Meet the PAFletes: Elyse Rylander

Come out for Elyse's workshops during PAF. Get all seminar info at portlandalpinefest.org/seminars/

So I heard you have a knack for perfectly-timed message GIFs. Do you have a favorite? 

I pride myself on not using the same ones every time—I’ve gone so far as to download a couple of different apps in addition to the gif keyboard to shake it up. I like to keep people on their toes.

On a more serious note, what does it mean to you to be a queer woman in the outdoor industry? 

It’s super complex and multi-faceted. Some of the less fun things are often being the only one in the organization or team with that identity, having to speak up for yourself all the time, and dealing with a lot of microaggressions. But on the flip side, I think women, queer women, and other marginalized folks can be the best guides for kiddos or those experiencing the outdoors for the first time. I think these identities can make you really good at understanding what it’s like to be the “only” (or maybe one of a few), and what it’s like to not fit in all the time. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet some really amazing allies and to cultivate friendships I didn’t necessarily think I would be able to. It’s been such a privilege. But it also means having to be tough and to deal with having to be the smartest, the fastest, the best all the time. And having to figure out how to give yourself a break and practice some good self care. Those last two I’m still very much learning how to do.

Tell us about your organization OUT There Adventures. What do you hope to accomplish? 

On an organizational level, I think we’ve already achieved some of our goals. In the last 5-7 years that I’ve been doing this work with OTA so much has changed in the world. I think the work I’m doing right now will be culturally irrelevant in the industry in the next 3-5 years, which is pretty darn astounding. I think any social service non-profit is ultimately striving to work themselves out of a job. Rarely do we see that actually come to fruition, but I think we might actually play a pretty key role in helping to shift the overall paradigm in the industry. On an individual level for our participants, my goal has always been to provide them with an opportunity to be around other people like themselves and to be outside. That rings most profoundly true for me in our youth programs. We do an affirmation circle at the end of all our youth trips, and it always takes hours because they just gush about themselves. It’s so amazing to see and hear them, and to see the change they’ve experienced.

Why do you think the outdoors in particular are a great place to bring people from minority groups together? 

Queer youth in particular are overrepresented in statistics of homelessness, mental health problems, social stresses, depression, and anxiety. We’re continuing to add to the body of research that spending time in nature helps to lessen all of those things (maybe besides homelessness). I think nature provides an amazing opportunity to try and assuage some of those negative experiences. Also, there’s the idea that queer folks are really disruptive to culture and society because they don’t follow prescriptive linear paths—you’re born and “it’s a girl!” which means you wear certain clothes and you act a certain way. In the natural world, I think it’s amazing to be able to see how much queerness and disruption is reflected all around us because things are not linear. It’s basically impossible to travel in a straight line—you have to step over something, or the trail is going to twist, or you’re getting pushed and pulled by the tides. So even in the way you move your physical body you’re able to see that disruption and be celebrated. I think it’s even better than socially constructed urban spaces for showing queer folks that they’re totally natural, more natural than these rigid boxes we put ourselves in. We’ve been told for so long that we’re the unnatural ones, nature is a really empowering place for queer folks to be.

What are a few things those of us who have privilege could do to make the community and the places we love more inclusive? 

I think the first step is just recognizing that you have privilege. We struggle as a culture to have a conversation around bias and privilege because those who have a lot of it don’t want to admit it. It’s really hard for folks to own the fact that the system is rigged and that some of us have been given advantages we got simply because of the color of our skin or the gender we were born with. It’s just sheer luck. If you can’t recognize that, the best you can hope for is achieving a place of tolerance, and that is not an ideal at all. From there, it’s making sure you are doing what you can to educate yourself and aren’t putting the emotional labor and expectation of education on marginalized communities.

You don’t want to ask your gay friend all the questions about being gay—that person has to deal with it all the time, and unless they’re down for it you shouldn’t just expect people in these marginalized positions to do the educating for you. We can educate ourselves. Just like with anything, when you’re practicing a new skill you have to put yourself out there and mess it up a bunch. You’ve gotta go back to the drawing board if it didn’t go well, just like when you’re learning how to climb or mountain bike or snowboard. There’s tons of failing involved, and that’s part of the process. Reflect and do it better next time. I think those are probably my three top things: check your privileges, educate yourself as much as you can, and put yourself out there, fail, and learn.

Is there anything I missed that you’re dying to share? 

Well, OUT There Adventures is a non-profit so we always appreciate support in the form of donations. And the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit will already have passed by the time this gets published, but we’ll be doing it again next year and would love for queer folks and allies of all genders to join!

Elyse's Workshops:
Climbing Towards Inclusivity: A First Step Into Exploring Allyship
Roundtable Discussion: How to Climb 3 Grades Harder with Diversity & Inclusion


Meet the PAFletes: Yassine Diboun

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.

With Moroccan-based heritage, it’s no wonder Yassine Diboun’s dream was to play in the World Cup. As time progressed and he found himself trying sport after sport, his teenage years focused largely on basketball. Having competed overseas and even in Division III college ball in Pennsylvania, Yassine moved westward where the allure of the Rocky Mountains and, eventually, the Pacific Northwest, lead him to transition to endurance sports. Since 2007, Diboun has truly hit his stride, competing in numerous ultramarathons and trail running races.

You’ve tried many sports over your lifetime. Do you think you’ve settled on ultra-running as “the one”? 

It has appeared to be the one, for now anyway! I’ve settled on ultra-running for the past dozen or so years, but as we know, nothing is permanent. I will do it as long as my body will allow me, and for as long as I still have the passion for it. If I ever lose the love for it, I will obviously follow my heart to what is next....just like when I moved from team sports to endurance sports earlier in my life. I think what has kept me so firmly rooted in the sport of ultra-running is its simplicity and multi-faceted “health”. As a health professional, and business owner in the fitness industry I am always conveying to people that health is not just your physical health. It is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Ultra-running, especially in the mountains and forests, fills me up in all of those areas, and living in the Portland, Oregon area allows such amazing access to such places.
It is said that ultra-running is as much physical training as mental training. Do you think they’re equally important?

The mental part of ultra-running is one of the most important aspects. It is very important and I work on it a lot for myself and for the athletes that I coach through Wy’east Wolfpack. The physical training is obviously important and when you do lots of physical training and get strong and fit this builds confidence which in turn gives you a mental edge, but the physical aspect gets all the spotlight. 

I feel that the mental, emotional, and spiritual side of ultra-running is underrated if you will. Ultra-running is one of the most irrational things you can do. There is a mechanism in the human brain called the central governor. It is a self-preservation mechanism that tells us to stop, rest, walk, sleep, etc. when we push the limits of endurance. The thing about the central governor is that it is always very conservative, so as to leave a reserve of energy for survival. Endurance athletes and ultra-runners have found that they can override these signals and push the limits of human potential. The more you push through, the easier it gets and you recognize certain signals. Sometimes it’s not the most healthy option and I have pulled out of races in my career because my mind was pushing through but my body (especially my internal organs) was not having it on that particular day, and I didn’t want to damage myself. The race is not that important! I feel like that is why/how I have been able to race at a high level for over a decade. I am very much in tune with my body and mind because of my lifestyle today. In ultra-running you can’t get too cerebral about the task at hand. It becomes too irrational and overwhelming. Some tricks that I use are mantras, visualization, and imagery before and during competition, and breaking the race or adventure down into bite-sized chunks, otherwise it gets too overwhelming. A little story that we love (and is part of the reason we named our company Wy’east Wolfpack) is the story of the two wolves. It’s a Native American (Cherokee) legend that works well for both life and for endurance sports and it goes like this:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil—It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good—It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”

In other sports, the gear seems to evolve nonstop (skiing technology, climbing technology, camping/backpacking equipment, etc) and you can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to feel properly equipped and to progress in the sport. In your ultra-running career, have you seen big leaps in running technology? Do you think better technology is important to the sport? Do you think that will change in the future?

There have been great advances in GPS watches, headlamps, and cameras (drones) etc. but I still think at the core of ultra-running is its simplicity and practicing a sacred transcendence. One foot in front of the other moving through wild spaces and tapping into something bigger. I think the technology muddles it a bit and I like to take it all with a grain of salt. I say that because of social media (Instagram, YouTube, FB, etc.) changing the sport a bit. People are going to these amazing places on foot and are focusing a lot on trying to get the perfect shot for their Instagram and missing out on so much of the authentic experience. I am guilty of this sometimes too. We go to such breathtaking places that we want to share the inspiration with others. Also, if you have a big following on social media channels you are more likely to be sponsored by companies so it creates another dynamic which has shown some changes in the sport and growing pains if you will.

In climbing, there are many athletes that push for “firsts.” First ascents, first free ascents, first descents (in skiing/ski mountaineering). Is there as much of an obsession in the ultra-running community for these “firsts”? 

