Tyler Adams and Steve Elder established one of the hardest alpine routes in Oregon over a 14-hour push on March 22. They had studied the rock, ice and snow on the east face of 9,183-foot Mt. Thielsen for three years before making an attempt. The resulting route, Brainless Child (5.9X WI5+, 1,600′), may also mark the face’s first ascent.
Despite their thorough preparation, Adams and Elder still doubted the line would go. “[W]e were pummeled by ice pellets and chunks all day, often conveniently arriving in waves just when crux moves were happening,” wrote Elder, who Adams describes as “the definition of hardcore.” The climb was Type 2 fun, “but totally worth it,” Elder said. “It was a fantastic outing in spite of and because of the difficulties.”
The duo started out from their car at 1:30 a.m., reaching the base of the route seven hours later, having traversed the bases of both the west and north faces through deep snow. Two hundred feet of 5.9 rock led to the ice above. The two were surprised to find fun climbing and solid rock, but they felt the increasing effects of the sun as they continued through two pitches of moderate ice climbing. “[I]ce pellets started raining down the route, with each pitch only getting warmer and warmer,” Adams wrote.
Elder took the lead up the melting crux pitch that involved 100 feet of climbing with no solid protection. “I’ve climbed with a lot of great climbers and have seen some impressive leads,” said Adams, “but nothing compares to what Steve did battle with on this pitch. He…was pulling over the final bulge before I could even make sense of how hardcore this really was.” Adams waged his own battle a few pitches later, with a bread-size rock that struck his knee. The two continued up 300 feet to reach the top at around 3:30 p.m.
“If this climb was in good condition, it could be recommended as a committing but safe WI4+ outing. The problem lies in finding it in those conditions,” Elder said. “If we’d gotten on it two days earlier it might have been in better shape.”
Adams dedicated the new route to Sean Leary, who died in a BASE accident on March 13 in Zion National Park. “While Steve and I were on the Thielsen, there was something in the air that kept us going,” Adams commented, “it felt different than any other climb I had been on.”