Sea to Summit is an approach for the hardiest of adventurers in the spirit of the old world explorers. We start at sea level—then by any combination of biking, hiking and climbing we attempt to summit the chosen peak: “Because it’s there.”
In 1997 for my 50th birthday, I needed to do something different and finally decided to try a sea-to-summit of Mount Hood. (Pre-web, I had no idea if anyone else ever did this!) I thought one would be enough, in January 1998, I felt I should take my first vacation outside the lower 48 states in ten years by trying a sea-to-summit on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The climb was successful , and so were the following two weeks at sea level!
The next summer, I tried another local peak, and quickly found I had become a pioneer sea-to-summit climber in the Cascades. Note that I didn’t rush off to bag as many peaks as possible in a week/month/season, I took my time and enjoyed the scenery along the route from 1997 to 2010.
Within five years, I had reached the summit of all the major west coast peaks from sea level. I then took on the big volcanoes around Mexico City, high points of Guatemala and the Caribbean. I may have the distinction of being” the first person to systematically climb lesser mountains from sea level,” and I’ve made some attempts to publicize sea-to-summit climbing in the Cascades.
S-t-S has inspired me to climb in new ranges, even in new countries, and to go back to familiar peaks and see them in a whole new light. It could do the same for you! Here is a list of my various treks and climbs in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” since 1997:
Wy’East/Mount Hood, Oregon 11,240‘
1997: My first sea to summit climb was on my home peak to mark my 50th birthday. I cycled 60 miles from the Willamette River to Timberline Lodge at 6,000′ in 4:42, slept overnight, then climbed 5,240’in 3:05. (This was also my first try at speed-climbing. My best time for Mt. Hood is 2:28 on Christmas Day 1999.) Story– The First Mt Hood Bike & Ski
(From 1998 to 2014, I rode a Bike Friday on all my climbs outside the US.)
Mauna Kea, Hawaii 13,790′
1998: From sea level in Hilo, 11 hours cycling on my folding Bike Friday, with one hour’s rest at the visitor center at 9,000′. The summit was windswept and deserted, the descent took only two hours, with no after-effects from the altitude. (This was after two glorious weeks of bike touring and training around the Big Island, which is also the site of the famous Ironman Triathlon.)
Loowit/Mount St Helens, Washington 8,365′
1998: From sea level on the Columbia River. Cycled down from the Marble Mountain shelter and slept on the riverbank. Rode up 42 miles to 2,650′ in 4:00, climbed 5,700′ in 5:00, non-stop. (I first climbed St. Helens in 1976, when it was 9,677′ high. On May 18, 1980, I stood on a hill in Portland and watched the dust cloud from the eruption rise 15 miles high. 60% of the mountain disappeared in the blast, and 60 people died, in the largest volcanic landslide ever recorded. (Story)
Klikitat/Mount Adams, Washington 12,307′
1998: From the Columbia River- 80′ above sea level, opposite Hood River. Rode down to start and back up to the national forest, cycling 36 miles to 6,100′ in 4 hours, slept overnight, climbed 6,200′ in 7 hours. (In 1972, Adams was the first glacial peak I climbed. I was hitchhiking across the US, and found a ride with a van-load of climbers who loaned me some spare gear so I could accompany them. (Story) .)