Yes, I think it is human nature to want to be the first or the fastest, etc. There is a trend in ultra-running called FKT’s which stands for Fastest Known Times. There is a website and protocol for people to follow to set a fastest known time on a particular route, or create your own. It’s pretty cool and I have participated in this type of self-organized adventure running. For example, I set the FKT for the Pacific Crest Trail (supported) through the state of Oregon a few years back. I think it’s a fun way to set your own parameters on a project, state your intentions, and go for it without the structure of a race or sanctioned event. It just gives you the freedom without all of the hoopla! I invite you to check out the FKT website.

What has been your toughest race to date?

I think the toughest race I’ve attempted and did not finish, unfortunately, was Badwater 135. This is 135 miles on roads through Death Valley in July. The temps topped out at 127 degrees Fahrenheit. I made it 100 miles and my body was cooked and I was having some internal issues with kidney dysfunction and dehydration/heat exhaustion, etc. I pulled the plug.

Probably the most difficult race that I have finished would be the HURT 100 in Hawaii (I finished 3 times) and it is extremely difficult w/ lots of technical terrain such as slippery roots and rocks and tons of climbing through the mountains in Oahu, Hawaii. Again you deal with heat and humidity of the jungle and it’s in January, so it’s difficult for us PNW’ers to get ready for. The other is UTMB which stands for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France. You start in Chamonix France and run around the biggest mountain in the Alps (Mont Blanc) and pass through three countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) and climb over 30,000 cumulative feet. It was very difficult and took me 28 hours to finish in 89th place out of over 3,000 runners.

Have you participated in running events outside of the United States?

Ultra Trail Torres del Paine in Chile—I was leading a 110 kilometer race through one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion, and just before sunrise saw a puma. We checked each other out and he jumped over a log and ran away. Pretty exhilarating!

What are your ultra-running goals in the next few years? What do you hope to accomplish?

There are a few races I would like to complete such as Hardrock 100 in Colorado. There are so many self-organized adventures that I would like to do such as the Washington PCT, Tahoe Rim Trail, etc. so I will likely continue to break my season up with self-organized adventures and local and international races as much as I can!

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.


Meet the PAFletes: Libby Sauter

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine our climbing heroes outside of their vertical worlds. If not spending their time crushing it on a big wall, setting speed records, or putting up first ascents, their lives must purely be spent training for those big projects, right? While for some that may be true, for Libby Sauter, there is much more to her than just a talented athlete. Although she is a highly-accomplished rock climber, Libby has devoted a significant part of her time to her job as a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse. If that isn’t enough, her job has seen her work in places like Libya, Ukraine, and Iraq. So what does it mean to be so motivated on two very different fronts? Let’s find out…

You are best-known in the climbing world for holding a speed record on the Nose of El Capitan. Talk about what holding that record means to you. 

The Nose speed record was the ultimate avenue to test my ability to reach for lofty goals. The routes meaning has changed significantly for me over the years from triumph to rather bittersweet in the wake of the accidents that have transpired on El Cap around speed climbing.

Being a world-class rock climber can be all consuming at times and, as we all know, life is about balance. How do you find the balance in your life that allows you to succeed in and outside of rock climbing? 

I was lucky enough to not fully become obsessed with rock climbing until after I completed my university degree in nursing. Having a flexible, well-paying career has giving me the ability to bounce between my two greatest passions.

Is there a particular moment amongst your experiences as a traveling nurse that sticks with you more than others? 

Pediatric cardiac nursing is a very intense field of health care so there are lots of moments that stand out. One time I watched a little girl’s heart start beating again after we had cracked open her chest in the ICU. Those scenarios don’t often end so happily in the developing world. I was in Benghazi when ISIS was defeated and watching the final moments of that battle from the hospital rooftop will stay with me forever. As well, all the countless tears I shared with my nursing best friend Lisa after particularly tough days are pivotal moments in my life.

Which personal qualities are transferrable between being a successful climber and a successful nurse? 

Basically, any trait that involves working harder than you could ever imagine, going past extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. These traits are helpful in both fields.

Perhaps more interestingly, which personal qualities would you rely on during one activity but never call upon during the other?

Nursing and climbing have so much in common to the point that I can’t really think of a trait that is important in one, but not in the other: fear control, check. Responsibility for someone else’s life, check. Calm under pressure, check. Tolerance of other people’s bodily fluids, check.

Do you usually try to combine a climbing trip with a work trip (i.e. go and climb in the country you’re working in once your contract is finished) or is there a bit of a break between the two?

I haven’t been nursing abroad this year but, previously, I would often try and combine trips. Work was already paying for my transcontinental ticket so I could easily just book little flights around Europe or Asia in between. The Middle East airport hub is Istanbul so I’ve spent lots of time in transit there. I made a really rad climber friend there through the couchsurfing.org website so anytime I had a long layover, I had a partner to get out with. He just opened Istanbul’s first full-fledged climbing gym, DuvarX. Check it out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world!

As climbers, we’re often fortunate to be in incredible places that the majority of people will never will be able experience. Do we, as outdoor enthusiasts, have a responsibility to those places that extends beyond “Leave no Trace”? 

I think we as humans have a responsibility to take care of the planet on which we live, regardless of whether or not we are climbers. But since we have such an intimate relationship with many remote places we have the ability to be extra conscious about leaving no trace, to addressing our trespasses on tribal land, to dealing with our industry’s hypocrisies regarding green living.

What are your future projects (whether climbing related or not)?

My projects of late have more revolved around mountain running and academics than climbing. Losing a really close friend to climbing just a month after Quinn Brett became paralyzed on the Nose last year has really taken the wind out of my climbing sails. I started a grad school program in Global Health that I am very excited about this fall.

Here is an easy one. What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Salty, crunchy! That usually means cheddar popcorn and chips and salsa/hummus/guac! YUM!

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org. Get Libby's full schedule at portlandalpinefest.org/libby-sauter/


Meet the PAFletes: Alan Rousseau

Before Alan Rousseau disappeared into the mountains for a month-long trip, he was kind enough to spend a few precious minutes in Ladakh responding to some questions via email. Our exchange is below:

First, you were given the 2013 Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how it came to influence your climbing.

The Lyman Spitzer award was the old name for the AAC cutting edge award. This is a grant that funds climbers for expeditions that are attempting to push the modern standard in alpine climbing. In 2013 Tino Villaneuva and I received this grant to try the west face of Tengi Ragi Tau in the Rolwaling valley of Nepal. This is a huge fin-like mountain that is nearly 7000 meters tall. We walked below it the year before while nabbing the first ascent of Langmoche Ri (6611m) in a seven day push from the village of Na. Getting the grant made it possible for us to return to the Rolwaling. It was our first experience trying to solve a puzzle of this scale. We were turned around real high up on the face, about 1000 feet below the summit. We could not find a spot to sleep without subjecting ourselves to serious objective hazards. We rappelled 6,000 feet in 8 hours to get off the face only leaving 40 feet of cord and a few stoppers. After this experience I took a couple years off from climbing in Asia, not because it was a bad experience, but because I saw the gap in where my climbing was, and where I wanted it to be to set myself up for success on these big committing
features. Last year in 2017, Tino and I returned to the Himalayas and completed the first peak ascent of Rungafarka (6495m) via the 50-pitch north ridge (VI M6 A0 WI4+).

Second, you were given the 2018 AAC Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how that also influenced your climbing.

It’s a bit too early to say how it influenced my climbing as I am in India now about to head on the expedition we received the funding for. It feels like we are in a good place, after our success last year, we are hoping to apply a similar formula to the objective this year. For me getting a grant is a big motivator. I know lots of other people applied, and it makes me want to do everything in my power to be as ready as possible for the objective. I don’t want to feel like I wasted an opportunity.

Third, as someone who is clearly at the front of the pack in terms of changing climbing, where do you see the new frontiers of climbing being?

This is an interesting question largely because I don’t see the climbing I’m doing as changing the sport. I have always aspired to be a well-rounded technical climber, to apply a diversity of skills into completing large alpine objectives. As a result I’m not leading the sport in any single technical aspect. My hardest redpoints are 5.13 and M10. I see kids warming up on these grades! My only reasons for success have been 1) I try really hard, and 2) mentally I have been able to climb near my limit in the alpine. I’m just taking a relatively moderate skill set and applying it to big terrain.

Perhaps that means I’m one of the people changing the modern culture of alpinism. However, I see the future of alpinism in the climbing gym. When I see a 15-year-old kid tie in, casually talk about who has a crush on who, while floating 5.13, it makes me think there will be very little aid climbing done in the future. The hardest traditional ground up routes completed in the alpine from a technical standpoint are easy for most adept young guns. With a reduction in aid comes a faster ascent. The end result is a bigger route completed with a smaller kit required.

