Nutritional Bar Review: Natural fuel with flavor for every taste

Photo credit: Wendy Marshall
Wendy Marshall got involved with the Mazamas through BCEP in 2014. Below, Wendy gives us a thorough report on the bars that will fuel our adventures and tantalize our taste buds. An outdoor sports enthusiast, she loves hiking, snowboarding, and studying rocks and wild plants. She also volunteers periodically with Bark, a local forest conservation non-profit. She is steadily becoming a full-time writer and novelist, fueled mostly by apples, tea, German fruitcake and dark chocolate. 

by Wendy Marshall

My early hope was to coax some of these companies into advertising partnerships with the Mazamas, with the goal of bringing an infusion of monetary and promotional support to both sides. I had enough sense to realize I was getting ahead of myself. A better first step was simply to inform people, letting relationships grow organically, and seeing what evolves. My very next idea was to review my ample stash of promotional gifts, with a focus on easy-to-pack food bars and snacks of the type I love to bring on hikes and snowboarding trips. Clearly, mountain sports types have heard of Clif Bar, PowerBar, and Luna. But what other vistas awaited us? What nutritional benefits could these products offer to the discerning consumer in search of fresh territory? Or, for that matter, to people seeking their preferred zone, be it vegan, paleo, or gluten-free?

"We're all nuts here." Where I'm from, that saying is a compliment. My trekking choices tend to agree. Where would snack bars be without nuts? The very nuttiest of these is one of my favorites.

KIND Snacks
"Ingredients you can see and pronounce" is the mantra of KIND Snacks, plus a business philosophy of, well, kindness. Aside from Clif, this may be the most familiar snack bar to us. I first encountered them at a Hope on the Slopes skiing fundraiser for cancer research, where KIND was a sponsor.

KIND has already partnered with the Mazamas for at least one event, at which I got to try their Black Truffle sample bar. I love this bar for its earthy, less-sweet flavor. It has a savory truffle bite to balance the honey, and the satisfying chewy-crunchy texture typical of KIND bars, using whole nuts and grains.

Truffles not your thing? KIND has 20 flavors of nut bars, and yet more options with added flax, antioxidants, protein, or drizzled in yogurt. Being a dark chocolate fan, I also enjoyed the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew bar in the KIND "Plus" line with added antioxidants, which had a rich, yet not overbearing sweetness. What's an antioxidant? It's a molecule that protects cells and body tissues from damage by oxygen. In short, it helps keep you from literally "rusting" and aging, always a concern with hard-working muscles and sun-exposed skin. The bars’ highest natural ingredient is cacao, the chocolate bean; other good sources are dark fruits like cranberries, blueberries and pomegranates, whole grains, and fresh vegetables like spinach and carrots.

For those wishing to skip chocolate, I recommend Maple Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt. KIND also offers snack clusters in a pouch. Their products are gluten-free, non-genetically-engineered (GMO), and many are dairy-free as well. Find them at major Portland natural grocers and at kindsnacks.com.

Rawnola Bar
Fittingly, I first encountered a Rawnola bar at a forest activist work camp in the Mt. Hood wilderness. Earthling Organics of California uses ingredients as close to their source in nature as possible, such as raw coconuts and almonds, in that what's best for the planet is what's best for us. Or, as they put it: "Snacks for intelligent lifeforms." Their nine-organic-ingredient, gluten-free, sprouted granola bar in Vanilla has a firm crispy-crumbly texture, finely ground and nice to chew, with a strong coconut-almond flavor. If Vanilla seems too sweet, Rawnola also comes in Cacao, Goji Berry, and Matcha. The last contains chlorella, a powerful plant protein great for promoting muscle growth and healthy cells, with a full set of amino acids and vitamins, including lots of Vitamin B12. Yep, it's a green bar. Rawnola is available at most major grocers like Whole Foods, and Alberta Co-op. Also at earthlingorganics.com.

