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Sven Vanekeybus climbing the 2nd-to-last pitch before gaining Cathedral Ridge. Photo by Cameron Brown

Normally the Sunshine route up to the summit of Oregon’s tallest peak is a two day affair. Our plan was to climb it in a single day. We decided to rip off the band aid as usual. It hurt.

sven-markMy climbing partners Sven Vanekeybus and Mark McCarter (pictured to the left) and I left the Tilly Jane trailhead at 3800 feet at 1:22 am and made it to the Tilly Jane A-frame at 2:40am.

From the the A-frame, we toured quickly to the historic Cloud Cap Inn, then bush-whacked and completed a Hemlock tour through the woods heading towards the glacier moraine on the southern side of the Eliot Glacier.

A beautiful sunrise colorfully enhanced by the smoke blown east across the Pacific Ocean from Siberian wild fires was the backdrop as we arrived at the cairn marking the climbers' trail down to the Eliot.

We made it across the middle shelf of the Eliot Glacier, avoiding the creases that marked the crevasses that lurked beneath the snow and arrived at the bottom of the Snow Dome at about 8 am at 8200ft.

The top of the Snow Dome is at about 9700 feet and is in itself a wonderful ski-mountaineering objective. We topped out there at 9:40 am and took a well-deserved break to prepare for the technical climbing ahead.

Sketchy Snow Bridges

After our break we roped up, sorted out protection and I won the first lead.

Crossing sketchy snow bridges while on lead is an interesting experience. I had to trust my instinct, trust my choice of snow bridge and trust my belay team. The pickets I placed seemed mostly psychological, but a few of the placements seemed bomber. (For you non-climbers out there, psychological pickets are anchors that make you feel safer — but probably would not hold if you actually needed them in a fall. Bombers are bomb-proof anchors that definitely will hold.)

Sven took the next lead and made a crevasse crossing that I was happy not to lead.

Sensing that the crevasse danger was mostly behind us, I was once again given the lead for the final two pitches.

The quality of the snow on the last pitch before gaining Cathedral Ridge was terrible. The snow seemed too soft and it felt unstable. I wanted to get off of the slope as soon as possible. I finally arrived on Cathedral Ridge and gave a bomber boot axe belay to my followers. Mark was tied into the middle of the rope and arrived at the ridge a few minutes later. I kept him on belay while I instructed him to get comfortable and give Sven a hip belay. I would keep Mark on belay as a back up.

The rope was too tight for Mark to set up his hip belay. We both yelled to Sven that he was on belay and to climb on. We then heard a faint echo coming from the Eliot Headwall but we didn’t see Sven. We again yelled for Sven to climb on. We were exhausted and should have gone to check on him. We repeated several times that he should climb on and we heard the faint echoes of his yells before we were finally able to take in slack and belay him up to the ridge.

What Mark and I did not know was that Sven had fallen into a hidden crevasse that Mark and I had just climbed right over. Sven was able to climb out using the rope to assist. Good thing we had a bomber belay for him and he was on top rope! The experience was a bit frightening but we were stoked to be just a short ridge hike to the summit.

In retrospect, the “money pitches” or more technical portion of our climb up the Sunshine Route consisted of a few pitches of ice climbing, swimming through a lot of deep soft snow, and a few sketchy crevasse and bergschrund crossings. All part of the suffering bliss that is experienced while mountaineering.


Sven and Mark brought skis and I had my splitboard. We had made plans to descend the south side of the mountain back to Timberline Lodge and car-shuttle back to the Tilly Jane trailhead where we had started our day 15 hours earlier, and conditions were excellent.

I snowboarded from the summit rim in perfect soft snow. The descent was one of the easiest and most fun I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing on the South Side of the mountain.


Cam Brown grew up in California exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Joshua Tree and many other natural outdoor spaces. After high school he spent a few years as a ski bum in the Lake Tahoe area and took up snowboarding.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest about five years ago, Cam currently calls Portland home and Mt. Hood is definitely his home mountain. Ski-mountaineering, split-boarding, climbing and chasing whatever looks like a fun time in the outdoors is what Cam is passionate about: chasing the dream, trying not to work too hard and looking for the stoke in life — the experience and the beauty we see around us.