Red Cone (Mt. Thielsen Wilderness) 13-Aug-2019

Red Cone is a small volcanic protuberance on the east side of the Mount Thielsen Wilderness (not to be confused with the Red Cone in nearby Crater Lake National Park). The cone in the wilderness is readily visible from Tipsoo Peak and I’ve long harbored a desire to see if it could be climbed. Leaving The LovedOne at the library talking 🙄 taxes, I went to the wilderness alone 😥 to explore Red Cone.

I started by taking the nice, easy trail up to the big views from atop Tipsoo. There was some high overcast – and a few overly hopeful mosquitoes – but it was otherwise a perfect day for a hike.

The easy trail to Tipsoo Peak
Diamond Peak (D), Cowhorn Mountain (C), and some of the Three Sisters (S) from Tipsoo Peak
Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey from Tipsoo
Howlock Mountain and Mount Thielsen from Tipsoo
Today’s goal – Red Cone

After soaking in the views from Tipsoo, I dropped off its southeast side to intersect the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the meadow below.

Tipsoo Peak from the PCT

From the PCT, I went east through the forest toward Red Cone. Although the cone is visible from Tipsoo, it’s totally invisible once you leave the divide, so I just navigated to where it’s shown on the map. The forest here has almost no understory and few fallen trees so it’s a lot like strolling through a manicured park. This was the easy part. After about two miles, I emerged from the forest at the prow of the cone’s rocky west ridge. The surface of the ridge was treacherously loose and slippery rock and scree – this was the hard part.

On Red Cone’s west ridge
Red Cone’s volcanic plug looms over the ridge
Howlock Mountain and Sawtooth Ridge from Red Cone’s west ridge

The map (and Google Earth) indicated that the cone’s east side might be the easiest path to the summit, so I worked my way – slowly and precariously – up and around to the east side.

Nearing the top of the cone’s east ridge
The steep east side of the cone

I came around to the east ridge to find about 50 feet or so of steep – and possibly loose – terrain between me and the true summit. A few Class 3 moves brought me to the base of a high Class 4 or low Class 5 crack system that looked as though it might go to the top. I imagined seeing a rappel sling near the top of this crack. I also imagined dying if I tried to climb it, so I didn’t. There might be an easier way to the top but I was in no mood to wander around on loose rock and scree looking for it. So a snack followed by an honorable retreat. 😦

Diamond Peak from the east side of Red Cone
Miller Lake from Red Cone
This tree fungus was the only “color” in the forest
Tipsoo Peak from my return to the PCT
The PCT near its high point in Oregon and Washington

Rather than climb back over Tipsoo, I circled around it to the south and rejoined the built trail at the end of its longest switchback. From there it was truly a stroll down to the trailhead. The sting of not making the summit was assuaged by a stop at Beckie’s in Union Creek for pie. 🙂

Howlock and Thielsen from the south side of Tipsoo

Some post-hike research found that there was a fire camp somewhere near the cone in the 1920s (it wasn’t officially Red Cone until 1940). There was one listing that even suggested a fire lookout had actually been on the summit at one point. I did find a few pieces of wire and some milled wood at the base of the crack – these could have been from a lookout or a triangulation station. In either case, there’s no indication of how they might have gotten to the top back in the day. Of course, then they were adept at notching tree trunks to make ladders…

My track to and from the attempt on Red Cone
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