Why Encouragement Matters: Climbing Mt. Thielsen
My friend, Billy Bob, suggested that I write this trip report for our unofficial Chemeketan climb to the top of Mt. Thielsen last Saturday. This request was made while we drove back after a 12 hour day with dead bird goo smeared on the windshield of the minivan from the day before (sorry little bird!), feeling exhausted and satisfied after a successful climb and eager to eat burgers and fries in Oakridge. And I agreed. And also, in case you are wondering, the veggie burger and sweet potato fries at the Brewers union local 180 are amazingly delicious. So here it is. My unofficial report. I have shared it with my climbing club, but wanted to share it on my blog as well.
Logistics: Cathy and Billy Bob had talked of doing Thielsen this summer early season, with the idea to encourage Mary to try her first peak. Mary was game with a few more training hikes. So, after our amazing Mt. Hood all-women training hike a month ago, Cathy decided she wanted to make this an all-women climb, but while including Billy Bob. He, as I am told, offered to step aside, but of course, was wanted (along with his trad rack) to be a part of the adventure at the encouragement of Cathy. Besides, Mary wasn’t going to lie to her Mom; Billy Bob was supposed to be there to “protect her,” like on the training hikes.
So…the group grew to as many as 14 but settled on 9 women, as we set out towards the summit around 7 a.m. on Saturday. A few of us arrived the night before, mostly sleeping in cars while I pitched my tent at the trailhead enjoying an almost full moon and a calm clear night of stars.
On Saturday, the trail was gradual initially and filled with mosquitoes mostly from the start. We ran into snow patches (aka mosquito breeding ground) a few miles in. We sprayed down repeatedly with some potentially poisonous Deet, all while keeping our sense of humor. We stashed some water at the intersection of the PCT after a few miles and had our first good views of the lightning rod of the Cascades as we took a snack break and mosquito break. It looked beautiful and still intimidating but invoked curiosity. I couldn’t wait to see what it would be like further up, especially since we were out of the mosquitoes. Most of the snow was gone, especially from the route we would be taking.
It was decided our ice axes weren’t needed and most of the group stashed those too a bit higher up. But what ice ax doesn’t enjoy a good walk in the woods just for fun?
On the way, we met a couple with an approximately one year old baby girl in a backpack carrier (the baby didn’t go to the summit but made it to chicken ledge, go baby girl!), and two young boys with no gear wearing shorts. At the top, we also met two brothers, one from Eugene and the other one from Nebraska who had dreamed of doing this peak for 10 years and who went up the summit block unroped.
Slowly, but surely, we made our way through the dinner plate unstable rock and scree to chicken ledge.
Surrounded and amazed by views of the Sisters, Crater Lake, Diamond Peak, and the tiny glacier below, we snacked on lunch while enjoying a windless day with no bugs and 70 degree temps near the summit.
Destinie confidently led our route to the summit through easy low 5th class climbing, placing some bomber hexes and at least one pink tri-cam, while the team followed with prusiks on the fixed line. At the top, we all celebrated with summit photos before doing the awkward rappel down. We made our way slowly down the scree and loose rock, while some of our team split into two groups as a few had a BBQ to get to. I’d like to say that I felt totally confident on the loose rock, but let’s be honest, I was still nervous but maybe less so than the last time. Experience builds confidence. And there was absolutely no rush or pressure on this climb as we took as long as needed to ascend and get back down. Just absolute positive regard and encouragement.
Once back into treeline, the trail was flatter but the mosquitoes seemed extra vicious on the way down after the first scree filled mile. I hiked as fast as I could, only stopping to reapply the mosquito spray. We arrived back at 7 p.m., a solid 12 hour day. There was barely time for goodbyes in the parking lot for fear of getting eaten alive so quick hugs and “safe drives” were exchanged.
But, that feeling…of returning to the parking lot feeling accomplished and exhausted, of taking off the sweaty socks and boots, changing to dry cloths, of grabbing that bubbly ice water you thought to throw in the cooler the day before…well, that always makes it all worth it.
Because here’s the thing. I have always felt encouragement from both the male and female members of the club. But, there’s something really significant when someone tells you they see you as a leader. There’s something really significant when someone, who you admire, tells you that you totally can do this.
And it sometimes doesn’t even matter who that voice is. But the voice itself matters.
And when you see others, who might look a little like you, having a seat already at that table, it has an impact. Seeing other women taking on the skills and roles of leaders makes my heart happy. And makes me feel like, just maybe, one day, I could be confident enough with my outdoor skills to do the same. To share this love of pushing limits, curiosity, and mountains with someone who might not believe they are strong enough, good enough or brave enough (because I definitely know what it is like to have those fears still).
Here’s what makes me so proud and happy to be a part of this community: Cathy encouraging me and so many other women who can dream of being as badass as she is through mentorship and encouragement.
Destinie leading most the hike in and the summit block, encouraging everyone after breaks with her easygoing smile.
Rachel cleaning trad for the first time with a backpack coil and helping to set the double rope rappel.
Mary doing her first mountain peak after so many years of serving the club.
Anya’s first peak. Christy’s first peak.
We didn’t talk about things only women might talk about. We talked about future peaks and summit goals, work, life, our hatred of scree and mosquitoes….it was a climb like the others, but it also wasn’t. It’s about the climb and summit but it’s also not about either of those things.
Community matters, and it matters even more when you look around and feel proud. Supported. Loved. Like you belong. Not as a different version of who you are, but the exact person you are now and the one you are becoming.
So, in summary, Thielsen is a lot like many things in life. From a distance it looks super scary and intimidating but one step at a time, with people you trust, you realize it isn’t really all that scary but just another way for you to grow.