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Nearly Halfway Through Their 1,000-Mile Expedition, the Cascade Challenge Team Summits Mount Washington
Posted on July 28, 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.

Story and photographs by Greg Stafford

I was halfway up the crux pitch when my teammate Will yelled up to forget the protection and just climb. The rotten volcanic rock left me praying for a solid handhold while climbing up the 30-foot exposed crux on Mt. Washington. Evicting all thoughts from my mind, I concentrated in weighting a loose handhold with my right hand and dragged my body up one move. Falling at this point wouldn’t be pretty, knowing it could mean serious injury.

Finding a secure hold with my left hand was a godsend. I overcame the fear of taking a fall with the realization that I could climb this. A few moves later, I made it past the crux with a wave of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I knew at this point that we were going to make it to the summit of Mt. Washington.

Two days before climbing Oregon’s Mt. Washington, we found our sore bodies on our road bikes after our 17-hour epic on Mt. Jefferson. Upon reaching Big Lake and the trailhead of Mt. Washington, we were greeted by a ravenous horde of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. We started a fire and coated ourselves with mosquito repellent that contained 98.9-percent DEET, both of which failed miserably. The massive amount of meltwater had created a haven for the little annoying beasts, and we arrived at feeding time. Bad luck for us.

Besides the mosquitoes, the campsite was perfect. It had an amazing view of Mt. Washington, and the lake was perfect for swimming and washing the layers of grime and sweat that builds up with vigorous exercising every day.

At this point the athletes, Rex, Will, and I had climbed and skied five mountains and rode around 500 miles. The pace of the expedition had increased dramatically. We would climb and ski a mountain one day, then be back in the saddle of our Raleigh road bikes the next, biking 50 to 60 miles.

At 7,794 feet, Mt. Washington isn’t considered technical by most standards, but it does have 30 feet of loose class 4 to 5 climbing. The Cascade Challenge team is primarily ski mountaineers with limited experience leading on rock. Despite this, we thought that Mt. Washington would be well within our mountaineering abilities.

We would be leaving our skis behind for the first time. Instead, we opted for a fast and light ascent of the north ridge. Dropping the weight felt incredible, and the team made good time on the approach. After the ascent, we would then find a way to traverse over to the old McKenzie Highway to set up for the Three Sisters Marathon.

Two hours into the climb we reached the north ridge and could see Mt. Jefferson gleaming white with snow across the valley. We put on our crampons and quickly made it up the ridge. We reached the north saddle around 9 o’clock, just two hours into our climb.

We had decided to bring a small rack of cams and the 70-meter rope. We put on our gear at the saddle, and I got ready to lead the crux pitch. I decided to climb to the right of the so-called “Chimney.” The climb was a little more then I asked for, as the loose rock was a definite concern. I was able to loosely place three pieces of protection on the way up, only one of which would have probably held a fall. Once committed, however, there is only one way up and over to the summit.

Once I was above the crux, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief. I then set up an anchor and settled in to belay my teammates, Will and Rex. I knew the anchor was secure, and Will and Rex climbed up, throwing only a couple volcanic rock bombs down.

The rest of the climb was straightforward, and we reached the summit of Mt. Washington around 12:30 p.m. We were greeted with awe-inspiring views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. We signed the summit register and basked in the sun, eating what food we had. It felt good to make it to the summit of Mt. Washington after falling just short on Mt. Jefferson. We gave our support man, Cole, a call to find out that our nemesis of the trip had struck again: closed roads.

The old McKenzie Highway was closed and our support vehicle could get nowhere near our proposed pickup. This left us with a decision to make. The hike out to the Mackenzie Highway was going to be lengthy, around five to six miles before we even hit the road. Then we would have to hike down the road at least 10 to 15 miles before we would reach our support vehicle. The long hike on the road convinced us to descend the same way we came.

On the descent we down-climbed and then rappelled down the crux sections. Rappelling is always exciting enough to get the blood flowing. After the rappel, we made quick time on the descent back to the trailhead. In just over an hour and a half we had made it back down to the trailhead and were greeted once again by hungry mosquitoes.

One good thing about the mosquitoes is that they make you put it in gear, literally. Facing another mosquito attack, we jumped on our road bikes in record time. We biked about 20 miles to the town of Sisters before we decided to call it a day.

The weather was holding and the team decided to take most of the next day off in preparation for our start of the Three Sister Marathon. If we could make it past the Three Sisters and Broken Top, the expedition would be halfway over, and we hoped we would then see the ending point for this multi-mountain marathon.

Author: - Thursday, July 28th, 2011
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