Nothin' But Foods
Here's a peek at what may arrive soon. This company, who uses nothin' but organic stuff like oats, nuts, seeds, fruit and honey, offers baked, gluten-free granola cookies and snack bars in four flavors. I like these for their chewy granola texture and notably vivid flavors—out of the citrus kick of Ginger Lemon Cashew, intense cacao of Chocolate Coconut or ripe, fruity depth of Cherry Cranberry Almond, I couldn't pick favorites. California is littered with vendors, and I heard Nothin' But wants to spread into Costco stores. Until then, hunt them down at

Whole grains and seeds are good sources of energy. I especially love sunflower seeds, which are easy to pack or add to salads. Sunflower seeds strengthen the heart and bones, balance cholesterol, and reduce cancer risk. Both grains and seeds form the bulk of some of the following snacks.

Bobo's Oat Bars
I found the name, handmade look, and story of this product endearing. Bobo's sprung from a mother-daughter team in Boulder, CO, and still prides itself on four basic ingredients and a small-batch baking process. Inside the humble, clear wrapper, you'll find a thick, hearty, chewy, and incredibly satisfying and flavorful bar. They all taste potently fresh, whether of bright tangy oranges or a coconut that's just been cracked open. Just as good as a newly-baked oatmeal cookie. So far I've tried Cranberry Orange, Coconut and Apple Pie, but this company has 15 flavors of bar to choose from. Just looking at them makes me want to either start baking or head to my friend's farm to play in the fields.

Bobo's Oat Bars are gluten and dairy free, vegan, and non-GMO. These get a definite thumbs-up. Then again, I like my oatmeal. Oats are a slow-burning source of whole grain proteins and complex carbohydrates, full of nutrients and fiber, which help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Bobo's may have begun humble, but it’s now everywhere: Whole Foods, New Seasons, Safeway, REI Co-op, Albertson's, and at eatbobos.com.

Marketed as "primitive nutrition," food bars don't get much simpler than this. I love the name of one: Seeds and ... seeds! Be ready to nosh on this chewy, gooey, very seedy bar, which is free of wheat, soy, and dairy. You'd think a snack with a cave-man on it would be suitable for paleo eaters. Since that's a very distinct diet, I'll let readers judge for themselves by the ingredients—seeds of flax, sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin, plus brown rice syrup. That's all. Speaking of flax, if you'd rather not eat fish or fish oil, flax seeds are known for their high content of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acid, along with many vitamins, minerals and all essential amino acids. Umchu offers six other flavors of bar, too, micro-batched in Edmonds, WA. Whole Foods or Alberta Co-op can hook you up, as can umchubar.com.

Honey Stinger
The founders of this company, with roots back to 1950, did energy foods before "energy bar" was cool, using one of the greatest natural energy foods, honey. Now they're at it again, with a dozen types of organic bars, energy chews, and other goodies. I'll have to go with the Super Fruit & Ancient Grain bar, packed with dried berries and seeds, but I also like the chews. Honey Stinger is well-known for their sponsorship of athletes and organizations, and they'll be joining us again at Hope on the Slopes 2017. Natural grocers, climbing gyms, sporting goods stores—these guys are everywhere including honeystinger.com.

Taste of Nature
These snacks are laden with good things, topped with visible whole seeds and nuts like a KIND bar. There are 20 flavors, all mostly organic, certified gluten free, non-GMO verified, kosher and vegan. Some flavors are unusual, too, such as Key Lime Pie, Brazil Nut, and Pomegranate. My lone sample, Dark Chocolate Cherry with 10g protein was pure delight, bursting with cherry flavor and crunchy seeds. This is a Canadian company. Unless you venture across the border, the easiest way to try these is ordering via tasteofnature.ca or tasteofnature.com. I'm tempted to ask for a variety pack.

It's an ideal name for a quick snack. Not a bar but a similar-sized pack of loose, whole-grain nibbles a bit like a lightweight trail-mix, Nosh has a base of puffed rice and comes in five flavor combinations. These are creative, such as my favorites, Blueberry Lavender Lemon and Coconut Chai. Besides the unique flavors, I love the addition of tiny, dried currants in the mix. For their size, black currants pack lots of vitamins and minerals along with protein and fiber. Nosh is dairy-free, vegan, certified organic. Safeway, Market of Choice and Vitamin Cottage carry Nosh, or find them at

Chewy fuel. For those who prefer a smoother, dough-like consistency like that of a PowerBar, the following will hopefully fit your pack.

Raw Revolution
Raw Revolution was started by a nurse and chef. They offer all-organic, plant-based live superfood bars, vegan, gluten-free and kosher too, high in protein but without refined nutrients. I like their Golden Cashew bar, which has fat cashews in a tangy, nutty matrix, while Chocolate Raspberry Truffle grabbed my sweet tooth. At least six flavors, found in natural co-ops, grocers, and at rawrev.com.

Go Macro
Go Macro caters to the macrobiotic diet, which focuses on mostly whole grains and vegetables, an overall balance of salty-sweet, hot-cold, yin-yang, etc., and positive holistic energy in food. The Go Macro representative I spoke with told me proudly they had one of the highest-selling products on the market. I really like their "Sweet Revival" Sesame Butter and Dates bar, whose rich seed matrix has a natural, delicate sweetness. Cashew Caramel, however, is milder in flavor. Dates are high in nutrients and fiber, easily digested, help your body metabolize energy, and may prevent cancers. Vegan, soy-free, and no GMOs. Find up to 12 flavors at major grocers, or gomacro.com.

Picky Bars
Picky Bars are an exercise-focused line launched by three professional athletes. They've hit on a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, an ideal balance for workout nutrition. They offer at least eight flavors, mostly organic, not a GMO in sight. I tried their Cookie Doughness bar, which resembles a condensed cinnamon-raisin cookie in both texture and taste. Yum! I found these guys at Trader Joe's or at pickybars.com, where you'll find a summary of ingredients and health benefits.

Protein power. Some companies express their innovation by dedicating their product line to healthier, sustainable, and at times very unusual sources of protein. Here are a few.

"You're not paleo until you eat bugs." That's the grabber for Chapul cricket protein bars, which do, in fact, have cricket flour in them. What? Why eat crickets? This daring company is all about sustainability. My Chapul representative explained that crickets use only 8% of the food and water as cows to produce the same amount of available protein for people, and create only 1% of the greenhouse gases (cows are farty, and gobble lots of resources). Crickets, she said, have twice the protein of beef, 15% more iron than spinach, and as much B12 as salmon. I quickly began to understand. But was I ready? After a deep breath, I tried the Thai bar. It was unique in its hints of ginger and lime, but otherwise? Delicious. Pleasant texture, like any other moist, soft energy bar, yet not overly sweet. I'd never know I was eating bugs. I recommend these not just for adventure, but also their high nutrition content and genuinely tasty, cultural flavor combinations like the Aztec bar with dark chocolate, coffee and cayanne. Chapul bars come in four types, which you can sniff out at Alberta Co-op, Food Front Co-op, Natural Grocers Vitamin Cottage, or at chapul.com.

Evo Hemp
If you'd rather not eat animals or bugs, try hemp, the plant source of easily digestible protein. Hemp seeds, I learned, are a nutritionally complete food. They are 33% protein, 35% essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6, and contain all nine essential amino acids, plus there's all that lovely fiber. These raw health bars, which come in six flavors, are vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and are labeled paleo outright. Evo's Apple Pecan bar is dark, moist and crumbly, full of seeds and spiced apple goodness, maybe my ideal of what a homemade fruitcake should be. The company offers hemp seed baking flour and other items as well. Find them at natural grocers and at evohemp.com.

This whole-food protein bar draws on the power of egg whites for much of its 12 grams of protein, with an overall emphasis on simple nutrition. In fact, it lists its four main ingredients on the front of the wrapper, along with "No B.S." There's a few more, but all are basic and pronounceable. I tried the Chocolate Coconut, a dense, chewy brick with whole morsels of nuts, fruit and chocolate inside. This density gives a substantial feel to your snacking, and there are eight flavors to pick from. RxBars are gluten-, soy- and dairy-free. CrossFit gyms carry them, but so does Trader Joe's and rxbar.com.

Savory alternatives. If the thought of eating yet another sugary-sweet energy bar makes your throat clench in a Gag reflex, fear not, other options exist.

A company inspired by family meals in Greece, and based on the Mediterranean diet with its focus on fruit, vegetables, grains, and olives. I tried two of their savory bars, Bell Peppers & Green Olives and Black Olives & Walnuts, and loved both. These savory bars, which come in four flavors, have a great balance between sweet and savory, with the former being very subtle. Chewy sun-dried chunks pair well with crisp, puffed amaranth seeds. Mediterra also has four types of sweeter bar with yogurt and oats. Of these, I like the Apricot & Pistachio bar, a pungent, fruity bar, dipped in white yogurt. Again, I like the harmony of complex flavors. I look forward to trying all of these! All are non-GMO, gluten-free. In the Portland area, Market of Choice, GNC, Pharmaca and possibly Whole Foods carry Mediterra along with their site mediterranutrition.com.

Gopal's Healthfoods
Power wraps? What are those? A savory snack stick made from ground nuts and seeds, wrapped in nori, the seaweed used for wrapping sushi. These aren't sweet at all, and resemble a stick of jerky, but they're vegan. I tried the Masala wraps, which have a dry texture and a spicy, warm taste. Nori is rich in protein, iron, iodine (typical of seaweeds), and fiber, and lowers both cholesterol and risk of cancer. Gopal's is dedicated to ethical products for the planet and specializes in 100% raw, sprouted, organic foods. What's this scoop on sprouted foods? A seed, like an egg, is like an armored food storage unit. Much of this fuel is starch, which a human body converts to sugar. When the seed sprouts, the young plant begins consuming the starch, resulting in a food with higher protein and fiber, and a lower glycemic index. Eat sprouted bread, rather than white or whole wheat, and you'll feel fuller faster. Some seeds, like flax, are so well-armored that your body has a hard time utilizing them, unless they're freshly ground into flour or sprouted.

Besides Power Wraps, Gopal's offers four types of nutty, fruity Rawma snack bar, which I have yet to try, as well as raw food crackers and cookies, Sprouties seed packs, Rawmanola clusters, and much more. Alberta Co-op and Food Fight! carry their products; other natural grocers may, as well as their site gopalshealthfoods.com.

Rhythm Superfoods
These people make vegging out easy, even for people who dislike eating vegetables. Not bars but vegetable chips or "bites," they're delicious alternatives to trail mix or granola clumps. I particularly like all three flavors of Broccoli Bites, which are crunchy and bursting with savory spice. They also have beet chips and kale chips. Most natural grocers and food co-ops will offer them and their site rhythmsuperfoods.com.

"Are you like a vegetarian, or what?" I can't count the times I've been asked something like this, perhaps because I look like one. What I am is odd: I shy away from chicken and turkey, but like red meat (thank you, cows) and salmon. Just don't mention the chocolate. Here are three choices for carnivores.

Epic had a nice booth for their 100% naturally-sourced animal products. In keeping with paleo ideas, they believe in the wisdom of our ancestral diet, but just as important is for animals to live and graze as naturally as possible. Holistic, biodynamic ranching, Epic argues, can restore grassland, unlike the industrial farming and agriculture practices we're seeing today. I'd never eaten buffalo, so I gave their Bison bar a try. It's salty yet sweet, incredibly piquant with a slight smoky taste and cranberries inside. It's not pure bison but also contains bacon, and this is noticeable. Epic offers 11 types of meat bar, and lots more (salmon fillets, too). Most natural grocers and health food stores carry them, or go to epicbar.com.

Mighty Bar
Mighty Bar specializes in pure grass-fed, organic prairie beef from Down Under, with a farmers' cooperative over 20 years old. They have three flavors of bars; I tried Cranberry & Sunflower Seed. It has good flavor, but a bit harder texture, more in the style of juicy jerky than Epic's bison creation. Whole Foods, New Seasons and Alberta Co-op carry them; mightyorganic.com.

Tanka is worth checking out. Native American Natural Foods makes these buffalo-meat snacks to advocate natural and healthy eating, a Native respect for living things, and racial interconnectedness. Tanka offers four flavors Tanka is widespread, from New Seasons and Whole Foods to Pharmaca, Food Front, Little Green Grocer, REI, co-ops, and many others including their site tankabar.com.
What a ride. Mighty bars, picky bars, kind bars, power wraps, a revolution in food. The most difficult part of this journey for me was choosing, from such bounty, which to discuss. Variety, the omnivore's dilemma, is truly the spice of life. For such wholesome, certified products (at the expo, I learned just how costly certification is), all are reasonably priced. Of course, if you're bold, you can also try making food bars of any sort, as I've done. But often, you may not have time.

When stuffing your pack with snacks this coming year, why not try something new? Many of us take joy in striking out on a path we've never explored before. But I discovered there's no less of a thrill in walking up to someone you've never seen, who's offering their passion to the world via a company they started only a month ago, and asking, "Can I try it?" That way, there's plenty of room to be adventurous.


