

1.26.2019

Mazama Women Make It Happen—In 1932

by Rick Craycraft

Long before Stacy Allison or Junko Takei set foot on top of Mount Everest, and even before Arlene Blum found her place on Annapurna, Mazama women were out there making a statement in the mountains. Yes, they were well represented on the original Mazama organizational climb in 1894, but not until 1932 did they separate themselves from the leadership of men.

A small item appeared in the July issue of the Mazama Bulletin that year. The bold-faced title of that announcement was Mt. Hood Climb—Girls Only. The climb was scheduled for July 10. The appeal for participants stated, “Girls, you are all urged to get out the old climbing togs and come on the first all-girl climb of the club.” They promised as well that “an ample breakfast will be served after which we will saunter up our old friend, Hood, minus the boyfriends.” The challenge was made complete by declaring, “Let’s show’em we can carry our own packs and have a big turn out.” The invitation listed Bea McNeil and Margaret Lynch as Leaders, and Edith Pierce as Rear Guard.

When the day came the weather did not cooperate and a subsequent article in the August Bulletin stated, “Of these three, two were to have been the leaders for the large party that was anticipated, while the third was to have been the rear guard it was said. So all three took turns at being leader, rear guard and “customer.”

Nevertheless, they persisted, and the three women, plus another, Karin Maki, returned two weeks later under fair skies and gained the summit and made history. There was mention of their landmark climb a few days later in the Oregonian, albeit buried at the end of a paragraph about the accomplishments of men. Still, the author was impressed enough to call their effort “daring.” In any case, these women, and many others, opened doors for our amazing Mazama women climbers of today.

1.15.2019

Volunteer Spotlight: Rex Breunsbach

by Brian Goldman

Many of us in the Mazamas (more than 550!) have hiked quite a few miles with affable, self-effacing Rex Breunsbach. In less than a decade, he has led over 500 hikes, traveling over 7000 miles. He leads a popular Wednesday hike from the MMC that often fills quickly.

What made you decide to start hiking? 
I always liked walking around in cities when I was doing business, but I never hiked in the Gorge until 2010. I saw a brochure for the Trails Club and hiked to their lodge. They told me there was another group called the Mazamas that did more hiking. I was hooked after that. I wasn’t very good at first. I worked at a desk for 50 years. I practically had to crawl on my knees coming back from the Trails Club lodge my knees hurt so bad. I hiked some with Kate Evans and she said I should become a hike leader and join the committee. That got me into leading hikes.

Has your health changed since you started hiking? 
I lost 75 pounds, most of that before I started hiking, but hiking has allowed me to keep it off. My diet was just to eat less. The Jenny Craig diet really did help at first, especially with the portions.

Do you do any exercises to stay limber? 
I do some yoga, mild yoga, not fanatic stuff, probably not enough. It’s a good complement to hiking.

Do you have any favorite hikes? 
I think Larch Mountain is my favorite Gorge hike. Greenleaf Peak, too. One consequence of the Gorge fires is that it pushed people out to try other hikes like Greenleaf Peak.

Any good stories?
We were on Spyglass Ridge in the Smokies and on the way up there are some granite slabs that have some markings so helicopters can land. We went up there and sat on the ridge, similar to Angel’s Rest. As we sat there for lunch a young couple came up behind us and asked us if we came up by helicopter—as if we were too old and feeble to get up the hill.
Any hikes or outings that didn’t turn out as expected?
I’m such an optimist and they generally turn out well.

Ever got lost?
I’ve ended up bushwacking occasionally and it would have been better if I’d stayed on the trail. Sometimes a trail you can see on a GPS doesn’t exist.

Why do so many people show up for your hikes? 
Oh, you get a following and I have an email list that really got it going. I like to keep the group together and they appreciate that. After awhile, you get a core that likes to hike together. I enjoy the camaraderie. I like sending out a group photo afterward.

What equipment do you prefer? 
I like my Deuter pack for the Gorge, especially in the winter. I’ve moved to ultralight when backpacking.

Any favorite foods while hiking? 
Heath bars.

If someone’s never hiked before, how would you encourage them to start? 
Maybe start out with the Rambles - pick a hike that you’re comfortable with. Some people enjoy seeing flowers, others the birds, the trees - nature. Maybe some place like Latourell Falls, with lots of water and trees.

Any favorite places you’ve traveled? 
I thought it was the Alps but now I think it’s the Dolomites, especially in terms of rock formations and scenery. My favorite trek has been the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.

You’re 76 now. Are you slowing down? 
Oh, yeah. I learned that if you go at a reasonable pace you can get anyplace. My proudest hike lead was getting 23 people on top of Mt. Washburn at 10,219 feet. A lot of them hadn’t done any strenuous hikes for a long time. If you have the time, you can get most anybody up these hills—just don’t run. In Patagonia, our hike leader started out really slowly but we all got on top and had a good time when we slowed down and enjoyed it rather than overheating ourselves. It’s better to go slowly than running and running, stopping and then starting.

Anything else? 
Hiking is my drug of choice.

Interested in hiking with Rex? Head over to Mazamas.org/calendar, click on the Leader filter, and type in Rex's name.


