CORVALLIS – Tyler Evans likes high places.
And the 17-year-old from Corvallis has been fortunate to find a mentor willing to show him some of the highest places in three different states.
Last month, Evans followed his friend and climbing partner, Lou Hatch of Lolo, up a winding and icy path to the 14,410-foot summit of Washington state’s Mount Rainier.
“Most kids these days are too busy with high-tech stuff,” said the 64-year-old Hatch. “He’s really got a desire to get to the top of stuff.”
Two years ago, the two met through their mutual admiration of the Bitterroot’s own mountain goat, Mario Locatelli.
Back then, Hatch said Evans’ scoutmaster said the young man had reached a higher level in climbing than anyone in the Scout troop. He was at the point he needed to reach out to someone with more skills to help him learn the art of mountaineering.
About that same time, Evans’ mother had purchased Locatelli’s book about climbing in the Bitterroots. And so the young man called Mario and asked him about taking him up Montana’s Granite Peak.
“Mario called me and said this kid wants to go up Granite Peak,” Hatch remembered. “He asked me if I would take him. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The kid was only 15.”
Two weeks after their first meeting in Stevensville, they climbed Montana’s highest mountain together.
“He did really good,” Hatch said. “Usually you rope for the last little bit for safety. When I asked how he felt, he said really good. He free climbed it. I don’t think too many 15-year-olds have done that.”
They planned to do another peak in the Beartooths the next year, but then Hatch ended up getting a campsite near the Grand Teton.
He asked his new climbing partner if he was interested in giving that a go.
“It’s not too bad a climb,” he said. “You have to rope up and put in some protection. We did end up doing a long repel. He had never free repelled before with nothing but air 100 feet down below you.”
Evans wanted to get higher.
And so Hatch put in for reservations to climb Mount Rainier.
The ascent would be Hatch’s eighth. He made his first climb of the mountain when he was 25 years old.
For Evans, it was a dream come true.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Evans said. “I didn’t realize that I was going to get to do it so soon.”
On the first day, they hiked through miserable weather conditions that included fog so thick that they couldn’t see 40 feet ahead. They arrived at their second camp at 11,200 feet late in the afternoon. They went to bed at 5 p.m. and got up six hours later to begin the final ascent.
“It was cold and windy,” Hatch said. “Our water bottles froze.”
Hatch knew that Montanans usually start to notice the elevation once they reached 10,000 feet. With the lack of snow this year on the mountain, the glacier was broken up more than normal.
“The trail wandered more in order to get around big open crevasses,” Hatch said.
Evans wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He was attached to another climber with a rope and brought up the rear of the climbing team of five.
“It’s not as technical a climb as Grand Teton or Granite, but there are more variables that could go wrong,” Evans said. “We go up in the dark because that’s when the glacier is the most stable. … I actually found it nicer to go when it was dark. I didn’t know what I was passing. I didn’t know how steep the mountain was or how deep the crevasses were that I was stepping over.”
There were three places where the climbers walked across crevasses on ladders.
“It was a bit of a balancing act with your crampons,” Evans said. “One ladder was gone by the time we came back down. It was kind of wiggling back and forth as we walked over it.”
The climbing party was at about 14,000 feet when the sun came up.
“It was pretty amazing to see,” Evans said. “I was pretty tired by the time I got to the top and a little nauseous. The summit was different than what you might expect. There were fumaroles with steam coming out. The summit was actually mud.”
The descent had its own set of challenges.
The snow was starting to melt and it began to ball up underneath the climber’s crampons.
“You started slipping easier,” Evans said. “I also could see the crevasses better. Some were pretty scary. They were like 70 feet deep.”
Hatch said most accidents occur on the way down.
“I would say about 90 percent of the accidents happen on the descent,” he said. “You’re tired and don’t care anymore. You can let your guard down. You have to be really careful on the way down.”
Besides a little bit of sunburn, the climbers made it down to the trailhead with incident.
Neither Hatch nor Evans know exactly where the young man’s next climb will be.
“We started at the tallest peak in Montana and then went a 1,000 feet higher in Wyoming,” Hatch said. “When he told me he wanted to go higher, I told him that only leaves Rainier. Now he will pretty much have to go out of the country.
“When we got on the top of Rainier, I told him that he was one of the luckiest kids that I knew,” Hatch said. “He had made it to climber’s heaven at a young age. I would have loved to have had someone take me up when I was that young.”
Hatch said he loves sharing the joy of the sport with younger people.
“It helps me too,” he said. “If you keep doing stuff with younger people, you feel young. I’m at this point, that I know if I don’t use it, I’ll lose it. I plan to just keep going until my body tells me I have to do something easier.”
“I have really enjoyed being able to show Tyler some stuff,” he said. “I hope it sticks. The reward is really getting to the top.”