Mazamas Mountain Running Camp

by Amy Urban
Author, Amy Urban
taking a selfie in the
stunning beauty of Mt. Hood.

The first weekend of August brought together seventeen trail runners and four elite trail running instructors for the second annual Mazama Mountain Running Camp. The camp was targeted “for beginner to intermediate runners looking to explore running/training in the mountain environment.” For me, a slow-ish but experienced road marathoner and a long-time mountain hiker, it held promise of improving my skill and allow me to further combine two of my great loves.

On Friday afternoon, our gang assembled at the Mazama Mountaineering Center, loaded up in two vans and headed to Mazama Lodge. During the drive we got acquainted by casually comparing running resumes. There were several Boston Marathon qualifiers, an impressive road running accomplishment. Several people, like me, had recently converted from road to trail running. Others were already experienced at distances of 50-miles and beyond, and at least one was in training for a 100-mile race. And all, unsurprisingly once you get to know the personality of a trail runner, were welcoming and supportive to everyone regardless of level.

After settling in at the lodge—most of our group seeing the beautiful Mazama Lodge for the first time—we did our “get acquainted” power hike (an integral part of mountain running) up to Silcox Hut where we introduced ourselves to the group and, to break the ice, each shared an embarrassing running story. After a quick run back down, we had dinner at the lodge and then some relaxation and songs around the piano before heading to bed early knowing we’d need a good rest in preparation for the two coming days.
Instructor Yassine Diboun leads the way down from
Silcox Hut. Photo: Jacob Raab

Saturday morning started with a quick pre-breakfast run to wake us up and allow us to enjoy the beauty of Mt. Hood. After breakfast we broke into two groups, allowing us to have closer interaction with our instructors. While one group did “boot camp” exercises targeted for runners, the other group learned about mountain safety, including examples of what gear mountain runners could carry for their “10 Essentials”. When the first round was finished, we swapped and did the other session.

After lunch and a brief siesta, we headed out for hill training. Both downhill and uphill running have their secrets and tricks. For me, this part of the camp was overwhelmingly the most valuable part. Never having formal running training, each part of the instruction was entirely new for me. Hills will never be easy, but since I’ve come home from camp I’ve practiced these new techniques and found an enormous difference in what I’m able to do.

Team 2 before setting out to Ramona Falls.
Photo: Jacob Raab
Our camp coincided with the early-August 100-degree+ days in Portland. And while it was considerably cooler up at Mt Hood, it was still a hot day for running up and down the mountain. Sweaty and smiling, we piled back in the vans for a quick trip to cool off in Trillium Lake. After clearing the sweat and cooling our muscles, we gathered in the shady forest there to talk about training loads and strategies.

After a hearty dinner at Mazama Lodge, we enjoyed trail running movies, some shot by or including our instructors running around Mount St. Helens, the Columbia Gorge, and even Mt. Blanc. The main movie was Finding Traction about elite-runner Nikki Kimball’s inspirational quest for the fastest time on Vermont’s Long Trail. Post-movies, we tried out a variety of Petzl headlamps on the trails near the lodge.

Team 1 at Ramona Falls.
Sunday, our final day of camp, started early, with a fortifying breakfast before we headed up to Timberline Lodge for our 14-mile group run to Ramona Falls. Per mountain regulations, and to account for the various skill levels of our group, we split into two small groups for the day. And we ran. Mt Hood and her glaciers were glowing in all her glory. It was a beautiful run.

Sometimes people talk about trail running negatively, assuming that if you’re running through the scenery, you’re missing the beauty that brought you out in the first place. And, to be honest, I originally agreed. “Slow down and smell the flowers!” Over the course of the weekend though, I came to clearly refute this criticism. To a person, the runners in our group remarked on the beauty, stopped to take pictures, paused to take in the views…the same things that non-runners also do in the mountains. But this was also a group of people who found pleasure in running, in the physical sensation of moving exuberantly through the mountains. They weren’t running because they were in a hurry, they were running because running feels great. Feeling great in a place of great beauty, what more could you ask for?

Rebecca enjoying the hill running training. Photo: Jacob Raab
At the end of our run, we again loaded up in the vans to head back to Portland, bidding a fond farewell to our new friends, our generous instructors, Mazama Lodge and the beauty of Mt. Hood and her trails…until next year’s camp.

Learn more about the camp and get ready to sign up for 2016!

A big thank you to our sponsors: 


Nepal: A Great Way to Give Back

Since the devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in April and May, people have been looking for ways to help the people of the region recover. Initially, the focus was on getting life saving aid to the region - food, water, shelter - to help the people affected go on with their daily lives. But the region needs more help, and you can provide it. This 28-day trip will put you on the ground in several of the affected regions, helping to rebuild destroyed homes, as well as continuing the construction of the Khumbu Climbing Center.