1.07.2019

Ann Wendlandt: A conversation with a former editor of the Mazama Bulletin

Ann and Jim Wendlandt at the Mazama Lodge
circa 1953. Photo: Unknown. 
by Jonathan Barrett

When Jim Wendlandt recounted how he met his future wife, it always began, “I saw you sitting by the fireplace…” He and Ann, his wife of 65 years, met at the Mazama Lodge, raised their daughters at the Mazama Lodge on their regular visits, and welcomed guests to the Mazama Lodge as if it were their own home. Daughters Wendy and Nancy recall learning to ski on the slopes outside. The intervening years have obscured who their instructor was, but it is very possible it was Frank Kalec, the lessons costing only ten cents apiece. As the girls kicked about on their used skis, their parents took the shuttle bus up the hill to Timberline before carving their way back down for lunch, which they had to eat in the basement because it was not prepared in the lodge’s kitchen but brought from home. Ann Wendlandt’s life was deeply intertwined with that building for decades. I recently had the opportunity talk with her and listen to her narrate a series of vignettes that arced across a lifetime of experiences and relationships.

Ann Wendlandt at NcNeil Point in 1976.
Photo: Unknown. 
It was a blustery December day as I sat across from Ann Wendlandt at Jennings McCall, a retirement community in Forest Grove. Mostly I just listened to these stories, one folding over into the next. With the aid of her daughters, she wove an account that was both intricate and beautiful. It was punctuated from time to time with, “If you had only come last year, I would have remembered more.” I was stunned by how much she does remember at the age of 88 and how the life she described is peopled by the who’s who of Mazama history. For example Ann’s aunt Abigail Choate was married to Fred McNeil, after whom McNeil Point on Mt. Hood is named. As a matter of fact, it was likely Fred and Abby’s son Malcolm who introduced Ann to Jim at the lodge in 1952 when she was visiting as a guest and still a year away from becoming a member.

Our conversation zigged and zagged. Ann’s eyes, though only narrow slits as she wrestled with her inability to recall, were still bright. She peered intently at the yellow legal pad of names that had been drawn up before I arrived as a tool to jog her memory. Bob and Martha Platt. Vera Defoe. Nick Dodge. That last one drew out a clear line. She told me about the book that he wrote and that she edited for him, A Climber’s Guide to Oregon, which was published in 1968. Editing? Yes. Our conversation turns with the flexibility of a water-born otter. For a dozen years she edited the Mazama Bulletin. Articles were delivered to her by members who had authored them, and in her own home she worked on the layout. This was the late fifties and early sixties after all. Each month she drove the final copy to John Arbuthnot on Sandy Boulevard who was the printer. These details poured out clearly but then came to a dead end.

Ann Wendlandt accepting the Parker Cup in 1967.
Photo: Unknown.
We returned to the list again. Bill and Margaret Oberteuffer. Joe Leuthold. Jim Craig. Everett Darr. I asked her about the club. What was it like? How was it different than it is now? She smiled and stated simply that things got done because people made them happen. She cited as an example Don Onthank, “Mr. Mazama”. If you wanted a ride to the Mazama Lodge, you called Don; he would give you a lift. This was the spirit of the club, she recalled. The conversation rolled slickly into novel territory. She told me there were only two paid staff: the lodge caretaker and the cook. That was it. Guests and members signed up to do the dishes and care for the building. In that moment we were back at the beginning of our conversation, but covering new territory too.

I asked how the club has changed in the intervening seven decades. Without skipping a beat, she said, “Without staff you need the volunteers to step up to make things happen.” The portrait that she painted next surprised me. Once a month, there was a membership meeting where it was common to have a hundred people in attendance. Committees made reports about the goings-on and their events. Then, rudely, the grandfather clock in the corner of the alcove where we were chatting interrupted us as it tolled eleven times. The line of thinking was disrupted.
Ann Wendlandt in the foreground on the 1953
anniversary climb of Mt. Hood in 1953

The slippery otter that was this tete-a-tete rolled deftly over despite the turbulence of sound. She recalled Martha Platt who was the club president in 1954 and Bob Platt, her husband, who served in the same role seven years earlier. Their son, Bill, would eventually go on to marry Fred McNeil’s daughter, Judy. In a sense they were just a branch of Ann’s extended family. Then out of the fog of memory emerged Betty Parker, who served on the Executive Council in 1954, and Jack Grauer, who was Wendy’s Basic Climb School teacher when she was just a mere freshman in high school. Wendy chuckled as she told me that it was a bit scandalous at the time, as young as she was. The web of names kept coming and bits of storytelling for each one. I listened to Ann weave the narrative with the assistance of her daughters until, finally, it seemed we had come to the end at last.

Jonathan Barrett and Ann Wendlandt.
Photo: Wendy Wendlandt.
“I’m sorry. If you had just come a year earlier, I would have remembered more,” she said again. I wondered what there was to apologize for. I was stunned by her memories, thrilled by her life, and charmed by her presence. This woman, who is still a dues-paying member of the Girls Scouts of America and who belongs to a troop called the Elles Gantes, needs no excuses. An hour and a half after starting, we hugged in the hallway of Jennings McCall, and Wendy took our picture. Ann’s eyes shone brightly, and I, a guy who doesn’t smile much, couldn’t stop grinning as I walked away transformed by her storytelling. I got in my car still thinking about a young woman sitting by the fireplace, only twenty-two and totally unaware of how the Mazamas would one day become entwined with her life.

12.19.2018

From Polluted Air to Thin Air: Thorong La Pass Nepal

by Ananda Vardhana

Traveling from Portland, we landed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal on September 24, 2018. Ten of our group headed off to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), but the remaining three of us had set our sights on Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,598 ft. Our team was comprised of Deepa, an ultra-marathon runner, Anil, an intermediate hiker, and me, Ananda, a 62-year old veteran hiker and Mazama member.

