Updated: Oct 12, 2020
A light breeze swept through Devil’s Kitchen. After spending the last couple of hours in just a thin sun hoody, I finally succumbed to the chill and pulled my jacket on. The Steel Cliffs obscure those warm rays of light until later in the morning. It was surprisingly quiet, save for a few climbers chatting in the distance and sporadic rock fall on Devil’s Kitchen Headwall. I savored the solitude as I always do, but this particular morning, on my favorite mountain, I allowed myself to sit with it just a little while longer, even though I knew I needed to get to work. The moment I’d worked towards for months had finally come and gone. It hadn’t been a particularly emotional moment filled with tears of joy or anything like that. In fact, it entailed a mere selfie to prove I’d made it up, then a quick descent just a few minutes later to avoid a potential bottleneck with other climbers. But as I sat at Devil’s Kitchen in the shadows, munching on my breakfast of snack-sized chocolate chip cookies and gazing up at the sun just starting to peek over the summit ridge, I smiled to myself, a quiet embrace of my joy.
Wy’east, also known as Mount Hood, has been at the center of my mountaineering journey from the very beginning. Although I grew up in Southwest Washington, far closer to Loowit and Tahoma, it was Wy’east that truly captured my heart and ignited my desire to learn how to climb mountains when I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2012. After finishing grad school and spending the next few seasons hiking, backpacking, and trail running (all for the first time), I invested in a couple of mountaineering courses in 2016 and finally made my longtime dream of climbing Wy’east a reality that summer.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of climbing many other mountains, but Wy’east continues to be the place where I learn and grow the most, where I step out of my comfort zone by climbing in a variety of conditions, climbing solo, pushing my pace to make pre-work climbs possible, and trying different routes. Over the past few years, this mountain has become my second home.
This August, I turn 30. Back in December, I was racking my brain to come up with some sort of fun, cliché “30 before 30” type challenge to set for myself. It didn’t take long for the thought of climbing and summiting Wy’east 30 times to come to mind. For starters, I was already at 15 summits.
“I can manage another 15 before the end of June,” I thought.
Sure, it would require a commitment to making more attempts on weekday mornings before work (which is particularly difficult in the winter), and I would need to finish the challenge well before my birthday to avoid the hazards that come with climbing Wy’east later in the summer, but it was supposed to be a challenge after all.
After coming up with the challenge, I managed two summits by the end of December and was feeling pretty good about my odds. Unfortunately, January turned out to be a terrible month for weather. I didn’t manage a single climb. In fact, my next successful attempt didn’t come until the end of February. I was starting to feel a little behind, but I reminded myself that spring would bring consistent better weather and plenty more chances to climb. Within the first two and a half weeks of March, I summited three more times, bringing my total number to 21. I was finally into the single digits for remaining climbs!
A few days after that last climb, the “stay-at-home” order went into effect throughout Oregon and the Timberline area closed to the public. After a few weeks, I resigned myself to the fact that fitting in nine more climbs before the end of the season just wasn’t going to be possible. “30 before 30” just wasn’t in the cards and that was that.
Two months after closing, Timberline was allowed to reopen on a limited basis. This was my chance, but managing nine climbs over the next month seemed impossible. In fact, the futility of it all–coupled with anxiety about not having climbed in two months–made starting that first climb back a tedious task. It took me two hours to get myself out of my car and onto the climber’s trail. Later that morning though, when I finally stood on the summit, I felt that determination return. “30 before 30” was back on.
Eager to keep the momentum going after that first weekend back, I climbed two consecutive days later that week, both times before starting my teach-from-home workday. Admittedly, it wasn’t my smartest idea, and I swore to never do back-to-back Wy’east climbs again if I could help it. (Spoiler alert: I lied) I did start to feel the urgency of finishing soon though. On climb #24, I witnessed a loose, wet avalanche sweep across the Old Chute traverse path while I descended the Hogsback. It was my first time seeing an avalanche in person and a sobering moment, considering my friend had just talked me out of descending the Old Chute route about a half hour prior.
Climbing for a cause
After climb #25, inspired by the fundraising efforts of a friend, I decided to use my final five climbs to raise money for three organizations doing work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their representative spaces: Outdoor Afro, Climbers of Color, and Decolonizing the Music Room. I chose them in hopes of bringing more attention to their work (in spaces I identify most with as a lover of the outdoors, a climber, and a music educator), supporting their work, and as an important reminder that BIPOC-led organizations are necessary because many BIPOC and POC experiences continue to be erased from and/or denied in these spaces.
If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t expect much to happen. Even with my own personal contribution, I only expected to raise a few hundred dollars tops. In addition, promoting personal projects has always felt uncomfortable for me, like I’m taking up too much space by putting myself out there and being vulnerable. But I continued to post about it. I continued to use my climbing goal as a “hook” to promote these organizations, to share about my own experiences as a Filipina-Mexican climber in a community dominated by whiteness and patriarchy, and to advocate for taking action in our personal lives besides just donating and posting about it on social media.
By the end of the first week, contributions totaled almost $2,000.
Two weeks passed between climb #25 and #26 due to weather. The rising freezing level and continuous warm temperatures on the mountain had me feeling anxious, especially with the new snow that had fallen within the two weeks. Wanting to get the climbs done sooner rather than later to avoid even riskier conditions, I did exactly what I said I wouldn’t do: more back-to-back climbs. This time, I took advantage of a nearly week-long stretch of good weather and completed all five climbs over a span of seven days, a physical and mental push I never expected myself capable of pulling off. I officially completed my “30 before 30” goal on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, just under two months before my 30th birthday, and on a work day no less.
I was ecstatic and relieved to be done, but I was even more overjoyed to use the moment to keep encouraging people to support BIPOC-led organizations, to keep listening and learning, to keep using their voices rather than prioritizing their comfort. I kept the fundraiser open until the end of the day that Friday. (Fittingly enough, I ended up climbing Wy’east again that Friday, too!) Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends and strangers alike, as well as the many people who shared about my project, the total contribution came out to $4,500+ and I was able to give each organization $1,530.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Wy’east continues to be the place that I learn and grow year after year. This time, the mountain taught me something unexpected: never underestimate the power you hold as an individual to promote change and contribute to a collective effort. You are capable of more than you think.
Theresa Silveyra is a music teacher and outdoor enthusiast based in Portland, Oregon. Her primary passions are mountaineering and trail running. Adventures where these two activities are combined tend to be her favorite. Theresa is also an ambassador for the PNW Outdoor Women group and enjoys organizing and providing opportunities for womxn to connect and adventure outdoors together.