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Cascade Challenge Team Attempts Oregon’s Mt. Jefferson
Posted on July 20, 2011



Be First recipients Greg Stafford, Will Fain, Cole Iverson and Rex Shepard—the Cascade Challenge Team—are attempting a 1,000-mile multi-sport expedition to bike, hike, climb and ski over 14 mountains in the Cascades. Our Be First program is an opportunity to get sponsored when you go for your own summit, whatever that may be. To learn more and submit your proposals, visit Be First.

By Cole Iverson

It was 11:15 p.m. and we were hiking through a dark, moonlit forest somewhere north of Mt. Jefferson. The dead silence and snow created an eerie tranquility like one was walking on the moon. We had lost the trail at snowline and we needed to find our way through 5 miles of wilderness to start our climb of Mt. Jefferson. Our sleep-deprived bodies entered a robotic state as we crossed two major boulder fields. Dead-ending at a raging creek, it was now 5:00 a.m., and nowhere near Mt. Jefferson.

Backtracking a couple of days, we found ourselves at Timberline Lodge preparing for the bike ride to Mt. Jefferson. It was a day after we had climbed and skied Mt. Hood and our bodies, although sore, were still functioning. The bike ride would take us down to Highway 126, south on Highway 42 to Highway 46 and finally to our camp near Breitenbush Hot Springs. Once we hit Highway 42 the ride turned into a super fun, one-lane road as it snaked up and down through pristine wilderness. One section of intense downhill exhilarated us as we approached speeds of 40 miles an hour. It was by far the best section of road biking we have encountered on the trip.

We knew Mt. Jefferson wouldn’t be easy, but once again the approach was much more than we asked for. Our planned approach was up Breitenbush Trail to Scout Lake and up the Russell Glacier. The sunny weather had made temperatures soar into the 85- to 90-degree range and we knew it was going to be scorching hot during the day. Due to the heat, we made the decision to start around 11 p.m. and climb through the night.

After losing the trail three miles in, we found ourselves bushwhacking through trees and boulder fields. Luckily, we were able to steal a glimpse of Mt. Jefferson and knew we were at least headed in the right direction. We had to detour around a small river of meltwater to a log crossing and finally made it to Scout Lake in six hours.

The only way from here was up, in a diagonal traverse up onto the Russell Glacier. Another four hours of climbing and we were on the crux of our route, crossing a steep snowfield and up a short 60-degree section to a feature called “Mohler Tooth.” The section was steep enough to warrant concern and Rex decided not to climb it due to the difficulty Will and I encountered. Rex decided to descend to a safe place to put on his skis.

During this period, Will and I climbed up to the saddle on the West side. At this point we were starting to worry about Rex because he had yet to arrive. We were able to make contact with him to learn that he was all right but was not ascending.

At this point the time was 12:30 p.m. and the heat was almost unbearable. After waiting in the blistering sun, Will and I decided not to go for the summit due to time and the fact that we were very drained after the super long approach. We were able to contact Cole by radio and change our pick-up spot to our secondary descent route at Pamelia Lake. This would make our descent much easier and we knew that we could ski a majority of the way down.

We clicked into our bindings and descended over a steep rollover back onto the Russell Glacier. The skiing was superb and the steepness gave us a nice little adrenaline rush. Descending down to the West Ridge we spotted Rex and knew that he would be back with us shortly.

From there we crossed over the West Ridge onto Milk Creek Glacier. We had a short steep section of excellent skiing and quickly descended down to the lower snowfields. Finding an avalanche chute, we were able to descend to around 5,000 feet. The ski down was the highlight of the entire trip and finally we were moving fast after what seemed like an endless ascent.

The time was 2:30 p.m. and we had been climbing around 15 hours at this point. Shouldering our skis, our bodies screamed with pain as we started the death march back to the support vehicle. It’s always the last couple of miles that are the hardest because you know that the end is so close but still feels impossibly out of reach.

At around 3:15 p.m., we came around a bend and ran smack dab into Cole and his Canon HDV camera. Following some haggard interviews, we hiked down Pamelia Lake Trail through some amazing old-growth forest.

At around 4:15 p.m., our 17-hour Mt. Jefferson journey finally ended. Our fifth mountain was by far our longest and most grueling traverse that we have endured. This was largely due to our northern approach, low snow level and usual route difficulties climbing at night.

All in all, the team is proud of our effort on Mt. Jefferson despite the fact that we didn’t make it to the summit. We still were able to successfully traverse the mountain and had a great ski descent in the process.

We headed back to our campsite in a zombie, sleepless state. Shortly after our arrival we hit up Breitenbush Hot Springs for a delightful soak of our fatigued bodies. The expedition has become a blur of mountain ascents, descents, road rides and countless other experiences that we will never forget. Our bodies have molded themselves into peak physical condition despite the grueling pace that we have set for ourselves.

Normal people would rest for at least a couple days after a 17-hour climb. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury, and will be back in the saddle of our road bikes tomorrow riding 35 miles to Mt. Washington.

Author: - Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

  1. Roberta Stafford

    CONGRATULATIONS “CASCADE CHALLENGE TEAM” on your successful completion of traversing the Cascade Mountains within your projected time frame. You totally outdid yourselves and in a much shorter time frame then we ever thought possible. The support from Eddie Bauer made it all possible. Their sponsorship was huge and accolades of praise to them for their very generous envolvement in this expedition.

  2. Mary

    Congratulations!! Your dreams were followed with the passion and energy it took to prepare for this journey, travel safely and stay focused on your goal. Look forward to seeing you soon in Alaska. Mary

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