Koma Kulshan/Mount Baker, Washington 10,778′
1998: From sea level in Bellingham. For 20 years, I’d admired this peak from the San Juans and when sailing my boat to and from Canada and Alaska. Cycled 43 miles to 3,600′ in 4 hours, slept overnight, climbed 7,100′ (the only time I’ve ever had a partner) in 6 hours. It’s more than 6 miles from the trailhead to the summit across a magnificent crevasse field, making this an an unusually long route for a day trip. (Story)
Pico San Jacinto, California 10,804′
1999: (Southern California Desert) Cycled 60 miles from Salton Sea -230′ to Palm Springs + 400′ with temperatures in the 80s, slept overnight, hiked 22 miles to summit then back to rim at 8,500′. After a marathon (26-mile) day, you bet I took the free ride down on the aerial tramway! The ride through desert, orchards and golf courses, and the amazingly steep hike up the escarpment to the snowfields, made this a unique trip. (Story)
Tahoma/Mount Rainier, Washington 14,410′
1999: My third ascent of Mt Rainier took only 48 hours from the shoreline, somewhat to my surprise. Starting at noon, I rode down from the Paradise trailhead to the Nisqually estuary on Puget Sound and slept in the woods. I rode back up the next day, 76 hilly miles and slept in the parking lot at 5,240′. Climbed to Camp Muir on my 52nd birthday, rested until 3AM, then climbed to the summit by noon. (Story)
Andes Crossing, Chile/Argentina 0-5000m
2000: Cycled 150 miles from sea level in Valparaiso, Chile, crossing the Andes and the frontier at 10,300′. Rolled down to Puente del Inca and stored my bike. Assembled my solo expedition to Cerro Aconcagua, 22,840′ (the highest mountain outside Asia) and hiked to Plaza de Mulas, 14,200′, where I attempted (unsuccessfully) to acclimate for 6 days. (Photo shows view from my highpoint-Piedras de Cinco Mil Metros.)
Vulcan Villarrica, Chile 2840m
2000: This beautiful conical peak in Chile has the distinction of being “the most continuously active volcano in the Americsa.” Since 1558, 60 eruptions have been recorded. From Lago Villarrica at 420 m, I cycled 20 km on a primitive dirt road in 3 hours to the ski area at 1500 m, where I met German traveler Dr.Karl Jungst. We climbed to the crater in 4 hours, total time 7 hours. Poisonous fumes belched from the crater and the ground shook while we stood on the rim. In 2016, I cycled from sea level in Valdivia to Villarrica in two days to complete the journey.
Tsashtl/Mount Shasta, California 14,163′
2000: I cycled from approx. 163′ elevation on the fertile plain of the Sacramento Valley to Red Bluff, with temperatures in the 90s, then onto I-5 for a nightmare 60-mile ride through Redding, across Shasta Lake (!) and up the canyon to Dunsmuir. Continued the next day up to Shasta town, 3,850′. The ride to the trailhead has 3,000′ elevation gain and is a popular hill climb for cyclists. No snow on the hike to 10,000′ since it was September. Misery Hill lived up to its name!
Tajumulco, Guatemala 13,845′ (Highpoint of Central America)
2001: I started biking at the fishing village of Tilapa on the Pacific coast. The road was blacktop but too steep to ride on many sections. I reached the trail head at Tuichan (2900 m) on the altiplano after three days hard riding, returning by bus and pick-up for the hike, which was an enjoyable three hours through open grassland and pine forest. I was alone on the upper mountain, but the trail was fairly obvious. (Story)
Gagxanul/Santa Maria, Guatemala 12,375′
2001: The ride from San Pedro (7,000′) to Quetzaltenango (7,200′) included a climb to over 10,000′ that was practically an ascent of its own! After arriving in Q-town (Xela) I decided I might as well include Santa Maria, having ridden that far. It towers above the city and buried it under a coat of ash in 1902. The trail is steep, with plenty of hauling on rocks and tree roots, but that doesn’t dissuade whole families of Mayans from making the trip!
Too-Man-Go-Yah/Mount Whitney, California 14,496′
2001: The lowest/driest/hottest point in the western world and the highest point in the contigous (48) states are only 85 miles apart. The journey is 135-miles on the road and 11-miles on the trail, but I began by flying in to Las Vegas to the east and biking 174 miles to Badwater, elevation -280′. I slept at oases for the next three nights, and climbed two 5,000′ passes to reach Lone Pine. (The daytime temperature reached 118 F., but I didn’t ride in more than about 108 F.) I then biked another 5,000′ uphill to Whitney Portal, camped at 10,000′ and hiked to the summit and back the next day.
