Celebration of Life 2012


More volcano fun on Mt. Rainier and Mt. Thielsen

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Big Jeff died of cancer at 43. We honor him and his wishes with our annual Celebration of Life. Here's an explanation of what that means.

Past years

  • 2000 St. Helens and Adams
  • 2002 "Peak Week", 8 peaks
  • 2003 Elephant's Perch
  • 2005 Mt. Hood
  • 2006 Adams- St. Helens traverse
  • 2007 Warbonnet Peak
  • 2008 Around Mt. St. Helens
  • 2009 Big Basin Peak, Grand Teton, and Huh's Horn
  • 2010 Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, and 60 @ 60
  • 2011 Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Rainier

This years celebration had an unusual start. John and I drove over to Portland from Boise. About the same time we left Boise, Tom was flying in from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dylan was riding a bus in from Boy Scout camp near Tillamook, Oregon, where he is a camp counselor. We converged on the Portland airport at roughly 11am.

After picking up Dylan at the train transfer station, we went to park to await Tom. Approaching the "Cell Phone Waiting Area," we were frantically waived off by a small security team. Turns out Obama was flying in to visit Portland, and the cell phone waiting area is close to the route. We eventually got the Tom arrival sorted out, but we had time to kill before Mariel arrived at around 5pm.

For the rest of the day as we ran around east Portland shopping, doing errands, and eating, we saw presidential security. Every overpass had cops on it. We kept seeing the motorcade motorcycles. There was a helo in the air. It was weird. And not just because of all the medical marijuana places.

(and no. None of us had a prescription.)

Upper Kane Creek

Finally, 5pm rolled around. Time to go get Mariel. Except the freeway was closed so Obama could depart. Disgustedly whispering the name of the Prez, I felt a little like Jerry Seinfeld saying, "Newman!"

Following back roads in congested east Portland, we were nearing the airport only to find our path to the airport terminal blocked. Looking for a place to park, we spotted an empty parking lot. As we pulled in, we noticed an official looking insignia on the building. As it turned out, it was Homeland Security. So we parked with an excellent view of the airport, awaiting Mariel's arrival.

But then I got a text from Mariel. They were holding up all landing until the Prez had departed. Her SouthWest flights did not have enough fuel to circle, so they were headed to Seattle. 90 minute delay. Obama!

A crowd had gathered nearby, and we watched Air Force 1 taxi and take off. Someone commented that Obama was headed for Seattle. Oh crap! They might hold Mariel's plane further!

Upper Kane Creek

But Mariel escaped Seattle just before Obama got there, and we were able to scoop her up and head to Brian's house. Unfortunately, that 90 minute delay put us in a huge time crunch when we were supposed to be packing, practicing prusikking, etc. But now we had an excuse every time something went wrong on this trip. Can't find your water bottle? Shoes too tight? Obama!

So on with the story...


We left Brian's house early the next morning, arriving at the Paradise Guide's Hut to register at about 7:30am. Then it was time to finish dressing, finalize the packing, and get going. It looked like a nice day.

Upper Kane Creek

It's a little more than 1.5 miles to Glacier View, but in our excitement it seemed to pass really quickly. Here Dylan surveys our route.

Note that although we were following the same Kautz Glacier route that we climbed in 2011, this time we went a different way. That's the nature of snow climbing: it varies by the year, season, day, and even the hour depending on conditions.

Kane Lake

After dropping off the hill, we walked up the moraine a way to get to the best glacier crossing. Then we roped up for the glacier, which this year was moderately crevassed.


Crossing the Nisqually Glacier was not steep, but being down deep in the canyon was impressive.


Kane lake

And more so if you looked up to where we were headed.

Approach meadows

This picture is to put some human scale on a rather expansive environment. The lines in the snow are crevasses. We had to do some end runs, but also jumped a few.

