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Mount Thielsen, standard southwest route

Carpool Ratio (people/cars): 1.33
Excursion Time: 10 hours car-to-car
Roundtrip Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3500 ft

A Santiam Alpine Club team reached the summit of Mount Thielsen on August 21, 2010! The team consisted of leader Dana Margosian; assistant (and author) Fritz Capell; 2010 climb school students Mike Wilson and Peter Urban; and veterans Jerry Miller, Rick Matula, and Chris Fought. Bill Nelson and his friend "Bill Two" also came along, but trailed behind us a few hours due to schedule constraints.

We all gathered at Diamond Lake Campground just before dusk and enjoyed a nice fire and libations, as Santiam Alpinists are inclined to do. We all retired early, though a group of raving fireside drunkards in a nearby camp made a sincere effort to disrupt our repose.

Dana initially had us scheduled to depart at 5:30am, but by consensus we let that slide to 6am, and didn't actually put boots on the trail until a leisurely 6:24am. The timing was perfect; we were nearly the first group on the mountain, which can become quite crowded on sunny August Saturdays, and make a bottleneck out of the crux of the climb on the summit block. Only one group was ahead of us, a pair who carried nothing - not even a bottle of water was apparent - although apparently they had reached the summit.

Around halfway up, Dana and Jerry were both forced to turn back, Dana due to a previous knee injury, and Jerry for a sore hamstring. We knew this was a possibility, and had anticipated that either we would have to carry them, or I would have to assume the leadership position. Drunk with power, I immediately decreed that they be left to the wolves, and leaving them nothing but a walkie-talkie with which to bark commands at them, the remaining five of us continued on up the mountain.

Navigating on this mountain is not much of an issue. The trail is clear and groomed for the first few miles, until it tops out at a gorgeous vista, where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. Above that, the trail meanders, splits, and sometimes disappears into the rocks, but you're just following the ridge upward. The footing is mostly solid, on large and sturdy slices of shale, though there is some loose scree and a few places where hands and leather gloves assist in the scrambling. As you approach the summit block, the trail disappears, and you must traverse around the mountain to the east and up a gully to find the saddle which offers the easiest route to the summit. We reached the saddle at around 10:45am.

From there I scrambled up and set a rope for the summit block. Its use on the ascent was optional; for many of us, the rock was easy enough without. Before long the crowds started to reach the saddle - none with any technical equipment, some deciding to stop there, some scrambling freehand up and down. Our main challenge was avoiding kicking rocks down on anybody coming up the gully. We must have appeared quite professional up there, as several of them inquired with interest as to what exactly all this was, and where we learned it.

We couldn't help most of them, as they had no harnesses or helmets, but there was one couple who were there for their 11th anniversary, it was their first real mountain climb, and she really wanted to get to the top but was intimidated by the rock face. So we gave her a harness and a belay, and then lowered her down for the descent. We met another memorable couple as well, probably in their 60's, crabby and colorful; the man had broken his finger ("off", his wife said, "the bone was sticking out") on Mount McLoughlin the weekend previous. "Next time I'm going to bring a different woman", the man said.

It was a beautiful day, sunny with a nice breeze, and we spent about a half hour enjoying the summit, snapping photos, and taking in the views. We could clearly see McLoughlin, and Shasta was only slightly discernible in the haze. Everybody rappelled down the summit block, I tore down the anchor, and we headed back down.

The descent went without incident. We met Bill and his friend Bill in passing - his friend had stopped to wait, and our Bill had also reached the summit, still an hour or so behind us. He reported that someone else had set up a rope, although it sounded like they were doing without harnesses or technical skills. We occasionally checked in by radio with Dana and Jerry, who were waiting for us back at the cars.

We reached the trailhead again at about 4:15, and treated ourselves to cold drinks and snacks before heading our separate ways - Mike, Rick, and myself to tackle McLoughlin the next day (see separate report), the others to camp, rest, or drive home. Bill stayed around long enough to photograph an amazing sight, as the mountain became enveloped in a very strange skirt of clouds, clinging as if affixed to the sides of the mountain, with only the summit spire sticking out above the clouds.

Another great day out, and another top-notch Santiam Alpine Club climb! Congratulations to all of you who reached that spiky peak for the first time - doesn't even look possible from the ground, does it? Wait until you point it out to your friends! And thanks everybody for climbing safely and sanely!

Fritz Capell


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