June 13-15 2014 Mount Hood, Oregon
Oregon, Mount Hood: June 13-15. Late afternoon of June 13 (yep, Friday the 13th) I began my drive to Mount Hood. I got a very late start due to my daughter locking her keys in her car. I had planned to drive to Boise, ID from my home in Utah and find a spot to sleep for a good night of rest prior to my attempt at Mount Hood - my very first state high point - what a crazy place to start! I had planned to start on the East Coast and work my way west while preparing myself for the larger mountains and ultimately Denali. As luck would have it I met a great group of local guys who were preparing to summit Mount Ranier. I decided to join them and so, my journey begins in the Pacific Northwest.
As it was I didn’t leave home until after 8pm and made it to Boise around 1am. This allowed me about four hours to sleep before I would have to leave in order to make it to the mountain on time to take the Miracle Mile ski lift up to scout out the trail before my attempt. I tried fairly unsuccessfully to sleep in my truck until around 5am at which point I got back on the road. Had a beautiful drive through Idaho and Oregon to Hood. I made it to the Timberline Ski Lodge on schedule June 14 but the mountain was entirely socked in. I decided to enjoy the lodge while I watched the weather. If you have not visited here, it is a must see. Timberline is a beautiful rustic lodge with fantastic food and ambiance.
The weather was bad most of the afternoon and I messaged my Ranier crew (who I would meet in a few days) that I did not think I would make the Hood attempt. I spent most of the day in the lodge and out at my truck arranging gear and trying to get glimpses of the mountain for a good picture. Weather report started looking a little better late afternoon (after the lift had already closed) so I decided to go for it as long as the weather looked good in the middle of the night and the forecast looked good for the next morning. Went back to truck around 5pm and got all my gear together (filled water bottles, packed emergency gear – compass, extra clothing, sleeping pad, fuel, stove, etc – along with camera equipment).
I planned to leave around 11pm for the summit. Woke around 11 to find the area cold, windy and socked in again with very little visibility. Geared up and checked into the climbing center where I met a guy named Steve who had climbed the mountain several times who said he would not go tonight. He was cool and gave me a printed sheet with compass coordinates in case I lost visibility. I was about to give up due to the wind and blowing snow when I saw a group near the trail head. I walked over and chatted with them. They were from Seattle and had driven down earlier that day for the summit attempt. They said that it was pouring rain their entire drive and they didn’t like the look of things either but felt like they’d hike up a couple thousand feet to the Silcox Warming Hut and then decide from there. I asked if I could tag along and they said sure.
I hiked up with them and it was tough. They were a fast crew and I was heavily loaded (having followed all of the recommendations for emergency gear instead of just taking a light day pack). It was also very cold and windy. When we got up a couple thousand feet, however, we found ourselves above the clouds with a fantastic view of the mountain above us. We were cold and the wind was fierce at times but we could now see the mountain and an amazing moon which reinvigorated us. We kept on going and had excellent visibility almost the entire time (apart from the occasional cloud that would blow through and blind us for a few minutes). We had several encounters with snow cats taking climbers up above us and returning to base. They didn’t much respect our “lanes” and we found ourselves scrambling off the boot path many times to get out of their way. Trail was very frozen and hard due to the winds which cleared off anything loose leaving a hard crusted ice/snow combination (you can see this in the picture of a climber on the actual summit). We stopped to put on crampons and get out our ice axes. This was a great decision as the footing was treacherous. Our climbing was fast and furious with a guy named Ben and others in the group (Jeremy was the guy I spoke with in base who welcomed me to join them) leading the way. With my heavy pack it was very physically challenging but I enjoyed their company and was determined to keep up so as not to have to go it alone on that big cold mountain.
As we got up directly under the summit with the large cliffs and head walls above us the wind was kicking off rocks and ice chunks. I took a hard blow to my helmet but didn’t really feel it. Another guy in the group who wasn’t yet wearing his helmet also took an ice chunk to the head and it nearly dropped him. Luckily he had on a thick beanie and hood which somewhat softened the blow, but he was dazed for a bit. He promptly put on his helmet. As we made our way up a large bergshrund had opened under the Pearly Gates (the most common approach to the summit) so we were forced to traverse to the side (climber's left) and summit via the Old Chute. It was very steep, icy and rocky. From a feature called the Hogsback all the way to the top it was hard, crusted ice and heavy winds. We had to be very careful and work both our crampons and ice axes diligently to keep from slipping. We had decided not to rope up to save time and also because it was so steep and the ice so hard we didn’t feel like we would be able to help one another if someone began to slide. We picked our way up and through the chute and summitted before 6am to a beautiful view with clouds and peeks of the sun. It was one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. With the clouds below us and the sun peeking through them from below the view was astounding. We hooped and hollered a bit and gave each other high fives.
I took group pictures for them and they took some of me and then I set out to take vista shots. They were kind enough to wait for me as I took my photos and they rested, enjoyed the scenery and took pictures of their own. As we decended through the Old Chute we started seeing other climbing groups ascending. Thank goodness we descended when we did – there were numerous rope teams ascending and it would have caused us a huge delay waiting for all the up climbers had we not gotten back down through the chute before the masses arrived (: As we decended a couple of guys in our group decided to save their energy and time by glissading (controlled sliding versus hiking). This didn’t last long do to the extreme hardness of the packed snow and ice. As they careened down the slope they were barely able to stop themselves before slamming into rocks at a cliff’s edge. I watched them and decided to leave my crampons on and continue trudging down. The day was beautiful and the sun warming so walking was fine. I made it back to my truck and basked in the glow of having completed my first state high point and the wonderful adventure it was with a group of guys I had just met at the trailhead. Honestly, had it not been for them, given the nature of the weather and the sketchiness of the trail I would not have attempted it. Having found a group of prepared climbers and joining them I felt much more secure hiking up through the weather until clearing the cloud tops and enjoying star and moonlight all the way to the top.
I could also barely walk later that day – I had prepared well hiking with heavy packs in Utah, but the steep and direct approach route and extended time in crampons took a huge toll on my Achilles. I drove north to Washington to catch a soccer match happily limping the next couple days as I rested my weary legs for the next adventure – Mount Ranier.
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