Fourth, as climbing is moving forward into new ways of thinking about what climbing could become, in your mind, is there any danger that we are losing something, maybe a connection to the past? In your own experiences, what is that link between the past and the future of climbing?

On this I have somewhat of a limited perspective. I’m 32 years old and my introduction to climbing was only 15 years ago. I don’t think there is much of a danger in losing the past. I think there will always be respect and intrigue for what each generation accomplished with the equipment available at the time. Skill sets will evolve, equipment will adapt, but at the end of the day the goal remains unchanged: climb the hardest thing you can and get down safe. As long as people remember what was done to get the sport to where it is today, I believe the connection to the past will remain strong.

Fifth, talk a little about the role that technology impacts your climbing. With the advent of social media, the proliferation of beta, and the continual evolution of the equipment itself, what do you see to be the general trajectory of the sport?

Even when I started climbing, I didn’t think technology (other than equipment changing) would play much of a role in climbing. I think the online information sharing is incredibly valuable to the progression of our sport: conditions updates, access issues, new route development, better directions, rack recommendations. I think they are all great. The end result is we all climb more. I know for myself I find enough adventure on route. I don’t need to get lost on the approach and descent to get my fill of uncertainty for the day.

Social media is another facet of this realm. A lot of info sharing does happen here as well. As does a spread of stoke and stories (I swear more people like ice climbing in July than January). Stories of climbing have always been told, in one form or another. I hope as social media’s presence continues to shape modern society, climbers continue to tell stories with an emphasis on authenticity, and not ‘how should I frame this to get the most likes’. I think social media presents a very interesting example of intrinsic motivations pitted against the human desire for peer validation.

Finally, talk about your process. How do you work to create a consistent evolution for your climbing such that it is always progressive.

I think I’ve always been good at setting goals and finding out what work I need to do to obtain them.

The first time I remember doing this, I wanted to run a sub-seven-minute mile while I was seven years old. I remember my dad working with me on pacing, logging laps on the track, eventually hitting a 6:55 and being totally stoked. I think that has stuck with me. The work you put in is what you get out. I approach my climbing goals with this same mentality, although breaking down an unclimbed face in the Himalayas is a bit more complicated than calculating split times in a mile. I also get bored when things feel stagnant, or like I’m at a plateau. I think this has motivated me to keep pushing my limits, as well as exploring new styles of climbing.

Now, some really “important” questions

Tacos or burritos. Which one do you prefer and why?
Burritos. When it comes to food and drinks, I have always been a quantity over quality kind of guy.

Head to toe or head to head sleeping in a tent and why?
Head to head. My feet smell waaay too bad.

Name a totally bone-headed mistake you made when climbing. Can you laugh about it now?

When I was 19, I climbed Mt. Hood. I forgot my sleeping bag in the car, and at the first break managed to drop my puffy jacket after putting it in a compression sack. It flew down the mountain.

That was a cold trip for me. And yes I can laugh about that as well as just about every other “bonehead” move I did at that time.

Knickers. They’re old school. Some have tried to bring them back? Defend them or ridicule them!

They seem pretty silly to me. Maybe if I were “Portland hip” and could grow a sweet moustache, I would embrace them!

Are you stoked? Head on over to portlandalpinefest.org to get tickets to see Alan at The Summit on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center, and/or check out his clinics & seminars.


Meet the PAFletes: Marcus Garcia

This will be Marcus' second time as a PAFlete. His energy last year was infectious and we knew we had to have him back for PAF18. This year you have the opportunity to learn more Marcus in his clinics: Good Enough Anchors, Movement, Rigging for Photos, and Better Crack Climbing. He's also teaching our first ever kids climbing clinic (ages 9–14)with Dawn Glanc.

If you’re looking for the definition of an all-around climber, Marcus Garcia may very well be your man. From an impressive list of more than 200 routes put up all over the USA and Mexico to a spot on the UIAA Youth Commission pushing to bring competitive ice climbing to the Winter Olympic Games, Marcus’ ambitions don’t stop at “simply” projecting a new, difficult line. As his climbing career evolves, he finds himself undertaking a new era of mentorship. In this interview, we get a brief glimpse into the mind of someone whose commitment to the climbing world goes beyond establishing hardcore 5.13 trad routes.

Can you put a finger on the moment when you felt the transition from student to mentor happening? Was it one moment or more of a slow transition?

The moment I felt the transition from student to mentor was after losing my mentor in a climbing accident. I was ready to quit climbing altogether. After mourning the loss, a friend asked me to climb a big ice route. I was off the couch and had not swung a tool in a while. That year, the first pitch was steep, really steep. I chose to start the route. Soon, I found myself pumped and run out. Too steep to stop and place an ice screw. So I calmed myself down and remembered what my late mentor taught me: “Enjoy the movement.” I just focused on the climbing and topped the pitch. At that moment, I realized I have something to teach others, just as I was taught myself.

You’ve put a lot of emphasis on mentorship and coaching. There are plenty of excellent, world-class climbers out there that never take the leap from student to mentor. Why do you think that is?

To be a mentor for some means putting aside personal goals as a climber and focusing on helping others achieve their goals. I feel this scares most climbers, as climbing in itself is a selfish sport when you look at it as a whole. Mentoring is a lot of work and a lot of challenges. It takes a lot of dedication to be a good mentor and some world-class climbers are just not ready to let go of their goals. Nothing wrong with that, it is just not their time. I was there and now I have learned to balance my goals and blend them into how I mentor others.

What is your personal drive to offer mentorship to younger, up-and-coming climbers? Why is it important?

Over the years, balancing my goals and mentoring had to become one. My goals became what I learned by watching the mentees grow into their full potential, not only as a climber but as a young human being. Along the way, I realized I, too, am still the student. As the years go by, I am still learning how to be a great mentor. Everyone I encounter is different in learning how to climb. What is important to me is watching the growth of an individual. This can be during a 4-hour clinic or it can be watching one of the youth members graduate from high school, travel overseas, and become their own person. To me, that is the most rewarding feeling a mentor can have.

How is the bid to bring climbing to the Winter Olympics coming along anyway? What are the next steps to continue to bring the sport to the ultimate world stage?

Unfortunately, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea did not choose to host an ice climbing exhibition during the games. The next steps are to grow the sport here in the USA and focus on the youth side of it, as I do, because they are the future of the sport. We need more US support from brands and the climbing community. We need to put on more ice climbing competitions that showcase the physical challenges of this sport and educate the climbing community to take time and teach it to people.

You’ve put up numerous routes during your long career as a climber that involve using all sorts of equipment. During this time, you must have seen trends in climbing gear come and go. What are some of the pieces of equipment or methods you are glad did not stand the test of time? What about old technology or methods that have been used for decades and are still around today that you find yourself using over and over again? 

As far as ice climbing, the days of the straight shaft ice tool are gone. They were notorious for the bashing of knuckles. Also, the ridiculous forearm pump you got came from from holding onto the slippery handles with a strap around your wrist that restricted the much needed warm blood flow. Even with all the latest training techniques around, nothing beats the good old basic dead hang. And focus on good technique. Footwear has changed but it does not replace good footwork or understanding how to climb using the least amount of energy.

How do you find the balance between devoting time to mentorship and still pursuing your own personal climbing endeavors? 

There lies the most challenging quest. My time between teaching others and still pursuing my own visions has been merged into the same goal. My goal is to be a great mentor and if I get to go out and chase my own objectives from time to time, then that is a bonus. To do this I had to develop a workout that keeps me in top form so that when I do get out, I am ready. That is easier said than done. But having a great climbing partner and the kids I coach keep me motivated.

Now that you’ve begun this “master” stage of your life (as opposed to student), what do you envision for your future? Is there another step beyond mastery or mentorship?

Over the years, I have been asked if I would write a book. I really never thought of being a writer. This year I took the next step and began writing and putting together about 20 years of research copied in journals into the computer. I wrote a little workout for Rock and Ice and loved the process. So now to find the time. Early mornings and dedication, just like I would if I am training for a goal, have become the norm.

Looking backward, what do you feel is your most significant achievement (either as a climber or as a mentor)? Looking forward, what is the thing you most hope to accomplish?

Looking back over the years, I find myself thinking about the times I have helped other world-class climbers achieve their goals while at the same time helping young, up-and-coming climbers find their own path. In 2017, I was able to achieve some of my biggest achievements as a climber. One was helping a strong Chelsea Rude find herself in trad climbing. Then, during the same week, establishing a FFA in Yosemite, a place that has been a stepping stone for many climbers. But to be able to leave my own mark in a place that had done a lot for me is a highlight. This was only to be topped a few days later by free climbing a big wall as a mentor, photographer, and climber in a day with Jon Cardwell and Sasha Digiulian. Leaving the valley after giving back to the climbing community will be one of my favorite times. What I hope to accomplish now is to watch my protégé chase their vision as a young climber.