Diving Board
The Fan was filled with rock fall, so we instead climbed the Wilson Glacier. This chute also had rockfall, but at least there was some snow showing.
Knife edgeTom Martin photo

This is looking back down from above the chute. In the background, you can see the Muir snowfield, the "standard route" up Rainier. We could see loads of people over there. On our side, not so much.

Knife edge
The Wilson sort of rolled. And rolls usually mean crevasses. And crevasses mean zigzagging, more distance, and more work. And a little exposure. But don't worry, it couldn't have been more than 50 feet deep. Not much, anyway.
SummitTom Martin photo

From the Wilson glacier, we moved up and onto The Turtle, a huge snowfield that terminates just below the Kautz ice cliffs. Our camp was to be just below the cliffs. We were hoping to camp in the same place as last year and, like last year, find running water. Without running water, you have to melt snow. And with six of us, that would take forever.


Last year, our camp spot had been crowded with just a single tent and Brian's bivy sack. This year we crammed three tents into the same place, but put one tent on a ledge we cut into a snow bank.

And yes, the water was running. Hooray!

Medusa's NeckTom Martin photo

Camp was fun as usual. Here a big Sikorsky flies toward Camp Muir.

Later that evening, we heard several huge roars as ice calved off the ice cliffs above us. Scary. Then a particularly large one went at about 10:30. Mariel was looking out the tent when it went and reported a 100-yard wide section of ice, about 150' tall, had calved off in a single motion. The noise was terrifying. Then followed a long, slow rumble as all that debris slid down the next canyon.... the one we would be crossing in the morning. OK, sweet dreams everyone.

Final climb

We got up at 2:30 the next morning, and were on our feet at about 3:30 heading for the short cliff that provides access to the Kautz Glacier (and all the icefall debris). Some of us down-climbed, using the fixed line as a hand line. Others rappelled.

Then we donned our crampons, roped up, and headed out onto the glacier. Except that where last year we had simply hiked up the sun-cupped snow, this year we were faced with bare glacier ice.

Medusa's Neck

There were two sections of ice, both taking my attention away from photography. Plus, it was only half light, so the pictures I did take did not turn out well.

And about that ice cliff collapse: if you look carefully (click for a bigger version), you can see the path of the ice cliff debris emanating from where the snow meets the rock.

SummitTom Martin photo

It was steep, challenging climbing and required the use of ice screws for protection. Our group did great, but all the rope and belay work was using up time.


Meanwhile, the sun was coming up and some clouds were moving in. The prediction was for another sunny day, so we assumed this was just some temporary 'marine layer.'

When we gained the Wapowety Cleaver at about 12k, the 'marine layer' had moved in with a vengeance. Meadow
From the cleaver, you gain the upper Nisqually glacier with its huge crevasses. Now it was blowing and cold. We occasionally got little patches of blue sky, which kept our hopes up for a clear summit. Meadow
This is looking back down during another one of the breaks in the clouds.
MeadowTom Martin photo

But mostly it was so thick you could hardly see the end of the rope as we wound around, through, and up the Upper Nisqually Glacier's huge crevasses.

It was actually spectacular, but the low contrast made photos impossible.


We were watching our altimeters as we plodded along. It seemed to be getting less steep. When John asked "About a half mile to go?" I replied "way less". But in the wind he did not hear me. We were on top just a few minutes later.

Here the wind was much stronger, so we hid under the crater rim as best we could. But even with my puffy on I was starting to shiver after just a few minutes. Time to go down.


The initial descent was a bit nerve-wracking. The cloud was so thick I could not see John at the end of our shortened rope. On the way up, I had followed what seemed like a single, good path. I had been following Brian (at the end of their rope) on the way up, not navigating, so had not memorized the path.

On the way down we could see footprints all over the place. It was now hard to decipher the correct route. Plus, you don't notice how steep it is on the way up. Now I was the tail-man, and I was worried about the steepness. And there were those giant crevasses, which were much harder to see now.

When we finally got down to the Wapowety, it was time for a break. And it was rapidly getting lots warmer.