Khumbu, Nepal Service Trek 
Oct. 14–Nov. 11, 2015
28 day trip: Fly to Katmandu and stay in Thamel, an historic district near world heritage sites. A short domestic flight along the Himalayas lands in Lukla and there the trek begins. Trek along the Duh Kosi River on the Mt. Everest Base Camp Trail on the way to the center of the Khumbu: Namche Bazar. The destination is Phortse where we will spend 13 days working to complete the shell of the Khumbu Climbing Center (an Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation project) and help with reconstruction of homes in the village. We will have time to explore Katmandu and take a side trip from Phortse to the Goyko Lakes region.
This is a wonderful opportunity to work with the Sherpa villagers of Phortse to rebuild their lives after the recent devastating earthquake and avalanches & support Nepali expedition workers by working on the KCC.

Seeking people in great condition who possess a sense of adventure and good construction skills. For more information contact Mike Pajunas. Mike has experience in Nepal and at the KCC as he spent 3 weeks working on this project in 2014.

Estimated cost: $4,000, including airfare.


Ten Random Areas: Rock Climbing Beyond the US (and Canada and Europe)

by Radek Chalupa

Shirley Chalupa on the spectacular pitch 2 of the 
Sacred Site route on The Moai in Tasman National Park.
Photo: Radek Chalupa.
We finally stumble back into our camp just as it gets dark, toss down the gear, take off our harnesses and slump down next to the tent. A day and a half of climbing, including a bivy on the thousand meter southeast face of Jebel Misht, and a long and thirsty hike down the opposite side of the mountain are behind us. A search for water in some village (we should learn some Arabic), a bit of hitchhiking, and we’re finally back in camp. We hear the muezzin’s evening call to prayer from a distant village in the valley. We break down camp, toss things in the car, and once again bang up its undercarriage trying to get across a 300-meter-wide dry river bed full of microwave-sized rocks. We reach a small town just shy of midnight and gorge ourselves on roasted lamb in the only open restaurant. Tired, dirty, and—with no plans or reservations—essentially homeless. But we’re in the middle of Oman with a big climb in the bag and we couldn’t be happier.

The choice of how to burn precious vacation time is both exciting and frustrating as we’re always reminded of how little of it we have and how big the world is. It comes down to two questions. First, is there multi-pitch climbing? Second, how interesting is the place itself? Below is a list of areas we’ve tried climbing in and some bits of logistics for each. The hope is that it provides a starting point for further research for those who are interested and perhaps motivates those climbers who generally dislike traveling to try something new.

Making our way among the Bronze Age beehive tombs 
somewhere on the Salma Plateau of the Eastern Hajar 
range, Oman. Photos: Radek Chalupa.
Desert climbing on beautiful, golden-colored limestone. Our trip was only a week long and consequently we climbed only one route, The French Pillar on Jebel Misht, the El Cap of the Arabian Peninsula. Route development here has been going on for a couple of decades, driven mostly by European climbers, though more recently Americans have also shown up. There is an English language guidebook for the country (by R. A. McDonald), but its scope is limited to mostly small climbs. However, excellent information for The French Pillar is available online: www.foordkelcey.net/uae/misht_fp_topo.pdf. Also, internet searches for “Al Hamra” towers and “Wadi Tiwi” should yield some good information. Getting to Oman is reasonably cheap with a few European airlines offering non-stop flights to Muscat. Visa-on-arrival was available in 2014. Once in Oman, you’ll need a rental car and I’d recommend an SUV (gas is cheap) as even some sight-seeing will require high-clearance. Winter is the time to go (we went in February).

Wadi Rum is located in southern Jordan near the Saudi border. It’s a maze-like system of canyons defined by huge sandstone formations. Rock quality is generally good—somewhere between Sedona and Red Rocks—and the route lengths range from single to 20+ pitches, with a wide spectrum of difficulty. There’s a guidebook by Tony Howard that can be purchased online. Reasonably priced flights (most via Europe) will get you to Amman (in 2012, visa on arrival) where you can take a pre-arranged taxi all the way to the village at the mouth of Wadi Rum. Renting a car seemed pointless. Once there you can camp by the Rest House in your own tent (or a crappy rented one), buy your meals from them, and use their bathroom and shower facilities (those last two can be memorable adventures in their own right). Hiring a Bedouin guide is almost essential (eg. www.rumguides.com). This person is not a climbing guide but rather an “enabler”—he will drive you out to climbs (though a handful are accessible by walking from the Rest House), supply you with drinking water and other basic needs, arrange cab rides to Petra, and generally keep an eye on you ... and, if you’re really lucky, invite you for some very sweet tea or even a family dinner in one of the traditional desert encampments. We visited in mid-February and had mixed weather. Next time we’d go a bit later in the spring or earlier in the fall. Lastly, save a day for checking out the Dead Sea and vicinity.