Stepping off the plane in Kathmandu, we were engulfed in the pollution, dust, and chaos of a typical Nepali traffic jam. Only the promise of thin, clean, Himalayan air kept our spirits high. When our flight out of Lukla was canceled due to bad weather, forcing us to abandon our goal of reaching Everest Base Camp, our consolation was to hike even higher than EBC over Thorong La Pass (17,769 ft. ) along the Annapurna Circuit.

Our guide, Mr. Khim Raj (KC), proposed a new trekking plan that started in the town of Besisahar at 2,493 ft. and slowly wound its way up to the pass. Starting at a lower elevation would allow us to acclimatize as we passed through other villages along the route, including Chame at 8,694 ft., and Manang at 11,545 ft. However, we were familiar with hiking at lower elevations in Oregon, and insisted on starting in Manang.

Once we’d determined our starting point, we took off on the 12-hour, 107-mile drive to Besisahar. Kathmandu is famous for its traffic jams, which dwarf those in LA, and these roads were bad! The following day, we had to take multiple 4-wheelers and drive another 12 hours between Besisahar and Manang along some of the world’s most dangerous highways. Due to frequent landslides, our two porters had to carry our luggage across the debris and hire another jeep on the far side before we could continue. I would not recommend going without a guide—they know these roads and allow for safe passage.

From what I saw, Nepal is very community-oriented. The people are friendly and help each other survive. Since the three of us know Hindi, we made good friends during our multiple jeep rides. The jokes, bantering, and singing inside the vehicle combined with the astounding views and narrow roads outside helped us forget the dust that enveloped us.

Thus, after multiple landslides we reached the thin and pristine air of Manang. This meant we’d essentially gone from Beaverton at 120 ft. to Manang at 11,500 ft. in one go. We’d been swallowing Diamox (altitude pills) since arriving in Nepal, 125mg twice a day. At Manang we could feel the effect of the thin air, but this was what we wanted. Just walking 10 steps let us know we were at high altitude. Our appetites shrunk greatly, but we nonetheless pushed ourselves to have a grand dinner followed by a fitful sleep.

A long time ago, when trekking was not a fad, people lived their lives in all parts of Nepal and the surrounding region. As trekking became popular, the local people realized the potential tourism could have and converted their homes to teahouses. Now villages, including Manang, have 2-3 star hotels with hot showers and comfortable beds. You order from a menu and can even get pizza at 16,000 feet! And Wi-Fi is available all over Nepal.

The next day, KC advised us to roam round Manang and get acclimatized. Manang valley is like a dreamland. In Nepal, many of the mountaintops have a Buddhist shrine. It is amazing what faith can do. People have built massive structures on the tops of mountains where every stone and beam had to be carried up manually or by horse. Our hotel in the valley looked up at the Annapurna Massif on one side followed by Gangapurna. In the distance towered Manaslu, Chandragiri, Dhaulgiri, and Chluha. We saw these titanic mountains for the next ten days; they astounded us with their unbelievable massiveness. In Oregon, looking down from Mt. Hood or Mt. Defiance, the rolling mountains fascinate us—so just imagine mountains twice the size of Mt. Hood! All of them over 20,000 feet, with live avalanches happening as you watch... such was the grand spellbound beauty that beheld us daily.

Early in the morning with high spirits, we took off from Manang. Our plan was to hike to Ice Lake at 15,256 ft. the first day, followed by a hike to Tilicho Lake at 16,138 ft. the second day, then continuing on to Thorong La Pass. The route to Ice Lake has no designated switchback trail, so we simply had to climb straight up a crumbling mountainside. Being the oldest, the altitude and strain from hiking hit me fast. Deepa and Anil encouraged me, slowing to my pace so we could crawl up together. Deepa and I were going steady, but Anil, who had a slight residual cough when we left Portland, began to slow down. Anil’s occasional cough became persistent and much stronger as his lungs tried to keep up in the thin, high altitude air. We were three-quarters of the way to the lake, at around 14,800 ft., when Anil started getting breathless and feeling slight lung pain. He decided not to push it any further, fearing AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or worse, HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). I decided to escort Anil back down to the hotel along with a porter. Deepa continued to Ice Lake with the guide, and joined us back in Manang a few hours later.

That night, Anil could not sleep well due to breathlessness and coughing. I intently kept an eye on him, hoping the night would be uneventful. We consulted a couple of doctors by phone, spent some time researching on the Internet, and finally decided that he needed to head back to lower altitudes. That broke our spirits—it was sad to see our partner off, but we would meet him at the end of the trip.
Deepa and I re-strategized, deciding to abandon our hike to Tilicho Lake and instead just do Thorong La Pass. The pass was three days away and should give us ample time to acclimatize. The next day, we trekked from Manang to the village of Thorong Phedi at 14,895 ft. No one measures the distance of a trek in Nepal. If you ask, they will look at you, then make a judgment and give you an estimate in hours. This trail was gradually uphill and took us 5-6 hours. It was quite busy with people from all parts of the world. Germans by large dominated, followed by Australia, China, New Zealand, and the UK. Much to our disappointment, we didn’t encounter a single hiker from the US, our adopted country, or from India, our country of origin.