Royal Arches, Yosemite, California 17- pitch 5.9
2002: I continued riding north from Lone Pine following scenic Hwy 395 through the Owens Valley, over the 8,041′ man Pass, camped at scenic June Lake, down to Mono Lake at 3,000′, then over the Sierras via 9,950′ Tioga Pass (with a short hike to 10,000′), then through Yosemite Park. This connects with my climb of the “easy” wall in the valley, Royal Arches in 1995, givng me the dubious distinction of “the first wall climb from below sea level.”
Xinantenatl/Nevado de Toluca, Mexico (Pico de Noreste) 14,600+’
2003: After a strenuous week of uphill cycling from Acapulco, culminating with 20 kms of rock & dirt road on the side of the volcano, I reached the refuge at 4405m. After a sleepless night, I took a two-hour hike to the Pico Noreste, the high point on the north crater rim. The view down to the Lago del Luna, the highest diveable lake in the world, was superb.
Popocateptetl, Mexico 17,887′
2004: Twenty-five years after I climbed Popo, and with the volcano closed to access for the foreseeable future, I biked across the Valley of Mexico and up to the Paso de Cortes, to 3,700 m, to complete a “retro” sea-to-summit. Popo continues to threaten the surrounding villages and towns–and the capital–with a major eruption.
Wa Ganup’a/Lassen Peak, California 10,459′
2004: I returned to the northern Sacramento Valley in late September to climb the most southerly of the Cascades volcanoes. I started my 100-mile ride at a steamboat landing about 120′ above sea level and 100 miles from tidewater on a day when the temperature rose to 100 F. The bike route took me through the canyon country that was home to the Yahi tribe and “Ishi”, the last Stone Age native in the U.S., who was discovered here in 1911. Lassen is said to be “the largest plug-dome volcano in the world.” It is an easy 2,000′ hike when free of snow.
Saddle Mountain, Oregon 3,283′ (1,000m)
2005: To mark the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark expedition, which set out in 1803 and spent the winter of 1805 near my home of Astoria, I decided to climb the area’s high point from the re-created Fort Clatsop. I kayaked 3 hours to the Youngs River Falls mentioned by one of the party’s hunters, then mountain biked another 3 hours on forest roads to the trailhead at 1650′. The 2.5-mile hike is a spectacular route with views to the ocean and Cascades. I retraced the route and finished before nightfall.
La Malinche, Mexico 14,650′
2005: I returned to Mexico City to continue the journey, starting where I left off at the Paso de Cortes (13,500′). I rode downhill to Cholula, site of the largest pyramid in the region (now topped by a church). By evening I had by-passed Puebla and was rewarded with a view of Malinche through the smog before sunset. I rode around the base and then up to a resort at 10,000′. I hiked to the summit in 3 hours; many locals were still ascending when I returned to the trail head.
Village of Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico 4000m
2005: Then came another delightful downhill ride to the plateau at 7-8,000′, followed by a long slog east across a dry lake on a busy highway to the climbers’ lodge in Tlachichula. Next day I rode up a good dirt road to the village of Miguel Hidalgo (4000m), then up a sandy slope where the jeep trail begins. This is almost certainly the highest permanent village in North America.
South Sister, Oregon 10,368′
2005: With the long, hot summer of 2003 coming to an end, I chose the Sisters region in the central Oregon Cascades as my next goal. Having ridden to Eugene from Portland for my Willamette paddle/pedal in 1996, I decided to start from there. The climb up to Willamette Pass is a busy highway with a shallow grade that I took a little too fast. I took two days to ride the 135 miles to the trailhead carrying all my gear. On the last Monday in September there were still 20 people on the mountain, who provided some company on the 4.5 mile trail. This peak has a small but growing bulge on its slope that may suggest future volcanic activity!
