Major New Alpine Route for Oregon


Steve Elder leading the first pitch of Brainless Child on Mt. Thielsen in Oregon. Photo by Tyler Adams.

3/27/14 - Tyler Adams and Steve Elder have done the probable first ascent of the east face of Mt. Thielsen, a 9,183-foot volcano in the Cascades of southern Oregon, just north of Crater Lake National Park. They completed their route, Brainless Child (1,600', WI5+ 5.9X and "steep mush"), in one long day on March 22.

The two men left the car at 1:30 a.m. and hiked and postholed around the mountain's north face to reach the east side. They began climbing around 8:30 a.m., starting with a long 5.9 pitch on solid rock. Two pitches of moderate and reasonably solid but rapidly melting ice led to the crux, with steep, very rotten ice and poor protection. "About the only thing I've ever climbed this hard with rotten ice like this was Riptide [Canadian Rockies, WI6/7] back in 1994," Elder wrote in a trip report at Cascade Climbers. "Gently place tool as high as possible and pull down till it kind of stops. Quick weight-test, close eyes, and move up. Repeat."

Lower part of Brainless Child, taking the obvious steep mixed line in the center.

Lower part of Brainless Child, taking the obvious steep mixed line in the center. Courtesy of Steve Elder.

The route continued up a couple of pitches of snow, with short ice and mixed steps, to the upper couloir, which the climbers simul-climbed to reach the ridge line just below the summit. Adams was hit by rockfall as the day warmed, but was not seriously injured. The two topped out around 3 p.m. made it back to the car about 17 hours after leaving.

"If this climb was in good condition, it could be recommended as a committing but safe WI4+ outing," Elder said. "The problem lies in finding it in those conditions. It is east facing and gets the sun the moment it rises, and doesn't lose it until midafternoon. All that freeze/thaw is what makes the ice, but for it to be good ice it really needs to be climbed when there's no sun on it."

Elder had hiked into the east face a couple of times before, but did not find a climbable line in condition. Two years ago, he soloed most of a mixed route up the north face of Thielsen, but narrowly escaped serious injury when a hold broke just as he was finishing up the Northeast Buttress route. He was self-belayed, but in the fall he pulled out two old bolts. Elder fell and slid at least 30 feet before coming to a stop amid rocks in a steep gully, and then made a painful retreat down the east side of the mountain.


Second pitch of Brainless Child. Photo by Tyler Adams.

Date of ascent: March 22, 2014

Sources: Steve Elder, Cascade Climbers