And the question that I ask everyone: What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Over the years, for some reason the food I crave most is Thai noodles covered in peanut sauce washed down with Thai iced tea without ice. Yes, without ice. Funny, I do not like ice in my drinks, nor do I like plain chocolate.

Get to know more about Marcus and sign up for his clinics at portlandalpinefest.org.


Meet the PAFletes: Quinn Brett

Quinn Brett is teaching and speaking at the Portland Alpine Fest, from Nov. 12–18 in Portland, Ore. She is a co-instructor for Fast & Light Alpinism, instructing the seminar Trip Planning: Rock Climbing, co-leading an Advocacy seminar, and one of our keynote presenters at the premier event of the festival, The Summit, on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get Quinn's full itinerary here.

An Interview with Quinn Brett

Let’s start with some easy questions to warm-up: burritos or tacos?

Depends. Am I in the mood for eggs wrapped up or am I in the mood for open-faced fish? That sounds unintentionally kinky. HA!

Would you rather be buried under pile of puppies or kittens, and why?

Kittens? Yes, question mark. I think cats do a better job of cleaning themselves, so maybe less chance of poo in the face.

Climbing knickers. Defend them or ridicule them.

Wear them with class and style and pride, unless its an off-width then whine about how my ankles will get shredded.

Alright. Let’s get down the nitty-gritty. Our theme for the series of interviews is the future of climbing and where each of the athletes thinks that the future lies. So...Talk about your vision for America’s public lands. Obviously they are necessary for all Americans, but for climbers, the issue is particularly salient. What are your hopes, dreams, fears? 

My hope is that climbers trend a more selfless habit of giving back. I know we all want/need to get our fix outside but it is equally important to look further than the next project. Enlighten yourself with the how and why these lands were set aside. Share your experiences with others about these spaces but also invite others to experience them...infecting them with the same bug, with hopes that they will continue to be, yes used, but more importantly preserved and untrammeled.

For many of our readers, your fall on El Cap in October of 2017 is the primary way you are known. So I think that it is worth addressing in a few ways. Until the modern era, there was the maxim, “The leader shall not fall”, and then for a long time, the leader whipped at will. As climbing is being pushed into new frontiers, that statement has become true again, at least as an overarching principle, as climbers seek to move faster over the same terrain. Talk about your perspective on this issue.

As I learned to climb, I worked my way through the grades....trying to do every climb without a fall, usually first try. I didn’t like falling and I don’t think I had my trad. leader fall until I was well into climbing 5.10’s and testing the 5.11 waters. Even sport climbing, I was timid, scared of falling. I think falling, like climbing, should be practiced. Obviously, falling on certain terrain or using certain tactics, is less than ideal...but then again, accidents happen.

Your recovery seems to be teaching you about grit and hope and patience. Compare these lessons to those that you have learned on some of your hardest or scariest climbs.

Patience. Ha. Yup. I sucked at projecting climbs, I didn’t start gaining interest of enough patience to do so until the last few years. Inevitably, I would cry during the project process pin-pointing the one move that was shutting me down. Negative thoughts of, “I can’t, I will never make that move.” With patience and continued effort, eventually the move would unlock and the climb would relinquish her difficulties, sometimes the send would feel oddly effortless! I can’t wait for the day to arrive, and gosh I hope it comes, when I feel that effortless feeling regarding my mind and this seemingly permanent sitting position, also for nerve pain relinquishing to peace.

Any time a climber is injured while climbing, there is inevitably a chorus of voices who speak out against the perceived stupidity of the actions undertaken at the time. How can this conversation be moved forward so that the real issues are framed in a more productive way and that a true dialogue is achieved?

These questions are difficult to answer. Personality and opinions are a part of life. If we all would just take a deep breath, remembering patience perhaps we would all have better success at responding instead of reacting. I think if we are compassionate with our time, even just a single moment, we give space to remember that we are all flawed. We all make mistakes. Accidents happen.

Lastly, we need to address the elephant in the room. Talk about your handstands. Are they just a metaphor for your life, or am I misreading them?

Handstands? Get upside down, change your perspective. Having trouble focusing, stuck in a rut, memory failing, trouble finding your balance (literally or figuratively), need a minute to breathe or are you always in control afraid to be vulnerable? Practice more inversions in your life.

Get tickets to the Portland Alpine Fest now at portlandalpinefest.org!


Quinn Brett is an adventurer and record setting athlete.  Tying herself to Estes Park, Colorado for the last fifteen years, she strives to push mind and body to the limits.  She holds numerous speed climbing records in Yosemite, Zion and Rocky Mountain National park, is a competitive triathlete, and an eclectic tight wearing handstand master.

Professionally Quinn worked during the summer months as a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park---essentially medical and technical first responder .  She was the only female in this highly coveted position.  To compliment the rescue and medical component of this job, Quinn taught Wilderness Medical Courses with Remote Medical International during the winter months.

Last fall, she sustained a spinal cord injury from a fall while climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite.  Although her life is undergoing some drastic changes, unable to walk, climb, run and handstand, Quinn is pushing forward with hope.  Wilderness experiences, before her accident, provided Quinn with perspective, growth and appreciation of life and others.  She hopes to find new ways to enjoy physical endeavors and the therapeutic ways public lands provides.

Learn more about Quinn at quinnbrett.com



Darrin Gunkel outside his van down by the Alaskan Highway, with a pug.
Photo: Karin Hedlund. 

by Jonathan Barrett

As a parent of a small child, I have a deep, almost primeval, fear of vans. As a child of the 80’s, after school specials and public service announcements warned me against people who called out, “Hey kid! I’m a professional photographer. Come with me to my van, and I’ll take your picture.” As a result windowless van is the first place I am going to look when my son’s face appears on the back of the milk container. The problem is that now, all these vans are filled with beautiful, half-dressed Athleta models and Patagonia ambassadors. Since when did prAna start hiring transients as marketing influencers?

As a result, I find the whole #vanlife thing really confusing, as does my kid. For example, I brought my son, Liam, to Smith last fall. We got out of the car in the bivouac parking lot, and there was a man sitting in the open door of his black Sprinter. Liam grabbed my hand a little tighter and said fearfully, “Daddy, don’t let him take me!” I turned to him and replied, “Don’t worry, son. He has a trust fund. He can’t hurt you.” Liam looked really confused. This man’s fingernails were black. He was barefoot. His beard was thick, but artfully cut. He was shirtless. In his fingers was a funny smelling cigarette. “Daddy, why is he smoking?” Liam asked. “Well, son. Sometimes adults have a hard time coping with reality.”

“So he’s doing drugs?”

“No, that’s why he bought the van. The cigarette is just cloves.”

That evening when we returned to the parking lot, there was a man standing on the roof of a ‘96 Ford Econoline. “Daddy, is he fixing his roof?” Liam asked. I looked at him skeptically. Was he messing with me? The dude was doing downward dog in the fading sunlight. My son had seen me doing yoga in the our privacy of our basement before. He knew I kind of hated it. In his mind, no one would ever do it in public. “Maybe he is looking for a hole that water is coming through,” he offered thoughtfully. The shirtless man in $100 shorts moved gracefully into tree pose. “Oh no!” Liam said. “He’s going to fall off!” A lithe woman appeared on the ground next to the van. “Maybe she will catch him.” She took out her iPhone. “No, wait I think she is going to take his picture. Daddy, why is she taking his picture?”
The rainbow is not Photoshopped. Photo: Darrin Gunkel

“Well, son. Sometimes when you live in a van, it’s hard to stay connected to people. Always moving around. Not being in the same place all the time,” I said. Vanlifer was now doing Pungu Mayuransana, wounded peacock, and the girl continued to take pictures of him. Secretly I wondered: if a climber falls off a van roof in the woods, can anyone hear him scream?

“So, he’s homeless. We should give him something to eat. He can have my apple. I still have it from our hike.” He started to reach into his bag.

By this time the man had finished his poses and was climbing down off the roof of his van. He took a long swig from his Hydroflask. “Honey!” he called to his partner, “Can you check the Goal Zero batteries? There is a crack in the solar panel cable. It might not be charging.”

“‘Scuse me,” Liam said. “Here. You can have this.” He held out his apple in a gesture of sincere concern.

“Is it organic?” he asked. Liam looked at him blankly as the man took it to inspect the sticker.
“Thanks kiddo, but I am really careful with my body. You can keep it,” he said as he handed it back.

As Liam and I walked back to the car, he shook his head. “What’s the matter, bud?” I asked.

“That guy. He makes bad choices. Maybe that’s why he’s homeless.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He said he wants to take care of his body, but he was being very unsafe on the roof. And look,” he said as he pointed back in the direction of the van where the man was walking across the parking lot in his bare feet. “He should put some shoes on so he doesn’t cut his foot.”