Hundreds of yaks dotted the mountainsides. Nomad yak herders live at these great heights sleeping out in the open. They drink yak milk, eat yak meat, and warm themselves with coats made of yak hair. Right in the middle of the trail, we were surprised to see a roadside trinket trader. The old man claimed all his goods were authentic Tibetan. The yak herders, trinket traders, and brave people who tend the tea houses make it possible for us from the polluted air to survive up in the thin air.
By the time we reached Thorong Phedi, Deepa had lost her appetite, and we both had splitting headaches. However, we had increased our Diamox dosage to 250mg twice a day. We didn’t want to take any pain medication because our stomachs were empty, so we just applied a strong topical ointment called Tiger Balm onto our foreheads and bore the pain. I am a strong advocate for fewer pills and more will to fight altitude sickness.

The next day, we made the grueling climb from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp at 16,010 ft. Deepa, who had little appetite, started to feel weak and nauseated. At Thorong High Camp, we realized the real scarcity of oxygen. We had hiked in India at 15-16,000 ft. without much trouble, because the forest abounds everywhere. Manang valley is totally arid, a dry high-altitude desert with no trees for generating oxygen.

The moment Deepa entered the dining hall she began to feel nauseated. Two hundred or so lungs and five open-flame kitchen stoves all competed for the oxygen. So our choice was to stay warm and suffocate, or go outside and freeze! Sitting here in Beaverton, these things cannot even be imagined. Our guide said we had three options; head back to the city, stay where we were at Thorong High Camp, or continue on but take a horse as insurance. We went for the third option without even considering the first two, and hired a horse for $150. At that point, we didn’t know who would need the horse—Deepa or me.

Since the winds pick up by noon and can practically pluck you off the mountain, we had to leave before 5am to cross Thorong La Pass by noon. Thorong High Camp has minimal accommodations—five common toilets for two hundred or more people. So, with splitting headaches and anxiety about using the toilets, we hardly slept, got up at 3am, and were ready by 4am. With the horse following dutifully behind, we put our heads down and started the final phase of our climb. Every 100 feet KC would ask “Deepa-ji, would you like to take the horse?” to which she would answer “no.” He was afraid she would fall off and increase his responsibility. At 60+, I go very slowly but steadily, and kept up a steady stream of encouraging accolades. Deepa’s only job was not to lose the sight of my heels.

Neither the words I’m writing nor the camera on my phone can capture the dry beauty that surrounded us. The trail disappearing into thin air was what we had hoped to conquer. On any hike, there are always people well ahead of you and others far below. The people ahead represent the goal yet to be achieved, and those below are the challenges conquered. In the end, it all depends on the mind to push the mechanical devices we call legs to move one step up at a time, up and up.
Finally, in the distance, we could see the colorful streamers that decorate the pass. With a fresh surge of energy and enthusiasm, we chugged on. Deepa, the ultra-marathon runner, crossed the finish line at a full sprint, as I slowly crawled up to the top of the pass. From there, it was a rollover hike, down and more down, to Muktinath Temple at 12,171 ft.

We stayed in Muktinath that night, and drove the next day to TatoPani (6,010 ft.), which is famous for its hot springs. After an overnight at TatoPani and a refreshing bath in the hot springs, we trekked up to the village of Chitre at 6,988 ft., were we stayed one night before making it up to the village of Ghorepani at 9,429 ft. the next day. The Ghorepani Poon Hill overlook is a famous scenic spot, and is flooded with trekkers. Since we’d been immersed in Annapurna I, II, III, Dhaulgiri, and many other mountains, we skipped Poon Hill. The final day, we trekked to Naipaul, where the ten Annapurna Base Camp folks joined us. We all drove back to Pokhara, met up with Anil, and flew back to Kathmandu—back into the polluted air! We ended our trip by flying back to Portland on October 8.

12.05.2018

Flora Huber, Native Oregonian and Lifelong Mazama

by Rick Craycraft

The family roots of Flora Bertrand Huber in this area go back to before there was an Oregon. In 1809, just a few years after Lewis and Clark had explored the land, Flora’s great-great uncle, Etienne Lucier, moved north from California to a territory occupied by French and English settlers and the various First Nation tribes of the area.

This same man was present in 1843 at the Champoeg Meetings in the French Prairie area of the Willamette Valley. There a group of settlers voted to align themselves with the United States (instead of Canada) and formed a provisional government that a few years later would become the state of Oregon.

Two generations later Flora’s father was born in Portland to a family whose business was building sternwheelers to navigate the local waterways. On a trip to Washington state in 1930, he met his future wife and Flora’s mother-to-be on the Quinault reservation on the Olympic peninsula. She describes her father as French, Chinook and Cowlitz and her mother as English, French, Cree, Quinault, and Sioux. The couple returned to Portland and settled on the Willamette River, on the west bank across from what is now Swan Island. Flora was born there in 1935.
She grew up in a Portland far different than we know today. Bordered by the river in front and Forest Park out her back door, the natural world was Flora’s playground from an early age. She hiked the trails of the park, took the family rowboat out on the river to explore, hunted, dug clams, and picked “hundreds” of trilliums.

