Brent McGregor

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Sport | Mountain Climbing

Hometown | Sisters

Age | 62

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photo by Kevin Grove

When did you first start mountaineering?

I started climbing mountains when most people my age were retiring from climbing, in my late 40s. I became very interested in the Cascade Range, and in the next few years, I climbed everything from Mt. Lassen in California to Mt. Rainier in Washington. Several of the mountains I summited more than once, climbing several different routes and in different seasons. In my early fifties, I attempted the Three Sisters Marathon which consists of summiting all three mountains trailhead to trailhead and finishing in less than twenty-four hours. I finished in less than twelve hours.

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photos by Brent McGregor

What drew you in?

For several years, I spent all my time with my wood-working business, Rocky Mountain Timber Products. One day, I thought, I don’t want to grow old being remembered solely as a wood worker, I want to do more, see more. I started getting out and involved in the mountains. I learned how to rock climb, and tried canyoneering and mountaineering.

You discovered, then later explored, ice caves in the Sandy Glacier on Mt. Hood in 2011. Tell us what you saw and what it was like entering them initially.

I spent several years searching Oregon’s glaciers for giant glacier caves. After exploring seventeen glaciers on different mountains, I received a tip about the Sandy Glacier Cave. Once I made it up there, that single opening evolved into three major cave systems, which totaled more than a mile of surveyed passage under the glacier. The first trip up, three of us decided to try and find the single cave that was known at the time.

All we had to go by was a photograph showing the cave. But the opening was covered with snow. There was a narrow crevasse-like opening that didn’t resemble the cave. I was the first to rappel into the crevasse. After walking along the narrow ice floor for seventy-five feet, it suddenly opened up into a giant room measuring 80 feet across by 40 feet tall, a giant borehole heading up the mountain under 100-plus feet of ice into total darkness. I was elated with joy to finally be looking at this surreal scene, this mind blowing cave that after our mapping and surveying proved to be the largest glacier cave system in the lower forty-eight states.

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photos by Brent McGregor

I have made more than twenty trips to the caves on the Sandy Glacier–repeated survey and photo documentation trips.

Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. Do you have a sense of urgency?

Climate change is playing hell with our ice. According to glaciologists, the caves in the Sandy Glacier could be melted in fifteen years. The perennial ice that has been found in some of our lava tubes in Oregon is sadly going fast. Like rings in a tree, the ice can hold records of the past.

Not only is there organic debris trapped in ancient ice, there are also microorganisms as well. Some life forms that could also be living on our moon, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and several other celestial bodies. The value of this resource will be lost to science unless ice core samples can be collected and studied now and in the future.  

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photo by Katie Campbell

What’s next on your list?

I will continue to take images to document the changes in the cave environments. I am also involved in the creation of a book about the caves of Oregon with Kara Mickaelson, and I plan to return to the Sandy Glacier Caves as long as I can or as long as they are there.

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photos by Brent McGregor

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