Back at our friend’s house in Bend, Liam climbed into their truck-bed camper which served as guest quarters when we visited them. It was 8 p.m, his regular bedtime. “Daddy,” he said. “I’m really glad that we live in a house.”

“Why is that, bud?” I asked as I tucked him in with his stuffed moose, Mary.

“Because I’d miss my friends if we were always moving around, like that guy we saw today.”

“Well, I suppose that’s a fair point,” I said. How could I explain the fact that these people likely have many friends and acquaintances spread across the West, people that they regularly meet at Indian Creek or in Squamish. How could I explain that much of their community was online and digital? That even though they can open their doors and make a parking lot their new front yard, they can’t always know who their neighbors will be from one day to the next. That they are sacrificing a degree of regular, in-the-flesh human contact for space and mobility.

I pulled the fleece blanket up against his chin. “Well. They have friends online who like to see their pictures. They can share their lives that way,” I said.

“Oh,” Liam said. “Well, I like knowing that Owen is just up the street. And that he’ll always be up the street. He’ll never move away.”

“Yeah, kiddo. I don’t think that I would want to live on the road like they do, either.”

“What’s it like to live in a mobile home?” he asked as I was just opening Captain Underpants to read the next chapter to him.

“Well, actually it’s not really a mobile home,” I said.

“Oh, I mean RV.” I put the book down. How was I to explain that it was their home but not a mobile home. That old people live in RVs and go to national parks, like Yosemite. That young people live in vans and ... go to national parks, like Yosemite. But it’s not the same.

“It’s a van, son. Let’s just read some of the book so you can get to sleep on time.” Somehow the world of an ill-tempered grade school principal who transforms into a superhero made more sense to him in that moment than the subtleties of #vanlife.

We all remember the Chris Farley SNL sketch where he admonishes David Spade and Christina Applegate to get their lives in order, otherwise they will be, “living in a van down by the river.” Maybe my point of view needs to shift. Maybe there is nothing wrong at all with childless men living in a van down by the river. After all, if my son becomes one of them, I know where to find his picture.


Book Review: The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

Author: Florence Williams; Reviewer: Brian Goldman

Have you ever wondered what compels hikers and climbers to endure fatigue, insect bites, blisters, and cold? Is there something about immersion in nature that we inherently need? Are we collectively suffering a “nature deficit disorder?” Do some countries have better national policies of improving health by providing access to nature? Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, traveled the world to uncover studies in neuroscience, medicine, and big data about the restorative influence of nature on our physical and mental health. In short, informative, and witty chapters, Williams displays a gift for clearly explaining the science behind nature’s positive effects on our brain and health.

In Japan, where they’ve coined the word karoshi—death from overwork—the government is creating over one hundred forest therapy sites for people to engage in shinrin yoku, forest bathing. Williams visited Yoshifume Miyazaki, a physical anthropologist whose research found that when people take forest walks, there is a 12 percent decrease in cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone), a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity (which governs fight-or-flight behavior), a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, a 6 percent decrease in heart rate, and a better mood and lower anxiety. In a country with a high suicide rate and tsukin jigoku—commuting hell—where workers shove you into a train during rush hour, nearly 25 percent of the population now walk forest therapy trails yearly. As Miyazaki explains, “we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in nature, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment.”

Immunologist Qing Li, a collaborator with Miyazaki, has studied natural killer (NK) immune cells, a type of white blood cell that can send self-destruct messages to tumors and virus-infected cells. Sure enough, three days of hiking boosted these NK cells by 40 percent for an entire week. Although not completely confirmed, Li suspects that NK cells are boosted by phytoncides, otherwise known as “nice tree smells.” These are essential oils emitted by evergreens and other trees. Li himself uses a humidifier with cypress oil in his house since he found that those who sleep inhaling a cypress scent experience a 20 percent increase in NK cells and less fatigue.

In Korea, where forest bathing is called salim yok, the Forest Agency has established dozens of healing forests with dominant cypress trees. Scientists in Korea confirm the medicinal aspects of phytoncides as antibacterial and capable of “reducing stress 53 percent by lowering levels of cortisol and blood pressure 5–7 percent.” The soil also contains geosmin, which holds streptomyces bacteria, a key to many antibiotics. Two other studies looked at eleven- and twelve-year olds who suffer from “borderline technology addiction” (BTA). After two days in the forest, researchers found lower cortisol levels and improvement in self-esteem. Armed with this research, Korea has planned a National Forest Plan “to realize a green welfare state, where the entire nation enjoys well-being” through work and school programs.

In Finland, economist Liisa Tyrvainen tweaked the experimental design of Miyazaki and concluded that Finns have elevated measures of restoration, vitality, and creativity when walking outside, but they must be in nature at least five hours a month. If you’re outside even longer, “you will reach a new level of feeling better and better,” she concluded.

Singapore is considered one of the top “biophilic cities” in the world. Almost half of the country’s 276 square miles are under some sort of green cover. The population has grown by 2 million; however, the percentage of green space has increased from 36 to 47 percent. Although many of these green spaces are gardens, greenhouses, paths with green corridors, and parks with constructed nature, the government’s vision has succeeded in making this country an oasis in SE Asia. Studies have shown that mortality rates are lower near urban parks.

Other positive health effects of nature: Williams uncovered research in Ohio, Singapore and Australia suggesting that being outside in sunlight stimulates the release of dopamine from the retina, which prevents the eyeball from getting too oblong, thus preventing myopia (nearsightedness).

Awe: According to the author, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke may have understood the effect of transcendent experiences in nature. He traipsed the countryside and found that for something to be “awe-inspiring” there must be “vastness of extent” in which our senses find it difficult to make sense of it—which in turn inspires feelings of humility and a more outward perspective. Dacher Keltner and colleagues at UC Berkeley have found that experiencing awe was the only emotion to significantly lower levels of IL-6, a marker for inflammation. Lower levels are better; higher levels are linked to depression and stress. Keltner also suggests that the emotion awe causes us to reinforce and share emotional connections. Ever wonder why you take those pictures on your cell phones and send them to family and friends?

The book continues by showing how military veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have diminished symptoms when rafting or backpacking, and how exercise and exploratory play among children increases verbal and math ability, lowers impulsivity, and leads to a threefold decrease in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD) symptoms.

Could the positive effects of immersion in nature apply to our educational systems? Yes, indeed. The author states that Germany has more than 1,000 forest kindergartens called Waldkindergarten, where students are out in all kinds of weather. In one instance, after a large tree fell during a storm, the teacher launched a nature-based curriculum in which children sawed off branches to make the tree safe for climbing. In so doing, students practiced dexterity, teamwork and learned about cause and effect. In Scandinavia, 10 percent of preschoolers spend their entire days outside. In Finland, students have recess outside 15 minutes out of every hour. In contrast, two-thirds of the students in this country are Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) “insufficient.” In both the U.K. and the U.S.A., rickets, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin D, has quadrupled in the past 15 years.

The Nature Fix confirms that even small amounts of exposure to the natural world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood. Williams shows how time in nature is not superfluous but is essential to our species. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, spending more time in nature is more urgent than ever. As the author succinctly states, “Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.”


ICS Spouse Survival Guide

by Becky Nelson

The author, right, and her husband Harry Colas.
So your loved one is considering the Mazama Intermediate Climbing School (ICS).
When my husband announced his intentions last year to apply for the ICS I wasn’t surprised—but I was a little worried.

We had made a Faustian bargain the year before: he would agree to move to my favorite city, Portland, if and only if I would sign up for a basic mountaineering course with him, which of course turned out to be the Mazama Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP). At the age of six, I floated a similar bargain to my parentas: I would agree to move to Arizona if and only if they bought me a hamster. Six weeks later, in Scottsdale, Busy Bob entered our lives. Despite a debilitating fear of heights and a distaste for anything remotely athletic—coordination is not my strong suit—I figured BCEP couldn’t be half as bad as owning a pet hamster so we shook on it, moved to Portland, and six weeks later jumped into BCEP.

And we had a total blast! But while I loved my BCEP experience, ICS felt like another beast altogether: a big, scary, massive time suck of a class colorfully illustrated by intense photos, secondhand tall tales, and snarky warnings (including my favorite, “BCEP is where you find a partner, ICS is where you lose them.”) If I wasn’t ready to take the plunge myself, I was even less enthusiastic about watching my partner do so. Harry, on the other hand, was fearless. So I watched him apply, ace the test, and get accepted with trepidation in my heart (trepidation, of course, requiring very little coordination).

The author, right, and her husband Harry Colas at Smith Rock.
But we made it through the nine months of ICS and I’m happy to report, at least for us, the worry and the warnings did not come to fruition—we are even still married! So if you find yourself weighing whether to wholeheartedly support or wholeheartedly sabotage your loved one’s application, I encourage you to consider the five simple survival tips below. Follow them closely for a happy, productive, and dare I say enjoyable nine months as the spouse of an ICS student.

