Guest Article: ANNUAL MOONLIGHT TREK AROUND MT. THIELSEN
Over thirty years ago I began an annual trek encircling Mt. Thielsen in the Winema and Umpqua National Forests. The inspiration was Holly Jones, who was the head social science librarian at the University of Oregon. He served on the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors in the 70s and was one of the founders of the Oregon Wilderness Coalition, serving as its first president from 1976-1978.
In the late 70s, Holly led an off-trail Sierra Club hike on the east side of the Cascades from Windigo Pass to Highway 138. He picked a topo line of about 7,000 feet which led him to Cottonwood Creek Spring at the eastern base of Mt. Thielsen. I tried to replicate that hike from the opposite direction and eventually developed an annual off-trail hike from Summit Rock, an andesitic plug about 200 feet high, one mile north of Highway 138 near the highway’s summit. This hike went north from Summit Rock in the Winema National Forest (the dividing line between the Winema and Umpqua National Forests is the crest of the Cascade Range) through a forest of mountain hemlock, true firs, Alaska cedar, and whitebark pine.
After a few years, I decided that hiking off-trail was interesting but that a more exciting way to do it would be to hike off-trail at night. Thus began the annual moonlight trek around Mt. Thielsen or “Moon TAT”. We would start at four in the morning on the Saturday closest to the full moon in September. I would entice family and friends to join me in the hike by describing Cottonwood Creek springing out of Mt. Mazama ash on the east side of Mt. Thielsen, transforming into a boisterous stream within a few feet of its source then immediately plunging 30 feet over a cliff. We would have as few as four trekkers (my family) but usually a dozen or more brave souls willing to walk off-trail in the dark. I explained to them that they would be guided only by moon shadows and their own sense of adventure and that there was nothing more exciting they could do standing up!
It is a rather strenuous hike of about 15 miles with lots of elevation gain and loss. The beginning of the hike at Summit Rock is about 5,000 feet in elevation and Cottonwood Creek Spring is about 7,000 feet. The highest elevation on the trek is a ridge just north of Thielsen at about 8,000 feet (Mt. Thielsen is 9,182 feet). From the ridge, you can see the Lathrop Glacier, the southernmost glacier in Oregon. We named this ridge Champagne Ridge as ultimately someone produced a bottle(s) of champagne to toast what we considered to be a unique achievement. Awards were given to first-timers (there weren’t many repeaters) – a bandana or tee shirt emblazoned with a picture of the mountain and full moon encircled with “MOON TAT Nolte’s Annual Moonlight Trek Around Mt. Thielsen”.