The only place with long, multi-pitch routes that we know of is the Tsaranoro Massif located about 90 minutes southwest of the city of Fianarantsoa. This was also the setting for a climbing movie about the establishment of a big new route (Bravo Les Filles) by Lynn Hill, Beth Rodden and team. On the upside, the area is spectacular: colorful, huge, clean granite walls with plenty of lemurs to be seen and heard on the approaches and even on climbs (6b seems to be their free solo limit). The rock is almost totally devoid of cracks and so most of the lines we did were fully bolted. The downside is that the majority of routes were established by climbers much stronger than us. The longest and most spectacular looking lines start at about 7a+ (French or ~5.12-) and the bolt spacing tends to be on the exciting side—not sport climbing. Still, there’s enough climbing to be had at the 5.10-5.11 range to easily fill up a two week trip. Search online for Camp Catta (including Facebook)—their website has most of the topos published. You can buy meals and beer (and peanuts, a staple) from the Camp Catta kitchen and the dinners were outstanding—some of the best French food we’ve had. Getting there can be relatively expensive and painful. Other than some African airlines, Air France operates (2011) a twice weekly flight (so don’t lose your luggage!) from Paris to Antananarivo. After this 11 hour leg, you will have a 12 hour car ride in store which can be prearranged through Camp Catta.

The most established and best known climbing area in the country is centered on a large granite formation called the Spitzkoppe and the nearby domes called Pontoks. There’s a guidebook available (by Eckhardt Haber) and some shops based out of South Africa will ship it to the U.S. Things look great on paper: huge granite formations, beautiful and well established camping, and even a cafeteria nearby run by a friendly South African couple (2013). However, we found the climbing to be generally scary: flaky, exfoliating rock and run-outs on moderate pitches. Fortunately, the main goal of our trip lay several hours away. We came to Namibia with the goal of repeating the 2009 route called The Southern Crossing, established by Majka Burhardt and team on a remote wall called Orabeskopf in the Brandberg Massif.

Online search will show Majka’s beta on the route, including gear recommendations. While the logistics for the Spitzkoppe climbing are pretty straightforward (fly to Windhoek, rent a car and drive yourself), things get a bit more complex for Brandberg. The recommended starting point is to contact Basil Caditz who runs the Brandberg Rest Camp in the old mining settlement of Uis. He is the person who helped us with arranging permits (Brandberg is a protected area) and a porter (no reliable water in the backcountry) as well as transportation to and from the trailhead which is about an hour outside of Uis and requires a high-clearance car to access. The extent of modern day human activity in that valley seems to be limited to three teams of climbers establishing a total of four routes (last one called Hungarob Combination in 2011) with no repeats that we were aware of. The area really feels very remote and way off the beaten track. An incredibly memorable experience.

Most climbers have heard of the beachside climbing in Railay and Tonsai (multiple guidebooks available, best one is by Somporn Suebhait); and while those are fun and unique (tower climbing right out of a long-tail boat), they are also overrun with westerners making for a pretty diluted cultural experience. A bit of internet research reveals a handful of relatively obscure crags scattered throughout the country. One that captured our interest was called Khao Chin Lae 2 Peak outside the town of Lopburi. The limestone tower rises suddenly out of the rolling sunflower fields of central Thailand and is home to a couple of summit routes (~6 pitches long) as well as many single pitch climbs at its base. The nearby Lopburi is a logical base and off the beaten tourist track. Noom’s Guesthouse is the place to stay as Noom himself is a climber, rents scooters (best way to reach the crag), and makes an excellent cup of coffee. Lastly, don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Hong Thong before heading off to dinner in one of the local establishments. A guide can be found online (namphapayai-camp.com/pdf/topo-lopburi.pdf).

The country has a good selection of small crags scattered throughout both Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo regions. The latter is also home to some spectacular looking towers nestled in its jungles (full on expedition value) and the famous Mt. Kinabalu (which has both a complicated permitting system and bad weather). Off the coast of peninsular Malaysia there is also Pulau Tioman, home to a pair of large granite spires called The Dragon Horns. The South Horn is home to more than a half dozen routes, with most being difficult free climbs (13-ish). Exceptions are the original line called Waking Dream (aid, A2+; hardware at belays replaced with Ti glue-ins in 2013 by climbers from Singapore) and Damai Sentosa which apparently clocks in at 6c+. Our attempt on Waking Dream in June of 2014 ended in failure. Despite trying it in Malaysia’s dry season, we encountered severe thunderstorms on an almost daily basis. As far as logistics, I’d recommend flying to Kuala Lumpur (vs. Singapore; less hassle without the extra border crossing) and renting a car. Pulau Tioman is accessed via a ferry that departs from the town of Mersing. Once on the island, a quick hop in a small boat is required to reach the village of Mukut on the southern tip. Contact Mr. Khairudin Haja (Tam) who is an accomplished climber and who runs the Simukut Hill View Resort (facebook.com/simukuthillview) at the base of the Horns.