We were all relieved when we got under the 'marine layer.' But now we could see exactly how far down we had to go.... after all that work we still needed to drop about 7000' to get to the car. Meadow

And that included two rappels.

Here we rappel off a bollard, a lump of snow and ice. We backed it up with an ice screw, which the last person removed before they rappelled.

The upper rappel was off a v-thread (or abalokov) that we found, with the same ice screw trick.

That previous picture makes the ice look flat. It was actually about 45 or 50 degrees.
MeadowTom Martin photo

Mariel was pretty happy when we finished off all the technical stuff and took off our crampons.

Again, you can see the debris path from the ice wall collapse.

And in this picture you can also see both of the ice sections in the chute (the darker-colored bands), as well as two climbers just about to finish descending the lower ice section. Click the picture for a bigger version.


We got back to camp, packed up, and started the last 6000' of descent. Except now it was very warm with bright sunshine, so the snow was slushy corn and quite slippery. Consequently, a great deal of caution was required if one was to avoid a long, fast, unintended descent.

The other rope team took advantage and did some team glissading. But after struggling to stop a couple slips, our team decided to be more conservative. And just when we were feeling a little more confident, we watched some members of a guided group take a fall on the path just ahead of us. Yikes!

Eventually we made it back to Glacier Vista. And that "quick" section between there and the parking lot the other morning? It took FOREVER!


This climb of Rainier was one of the more challenging climbs I have been on: it was hard work, lots of gain, required careful navigation, and used all sorts of technical skills. Quite a climb and quite the accomplishment for all involved.

We ambled back to Brian's, and Mariel departed about midnight.

The next day was a transition. Brian had been feeling a dental problem that by now was in the emergency stage, so he had to bail while waiting for an appointment. The rest of us loaded up and headed for Portland. We dropped Tom off at the airport, then John and I drove Dylan to Tillamook. We rendezvous'd with Tom (in a rental car) in Sisters, and the next morning we parted ways as John and I headed for Mt. Thielsen, about 90 miles south of Bend.

Mt. Thielsen

This day was to be a study in contrast from our Rainier climb. To start with, note the tiny pack, shorts, trees, trail. Pretty much everything was different.

Mt. Thielsen is known as "The Lightning Rod of the Cascades." And apparently for good reason.

The Mt. Thielsen trail starts right by Diamond Lake and climbs fairly directly to the peak in around 4.5 miles. Along the way, it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is in the trees right below the huge scree field.

We talked to a couple thru-hikers on the PCT, loaning one some athletic tape for a sprained ankle.


As we got higher, the amazing volcanics of this peak became more obvious. We also ran into lots of descending parties (there had been 14 cars in the parking lot) who were all too willing to give free advice that made us a bit nervous:

"It's really steep, like vertical."

"You don't have ropes? Man, good luck!"

"That last 80 feet..."


And a little closer look from a slightly different angle. Meadow

But Sean had said that I would have no problem. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but was not yet too worried. So we enjoyed the hike and the scenery.

That's Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey.


And now we were on the notorious climber's trail. It was dusty, but not really that bad after you've spent time in Idaho's Lost River range.

But there was that looming presence..


It's really hard to get a good picture of the summit pinnacle, but here's what the rock looks like. It's very featured and the route has been worn clean of lichen. And there are crampon marks. So it's not very hard, not hard to follow, and only about 25 feet of vertical to the final climb at somewhere around 70 degrees.

But there is huge exposure all around.

Here's John finishing it off. Meadow
Although we had passed lots of descending folks on the way up, and would pass more climbers on the way down, we had the summit pinnacle to ourselves for our climb, summit and descent. Very cool place to be on a very cool peak. Meadow

Here's my attempt at putting some human scale on the climb. It's an easy scramble to where John is standing, and the final 25 feet are above him.


Another great Celebration. And to reiterate, if you don't know about the Celebration and the mission to prevent men's cancer, please read about it here.

Fadgen's trip report

You can read more about Brian and his mission here:


Mr. Natural Home | 2012 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski