Unit climb June 19-20, 2004
“Mountain of Sorrow”

by Jason Wood

The day started like any other day, as the sun crested over the tops of the Oregon Cascades. The light that was released on the land below revealed what was to come. An elite team assembled, prepared to unleash an assault on a Mountain so powerful that most who dare to climb it are injured. Of them, many are never heard from again!

Perhaps I have embellished a bit. The unit was to meet at the Pamelia Lake trailhead with a start time of 1000 hours. More than half the team was there, but the rest would be a bit late. The actual time to begin, 1100 hours. We were now officially behind schedule. Foreshadowing? I hope not.

Detroit Lake

The intrepid team -
from left: Lindsay, Jason K., Jason W., Becky and Jeremy
The team was a mixture of talent, from seasoned veterans to multi-sport athletes. It could be easily broken down into two groups.

Vets: Lindsay Clunes, Oregon mountaineering legend; Jeremy Adolph, multi-national alpine and rock hero.

Students: Jason Wood; Jason Killian; Becky Lyall.

We set out with one goal in mind, to summit in a manner that would make the CMRU name proud. Many have gone before us but now it was our time. Perhaps there was more of a spirit of fun than of triumph. Whatever it was, it was great!

The sun was out in full force with only a few small clouds to hamper its ability. At around 1 hour we had reached the Pamelia lake campground. With a quick bite and some incredible photos, the entire group was ready to continue. Thirty minutes later at the PCT interface, the Mountain loomed overhead giving us a view of the ominous summit pinnacle. Did fear begin to set in to the well-prepared and equally strong team? If so, it was quickly quenched by the tale of a young, daring climber who summitted the very same route in nothing more than street clothing. This young climber was no mere fool though. He was equipped with the venerable Chucks, also known as the Chuck Taylor Converse high tops. The entire trip was completed in less than seven hours with only the aid of snow melt to sustain the effort. Folklore? Perhaps. But this was enough to ignite the fire that would propel the expedition further. Onward down the PCT.

Becky and Jason K. hike the early part of the trail

The mountain lures them on...

To continue this tale I must preface the story accordingly. The objective here was to climb Mt. Jefferson via the S.W. route. This route has been described as a hot, dry, long, and tedious climb. One party reported “if I ever see this route again it will be too soon”. We could not see how this was possible, as so far we had experienced only the best of climbing conditions. But not so soon!! At approximately 1430 hours and 4,000 feet, Lindsay revealed the “climbers shortcut trail”. What was once a well cut staircase to the gods was now an over grown mess of lacerating proportions. But on we pushed until we reached 6,500 feet. This was the last stand of sturdy trees and it would be home for the next 24 hours.

Sometime in the course of a climb weather can deteriorate, and ours sure did. The once small clouds had become large threatening thunder boomers, and the air temperature had dropped to around 45 deg. F. Then the Mountain spoke. It rained. Not the kind of rain that would wipe out a small village, but one that would keep Bivy City from being erected. We waited with the persistence of Father Time himself and to our avail the torrent subsided. Bivy city was constructed.

"Bivy City"


Becky catches a few Zzzz's
The pre dusk air was filled with tales of climbing greatness. Stoves were assembled and dinner was quickly prepared and served. However, an envy arose over pizza that was pre-climb dried out and individually wrapped. Would the spirit of unity be broken? Not a chance!! We had our fill and began to debate the morning’s departure. It was a toss up. Alpine start or slumber fest? The entire party fell asleep.

0300 hours. Beep, Beep, Beep. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. Zzzzz, Zzzzz, zzzzzzz!! Slumber fest began.

0430 hours. First usable light. We quickly divided gear, ate and in a blitzkrieg, we were at it. Two 60 meter ropes, 4 coyote pickets, 4 ice screws, and enough biners to hold hands across the world. The mountain didn’t stand a chance.

0500 hours, 7,000 feet, a quick break on the first ridge bivy sight. A plan was formed to climb the ridge by the way of loose pumice and scree. The footholds were loose and a fall would most certainly warrant a bruise. This was no small under taking.

Lindsay (with camera), Jeremy, Becky, and Jason K. admire first light

Jason K., Becky, Lindsay, Jason W., and Jeremy

0600 hours, 7,350 feet. Another quick break. Darkness of the mountain evaporated leaving only the sunlit details of earlier avalanche slides. The milk creek basin called Like Hades, reminding us that a fall from that area would culminate in a mountain rescue mission. We will continue on, watching every footstep for correct placement and steadfastness.

0700 hours, 7,600 feet. The snow has by this point enveloped enough of the ridge to necessitate the use of crampons. From here we would utilize our alpine senses.

0800 hours, 8,000 feet. Possibly this would be the last of the bivy sights. Here the two southern ridges joined together, at what is called the south ridge proper. The true climbing would soon begin. A few cell phone calls were placed to wish a happy Fathers day to some of the unit members fathers. Food was put to rest and the climbing continued.

0900 hours, 8,400 feet. Break time. It was beginning to be apparent that the mountain may have more resolve than the mountaineers. We were all happy but the ambition seemed to be a little small. A story surfaced about climbing Mt. Washington with nothing more than a bag of Peanut M&M’s. How much more prepared were we?! Time to get going.

Jeremy, Becky, Jason K. and Lindsay slog up the snow

1000 hours, 8,700 feet. Mountaineering has been summed up as “walking uphill while not feeling so good”. This was now true, as the first utterance of “Do you also have a headache?” arose. Not to long after one member had to go back, as a knee pain had forced the hasty retreat. The remaining team, some what determined, continued up a 30+ degree exposed snow field.

1030 hours, a little higher up our feet sinking in 4 inches into the corn snow. Step, step, 5 inches. More steps, 6 inches.

1100 hours, 9,300 feet. The summit is so close you could smell the rhime ice as if it were on your shirt. All we have to do is cross the snowfield and climb a short, dry distance to the Red Saddle. Jeremy takes the first few steps, and quickly sinks knee deep into the slurry. Soon Jason, and Jason do the same. ARRGGGGGHHHHH!! The sun had softened the snowfield into an unstable mess. The possibility of a 2,000 foot slide was to great an adversary, and the intelligent climbers knew the mountain had won. A few photos, and it was time. Permission to remain here had been revoked, and if we wanted to return home today than we would have to head back.

So close and yet...

It had seemed like an eternity, punishing us as we struggled to go on, higher and higher until to our own demise. We had left too late, and the fortitude of the mountain proved why it stands as the King of Oregon Mountaineering. To you we owe our gratitude.

Without any further delay, the party descended. 8,000 feet, 7,500 feet, 7,000 feet. A quick hop onto the milk creek side of the ridge and a standing glissade later we were at Bivy City. 1230 hours. Wow! Some food and a bit of packing and we were on our way. Foot over foot revealed that in 5 hours we were at the autos. WOW!! What had taken 1 and a half days to ascend took 6 hours to descend.

Jason K.

This is the life!
Tired and sore, the party took its final break. Lawn chairs and a magic igloo full of cold beverages emerged from a cornucopia shaped like a Subaru. This was the life. Had we driven in our pursuit of fame and greatness failed to enjoy the moment and relax in our impressive surroundings? I don’t think so. Our tardy departures might have something to say about that. In these moments of reflection, it was obvious that every member of the trek was satisfied. This was still a success indeed!
The mountain will have to wait. Perhaps on another day when the conditions are right we will be permitted to ascend to the top of King Jeff and sit on all it’s splendor. But now was not the time, as our focus was turned towards hamburgers and sleep. Yogi Berra said it best, “it’s not over until it’s over”, and time hasn’t shut the book on our climbing history. Another day indeed!

The target, from Detroit Lake

Photos by Lindsay Clunes and Jason Wood