Survival Tip #1: Learn the Lingo

It can be tough to get your spouse’s attention when he is full-throttle ICS, all the time. If you’re finding that real life pales in comparison to Defeating the Plaquette or Escaping the Belay, learn to compete by becoming fluent in mountaineering jargon. Imagine the excitement involved in Evacuating the Dishwasher, Exterminating the Dandelions, or Expurgating the Bedlinens!

Survival Tip #2: Anticipate Needs

After about 30 minutes with an ICS assistant, your partner’s definition of basic human needs will expand to include not just food, shelter, and water, but also things like a pink tricam and a second ice tool. This is great news for you! Not only will buying your spouse the random $8 carabiner bring profane amounts of irrational delight, but you are set up for the most straightforward holiday shopping season ever (spoiler: you’re going to be buying those yellow La Sportiva boots.)
Also you’re going to need an air freshener for the car. Just trust me on this one. One of those pine tree jobbers will help make your partner (and her new dirty mountain friends) feel right at home.

Survival Tip #3: Practice Patience 

It’s the defining truth of ICS abandonment that your partner will be out of the house a lot. Take advantage of this absence by teaching the dog, cat, or kid—your choice!—where his loyalty should lie. My dog and I had a great nine months hiking, snuggling, eating table scraps, wrestling on the upholstery, pooping on the lawn, burying bones under my husband’s pillow ... you get the idea.
The author, right, and her husband Harry Colas.
I also recommend watching the trashiest options available on your partner’s Netflix account, thereby completely ruining the algorithm for all time.

When you do see your partner, chances are good that you will be climbing. Prepare for a change in your typical climbing day. Pre-ICS may have consisted of a leisurely breakfast burrito, six solid hours of climbing, and a leisurely burger and beer before heading home. Post-ICS, you should come to expect a leisurely breakfast burrito (save half for lunch, the most valuable advice given in ICS), five hours and forty-five minutes of intense discussion about the climbing anchor, fifteen minutes of climbing, a fraught burger and beer over which there is more intense discussion about the climbing anchor, and guess what? More discussion on the drive home. Pack headphones.

Survival Tip #4: Accentuate the Positive

A few ICS hacks I learned this year: 

  • ICS is the perfect time to challenge your partner to a footrace with high stakes. Their confidence is high, their physical fitness incredibly low. For a course about mountaineering, there is very little actual mountaineering (or hiking, or really even walking) being done.
  • ICS is also the perfect time to suggest a visit from your in-laws. Not only will there be no free weekends during which your partner can take you up on this very kind, oh-so-thoughtful, just the sweetest offer, but your guest room will also more closely resemble an REI garage sale staging ground than an actual room that actual people could sleep in.
  • Your spouse’s baseline for “fun” will drop precipitously, and include things like intentionally falling off tall climbing walls, laying maimed on a snowy mountain for hours during first-aid scenarios, and drinking lukewarm Starbucks Vias. Dinner with your friends or seeing the latest Marvel monstrosity will seem positively rapturous by comparison. 

Use these hacks to your advantage.

Survival Tip #5: Don’t Keep Score

It may be framed as a year of sacrifice for the spouse that’s been “left behind,” but there are actually many benefits of ICS that will come to you through the hard work of your partner.
Though he will be eating, sleeping, and breathing ICS, he also will be weirdly paranoid about failing his tests. By quizzing him, you are not only improving your lingo fluency (see survival tip #1), you are also essentially auditing the class for free. When you inevitably apply for ICS, you will be way ahead of the game.

You will inherit, through very little effort on your part, cool new friends who have gone through nine months of serious vetting.

And, most importantly, it is extremely likely that the beneficiary of all this newly minted rescue expertise will be you. After a year of hard work, your spouse will still not be able to pull herself out of a crevasse. But she will be able to pull your lazy bones out of a crevasse, or lower your broken bones down a pitch, or CPR your unresponsive bones back to life, or at the very least prevent the dog from burying any bones under your pillow. She will work hard all year to learn skills that will benefit all of her future climbing partners, including you.

So it turns out that your loved one’s nine months of intense mountaineering training away from home really ends up being a selfless act of love and protection, and there’s no room whatsoever for resentment or regret.

Of course the best way to pay that forward, or perhaps exact your revenge, is to apply for ICS yourself. (Learn more about ICS)

Author Bio: Becky Nelson has been a member of the Mazamas since 2016. In addition to this, her Bulletin debut, she writes several emails a day.


A Legacy on the Landscape

by Mathew Brock, Mazama Library and Historical Collections Manager

Place names are integral to our knowledge and understanding of Mazama history. The nomenclature of Pacific Northwest geographic features, more often than not goes unrecognized and is often forgotten. Unknown to most, the Mazamas and its members have influenced the names of many places around the Northwest. The story begins, as many recountings of Mazama history does, with our founder William Gladstone Steel.

William Steel, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Mazama

Besides founding the Mazamas and helping to establish Crater Lake National Park, the nomenclature place names fascinated Steel. He worked for many years to compile a catalog of over 40,000 place names. It seems only fitting then that Steel Cliff on Mt. Hood honors him. Steel is also responsible for the naming of Mt. Hood’s Illumination Rock and Mississippi Head. In 1887 he organized and led a party that carried 100 pounds of red fire up to the mountain’s top and set them alight as part of that year’s July 4 celebration. Anyone who could see the mountain that night could see the fire atop Illumination Rock. In 1905 Steel named Mississippi Head for that state’s delegation to the National Editorial Association, who held their annual convention in Portland that year.

While on the subject of Mt. Hood, the Mazamas have either named or have influenced the naming of several other prominent features on the mountain. In 1901 the Mazamas named Reid Glacier for Professor Harry Fielding Reid of Johns Hopkins University to honor his work studying glaciers. Others include the naming of Glisan Glacier for long-time member Rodney L. Glisan and Leuthold Couloir for Mazama Joseph Leuthold. In the late 1990s, the U.S. Forest Service renamed the Cathedral Ridge trail the Mazama Trail to recognize the organization’s long association and history with the mountain.

All this pales in the satisfaction Steel must have felt when, in 1896, the ancient mountain whose caldera now holds Crater Lake was named Mt. Mazama in honor of the organization he founded. Steel loved Crater Lake and worked for seventeen years to have the area declared a National Park. He later served as the park’s second superintendent.

Columbia River Gorge

In 1914 the State Highway Commission asked Mazamas to recommend names for some of the places along the Columbia River Highway. The council sanctioned a committee to study the issue and make recommendations. In 1915 the committee submitted their proposals to the Mazamas and the Highway Commission. The commission accepted the majority of the recommendations. We know them today as Metlako Falls, Munra Point, Ruckel Creek, Tumult Creek, Wahclella Falls, Wahe Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Wuana Point, Elowah Falls, and Yeon Mountain. Don Onthank, a long-time member known to many as Mr. Mazama, gave the name to Bruin Mountain and the Rock of Ages Trail, both in the Gorge. And for a short while, there existed a Mazama Mystery Trail in the Gorge in the vicinity of Saint Peter’s Dome.

Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Rainier

The Mazamas influence extends beyond Hood and the Gorge. Mazama and northwest mountaineer Claude E. Rusk is the namesake of Rusk Glacier on Mt. Adams. On Mt. Baker, the Mazama Dome honors the organization, while the Mazamas named Roosevelt Glacier in 1906 for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.  The Mazamas is the namesake for the Mazama Glaciers on both Adams and Baker. The Mazamas petitioned in 1948 to have the Mazama Glacier on Mt. Adams renamed to honor five-time Mazama President Charles Sholes, but the request was denied. Mazama founding member Fay Fuller is the source for Fay Peak, on the slopes of Mt. Rainier.

Forest Park

Closer to home, the Mazamas advocated for the creation of Forest Park. For their efforts, the city allowed for the establishment of the Mazama Forest inside the park. Now all but forgotten, this area was overseen by the Mazamas. Besides planting thousands of trees, the Mazamas sourced various types of rhododendrons from around the region and transplanted them. The Hardesty Trail leading to the forest honors Mazama President William Hardesty.

Mount St. Helens

Until the summer of 1967, all the glaciers on Mount St. Helens were nameless. In May of 1966, Keith Gehr, a frequent Mazama climb leader and then head of the Mazama Outing Committee, set out to rectify the situation. Over three months Keith worked the phones and wrote countless letters to determine why there were no given names. Keith’s search turned up an ally when he contacted Dr. Mark Meier, a glaciologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). After getting assurances from the USGS that the 11 permanent ice bodies on the mountain were, in fact, actual glaciers, Keith and Mark set about researching and submitting names for them. Keith wrote, “After much research in the Mazama library on the early history of the Mt. St. Helens area, particularly as it is related to climbing, a set of names was proposed. Differences of opinion between the Mazamas, Forest Service, and Geological Survey were quickly resolved in across-the-table meetings.” The eleven names recommended were: Forsyth, Nelson, Ape, Shoestring, Swift, Dryer, Talus, Toutle, Wishbone, Loowit, and Leschi. In November of 1967, the Board of Geographic Names, based in Washington D.C., approved the Mt. Saint Helens glacier names based on recommendations from the Mazamas.

