Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?
Hi! My name is Theresa. I was born and raised in Southwest Washington, but I’m currently based out of Portland, Oregon.
I work as a music teacher during the week and spend my weekends and weekday mornings hitting the trails and getting into the alpine. My favorite place is the North Cascades, and my favorite mountain/second home is Mount Hood.
Although I’m fairly active as a trail runner and climber nowadays, I didn’t really grow up experiencing the great outdoors. Despite living in a state brimming with natural wonders, getting outside and into the mountains wasn’t a priority in my family.
It wasn’t until I moved back to the Pacific Northwest (after living in Southern California through high school and college) that it finally became an important part of my life. After becoming burnt out and disillusioned while completing a Master of Arts in Music degree, I felt it was time to take a break and pursue something outside of musical ambitions.
I already knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to climb mountains, specifically the mountains that I’d grown up around while living in Washington.
At the time, I didn’t even know the first thing about hiking (let alone mountaineering)! I began hiking regularly after finishing grad school in 2014. In 2015, I started trail running and did my first backpacking trips (including a 10-day trip leader seminar with the National Outdoor Leadership School).
At the end of that year, I finally managed my first mountain climb: a winter ascent of Mount St. Helens. I was ill-equipped for it and learned a lot of lessons, but it was a special moment to be able to summit the volcano I’d gazed at from my hometown for 14 years.
Since that day, I’ve had the privilege of climbing mountains throughout the Pacific Northwest (after getting some proper training and education), getting to know and adventure with some amazing folks in both the mountaineering community and trail running community, and giving back to the outdoor community as an ambassador for the PNW Outdoor Women group. Even just four or five years ago, I never imagined my life would be what it is today. It’s been quite the journey so far.
What’s your Story From The Mountain?
Back in June 2019, my partner, Mack Robertson, and I completed a longtime goal of summiting and circumnavigating Mount Hood in a single day. It was one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, experiences I’ve had in the mountains to date, and it combined my two favorite outdoor activities: mountaineering and ultrarunning!
We began our long day at midnight on June 29th. It was a calm, clear night (a far cry from the windy, whiteout conditions that forced us to bail on our first attempt the weekend prior). We started with the climb. Summer conditions meant we got to enjoy snow-free hiking up to Silcox Hut, firm, easy-to-walk-on snow up to the Palmer lifthouse, then a well-tracked boot path up to Devil’s Kitchen. It was some of the fastest conditions we could have asked for.
We lost a little bit of time trying to safely navigate the crevasse and deciding which side of Devil’s Kitchen to hike along (which usually feels pretty straightforward in daylight), but after that we hustled up the Hogsback, traversed over to Hot Rocks, then huffed our way up to the summit ridge via Mazama Chute. Shortly after 3 am, we stood on the summit...for about 30 seconds. The clock was running after all!
It wasn’t until I moved back to the Pacific Northwest (after living in Southern California through high school and college) that it finally became an important part of my life.
The downclimb of Mazama Chute went slower than expected. In the daylight, it doesn’t really seem that intimidating when you’re looking down it. This time, however, I was staring into a pitch black abyss.
I couldn’t see the familiar Hot Rocks or even make out the shapes of Crater Rock or the Hogsback. It was just a dark, bottomless chasm with no end in sight. We tentatively side stepped down the steep snow then picked up the pace again once we reached Hot Rocks.
Shortly after 3 am, we stood on the summit...for about 30 seconds.
From there we began the awkward shuffle in crampons down to Silcox. The sun was just coming up when we stopped briefly to remove our crampons and say “hello” to a familiar face on his way up the mountain.
As daylight began to sweep over Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters in the distance, we pounded down the access road in our heavy mountaineering boots and stepped into the parking lot at 5:53 am; our fastest round-trip Hood climb ever.
There wasn’t much time to sit and enjoy that accomplishment since the hardest part of our endeavor was about to begin: completing the 42-mile Timberline Trail around the mountain before midnight.