Pico de Orizaba: Climbing Mexico’s Bright Star Mountain

Krista on top of Pico de Orizaba. Photo by Aaron Nelson

by Krista Curtis and Aaron Nelson
At 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon Apizaco was intense—Mexico was intense. We had been up since 2 a.m. and in constant, frantic, motion ever since. Outside the hotel window horns blared, dogs barked, loudspeakers boomed and a thick mass of bodies and vehicles moved. The smells of fresh tortillas and grilled meat wafted in.

A friend’s brother is a taxista in Mexico City, and we opted to hire him to drive us all the way to Apizaco. We piled our small mountain of luggage on the floor and our wads of colored pesos on the bed, and marveled at the value of our 200 peso per night accommodations. These included a hot shower and a TV with a channel that played, almost exclusively, David Bowie music videos (perfect!). We lay down on the bed and stared at each other, listening to the street sounds. Somehow we were actually here!

A few months after our 2014 BCEP class, we heard of the Mexican volcano Pico de Orizaba (18,490 feet) when a group of Chemeketans presented their expedition slide show at a Wednesday night program at the MMC. That very night we both knew this was the trip for us. It had that intriguing balance of a challenge big enough to cause significant doubts, while at the same time overlapping with the realm of possibility. Neither of us has an interest in guided climbs, and this was something we thought we could soon do on our own. Also, we were yearning to practice Spanish and experience culture anywhere south of the border. Other than a few escapades in border towns, this was our first international self-supported adventure.

In the beginning, the travel intimidated us more than the climb. We put the most time into researching and planning travel logistics since the climb wasn’t overly complicated. We got passports and visited a travel clinic for vaccinations. We braced ourselves for a flood of new information: language, money, navigating public transit with luggage, finding clean drinking water and food, and simply existing as a stranger in a strange land.

For this climb, we needed to focus on our cardiovascular fitness. About three months before, we increased our training. We hiked Mount Defiance, did laps on the Mount Tabor stairs, cardio machines at the gym, and bike rollers at home. We gave ourselves a B+ on training. We were especially careful to avoid getting sick or injured. In the weeks just prior to our trip, very cold conditions dominated Hood and we took the opportunity to test our gear and spend some time at elevation.

Krista on the slow and steady trail up
La Malinche. Photo: Aaron Nelson. 
The morning of our second day in Mexico, we took a colectivo up the foothills to the trailhead of La Malinche (14,636 feet). Fresh from sea level, we expected oxygen-deprivation symptoms. Many locals in jeans and street shoes passed us on the wide trail. Slow and steady took on new meaning. We surpassed the elevation of Mt. Adams and reached our new high point. Early afternoon clouds gave way enough for us to see the irregular lines of fields and roads far below, and we caught brief, ghostly views of a snow capped giant far off in the east—our first views of Pico de Orizaba. Nearing the top, we both experienced strong headaches and Krista felt some nausea. Interestingly, on the way down, these symptoms got worse before they got better.

We’d been guzzling water ever since we left the States. To stay hydrated, we wistfully passed up cervezas and even—somewhat ruefully—coffee. We had also planned to avoid street food and potential intestinal issues until after the climb. However, this ended up taking more willpower than we could sustain. Out of the trail dust of La Malinche appeared a covered table and chairs and a family cooking tacos from their truck bed. Tender, seared carnitas with fresh tortillas and tamarindo sodas soon filled our bellies. “And yes please, cilantro and onion would be perfect!”

As we heaved our bags from under the bus in Tlachichuca—the small town which would be our jumping off point for Orizaba—a boy of about ten grabbed the two biggest and heaviest and called out, “Escaladores? Servimont?” He launched away before the word “Sí” had left our mouths. His arms were ripped and even with the big roller suitcase and 70 liter duffel he was fast! Within a couple minutes we were ringing the bell at the 200-year-old soap factory turned climber’s hostel. We tipped the superhuman kid well and entered a different world.

Hearing other people speak English was strange. Gringos wandered about within the walls of the beautiful old factory, examining their yard-sales of clothes, food, and gear. Soon, Dr. Reyes, a third generation climber, and grandson of the factory’s builder, welcomed us warmly and proudly showed us around his hostel. We organized our own gear, ate a fantastic meal, got to know our fellow climbers, and hit the sack early. Meanwhile, the infamous local rooster did his best to make sure none of us had an excess of sleep.