Three of the names—Forsyth, Nelson, and Dryer—honored individuals. Charles Forsyth led six companions in the first rescue on St. Helens during the 1908 Mazama Outing. Over a grueling 48-hours, he led north-south and south-north traverses of the mountain to bring an injured climber to safety. Lorenz Nelson, a pioneer of Northwest mountaineering, 50-year Mazama member, and a two-time president is the namesake for the Nelson Glacier. Thomas Dryer was the founder and first editor of the Oregonian newspaper and a member of the party that first climbed St. Helens in 1853. The remaining glaciers took their names from either their shapes or from Native American heritage. Unfortunately The 1980 eruption vaporized Wishbone, Loowit, and Lesch glaciers and significantly reduced Nelson, Shoestring, and Forsyth glaciers.

Diligent searches through almost a hundred years of Mazama Bulletins has turned up many other places named for or by the Mazamas and its members. To name a few of the more interesting and unique: Lost Park in Beaverton; the Mazama Campground at Crater Lake; Sahale Peak near Washington’s Lake Chelan was named for the organization’s motto; Mt. Thielsen’s Lathrop Glacier, for Mazama Theodore Lathrop; and finally the small seasonal lake that appears atop South Sister was named Teardrop Lake by three young Mazamas on a hike.

While this recounting of place names around the Northwest is in no way comprehensive, it provides a glimpse into the influence the Mazamas have had on the nomenclature and the history of the region. Place names are anchors by which the Mazamas are tied to the mountains, valleys, glaciers, and ridges and act as markers of where the organization has traveled, climbed, and camped. As the Mazamas enter into their 124th year, the places named for and by the Mazamas are a proud reminder of the organization’s long and deeply rooted legacy on the landscape.


Off the Beaten Backpack

Three Fantastic Backpacking Trips for the Discerning Backpacker

by Matt Reeder

So you couldn’t get a permit for the Enchantments or the Wonderland Trail? Maybe you’ve done the Timberline Trail several times and want a new challenge? You aren’t alone. Every year I hear from my friends in the outdoor community about the difficulty of securing permits to cherished spots like the Enchantments, and the desire to find backpacking trips that aren’t completely overwhelmed with people or require complicated planning stretching over several days.

Thankfully there are many other places to backpack. Great places! I’ve spent the last several years researching my three hiking guidebooks: Off the Beaten Trail, 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mt. Jefferson Region, and PDX Hiking 365. I’ve had the opportunity to do some truly amazing backpacking expeditions, from short overnighters at nearby lakes to longer treks through remote and forbidding wilderness areas. Presented here are three relatively obscure trips sure to satisfy all of you who can’t or don’t want to backpack the Timberline Trail, the Wonderland Trail, or the Enchantments.

Big Slide Lake.

Big Slide Lake and Bull of the Woods

While it isn’t full of the kind of alpine splendor found on Mt. Hood or Mt. Rainier, the Bull of the Woods Wilderness is a peaceful and inviting destination for backpacking, from one-day trips to longer loops that touch all of the highpoints of the area, both literal and figurative. The only issue with visiting this area is that many of the trailheads are at the far end of long, winding gravel roads that test the patience of many drivers. This long but rewarding trek to Big Slide Lake and up to Bull of the Woods is easy to find, easy to follow, and leads hikers to a beautiful lake deep in the wilderness. Hikers desiring a mountain view can continue 2 miles to the summit of Bull of the Woods, where the view stretches from Mt. Rainier to the Three Sisters.

Beginning at the trailhead, follow the Dickey Creek Trail on the remains of an abandoned road for a half mile. The trail then descends steeply into Dickey Creek’s deep canyon, leveling out in a classic cathedral forest of ancient Douglas fir. The trail meanders along the valley bottom, passing a pond, until it reaches a crossing of Dickey Creek at about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. Make your way across the creek, which is generally easy in summer, and begin gaining elevation on the far side. The trail climbs up the forested slopes of Dickey Creek’s upper canyon, crossing a huge talus slope at the base of Big Slide Mountain’s cliffs. Reach a short side trail to Big Slide Lake at a little over 6 miles from the trailhead. Take the short spur trail down to the lake. Big Slide Lake is shallow but beautiful, with a lovely green color and an adorable island in the middle of the lake. The best campsites are on the lake’s west side, where you should be able to find a place of your own with space and privacy.

Bull of the Woods wilderness.
Once you’ve set up camp, take the time to hike 2 miles uphill, turning right at every junction, to the Bull of the Woods Lookout, where the view is magnificent. Some exploration on the summit will reveal different vantages, a historic outhouse, and views down to Big Slide Lake. The lookout tower, no longer used and closed to the public, is in poor shape—use caution when walking along the platform at the tower.

Hikers desiring a longer backpacking trip have many options, but a lack of trail maintenance has made some of these options a less attractive idea. Perhaps the best idea is to continue west from Bull of the Woods to a pass above Pansy Lake, and then descend the Mother Lode Trail 4.5 miles to beautiful Battle Creek Flats, at its confluence with Elk Lake Creek. Making a loop is possible either by hiking up the Elk Lake Creek Trail to Elk Lake and returning via the Bagby Trail and Twin Lakes, or by hiking downstream along Elk Lake Creek and returning via the Welcome Lakes and West Lake Way Trails to Bull of the Woods. This latter option to Welcome Lakes is among the worst-maintained trails in the area and is not recommended. Consult a topographic map if you’re planning on making a longer loop here.


  • From Portland, drive southeast on OR 224 approximately 20 miles to Estacada.
  • From Estacada, drive southeast on OR 224 for approximately 25 miles to the old guard station at Ripplebrook.
  • Just past Ripplebrook OR 224 becomes FR 46. Continue straight on FR 46 for 4.2 miles from Ripplebrook to a junction with FR 63.
  • Turn right onto FR 63, following signs for Bagby Hot Springs. 
  • Drive this 2-lane paved road for 3.5 miles to a junction with FR 70, signed for Bagby
  • Hot Springs. Ignore this turnoff and continue straight on FR 63.
  • Drive another 2.1 miles on FR 63 to a junction with FR 6340 on your right.
  • Turn right on this gravel road and drive 0.6 mile to a junction, where you keep straight.
  • Continue on FR 6340 another 2.1 miles to a junction with FR 140 with a sign for the Dickey Creek Trail. Turn left here.
  • Drive this narrow, rocky road for 1 mile to a T-junction. The trailhead is on the right, but the best parking is on the left. There is also room for a couple of cars on the shoulder FR 140 about twenty yards before the junction.

Heart of Jeff Loop

Marion Falls in the heart of the
Jefferson Wilderness
Hikers looking for a multi-day alternative to the Timberline Trail will find few better options than this multi-day backpack around the south side of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. As it is impossible to circumnavigate Mt. Jefferson (due to the Warm Springs Reservation, the lack of a trail on the east side, fire damage, and impassible cliffs and gorges, among other things), this circuit hits many of the high points in one of Oregon’s most beautiful wilderness preserves. The time is right so go now—next year a complicated permit system will likely come into effect, making this area much more difficult to visit. 

The trek starts at the crowded Marion Lake Trail, climbing gently 1.7 miles to a fork just before you reach the lake. Both trails go to the lake, but keep left for the shortest and most direct route. At a fork at lake’s edge, keep left and hike along the lake’s north shore. Views stretch across the huge backcountry lake south to Three Fingered Jack. Reach a junction with the Lake of the Woods Trail at 2.5 miles, where you turn left. Follow the Lake of the Woods Trail north to a junction with the Swallow Lake Trail and turn right. This trail passes by Swallow Lake before climbing steeply to the foot of South Cinder Peak at 8 miles. Take the time to follow the short spur trail here to the summit of the peak, where the 360 degree view stretches out to the far horizon, from Mt. Hood to the Three Sisters and everything in between. From here, return to the Swallow Lake Trail and reach a four-way junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and Shirley Lake Trail. Cross the PCT and turn onto the Shirley Lake Trail. Hike north 1.5 miles to Carl Lake, your stopping point for the first day of this trek. You’ll find lots of sites at this deep backcountry lake. 