Crater Lake Overlook, 8,938′ Oregon
2006: Almost a year later, I resumed riding beyond the Willamette Pass, this time shuttling the truck while going south to Crater Lake National Park. According to the forecasts, I had 2-3 days to complete the climb before winter would arrive early in the high country! I reached the crater rim at 7,000′ at noon on the second day, completed the 1,500′ hike to the lookout with fabulous views, then bivouaced in the woods. As predicted, the clouds were pouring into the crater on the third day making for a frigid but scenic ride around the north side of the lake and back.
Mount Thielsen, Oregon 9,138′
2006: “The Lightning Rod of the South Cascades.” Another year having passed, I again resumed riding (downhill)from the Crater Lake entrance road, a few miles to the trailhead on the highway. A pleasant walk through the woods turned into a slippery scramble on gravel and scree after I crossed the Pacific Crest Trail. That was nothing compared to the summit pinnacle, where the climbing became serious enough that someone had drilled a bolt at the base for a belayer! Although the moves were basic (say 5.1) I studied each one carefully to make sure I could do it backwards…without a rope!
Torres del Paine Mirador, (2,900′) Chile
2006: I began this journey at the end of the southernmost road on the American continent, cycling north to Punta Arenas, Chile along the Straits of Magellan. I got the flu in the hostel, and attempted to ride across southern Patagonia to the western fjord coast, but abandoned the ride after a windy night in a shepherd’s lean-to cabin. However, after 5 days recovering in Puerto Natales I re-started and rode for two days over 150 kms of dirt roads into Torres del Paine Park, where I joined the crowd on the regular (but demanding) all-day hike into the torres viewpoint.
Pena de Bernal Monolith (8,235′) Mexico
2007: I began this journey in Toluca, where I had turned east on my ride from Acapulco in 2002. I rode across the central plain (or the roof) of Mexico for four days to reach the small town of Bernal with the Peï¿½a behind it. (No information on the hike was forthcoming from the municipal tourist office…) A short easy hike leads to the chapel below the summit. This is followed by a 50m rock climb on a steep face using the iron rungs set in the rock face and natural holds. The up-climbing was easy un-roped (5.2-3), but predictably the downclimbing was intimidating!
Mount Hood via Cooper Spur, Oregon 11,235′
1997-2008: I began this journey in 1989 by sailing my 6.5m trimaran upriver from Portland to Beacon Rock, where the current picks up and you have to motor through the lock at Bonneville Dam. (I have cycled this part of the route.)At Cascade Locks, the strong west “gorge” wind makes sailing possible again to the windsurfing center of Hood River. Here, in 2008, I returned to the bike and rode up to the Cooper Spur ski area, where my climb had begun in the spring of 1997.
Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic (10,164′)
2009: I began the S-t-S of Highpoint of the Caribbean in Samana, on the NE coast of the island, and rode for two days to La Vega, at the foot of the Cordillera Central. A long hard day on the bike took me to the park entrance in the village of La Cienaga. I slept at the house of my guide up the trail, and began climbing at 5 AM. We went non-stop until noon to reach the camp, and rested until 3 PM. Then, somehow, I summoned up the energy for another two hours to the summit. The guide had ridden his mule all the way to 10,000′, so strode easily ahead of me. To descend before dark, I rode the mule down to the camp! I rode downhill in a tropical rainstorm.
Paso Cardenal, Chile/Argentina 4334′
2010: The circular ride around the Patagonian lakes began and finished in Bariloche, Argentina, but the Andes climb proper began in Puerto Montt, Chile, skirted the edge of Lago Llanquihue (without a glimpse of Volcan Osorno in the clouds) turned east and started a gradual climb toward Entre Lagos. The second day things got interesting when my chain broke–luckily just before the last house in Chile! I hammered out the broken links with a nail, fitted my split link, and continued the effort next day. The descent into Argentina and Lago Nahuel Huapi, one month after I departed, was very scenic.