Packed into Servimont’s trusty 4x4, rocking and lurching, we all laughed and shared the growing anticipation. Each time we glimpsed the looming volcano, it was bigger and more breathtaking. It was also quite steep and shiny! It looked like there was a lot of ice up there. We could now see the north side and our route. Now it was the climb, rather than the travel, that had become our source of intimidation. At the end of the road we came to the Piedra Grande refuge at 13,900 feet. Setting up camp was slow, punctuated by head rushes and breathlessness. We managed to do a small stroll up 700 feet or so. A borrowed pulse oximeter showed readings of 79-84% oxygen saturation. As an RN, Krista exclaimed her professional opinion: “Gross!” The shadows fell and the temperature dropped, and we settled into our new home for the next four nights.

From left: Krista on La Malinche with feral
mountain dog. Photo: Aaron Nelson. 
Picking our way through the Labyrinth late the next morning, we took our time, for acclimating and finding the route through the moderately steep ice gullies was our only task for the day. Although there were patches of water ice, mostly the footing was on secure snice and not as scary as it had looked from the truck. Every step was another personal altitude record. We felt we were acclimatizing well, and it was comfortable and familiar to wear crampons and work our way slowly up. As we climbed, our confidence grew; we began allowing ourselves those little anticipatory sips of summit victory. By 16,300 feet, however, we stowed such forbidden thoughts, as Krista again had a sharp headache and neither of us felt generally “good.” We carefully made our way back down to camp, arriving just as the sun slid away.

The following day was a rest day and our summit bid would begin at midnight. We slept in, wrote in journals, drank herbal tea, and soaked in the views of Citlaltépetl, or “Star Mountain,” in Nahuatl. Aaron’s appetite had dropped off at altitude, but Krista didn’t seem to notice much of a change. Because she had experienced altitude symptoms in the past, Krista planned on taking Diamox to hasten acclimatization. Around mid-day Krista realized she was getting sick with a cold and sore throat. She felt her energy level dial way down. Dampened optimism notwithstanding, she reassured herself that she’d climbed Hood before while sick and did what she could to rest.

We awoke and arose to clear skies, electric stars, and the light of the full moon around 11 p.m. Our packs were ready with all possible clothing layers since we’d been hearing consistent reports of serious cold. We boiled water for our Nalgene bottles and, after a warm meal, we were off.
As happens on many climbs, we started out feeling ‘off’ but felt better after muscles and minds warmed up and excitement took over. We made decent time up through the Labyrinth. Once we reached the foot of the Jamapa Glacier, a frigid breeze met us from the east. The cold edged its way in quickly. We layered up as fast as we could, but hands were already cold enough to make those efforts difficult. We managed to get down a few calories, but all of our food was frozen and we tucked some chews and gels into our inner layers for later. Above all, we wanted to keep moving to generate heat.

The glacier sloped gradually upward, getting steepest just below the crater rim. Rest-stepping on firm snice, we stamped our feet often to keep sensation. The glacier seemed to go on forever. Though we anticipated the sunrise, and took notice of its beauty, we knew we were on the northwest side of the mountain and thus it would be hours before we received direct light. We fought to find a balance between moving fast enough to generate warmth and not aggravating the altitude effects of lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. In general, we failed to strike that balance.
Wearing all of our layers, including shells, we were still quite cold. Perhaps it was the altitude, certainly it was the wind chill and temperature (which froze even the food in our inner layers), but we didn’t eat nearly enough. We made a beginner’s mistake in not making it happen. We would have been warmer if we had. Instead, we half-heartedly nibbled and stubbornly moved onward. Live and learn.

Above 17,500 feet, we found ourselves following steps through sugar snow. The steps broke easily, but for the most part, we were able to securely self-belay. Our arc to the crater rim and then to the summit took us far west and we crossed above a cliff 2,000 feet below on a slope of about 40 degrees.

