After successfully completing Adams-to-Hood in 2015, I was looking for something similar, but more challenging and epic. Climbing Oregon’s 5 highest peaks over 10,000ft in a single push, with running between the peaks, seemed like it could be right down my alley: Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister. According to my spreadsheets, the total distance was going to be around 150 miles (241km) with about 50,000ft (15,240 meters) of elevation gain. The detailed planning, recon, and training started back in 2015. It was only a matter of time to find the right window for this.
The Movie Clip
As always, I tried to document as much as possible, but there were times I had no energy left to even get the camera out, let alone set it up. So here’s a short clip that hopefully illustrates a bit what this challenge was all about.
I started at the South Sister Devil’s Lake trailhead, climbed the 3 Sisters first (a.k.a. 3 Sisters Marathon; current FKT: 6:39), ran to Mt. Jefferson, climbed Mt. Jefferson, ran to Mt. Hood, and finally climbed Mt. Hood. The running part was mostly on the PCT.
|Rank||Peak||Elevation [ft]||Elevation [m]||Prominence [ft]|
Crewing and Logistics
Beloved super empress (BSE) Ursina had the very demanding job of following and crewing me for 67h23min. It’s hard to imagine what that means unless you have done it and have experienced the stress, the sleep deprivation, and the difficulty to see your husband suffering. Yet, we’ve done this rather successfully before.
Planning is everything. I spent days figuring out access points, mapping them out properly, and storing GPS coordinates of locations and routes. It took me probably equally long to plan the crewing and the logistics than to plan my own climbing/running route. Crewing and logistical mishaps can mean the end of the adventure in the worst case, they are stressful for everybody, and they can cost you a lot of time in the very best case.
We once again had a pretty flawless execution this time, except maybe for two cases. Since Ursina had to hike out from Jefferson Park and then drive almost 2h to Olallie Lake, I made it there first. She then couldn’t find me because I had fallen asleep under a tree. We lost about 45min. Another time I was 2h earlier than my anticipated arrival time and therefore had to wait almost 40min for her. It wasn’t a big deal except that I was very cold. So cold that I couldn’t even make good use of the time by taking a nap.
The weather was perfect, except the rather hot temperatures. My Ambit3 registered 93.4F around noon on Thursday, Aug 18, when I was near Mt. Washington. Yet, after the ODT, that didn’t feel very hot. The nights were very balmy still, except in some valleys, when it got surprisingly cold (55F). There was some significant wind on Mt. Jefferson and also in Jefferson Park, but nothing too bad. Overall, I’d say conditions couldn’t have been any better.
However, because of the hot temperatures, I needed more water than usual. As a consequence, I ran out several times. There are significant stretches on the PCT without water. With a bit better planning, I could have avoided that issue.
|South Sister climb (Devil's Lake TH to Chambers Lakes)||3:35|
|Middle Sister climb (Chambers Lakes to top of Collier Glacier)||1:57|
|North Sister climb (top of Collier Glacier to PCT)||2:58|
|Mt. Jefferson climb (from/to Jefferson Park)||5:16|
|Mt. Hood climb (from Timberline to Hogsback and back)||3:36|
|Total sleep time||6:00|
|Total elapsed time||67:23|
To Summit or Not to Summit
As expected, I did not scramble up the North Sister and Mt. Jefferson class 4 summit pinnacles/blocks because I considered the conditions to be unsafe without protection (rope, anchors, etc). These summits would have added a few hundert feet only, and probably 1-2h to the total time because the scrambling would have been rather time-consuming. Also, I turned around on the Hogsback on Mt. Hood because conditions were too dangerous (night, crevasses, ice, rockfall, sleep deprivation) for going up the Old Chute without protection for my skills and the equipment I carried. I have a deep respect for the mountains. In case of doubt, I err on the side of safety. That’s maybe why I am still alive.
In hindsight, it’s clear that I should have carried my rigid and heavy mountaineering boots with the heavy crampons, which would have allowed me to do proper front-pointing in the ice to cross the crevasses (more than just the regular Bergschrund) and to head up the 45 degree Old Chute. With the soft La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX shoes and the ultra-light Grivel crampons that I carried, I could not do front-pointing well enough to climb the icy slope. Note that I also carried two pretty aggressive ice axes and a helmet. The decision to pick the light gear was based on my expectation to find rather soft snow because of the warm temperatures, as on Mt. Jefferson, which turned out to be wrong. So if I had made a better shoe choice, I could have summited Mt. Hood rather straightforwardly, I think.
The Hogsback is at about 10,600ft, so about 639ft below the summit. Summiting would have added 1-2h to the total time, depending on conditions.
Thus, for the Cascades 11-over-10 Challenge Series, my time should be labeled as an “attempt.” While I “climbed” all mountains, I did not technically “summit” all of them. I should also add that I was not particularly focused on the North Sister and Jefferson summit blocks as I considered these minor compared to the rest of the adventure.
GPS and SPOT Data
I carried a Suunto Ambit3 GPS watch and a SPOT satellite transponder. You can see the recorded GPS tracks at the following addresses:
The total distance on Strava is listed as 136.1 miles with 39,217ft of elevation gain. Note: The Suunto Ambit3 GPS was on 1-minute interval, so that tends to be at least 10% shorter. The total time was 67h and 23 minutes (2 days 19 hours 23 minutes). Because this was the first such attempt ever, the time counts as an Only Known Time.
Suunto Ambit3 recording of the route. This is the same GPS track as on Strava.
It was an epic adventure in pretty much every possible dimension. I’ve seen and experienced so much in these 67h23min that it will take me a long time to remember and digest everything. More than any other adventure, this one had parts that were deeply out of my comfort zone. Yet, that’s probably also what makes these things so rewarding.
I’m obviously very bummed that I could not summit Mt. Hood and had to turn around at the Hogsback. I’m also disappointed that I was not able to scramble up the North Sister and Jefferson class 4 summit pinnacles. Yet, I expected that more than failing on the Old Chute on Mt. Hood because of the wrong gear. In any case, it’s good to keep in mind that safety comes first in the mountains.
I can’t wait to see others attempt this fantastic adventure!
Huge thanks to Ursina for the never-ending support and dedication to my crazy ideas and adventures! She’s the one who kept me going. She’s the one who prevented me from giving up. Oh yes, I wanted to quit several times.
Many thanks also to all my fans, supporters, and followers. It means a lot to me!