She entered Lincoln High School (according to her, the only high school on the west side of the Willamette at that time) in 1949 and came under the influence of iconic Mazama member Margaret Obertueffer, who was her English teacher. At that time Lincoln had a ski program and students would go to Mt. Hood en masse to enjoy the slopes. Flora was part of that group for the duration of her high school stay. Eventually though, she got to looking up at the upper reaches of Mt. Hood and wondered, “What would it be like to climb up to the top?” Already under the tutelage of “Miss Obie,” and now friends with the Obertueffer family, Flora had that question easily answered. On July 18, 1954, Flora joined a Mazama Acquaintance Climb (67 people!) led by Harold Scharback. Later she also attempted Mt. St. Helens (“when it had a top”) but was forced to turn back when her kapok sleeping bag proved to be inadequate for bivying.

Flora enrolled in the Portland State Extension Center (now Portland State) with an interest in chemistry and enjoyed strolling downtown to the Mazama clubrooms, then in the Pacific Building at 5th and Yamhill.

Her future husband was the best man at her sister’s wedding and they married in 1958. Thus began a long hiatus in Flora’s hiking and climbing career with the Mazamas. She and her husband had five sons and Flora introduced all of them to the outdoors and especially to skiing. She was a Cub Scout leader for 16 years and received an award from the state for her efforts. She drove both the school bus and the ski bus for a living for a while, introducing hundreds of young people to recreation on Mt. Hood.

Flora finally returned to climbing in 1992, making it up Mount Adams on a Ray Sheldon-led climb. From then on it has been gung-ho. Flora estimates that she has participated in at least 40 successful Mazama climbs and received her Guardian Peaks award in 1992. She became a hike leader in 1996 and is on the schedule several times a month to this day. One of the benefits of joining Flora on a hike is that she draws from a lifetime of experience in the woods and has extensive knowledge of the plants and trees of our bio-region.

In the Mazamas Flora has served on the Trail Trips committee, First Aid Committee and currently leads the Classics in their many activities. She is also a proud recipient of a 50-year membership pin.
But Flora does not just rest on her climbing and hiking laurels. She has volunteered at the information center at Multnomah Falls Lodge for twenty years, and knows more about ice hockey than any 83 year old woman you’ll ever meet, having had season tickets to various local teams since the 1960s.
And Flora is very proud of her Native American background. She is considered an Elder (“that just means you’re old” she says) in the Quinault tribe and travels to the reservation with regularity to attend events there.

Climber, hiker, skier, native Oregonian, mother, nurse, naturalist and adventurer, Flora Bertrand Huber has led a rich life in the Northwest.

12.01.2018

Daring to Be Lydia

by Lisa Kostova

Photo: Lydia navigating in a white-out on the Tasman Glacier


Thirty years ago this October, something extraordinary happened. A lone 27-year-old girl set off in the middle of the night from Camp 4 to climb the world’s highest peak. It was dark and she had never been there before. Unlike today, there were no fixed ropes to guide the way and since she was climbing without oxygen, the only other party that set off at the same time as her, a group of Catalan climbers, quickly surged ahead, leaving her alone with the darkness and her thoughts.

As she describes in her book Going up is Easy, Lydia Bradey got to the South Summit and had to make a life-and-death decision. She knew she had enough energy to make it back down to camp. She also knew she had enough energy to reach the summit. But what she didn’t know is if she had enough energy to do both. At that moment, she recalls flipping her thinking from “If I climb Everest, I can survive” to “If I survive, I can climb Everest.” She told me that she was in effect reasoning with herself, convincing herself that she was capable of climbing her mountain. Less than 24 hours later, Lydia became the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen. This would be the first of five Everest ascents so far and according to Lydia, she’s still got at least one more Everest in her.
As I quickly came to find out, most of the world and certainly New Zealand knows Lydia as much for the controversy that surrounded her first Everest ascent as for the achievement that was a major landmark for women and mountaineering. Which I find incredibly frustrating. Long story short, the two male Kiwi mountaineers that Lydia was climbing with at the time, Rob Hall (portrayed by Jason Clarke in the movie “Everest”) and Gary Ball accused Lydia of lying about making it to the top. According to them, she hallucinated the whole thing. In short she was “confused.” But more on that later.

The She’s On Ski’s group in the helicopter (author is on the left).
Photo by Lydia Bradey.
I’ve come to New Zealand for the winter with my partner Brent and his daughter Inez. Brent somehow learned that Lydia is leading a women-only ski touring group in the glaciers of the Southern Alps with Elke Braun-Elwert, the talented guide who taught us mountaineering. The trip is aptly named “She’s on Skis”. In typical fashion, Brent becomes my biggest cheerleader, “You HAVE to do this!” he says emphatically in the spring as me make our way to Alaska to climb Mt Fairweather. “We have to come back to New Zealand and spend the (Southern Hemisphere) winter climbing and ski touring. And you get to tour with Lydia!!!” His enthusiasm is infectious.

As a Kiwi, Brent tries to impress me with how much of a badass Lydia is, even by New Zealand standards, and I take note. I’m also excited to try ski touring. I’ve already watched the trailer of Symphony on Skis, a movie about a ski touring journey made by Elke and her sister. I’m entranced by the idea of putting my skis on glaciers, exploring some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery and being in the company of tough women, including of course Lydia, whose story fascinates me.
So here I am, in August of 2018, with my trusty downhill skis hastily configured with touring bindings. I’ve got a few days under my belt of touring experience in the The Two Thumbs range, where I’ve learnt avalanche prevention and avalanche rescue with Pete Ozich of Alpine Recreation. But this is the first time I’m ski touring on glaciers. And for the first time in my climbing and skiing experience, I’m surrounded by women.

Lisa Kostova and Lydia at Aylmer Col above
the Tasman Glacier.
The cast of characters includes, Jade, an Aussie with a quiet determination; Carla, a bubbly Brit who is a hardcore ultra marathoner and is smoking all of us up the hill; Anna, a gentle but strong Kiwi mother of two whose husband, a helicopter pilot, has gifted her this trip as a birthday present. And of course, there’s Lydia herself. Wearing a pink hat with a canary yellow jacket and a purple undershirt, she has mischief in her eyes. Those eyes have seen the glory of untold mountain peaks. They have scanned vistas that few humans have experienced, but have also seen tragedy and loss. Her voice is strong, commanding, and unapologetic in taking up the space around her. Her laughter is infectious. She’s bubbly and chatty and will talk endlessly about beautiful clothes and mountain fashion. And yet she exudes the authority and discipline that only comes from years of breaking trail and pushing herself to the extreme. I quietly marvel at the enigma that is Lydia.

There’s so much I want to know. I somehow score the bunk right next to Lydia in the leaky attic section of the unheated Kelman Hut, the second highest structure in New Zealand, perched above the Tasman and Murchison Glaciers. In the evenings, after the exhaustion of a full day of touring, making dinner and cleaning up, we have a precious few minutes to relax on our bunks. I’m conscious of not bothering Lydia who has the rare moment to read and focus on herself, not the group. But as I lie there, next to her, reading her biography, reliving her emotions and her achievements from long ago, my mind is swirling with questions. Was she afraid up there? Did she think she was going to die? How did she feel when her Kiwi teammates abandoned her? How did she feel when they and the media turned around and attacked her viciously, calling her a liar and a “confused” woman who had hallucinated her life’s crowning achievement?

 Lydia in front of Kelman Hut. 
Confused—a word used to describe women who are brave enough to live their dreams, speak their truth, and who dare to break out of the social norms of what a young girl should be able to do. With the stroke of eight measly letters, a woman’s life is reduced to a hallucination, to something not tangible, not able to be proven, measured, or verified. Confused. Not loud, and established, and endowed with society’s automatic and blind trust that is conferred to male climbers and Supreme Court nominees who throw around that word easily and freely at anyone who threatens their comfortable perch. Confused. Why would it be that the word of men carries so much weight that not even the preponderance of evidence in her favor could shield a woman from the maelstrom unleashed by this dismissive term?

I read Lydia’s account of how she was practically left to die by her male Kiwi teammates. But she was stronger than that. “As soon as I reframed my thinking, I knew I wasn’t going to die.” She says that while she was very much afraid of dying, her experience helped her “manage her way away from it.” But there’s no way her Kiwi partners could have known that. Instead, the day she was having her life-and-death mental moment on the South Summit, Rob Hall and Gary Ball packed up all the expedition’s gear and left Base Camp. They didn’t know if she was dead or alive. They weren’t manning the radios, leaning in and straining to hear her voice, waiting for confirmation that their partner was among the living, up there somewhere near the top of the world, still clinging to life in the “death zone.” They weren’t ready to send help for her if the radio went silent or she sounded sick or hurt. They simply left.

Having read the chapter on her first Everest journey, I sit with Lydia over steaming pasta with veggies, our breath visible in the frozen air of the hut. I share with her that what struck me about her Everest climb is that she spent most of the chapter, multiple pages, describing the relationships that she formed on the mountain and the experiences she shared with the Slovaks and other climbers. And the actual summit took only a paragraph and was over within two sentences—short and to the point, much like her communication style on the glacier where, she is all about safety and survival. She seems to appreciate that observation and her eyes grow heavy with sadness as she says of the Slovaks: “I lost all of them. None of them made it back.”

There is pain and heartfelt love in Lydia whenever she talks about the Slovaks. They were a team of young men who climbed without oxygen, attempting a new technical on Everest. None of them came back from their summit climb and nobody knows what happened to them. I realize suddenly that at the heart of Lydia’s climb was not the “Lydiagate” scandal that surrounded her upon her return, courtesy of the self-assured men she was climbing with. The defining experience for her was her friendship and love of the Slovak climbers and her subsequent loss of that intimate connection with people who saw her for who she was. That’s the part that is raw and powerful and meaningful for Lydia in her Everest journey. Not the noise and resentment of her Kiwi teammates.

Lydia summarizes the whole scandal succinctly: “I set myself up to be bullied.” She tells me as we watch over melting pots of snow that the deepening relationship with the Slovak team was the reason for her being ostracized by Rob and Gary (who were climbing with oxygen, and did not manage to gain the summit during that trip). I open the book to a place where a pretty, bright-eyed girl stares back at me from the page. It’s easy to imagine her shifting sympathies causing intense feelings of jealousy in the young males on the mountain. It’s primal and it is ugly. The female chimp gets punished by the alpha males for daring to stray from the tribe. Especially if she dared to outshine them.

Despite all of this, Lydia doesn’t climb with fear. She lets out a rip-roaring laugh as she recalls being described by one of her book reviewers as an “eternal optimist despite her series of failures.” Lydia knows a thing or two about failure. There is the time where she survived no fewer than SIX (!!!) subsequent avalanches in the same day and the time when she had to turn around on K2, the “savage mountain” that claims the lives of a third of the people who attempt it. Lydia loves talking about failure as a necessary ingredient for success. In fact, until the rise of guided Himalayan climbing, failure rates of 50-60 percent were common and were considered standard for mountaineers. So while they reached their objectives “only” 40 percent of the time, they spent the rest of their climbing careers getting stronger and more experienced, gaining that survival mechanism, so they could live to climb another mountain.

