First Mazama Ascent of Peak 8,913

Mazamas have been climbing mountains in the Pacific NW for over a hundred years. So, it would not seem possible for a Mazama first ascent unless it was by a difficult new route up an already climbed mountain. Yet such a possibility does exist. You just have to drive a long way and spend three days on the approach to the summit of an obscure and unnamed peak. Such peaks are relatively common in the Trinity Alps of northern California—a stunningly beautiful wilderness not much farther from Portland than the North Cascades. Mazama climb leader Verle Duckering led climbs in the Trinity Alps in the late 1980s through 1997. Other climb leaders led sporadic climbs of some of the major summits into the early 2000s. In the last several years, regular climbs in the Trinity Alps have resumed. In July 2016, four Mazamas reached the summit of Peak 8,913 (our name for it)—a peak that, as far as can be determined, no Mazama had previously climbed.

The plan for the climb was simple: get together a small number of climbers who had experience in the area and carry light packs with no climbing gear. If the climbing became too difficult, we would not reach the summit. The first day’s hike was a nine-mile walk up the Canyon Creek trail to Canyon Creek Boulder lakes. We were the only people camping at the lakes, which are nestled on a granite slab in a granite bowl with a commanding view across the canyon towards Sawtooth Mountain—the fourth highest peak in the Trinity Alps. The last half-mile of this trail resembles a dry creek bed and is described in hiking books as one of the roughest and steepest trails in the Alps. Daytime temperatures were rather moderate and only reached into the low 80s—perfect for swimming.

The next morning, the climb team ascended the north side of the bowl towards Mt. Hilton, the third highest peak in the Alps. The first part of this climb was up granite slabs and then up a small creek, which was the only way through a steep slope of dense, head-high manzanita. After the creek disappeared, a bit of bushwhacking led us to more open slopes covered in small meadows and wild flowers. After we dropped our packs, we continued up towards the summit crossing small snowfields and rock bands. A final, steepish snow field and some easy rock scrambling brought us to the summit of Mt. Hilton and a summit register with entries by Verle Duckering and Jack Grauer dating back to 1992. There was not a cloud in the sky and the view went from the Pacific coast to Mt. Lassen, and from Oregon to deep into the Sacramento Valley. Mt. Shasta was close on the eastern skyline. After we descended to our packs, we hiked a bit farther and set up a camp on a ridgeline near a small stream. The cross-country hike and climb had taken the better part of 12 hours.

The third day, we moved camp over to the next ridge. Frequent bear scat, some of it rather fresh, got our attention. After leaving all our heavy gear, we started up toward Peak 8,913. We hiked up on snow along the Hilton arĂȘte, and descended the arĂȘte on 35 snow to more level terrain. We then ascended the snowfield towards the col south of Peak 8,913. Photographs from previous trips and topo maps suggested that the south ridge would be easy enough to climb without special gear. Initially, this proved to be true as the team ascended snow fingers and boulder fields, but as we got closer to the summit, it became clear that small cliffs would block our way. The climb team solved this problem by probing every possibility, finally exploiting a weakness on the west side of the summit block to reach the summit. This route, involving 4th and very low 5th class scrambling up solid granite blocks, proved to be fairly easy even without gear. The only difficulty we encountered was deciding which route we could down-climb safely. There was no summit register, but someone had left a small cairn to show that we were not the first to climb the mountain.

Again, the view was spectacular and the same as from Mt. Hilton the day before, except that we could now see Mt. Hilton to the southwest as well as Papoose Lake, a lake we had not been able to see from any of our previous summits. We descended the route to our packs, but realizing that in the early morning, hard snow would make our descent to the valley below very difficult, we moved camp farther down the ridge. Our camp that night was both below the snow line and farther from the bear scat. Thus ended another 12 hour day. That night the temperature reached the high 30s.
The fourth day, we spent 5 hours descending another several thousand feet, constantly finding ourselves cliffed out and forced to bushwhack through heavy brush. It was a welcome relief to reach Canyon Creek and the hiker trails which brought us back to the Canyon Creek Lakes, only 8 miles from the trailhead where adult beverages and greasy, salty snacks awaited us.

The climb team for Mt. Hilton included John Meckel, Al Papesh, Mark Curran, Jean Hillebrand, Greg Clark, and Karoline Gottschild. The team for 8,913 consisted of John Meckel, Al Papesh, Mark Curran, and Jean Hillebrand.

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