From Carl Lake, locate the Cabot Lake Trail heading north and follow it as it seesaws through attractive woods. The trail passes under North Cinder Peak’s cliffs, curves attractively around the Forked Butte lava flow and then passes directly by scenic Forked Buttes as it makes its way towards Mt. Jefferson. The trail descends to small Patsy Lake and then gains elevation once more, finally reaching secluded Table Lake at 4.7 miles from Carl Lake. Make Table Lake your second night stop, and spend the rest of your day exploring this beautiful area. While you’re here, be sure to locate the continuation of the Cabot Lake Trail and follow it 1.5 miles north to an incredible viewpoint by the cliffs of Bear Butte. Here Mt. Jefferson towers over Hole-in-the-Wall Park, just four miles away. The trail once continued down to the park but is now lost in blowdown from the B+B fire. 

 South Cinder Peak and Mt. Jefferson. 
On day 3, leave Table Lake. You could hike all the way back to Carl Lake and return the way you came, but this trek is much better as a loop. So hike south from Table Lake 0.2 mile to a meadow, where a very faint trail cuts off west towards the Cascade crest. The trail isn’t easy to find, but is worth the trouble. Once you’ve found it, hike west on a trail that threads between a cinder cone and The Table and then traverses steeply uphill to the crest of the ridge. Once you top out the trail becomes faint again, but from here just continue west 0.1 mile or so to the PCT. When you find the PCT you’re faced with another dilemma—do you turn left and head south to wrap up the loop, or do you turn right to make a longer loop by heading into the burned forests west of the PCT for more lakes and a longer hike? The PCT continues south 4.7 miles to the Shirley Lake-Swallow Lake-PCT junction mentioned above, offering fabulous views and easy hiking. If you’re up for the longer loop option, turn right at this junction and soon arrive at a junction with the Hunts Creek Trail. Follow this trail as it climbs slightly and arrives at a rocky ledge above beautiful Hunts Cove, with Mt. Jefferson looming just across the valley. After 1.7 miles, reach a junction with the Lake of the Woods Trail. 

North leads down into Hunts Cove (a limited-entry permit area), but for the loop, keep left. The Lake of the Woods Trail continues south, soon entering burned forest. You’ll pass Lake of the Woods and finally reach a junction with the Swallow Lake Trail at 9.8 miles from Table Lake. Continue 1.7 miles to Marion Lake. At this point you’ve hiked 11.5 miles on Day 3—but you’re only 2 miles and change from the trailhead. If you’re wiped out, consider camping at this lake and spending the next morning exploring before hiking out. Explorations around the lake reveal fantastic lake shore viewpoints of Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson as well as huge and impressive Marion Falls just below the lake. If you’ve got a bit of extra energy you can scramble up the talus slope on the west side of the lake (along the peninsula) to a fantastic viewpoint on top of a rock pile that looks out across the lake to Mt. Jefferson and Three-Fingered Jack. But if you reach Marion Lake and are ready to be done with this loop, follow the trail west of the lake a little over 2 miles to the trailhead. 

  • From Portland, drive south on Interstate 5 to Exit 253 in Salem, signed for Detroit Lake and Bend. Leave the freeway here and turn left onto OR 22. 
  • From Salem, drive OR 22 east for 49.2 miles to Detroit.
  • Continue on OR 22 another 16.2 miles to a junction with Marion Road (FR 2255), just opposite the now-closed Marion Forks Restaurant.
  • Turn left here and drive this one-lane paved road for 0.8 mile to the end of pavement. Continue another 3.7 miles of excellent gravel road to road’s end at the Marion Lake Trailhead.
  • There are many places to park but come early—this is an extremely popular hike and the trailhead is often full by mid-morning on summer weekends.
  • NW Forest Pass Required. A limited-entry permit of some sort will likely be required in 2019. 

Mt. Adams Northside Traverse

Mt. Adams rugged north side.
Like Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams features a trail that circumnavigates it. Sort of. The Round The Mountain Trail takes hikers three-quarters of the way around Mt. Adams, eventually ending on the far east side of the mountain, deep inside the Yakima Reservation—and from this point hikers must hike off-trail through forbidding terrain to complete the loop at Bird Creek Meadows. It is a fun adventure but a difficult one—and with Bird Creek Meadows closed this year, scratch it off your to-do list.

Thankfully, much of the finest terrain on Mt. Adams is open and gorgeous, and this traverse is probably the nicest backpacking trip in the area. The best place to start, in spite of lousy road access, is the Killen Creek Trailhead. Here you avoid the ubiquitous fire damage found further south and west on Mt. Adams, opting instead to just hike straight into wondrous alpine terrain on the north side of the mountain. It’s just all good here, almost right from the start. Begin on the Killen Creek Trail and hike steeply uphill on a trail that charges up the hillside. Thankfully the bad times don’t last long, and soon you’ll begin traversing glorious wildflower meadows with views south to the heavily glaciated north side of Mt. Adams. Meet the PCT (which here is also the Round the Mountain Trail) at a junction at 3 miles. The longer trip turns left here, to continue heading east around Mt. Adams. If you’re looking for a spectacular detour or a closer place to camp, turn right and immediately locate the spur trail to High Camp 100 feet to your right. Turn left here and climb this steep trail uphill 1 mile to High Camp, a plateau at nearly 7,000 feet of elevation, 4 miles from the Killen Creek Trailhead. This is among the most spectacular places on Mt. Adams, at the northern foot of the mountain near the terminus of the massive Adams Glacier. Views stretch north to Mt. Rainier and the Goat Rocks. There are plenty of campsites dotted throughout the plateau—just expect very cold nights, even in summer. If you’re just stopping by, return to the PCT and head east to continue hiking around Mt. Adams. 

Foggy Flats.
In a little under a mile, the trail crosses Killen Creek just above a cascading waterfall and passes a glade I lovingly refer to as “Perfection Park”—as in, it couldn’t possibly get better than this. The area is a popular camping spot for folks here, but with some luck you may find a site if you decide you don’t want to go any further. If you’re continuing, follow the PCT until you meet a junction with the Highline Trail (another name for the Round the Mountain Trail). Keep right and hike another 1.8 miles to a junction with the Muddy Meadows Trail. Keep right again and continue about a mile to Foggy Flat, a huge meadow on the northeast side of Mt. Adams. There are a few campsites scattered around the flat, which features a view of the top half of Mt. Adams. For the good stuff, continue on the Highline Trail a short ways past Foggy Flat until the trail leaves both meadow and forest, arriving at the lava flows and barren plains on the northeast side of Mt. Adams. There are a few good campsites here, and chances are you won’t have much competition for them. At this point you’re over 7 miles from the Killen Creek Trailhead, so it’s probably a good idea to stop here. Once you’ve set up camp, grab your pack and some water and continue exploring south along the barren plains. The views of Mt. Adams and its glaciers are tremendous, and continuous—this is truly a special place. 

The trail does continue several more miles south to Devil’s Garden and eventually Avalanche Valley, two of the most amazing places on Mt. Adams—but the creek crossings are difficult, and camping is questionable once you reach the Yakima Reservation. You’ve got options, and all of them are great. 
If you’re looking for a longer backpacking trip, start further south on Mt. Adams. There are numerous trails that reach the Round the Mountain Trail, from the South Climb Trailhead on the south side of the mountain to the Divide Camp Trail just southeast of the Killen Creek Trailhead. Many of these feature easier road access than does Killen Creek, and offer hikers the chance to turn a short trip into a much longer trip. In the absence of a loop trail (at least this year), the best option would be to set up a car shuttle somewhere along the way and hike the circuit one way from south to north. 

  • From Portland, drive east on Interstate 84 to Hood River.
  • At Exit 64 on I-84, leave the freeway and reach a junction at the end of the off-ramp.
  • Turn left and drive to the toll bridge over the Columbia River. Pay the $2 toll and cross the river.
  • At the far end of the bridge on the Washington side, turn left on WA 14.
  • Drive 1.5 miles west on WA 14 to a junction with WA 141 ALT, just before a bridge over the White Salmon River. Turn right here.
  • Drive 2.2 miles to a junction with WA 141. Turn left here.
  • Drive 18.9 miles to the small town of Trout Lake.
  • Continue straight on what is now Mt Adams Road (FR 23) for 1.5 miles to a junction.
  • Keep left (right leads to the south and east sides of Mt. Adams) to stay on FR 23.
  • Drive 23 miles, ignoring all side roads along the way, to a junction with FR 2329 near Takhlakh Lake. The last several miles of this road are gravel.
  • Turn right on FR 2329, following signs for Takhlakh Lake.
  • Drive 1.5 miles to Takhlakh Lake, ignoring signs for Olallie Lake along the way.
  • Continue past Takhlakh Lake, where FR 2329 worsens into a rough, rutted, potholed road that requires patience.
  • Drive 1.9 miles beyond Takhlakh Lake to the Divide Camp Trail on your right.
  • Continue 2.4 increasingly rough miles to the Killen Creek Trailhead on your right.