Talking up climbing a Cascade volcano

Naomi Painter Hoffman, of Beaverton, Ore., pauses a few dozen yards from the summit of Mount Hood in Oregon to catch her breath during a successful climb of the famous Cascade volcano in 2011. (Jerry Painter photo)

One of the positive things that came out of attending my father’s funeral last weekend was the gathering of family, many of whom I haven’t seen in years.

One Oregon nephew in particular was keen on discussing his aspirations of climbing Mount Hood. “What do I have to know about climbing that peak?” he asked.

I told him the No. 1 factor preventing people from reaching the top is the weather. The next is the physical condition of the climber.

In thinking about climbing one of these big Cascade volcanoes, I made a quick list for my nephew of things to improve his chances for success.

Living in eastern Idaho has its advantages and disadvantages. Because we live at a higher altitude, our bodies take less time to acclimate to tall peaks. My nephew lives at near sea level. I told him to start spending some time in the mountains — long hikes and camping trips at higher altitude will help his body adjust. One disadvantage we have is distance. It becomes harder for us to take advantage of good weather windows when we live a day’s drive away.

A major concern is physical conditioning. I tell people a good measuring stick is being able to run (not jog) 3 miles without stopping and without difficulty. If running is not an option (some of us have bad joints), then something comparable such as hiking 10 miles or cycling 30 miles without difficulty. If you have doubts, it’s probably a good idea to get a physical with your doctor.

I also touched on the technical aspect of climbing a big volcano. This means having the right equipment and knowing how to use it. Using an ice ax, crampons, rope and harness can be critical on Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. Knowing how to self-arrest, crevasse rescue and place protective gear is essential to a safe climb.

Rather than attempt to teach these things in a newspaper column, the best approach is to find a group or mentor to show you the way (or, if you have money, hire a guide).

Lastly, learn everything you can about the mountain you want to climb — when is the best time, the best route for you, what are its dangers and develop a plan of attack.

After running down through this basic list, my nephew was more excited to climb the peak he can often see in the distance on a clear day.

Perhaps I’ll have to make the drive again and grunt my way up. My problem is that I checked that one off my list years ago with my youngest daughter.

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Laura Stark is returning to Idaho Falls on June 16 to finish a cycling trip abruptly interrupted when she and a friend were hit by a car on U.S. Highway 26 east of town. Her friend died. Stark spent weeks recuperating at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and returned home a paraplegic. She plans to finish the ride to Cannon Beach, Ore., via a hand crank bike. Local bikers can join her at the start of her journey from the site of the crash at 9:30 a.m. — there is now a ghost bike marking the spot. It should be a fun procession. The 11-mile ride will end at Idaho Mountain Trading downtown.

I remember the reporter on our staff returning from the hospital after interviewing Laura saying how impressed he was with her positive attitude and cheerful personality despite her horrific setback. It’s always fun to hang out with people like that. Learn more about Laura and how you can help at

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Also on June 16, the Wolverine Creek Super D Festival for mountain bike racers will be held in the Kelly Canyon area. This gathering features several categories and skill levels (including a kids race) as well as prizes. The first race starts at 10 a.m. For more information, go to