As an experienced high-altitude mountaineer, Lydia talks a lot about mindset. During an impromptu prusik self-rescue demonstration, I ask her what type of mind-frame she thinks is necessary to climb Everest. I ask her to think about what makes her best clients successful and what makes it difficult for other people to adjust. It all comes back to the personalities of people putting Everest on their bucket lists. Lydia prides herself on creating strong connections with her clients and I can see that. Nowadays, in addition to guiding groups on Everest, most of her time seems to be spent with repeat clients who book her on private climbing adventures around the world.

Having said that, Lydia also describes a type of Everest bucket-list climber. “Insecure overachievers,” Lydia calls them. She knows, she considers her younger self to have been an insecure overachiever too. And she adds that true preparation matters. The type of preparation that comes from doing non-glamorous climbing trips like the one we’re on. Remembering to dry your inner boots and dry your socks. Prepare, pack, unpack, rinse, repeat.

She has lost count of how many times she has been expected to take care of people, especially clients who are used to other people running their lives. “They’ve got armies of nannies, housekeepers and personal assistants. They outsource their lives.” Taking care of your needs yourself, including simple things like packing your socks and gloves and paying attention to the essentials is a habit you develop when you climb often, you climb for many years and you climb for the joy of climbing. There are many valuable resources and support that money can buy on the mountain. But a climber’s common sense cannot be bought, it can only be developed.

On our ski-touring trip, Lydia teaches us what to pack for all kinds of emergencies—from prusiks and slings, to spare parts for our ski poles, skins and skis, including tape, and a tool set with different sets of tool bits. I’m feverishly taking notes—up on the mountain, a climber has to be her own repair shop and rescue resource. Lydia gets everyone to practice crevasse self-rescue on the rope in the hut and drills people through transceiver search - quickly locating a buried avalanche transceiver. She is relentless when it comes to getting the details right - whether it’s the technical turns when you ski down, the efficiency of your skinning technique and how to improve it, your transition times and how to cut them down. She’s also a perfectionist when it comes to housekeeping. She delegates tasks around the hut that keep the whole place sparkling clean and running smoothly during meal prep and clean-up. I swear we left the public hut in a much better shape than we found it.

Ski touring with Lydia is the ultimate ego-buster. Watching Lydia plow up the slope in a relentless pace, I get used to the feeling of trying to keep up and failing. My only solace is that everyone else seems to be in the same boat (with the exception of Carla, who’s a true energizer bunny). Nonetheless, I grit my teeth and forge on. My heart pounds and I focus intensely on the sequence of movements anytime we stop for a transition. Yet, I always seem to be the last one and I’m told to “transition faster next time, please.” I talk to my fear while perched on a hill, feeling the heft of my backpack. Lydia coaches us on how to ski the stickiest snow cement I’ve ever experienced. Turning would be difficult, “a knee buster,” so “watch out and don’t fall.”

After the mental check of making sure none of my boots are in walk mode, I brace myself for the leg burn of executing the turns as smoothly and in control as is possible, working my willpower and concentration more than my muscles. Lydia seems to have evaluated my technical skiing skills and found them lacking. The cold matter-of-factness of her assessment is non-partial—she also extends it to her own skiing, which she deems “competent” but far from great. After years of resort skiing where I’ve skied double blacks, chutes and trees, I find myself a beginner in the art and craft of backcountry skiing. I have to pick myself up over and over again, playing the mental game of just getting by to the best of my ability.

As soon as I let go of my identification as an “expert skier,” I am free to move about the mountain and enjoy the whole experience. I also notice that on the last day everyone, including Lydia and the more technical skiers—Carla and Jade—are survival skiing. Lydia deems the snow to be “the worst she’s seen on the Tasman” and is proud to have delivered the whole group back to base without any knee injuries.

Once everyone is out of the danger zone, Lydia somehow manages to miraculously turn a difficult time into a funny moment, lightening the situation with her ability to laugh at herself and whatever it is that may have seemed scary. With a glint of mischief in her eyes and wise crack of a joke, she infects everyone with her laughter, releasing all stress and tension like an escape valve. That smile, that laugh, that ability to surmount any obstacle and find joy and share it with others is the memory of Lydia that will stay with me forever. And as much as my confidence in my skiing has taken a hit after the trip, I know that touring with Lydia has cracked me open and elevated my game as a climber, skier and human being.

Check out Lydia’s book Going up is Easy and keep an eye out for a movie about her life coming out soon. The She’s on Skis trip was organized by Alpine Recreation —a family-owned guiding and climbing company out of Tekapo, New Zealand.

About the Author: Lisa Kostova is an entrepreneur. She blogs about her mountaineering, skiing and outdoor adventures at www.dispatchesfromthe45.com.

11.19.2018

Glacier Phenology

Elizabeth Kimberly is a graduate student at Western Washington University. This year she received a Mazama Research Grant for her project titled “Testing the viability of using structure-from-motion photogrammetric surveys to Track glacier mass balance and meltwater discharge on the Easton Glacier, Mt. Baker, Wash.” Below is a reflection on her recent field work.

