I'm commited to doing this...one of these days. But the bar has definitely been raised by these guys.
A five-peak marathon
Three Bend endurance athletes climb the Three Sisters, Broken Top and Bachelor in 15 hours, 30 minutes
By Mark Morical / The Bulletin
Published: September 07. 2007 5:00AM PST
Three endurance athletes from Central Oregon got together one day last month to run about 37 miles.
An impressive feat — but much more so considering the terrain they covered across those 37 miles. To get an idea of their route, find a viewpoint in Bend and look west toward the mountain-filled horizon.
Mitch Thompson, Max King and Dave Clark, all of Bend, ran up and down North Sister, Middle Sister, South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor — all in in 15 hours and 30 minutes.
By their calculations, they gained and lost about 18,000 feet of elevation, using no climbing gear, and taking only short breaks to purify water.
The three athletes used their superb fitness and climbing skills to break the only known record of the nonsupported, continuous five-peak hike by more than 10 hours. Pat Creedican of Bend accomplished the feat in 26:55 in 2001.
King, 27, is an accomplished distance runner; Clark, 47, is the cross-country and distance track coach at Bend’s Summit High School; and Thompson, 38, is an experienced climber with intricate knowledge of backcountry trails and climbs.
The trio gathered before sunrise on Aug. 22 at the Pole Creek Trailhead near Sisters, where they began their epic trek at 5:30 a.m. They were on top of Mount Bachelor by 8 p.m. to watch the sunset.
In an interview last week to discuss their journey, all three climbers agreed that the most difficult — and frightening — parts of the adventure were the climbs up 10,085-foot North Sister and the north side of 10,358-foot South Sister. (South Sister is a relatively easy climb up the south side, but extremely precipitous up the north side.)
“I just had an extraordinary amount of fear on the north side of South Sister, much more than I anticipated,” Clark recalled. “There were many places where I felt like if I fell, I would die. It’s not a happy feeling. And I COULD NOT have done it, if I wasn’t with these guys.”
Typically, on North Sister and Broken Top, climbers use ropes and harnesses to ascend the steep, technical portions of the climbs. Because they were going for the fastest time possible, Clark, King and Thompson did not bring any such gear, making for some adrenaline-powered ascents.
“Most people do (need climbing gear),” King said. “I wouldn’t take anybody else up there, unless they were real comfortable with their climbing abilities. Broken Top is a pretty vertical climb, North is a vertical climb; you can’t fall — or you’re gone.”
Said Thompson: “If I went up there with somebody inexperienced, I would have ropes and a harness. If you fall … it’s certainly not like the (more forgiving) climbers’ trail on South Sister.”
Thompson, Clark and King all had climbed each of the five peaks before. And they all knew each other as members of the vibrant outdoor adventure community in Central Oregon. Thompson approached Clark and King with the idea to make the five-peak run, and just two days later they were making tracks in the Central Oregon Cascades.
To travel light and fast, they took with them on their adventure only the bare minimum: small packs with food (energy bars, gels, sandwiches), water, a first-aid kit, and a small water purifier so they could drink water from streams and lakes.
Clark, King and Thompson started with the ascent of North Sister, by far the most technically challenging of the five peaks, according to Clark.
“You have to go through the ‘Bowling Alley,’” Clark said. “On the very top part of North (Sister), you’re squeezed into this little chute, and if anything falls, it’s coming at you. We wore bike helmets.”
From the top of North Sister, it took the three just about one hour to reach the summit of 10,047-foot Middle Sister.
Descending Middle Sister was not easy, Thompson recalled.
“It’s nasty,” he said. “Just a massive field of baby-head rocks … very precarious footing. You could twist an ankle or knee really easily.”
The route from Middle Sister to South Sister was long and arduous, the runners said. They made their way up the treacherous north side of South Sister in clouds that shrouded the top of the mountain. But they enjoyed clear weather the rest of the way.
Navigation was easy for the three climbers during their trek. They used a topographical map and relied on their knowledge of the area.
“It’s easy when you can see the next mountain,” King said. “We didn’t even use the map, really, because we knew where we were going. You pick your own route a lot of the time.”
They continued on, up and down 9,175-foot Broken Top, and finally, up and down 9,065-foot Bachelor, by far the easiest of the five peaks to ascend and descend. Once they reached the bottom of Bachelor, finally finished, King and Thompson were tired but otherwise OK. Clark, however, was severely dehydrated.
“Physically, going up Bachelor was the hardest part for me,” Clark recalled. “I was just dehydrated. My muscles were cramping, and it was hard. Sometimes, it just hits you.”
King had little time to recover from the five-peak climb: Just two days later, he was running in the Hood to Coast Relay, helping Team XO finish fifth overall in the team relay race from Mount Hood to Seaside. King said his average mile time in the event was 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
“All my friends on my Hood to Coast team thought I was nuts,” King said.
King, Clark, and Thompson said they never doubted they could accomplish the five-peak feat.
“It was just a matter of how fast are we going to do it,” Thompson said.
Thompson is wary of other endurance athletes who may try to beat the 15:30 mark up the Three Sisters, Broken Top and Bachelor.
“You need to be in great shape, you need to have some climbing skills, and you need to know what you’re doing and where you’re going,” Thompson advised. “And there is a small group of people in this town, some of these XC Oregon (elite cross-country ski team) guys, who would be guys that would be eyeing this up and try to beat our time.”