Orizaba Krista and Aaron Summit. Photo: Pierre Grimard.
Finally we reached a small scree and pumice band just below the summit. The views of Mexico were surreal in their scale and beauty. Pico de Orizaba is the 7th most prominent peak in the world and the 3rd highest in North America. Almost 10,000 feet below, a haphazard geometry is traced over the flatlands. La Malinche can be seen, as well as Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, with its banner of wafting smoke. Walking the last few meters up to the summit, a great crater opened before us, and the view stretched beyond to the Gulf of Mexico. We hugged, took too few pictures, and headed down out of the wind.

Two days later, in Mexico City, we feasted on street tacos that were so good that every other taco either of us has ever had, whether before or after, shall pale in comparison. Sipping fine tequila, we felt that peaceful contentment that climbers occasionally find after a trip to the mountains. We also felt gratitude to the Mexican people, for their openness and generosity, and for the many small moments of helpfulness and kindness. At a time when it would be easy to turn a cold shoulder to Americans, it was our experience that, instead, the Mexican people graced us with the benefit of the doubt. Further, people like Miguel the taxista and Dr. Reyes took the effort to respectfully push discussions to a deeper level, allowing us to start to fill in the many gaps in our understanding of Mexico and its people.

Even as we sipped our tequilas and reflected on the past week, our conversation drifted—back to the mountains. We already missed Mexico and we hadn't even left! Next time we’ll also climb Izta, Nevado Toluca, Colima… Next time we’ll spend more time in the city, and in the villages; next time we’ll eat more tacos.


Ice Age in the Gorge: Climbers Recount Winter Glory

Topher Dabrowski on the first ascent of Jet Stream, WI4 50m. Photo: Sam Wilson.

Intro by Kevin Machtelinckx

It’s said that the last ice age ended some 12,000 years ago. Since then, the masochistic beast known as the ice climber has had to content him or herself with traveling to far off places to find good quality water ice to sink their tools into. Every once in a while, however, the climbing gods grace our local spots with a frigid breath, freezing gushing waterfalls into suspended sculptures of solid, transparent goodness. The week of January 12th, 2017 saw one of these events unfold in our local Columbia River Gorge. While many of us sought refuge from the sub-freezing temperatures, others went for all-out glory. Whether it was first ascents by experienced climbers or first attempts by novices getting their feet wet (or frozen), the week-long ice-fest provided a rare opportunity to get on ice in one of the most scenic areas of the Pacific Northwest. Topher Dabrowski, Brad Farra and Jonathan Barrett give us a glimpse into what the experience was like.

Jet Stream on Cape Horn
by Topher Dabrowski
The 2016–2017 Columbia River Gorge ice climbing season is basically a wrap at this point since, after February, it is quite rare to see temperatures consistently low enough for any ice to form near Portland. However, this season was very conducive to ice formation in the Gorge and surrounding areas, as there were three distinct cold snaps with just very moderate warming in between. This season, I concentrated my efforts on Cape Horn, since it offers a good variety of route options and a high density of ice climbs in a relatively compact area. I could easily make trips to the Cape as I work and live in fairly close proximity and, fortunately, Highway 14 was open for most of the bad weather spells. This was a real luxury when compared to making the 12+ hour drive to Hyalite Canyon in Bozeman, one of my usual ice climbing venues.

Since I have lived in the region, I have made it a point to watch Cape Horn's ice formations during the Gorge ice season. This year, by far, offered more routes in thicker conditions than previous years. Many lines formed which, in previous years, had little to no ice. It was impressive how quickly the ice formed at Cape Horn and, over a period of three to four days, I watched a route turn from a major mixed line into an almost complete ice route. It’s a shame that particular line didn't have a few more climbable days, otherwise it would have surely seen an ascent. For now it goes unnamed and unclimbed (to the best of my knowledge).

My first day out to the Cape, I hit Salmon Run on the upper tier with Tim Holscher. We extended that route another pitch and a half past the typical finish to continue up a thin, frozen stream and then ended with a short steep step. The next trip was with Jeff Waskowiak, where I lead Junk Yard, a moderate WI3 route on the middle tier, which I believe is a first ascent. Junk Yard gets its name from an old tire, car seat and driver’s-side door found on the top out. A subsequent trip with a group of five provided some exploration of the lower tier, which sits adjacent to the river. On this outing, Peter Way led the first ascent of Wind Walker, which lays just above the railroad tracks. Although we found many of the other routes in good condition, the wind was too ferocious to allow us to get close, lapping the river’s waves against the walls.