We were back on our feet and starting the counter-clockwise trek within a half hour of finishing the climbing portion. It was a nearly cloudless, bluebird day and our spirits were high despite running on tired, heavy-as-lead legs.
The first few miles went smoothly. I was happy to see that the heavy snow that had obscured much of this section (and made it impossible to actually run) two weeks prior was now mostly gone. Then, less than ten miles in, I started to bonk. How was this already happening to me?
I thought back to the climb. We were trying to move quickly, so all I’d had to eat was a single bite from a granola bar. I couldn’t even remember if I’d had anything to drink. I thought back to our transition at the car. I’d managed two bites of a peanut butter sandwich and maybe a swig of Gatorade. That probably explained why I felt so terrible now!
I did my best to recuperate calories while we continued to move, but the next few miles consisted of a lot of hiking rather than running. We allowed ourselves a sit-down snack break once we reached Cloud Cap Campground (about 13-14 miles into the Timberline Trail). I figured the next several miles after the Eliot Crossing would be relatively fast based on our experience running Timberline Trail the previous year. I was definitely wrong.
I’d severely underestimated early season conditions on the north side of the mountain. What is usually a smooth sailing section of singletrack ended up being a nightmare of downed trees and debris, as well as large swaths of snow.
We could barely run a few hundred feet at a time before having to stop to deal with an obstacle. Needless to say, it took forever to reach our halfway point around the mountain and it was already mid-afternoon. We wanted to avoid stopping too much, but we took another break to scarf down some burritos, and then we made another stop a couple of miles later so Mack could get in a power nap. The sleep deprivation was hitting him hard by this point.
We finally got some obstacle-free and snow-free running after the junction with McNeil Point Trail. Maybe we still had a chance of finishing before dark, or at least shortly after sunset! Spoke too soon of course.
Now, all of the river crossings up to this point had been more difficult than usual due to it being early in the season. Water was running fast and high. Muddy Fork was the final difficult one we had to deal with.
The usual rocks that you can hop across were covered by the high water. In general, Mack and I choose to stomp right through because it’s faster, but we were desperately trying to keep our feet dry since we still had about 14 miles left and storm clouds were rolling in.
Mack found a place to leap across and landed safely on the other side. I stepped up and realized the same jump was going to be too much for my short legs and aimed for a large boulder to land on instead.
Unfortunately, the boulder was extremely slick and I ended up flying backwards into the river, completely submerged, and caught up in the current. I was thankfully only swept a few feet before I managed to stop myself and have Mack pull me out. I. Was. Livid. And to add insult to injury, the sky unleashed rain, hail, and lightning over the next few miles. When it rains it pours, right?
After my tumble into the river, I never completely dried out, but at least the storm cleared and we were greeted by some blue sky after Ramona Falls. We were now about 11 miles out from Timberline Lodge, but the first four miles were almost entirely uphill to the Paradise Park Area. I thought we were power hiking quickly but found myself feeling discouraged whenever Mack read out the mileage and it was less than I expected.
What is usually a smooth sailing section of singletrack ended up being a nightmare of downed trees and debris, as well as large swaths of snow.
Positive energy was in short supply now. The sun hadn’t set yet, but being in the thick of the trees meant darkness came early. Even with headlamps, we found it difficult to run confidently. We caught the sunset on an open section of trail and stopped to savor the sight of Mount Hood bathed in pink alpenglow. It was the last moment that brought a smile to my face.
The final miles in the dark were the most difficult. We were both exhausted and sleep deprived. By the end of it all, I’d gone without sleep for a total of 42 hours and Mack was up for 38. Running in the dark always makes me incredibly anxious and paranoid.
I kept envisioning a cougar perched above us waiting to pounce and found myself constantly scanning the trees and logs around us. The last big climb out of Zigzag Canyon was painstakingly slow. I remembered hating this section last year. Why didn’t we decide to run clockwise? The worst part about finishing on this side is that you don’t see the lights of Timberline Lodge until you’re literally right there.
My only words for the final mile were, “Why the f*** aren’t we there yet?!?” The finish was unglamorous to say the least. We made it to the car at 11:04 pm, barely making our 24-hour goal.