Article & photos by Elizabeth Kimberly

In the past, I’ve associated the concept of phenology with flowers and trees undergoing seasonal transformations from buds to blooms. However, conducting research on the Easton Glacier the past several months for my Masters thesis has shown me the remarkably striking ways in which mountain-scapes, too, change with the seasons. These are the abiotic parts of nature that we typically think of only being subject to change over centuries and millennia, not days and months ... so much for a “glacial pace.” Here, I write about the phenology of the Easton Glacier through the spring and summer of 2018.

Early May

It is early May and the birds are chirping dawn choruses and the winter rain has diminished. The disparity between the snowy alpine and the verdant lowlands is increasingly stark. Stubborn patches of snow still make the trailhead’s rugged forest road impassable and when we arrive, the snowmobile crew has finagled a winch system to pull their burly trucks and sled trailers across. We giggle at their innovation as we attach skins to our skis, complete a most unusual gear check (duct tape? steam drill? PVC pipes? avalanche gear? snacks?), and finish our coffee.

A team of 8, all members of the Northwest Cruisers Snowmobile Club, has united to help us transport our heavy, bulky research gear up the Easton Glacier and nearly to the summit of Mount Baker. In less than 20 minutes our crew has zoomed from 3,000 feet to 8,500, across cobble-filled creeks and dormant underbrush and unconsolidated glacial till and deep crevasses, all obscured by meters of snow. The undulations of the topography are softened by the snow-laden landscape and the terminus of the glacier is indistinguishable so early in the season.

Niki and I follow a pre-set GPS track to find our first site. Our goal for the day is to use a steam drill (not to be mistaken for a sasquatch-sized espresso-maker) to drill five stakes into the snow and ice, which we’ll revisit through the summer and fall to measure changes in the surface elevation. We probe each survey site to ensure we don’t inadvertently install a stake into a crevasse, and to approximate the depth of the snowpack. When we’re finished, we enjoy the payoff: a ski through thousands of feet of soft spring corn to sites 4, 3, 2, and 1, where we repeat the installation process.

Mid June

By mid-June, the snow bridge across the Easton Glacier’s outlet creek has melted and the low albedo of the cobbles has revealed interwoven stream channels and vegetation. The glacier is no longer accessible via snowmobile and so we approach the ice with an awkward tango of skiing, skinning, hiking, and bush-whacking. We’re wearing shorts and we are disoriented because the glacier’s foreground has morphed into a mosaic of snow, dirt patches, and moving water. “Didn’t we ski right over that waterfall just a month ago?”

We arrive at the first stake and measure 127 centimeters worth of snow-melt since its installation a month ago. There’s a spider perched on the stake, totally unaware of the climatic changes unraveling around it. We continue up the center of the glacier, moving more delicately and swiftly in certain, seemingly thin places. Sometimes we straddle deep crevasses and peer down into the frozen abysses. Like stratigraphic columns that reveal a chronology of shorelines, the cracks expose layers of snow, firn, and ice from seasons passed.

It’s 3 pm and we’ve made it to stake 3. The snow appears to have gone through a melt-freeze cycle recently and the corn tempts my skiing instincts. On a whim, we decide to pause our research efforts and jaunt up toward the summit of Mount Baker. After all, it might be our last chance to ski volcano corduroy. Around 6:30 pm, we strip our skins and fly down the glacier, at the mercy of gravity and with the current of a disappearing frozen river.

Late July

It’s late July and now we’re wearing hiking boots. There’s a heat-wave in the valley, the trailhead is packed with day-hikers, and we’ve replaced ski poles with crampons and avalanche gear with glacier ropes. The goals of our visit are varied, but first on our list is to install a second stream gauge and measure the creek’s velocity. What’s the diurnal variation (i.e. How much does the streamflow change as the day warms? Can we attribute its velocity changes to snow-melt and/or glacial-melt?)?
After an afternoon of drilling holes into rocks (to install our “level-logger,” a device that continuously measures the stream’s height, which we use to make a curve that relates stream stage to velocity throughout the summer) and standing in glacial streams, we find ourselves sprawled in a wildflower-filled alpine meadow, eating macaroni and cheese and talking about unscientific things. Does the full moon pull on the glacier the way it pulls on the tides?

On our second day, we return to the highest stake for the first time since May. We’re attached to the same rope, five meters apart and moving simultaneously across the ice, navigating mazes of crevasse fields and ice-fall. Sometimes we rearrange our rope’s trajectory to ensure we remain perpendicular to the visible crevasse patterns. We scan the glacier for stake 5 and Katie spots it at the mouth of a widening crack. Oops.

We arrive at stake 3 and the snow has melted a total of 355 centimeters in two months. The untouched field of white snow from a month prior is now striped with fissures. The crevasses concentrate in places where the glacier is moving most quickly, typically along convexities in the topography. Stake 1 is guarded by a cliff of unconsolidated sediment, the remnants of the glacier’s path, and it’s inaccessible from above. We contemplate what climbing Mount Baker will be like in 50 years, and the recently revealed uneven, unstable rocky terrain at the ice’s edges offer compelling evidence.

As we leave the glacier and return to our campsite, I baffle at the delicate heather buds waltzing in the wind. This sea of wildflowers is a product of millennia of eruptions and glaciations and burrowing marmots. I can reasonably predict what this landscape will look like when we return at the end of September, and again in February. But I can only speculate how long it will take for the summit of this glaciated volcano (currently a bright white beacon in the sky and only accessible with crampons and ice axes), to become a cirque with an alpine lake, shaded by subalpine firs and fit for hiking boots and sunset picnics.