Jeff and I also ascended an unrecorded line just left of Nancy’s Run. We called it Sid’s Slot in keeping with the Sid & Nancy theme. The final day out at Cape Horn was on a blue bird, albeit windy, day. A different group came out this time, and just by chance, one of the members was a photographer. I had my eye on one particular line that was teasing its way into shape and, after we made the approach up the icy gully, I decided it looked good for a go. Luckily, we were somewhat protected from the winds blowing into our little alcove. Although the ice provided for great 'sticks' with the ice tools, the protection was tricky and fickle. As I neared the top, gale force winds roared overhead. I paused to look back over my shoulder taking in the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge and the splendor of my position. In that moment, Jet Stream became the route’s name.

Ainsworth Left
by Jonathan Barrett
Peter and Topher battling gale force winds along the shores
of the Columbia River. Photo: Ye Zhuang.
If there is one iconic ice line in the Gorge, it is Ainsworth Left. It seemed certain that our cold snap of historic proportions would put the route into rare condition. Teams often report that the final pitch is very wet, and I was hoping that we would be able to climb every pitch, but I was disappointed. Saturday, January 7th was cold indeed, but the real problem was the wind. Driving east in the predawn darkness with my partner, Chris Hulette, I found it difficult to keep my car between the lines.

The route’s several tiers of ice drop down a deep cleft, each plane turned slightly askew either right or left of the previous one. The effect is dramatic but also heartening. Pitches could be clearly defined. While we eyed the line from the base, gusts whipped the cliff face and tossed all manner of debris down on us: ground up ice, puffs of light snow, ragged pine branches. The wind, violent as it was at the base, seemed positively vicious up high.

For as long as I have been ice climbing, close to twenty years now, I have never lost my respect for the danger inherent in the medium. Looking up at the first pitch, I must admit I was nervous. It was not a gimme. Left and right were overhanging curtains and chandeliered ice. There was a weird, supernatural tilt to the forms, like something out of a H.P. Lovecraft story. Little was plumb. The center was the obvious line, so I headed up tapping gently into the curtain, trying to feel the pulse of the ice beneath the steel of pick and crampon. At one point, the curtain that I was on fractured at eye level, and I called down to my belay, “I have to admit... I’m scared right now!” But he encouraged me to stay focused.

We sent that pitch and the following one as well, a mellow ramp to the base of a face of frozen blobs. While on lead, I had been regularly pelted by falling debris. Some was small, but much of it was too large to not take seriously. My partner was struck too; when he arrived at the second belay, his helmet had taken a blow from a falling object that had punched through the skin into the foam core. It was obvious, that we were pressing our luck. With a v-thread and double ropes, we reached the ground and scurried for cover. It was not to be that day. We were defeated not by the route but by the Gorge’s violent winds. It was small consolation to later hear from other parties that the top pitch was too wet to climb.

Nancy's Run
by Brad Farra
The two weeks of the January ice event saw us get out on three different days. The idea wasn’t necessarily to bag any first ascents, but rather just get out and get some climbing in. We hit Cape Horn in some nasty winds on one day, then climbed just east and west of Multnomah Falls during the other two. 

Cape Horn was extremely windy when we got to the lower level. We wanted to get on some of the WI5 that we found down there but could barely walk, let alone lead steep ice. The trek to the base of those routes was really beautiful in any case, with all the ice on the beach. In the end, we climbed a really fun, long route called Nancy’s Run, rated at WI4.

Brad on Thick Enough to Screw run.
When we explored around the Multnomah Falls area, we found some nice formations in an adjacent bowl, just to the west. Multnomah Falls itself, as well as Horsetail Falls, to have too high of a flow to ice-over enough for climbing, though we did get on a route called Thick Enough to Screw just east of Multnomah Falls. 

The conditions during all three days were indeed the fattest I have ever seen them in the Gorge. With that said, they weren’t anywhere near what you’d find in places like Cody, Wyoming, Hyalite Canyon in Montana or the Canadian Rockies. The top-outs in the Gorge were always a mystery and many of the routes were runout on frozen mud or moss. It’s still a rare experience to have this kind of climbing only an hour’s drive from Portland. The Gorge is such a unique environment for climbing. There aren’t a lot of ice climbs out there where your approach includes romping through ferns and dense forest. 


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