Though the more accessible climbing in Tasmania is typically not very long, it is certainly different (sea stacks) and can be exciting (venomous snakes). A nicely written guidebook on the select climbs on the island by Gerry Narkowicz is a great resource and worth the shipping cost from Australia. There is also a less-glossy but free online guidebook, (thesarvo.com/confluence/display/thesarvo/Climbing). Although we spent our two weeks there with a constant eye on the weather forecasts for the western part of the island, home to longer, alpine-ish climbs like the Frenchman Cap, we never got a good enough weather window to attempt it. We did get a sampling of the much drier eastern Tasmania’s routes: from the sea stacks of the Tasman National Park (which include swims and Tyrolean traverses), to the multi-pitch splitter crack climbs of Ben Lomond and on to the scenic granite domes of Freycinet Peninsula. Tasmania is easy to get to and to explore (rental car is essential), however, it is relatively expensive (2015). Extended camping in the wet environment could be painful and so renting a place with a kitchenette might ultimately be a good way to trim costs.

Advertised as the home of big-wall free climbing, this is the easy Patagonia or perhaps the Chilean Yosemite.  We spent two weeks there in the first half of February and had climbable weather about 50 percent of the time. The rock is high quality granite and the routes tend to be long (10 pitches and up) with difficulty starting at about 5.10 but with more options in the 5.11 range. With sufficient lead time, airfares to Puerto Montt can be reasonable. Flying to Santiago and busing (reliable and comfortable) down could be a money saver as well. The rest of the logistics can be taken care of in advance by contacting the folks who run the climbers’ hut in Cochamo Valley (cochamo.com). Here you can arrange your taxi ride from town to the trailhead, as well as pack horses to carry your supplies on the 13-km hike into the Valley. Although the climbers’ hut (Refugio Cochamo) sells breakfasts and dinners, they often run short. In other words, bring most of your own food (and sneak in all of your own alcohol, the hut is dry). The typical approach is to establish a basecamp on the valley floor (solar showers included) and then do overnight or multi-day trips up to adjacent valleys for the climbing. Climbing activity in Cochamo started in the early to mid-2000s and the area is still experiencing much new route development. Consequently, the most complete route beta can be found in binders inside the climbers’ hut—bring a pen, plenty of paper, and some artistic skills for copying the maps and topos by hand (a good rainy day activity).

Frey is a logical complement to a Cochamo visit: short approaches (once you’re camped out by Refugio Frey), more compact routes, drier but colder weather, and plenty of wine (and  food for purchase) at the hut. The term “alpine cragging” comes to mind. Climbing here is on small to mid-sized granite spires (one to eight pitches) that dot nearby ridges. Rock looks loose and dirty from afar but is in fact clean, solid and well featured. Free camping is available near the hut but you pay for the use of a shared kitchen space (gas stove). Bring a sturdy tent as conditions can be very windy. A nice guidebook by Rolando Garibotti can be purchased at Club Andino in Bariloche. Lastly, transiting between Cochamo (Puerto Varas) and Frey (Bariloche) is probably best done via a public bus rather than a rental car. Dedicate a day to do this and probably more if you’re in a rental car.

A Tyrolean traverse on the descent from Crescent 
Moon Buttress in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. 
Photo: Radek Chalupa.
Despite a several year lull (2010–13ish), hundreds of mostly foreign climbers once again visit the beautiful El Potrero Chico every year. Yet very few seem to venture beyond. High density of well-bolted, long routes, good weather, nice limestone, trivial connections to US cities are all contributing factors. As fun as racking up the pitch count in EPC is, the adventure aspect is a bit lacking. Partially motivated by the publication of a new guidebook (rockclimbing-mexico.com), we did a two-week long road trip through the country starting and ending in Mexico City (and yes, we did venture up north to EPC, as well). Two areas with moderate multi-pitch routes were Parque El Chico in the state of Hidalgo (conglomerate rock towers) and a large monolith called Pena de Bernal in Queretaro. While the climbing was good (all bolted), the setting of the post-card perfect Mexico really completed the experience. Logistics are trivial (cheap flights) though things seemed simpler in a rental car with Mexican plates as opposed to driving in from the US.