Mt. Thielsen East Face
By Tyler Adams
Mt. Thielsen was Steve Elder's idea. Steve is a 56 year old kiwi who has been living in Oregon the past 25 years. He is the definition of hard core, as I think kiwis tend to be, think first ascent of Mt Everest. So with that said, Steve is the one that made this route possible, I was just along for the ride. Steve and I are lucky as we have a secret weapon for climbing; we own a small airplane together so we can easily check on conditions saving us some long hikes. After three years of looking at the east face and never really seeing what we wanted to, we did a couple fly-by's in the past few weeks, and finally found the route to appear to be “in”. With some high pressure in place we drove down from Corvallis and tried to catch a couple hours sleep in my camper before starting the hike at about 1:30am.
We hiked for an hour on stable snow, and then pulled out the snowshoes for the rest of the hike to the SW ridge. We ditched the snow shoes and traversed the west face, and north face, and found ourselves on the NE saddle just as the sun was coming up. Another traverse halfway across the east face brought us to the base of the route at around 8:00 am, and shortly thereafter Steve was off on the 200’ rock pitch that leads to the base of the “ice”. Luckily the rock was solid and Steve was able to get in a good belay and bring me up. By this time the sun was baking the face, and the constant stream of ice pellets started raining down the route, with each pitch only getting warmer and warmer. A 200’ pitch on the ice with decent sticks ended below the first vertical/overhanging section of ice, which by that time was basically a waterfall, so we dispatched another 150’ pitch to the base of the crux. At this point I was soaking wet, but thankfully there was zero wind and enough sun to let me dry out a little bit. With the route rapidly melting Steve fired the crux and got 100’ before getting a solid cm and an O.K. slung block giving enough protection to feel somewhat comfortable on the final 70’ of overhanging rotten ice.
I've climbed with a lot of great climbers and have seen some impressive leads, but nothing compares to what Steve did battle with on this pitch. He stayed calm, cool, collected and was pulling over the final bulge before I could even make sense of how hardcore this really was. As I followed the pitch getting pumped silly, trying to get some rests while the pitch basically disintegrated below me, I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams ever leading a pitch like this. Steve had done the nearly impossible. He somehow found the most solid belay of the route, and soon enough I was on easy terrain staring up at the two final rock steps of the route. We regrouped for a second, but had to get moving as now it was really getting warm. Above the two rock steps moderate snow led to the top of the route about 200’ below the summit. Unfortunately for me while I was up in front 300’ below the top, the only major rock fall of the day occurred on the route. I heard Steve yell from below but it was too late, I took a nice loaf of bread sized rock to my knee. I ran for cover and managed to find the first spot on the route where I could actually lay down. Somehow the rock didn't do too much damage and after a little rest below the safe overhang, we were ascending the final 300’ to the top. It was about 3:30 pm by the time we took our harnesses off, and began to descend the south face back to our snow shoes, the descent with crampons was pretty painful, I wound up sliding on my ass for about half the descent, but once I got my snowshoes on and could stay on my toes more, the going got a little easier, an within two hours we were back at the truck. Finally safe and sound I could strip off my wet clothing and get comfortable. We reveled in our stoke for a little bit, and then tried to drive home, only making it about an hour before decided we really needed to sleep.
Just as we got back into Corvallis the following morning, I got the news my friend Sean Leary had been killed in a B.A.S.E. accident in Zion. This was a blow to the stoke, but I soon realized Sean was with us that day. The last time I saw him in the Fall we had tried to fly by the East Face of Thielsen together so he could see if it might be worthy of a B.A.S.E. jump. Sean never got to see the East Face that day as the clouds closed in on us. While Steve and I were on the Thielsen, there was something in the air that kept us going, it felt different than any other climb I had been on. I believe that this was Sean that was with us and kept us going, and that he finally got to look at the east face from above. With that I’d like to dedicate our route to Sean Leary, may his stoke and spirit motivate generations of climbers to come. I’d also like to thank Steve for the adventure of a lifetime.