My only words for the final mile were, “Why the f*** aren’t we there yet?!?”
Too destroyed to set up a comfortable sleeping arrangement in the back of the car, we slumped into the front seats, crawled into our sleeping bags without bothering to change into fresh, dry clothes, and passed out.
Of course, as soon as I woke up the next morning, my mind seemed to be wiped clean of the trials and tribulations of the previous day, and all I could think about was when I could do it all again. Masochism at its finest I suppose.
Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?
One of the most important things I’ve learned to acknowledge since diving into all of these outdoor endeavors is that I am incredibly privileged to be able to live the life that I live.
I’m tired of hearing people say that the “outdoors is for everyone” while blatantly ignoring the fact that there are numerous barriers in place that prevent people, particularly those from marginalized communities, from recreating in or even being accepted and welcomed in outdoor spaces.
I would encourage others to:
- Acknowledge the privileges they have and consider how this allows them to incorporate outdoor recreation into their lives
- Listen to others who don’t have the same privileges and refrain from providing your “two cents” and diminishing their lived experience
- Take the time to educate yourself
- Support--monetarily, if possible--organizations that are working to make the outdoors a more accessible, diverse, and inclusive space.
The outdoors SHOULD be for everyone.
What’s your favorite item in your pack?
My favorite item is actually the climbing pack itself! I bring my CiloGear 30L WorkSack on most climbs. It’s by far the best fitting pack I’ve ever worn (and that’s coming from someone who is less than five feet tall with an extremely short torso!).
I love how simple and sleek the design is. It’s incredibly lightweight and comes with a lot of removable features that allows for a very customized fit depending on how much or how little I’m carrying.
My other favorite item is my Kula Cloth, a thoughtfully designed, reusable, antimicrobial pee cloth! No more feeling gross and hoping I’ll just dry out after having to pee while climbing, trail running, backpacking, etc. In all seriousness, I never knew what I was missing until I started using it. Also, the woman behind it, Anastasia Allison, is one of the most rad human beings you’ll ever meet.
Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?
Have fun, be safe and smart, and do it for yourself! As the saying goes, “Hike your own hike.”
I also highly recommend joining a community of people to get outside with. When I first began hiking regularly, I joined a women’s outdoor group on Meetup. I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences and friendships that came from hiking with these women weekend after weekend.
Having a support system like this when I was just starting out motivated and inspired me to think bigger, expand my outdoor-related goals, and push my comfort zone. I’m not sure I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t participated in that first group hike.
What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?
Helping to make the outdoors and the outdoor community a more inclusive and accessible space is incredibly important to me. The organizations, groups, podcasts, publications, etc. that I am influenced by the most are those actively doing this work:
- Climbers of Color
- Brown Girls Climb
- Indigenous Women Hike
- Outdoor Afro
- Melanin Basecamp
- She Explores podcast
- Outside Voices podcast
- Unlikely Hikers
- Native Womens Wilderness
- She Jumps
These are just a few of course!
I also enjoy a good climbing memoir, especially ones written by women. My two favorites are both written by Arlene Blum, biophysical chemist and mountaineer, known for leading an all-woman ascent/first successful American ascent of Annapurna, who got her start climbing mountains in the Pacific Northwest:
Where’s your next adventure?
My general goals for this year include getting better at trad climbing (specifically leading trad and climbing alpine rock) and backcountry skiing. I’d also love to try ice climbing for the first time!
My more specific goals include completing one or two new (to me) routes on Mount Hood; climbing Mount Shuksan, Mount Jefferson, Snowfield Peak, Forbidden Peak, and Mount Fury (and hopefully a couple of other peaks in the Picket Range); running/climbing all Three Sisters and Broken Top in a single push; running or fastpacking Ptarmigan Traverse.
I have way too many mountain objectives that probably won’t pan out this year, but the ones I just mentioned are at the top of my list. My dream bucket list adventure (which I don’t quite have all the skills for yet) is to do a complete traverse of the Picket Range in the North Cascades.