Mt. Hood, Oregon
Elev. 11,239 ft.
Summit date: 10/15/00
On the long drive to Hood from Seattle pre-climb jitters were setting in. I hadn't done a glacier climb in two years. My last Cascade climbing effort was Mt. Adams in the fall of '98. I hadn't done a solo climb in three years (see my Mt. Baker report). And I hadn't been preparing like I did for any of the other Cascade climbs. I've been working my ass off at an Internet start-up which has left me with little time to get in condition for what I consider to be a big climb.
Fortunately, I did get two hikes in in the Catskills two weeks prior to the Mt Hood climb, which had to help somewhat. However, knowing that I was going into this climb twenty pounds heavier than I was for my Mt. Rainier effort didn't have me feeling confidant about my summit prospects. Friday night I arrived at the Timberline Lodge on the southern flanks of Mt. Hood. Checked in to one of the Lodges bunk rooms ($65 night). Accommodations included a small
room with bunk beds and a sink with a shared bathroom down the hall. The room was perfect for my needs, in that my original plan had me staying in a campground down the road. This was a luxurious step up from the campground.
After dumping the gear in the room, I made my way to the lodge bar. The Friday night gang were all there, and after my first beer I started pumping the locals for info on climbing Hood. Well, here I am 3,000 miles from Jersey (home) and the bartender had just arrived to the Hood area a few months prior -- from LONG ISLAND! Boy, talking about feeling at home, I'm drinking with a fellow New Yawka deep in the heart of Oregon. Mike was awesome, in that besides being from NY we both shared the same taste in music (GD and Phish), and he made this out-of-towner feel at home like a local yokel. Mike, tending bar with a cast on his broken foot, was recovering from a glissading accident on Adams a couple of weeks prior. Keep at it Mike, you'll be a real mountain man in no time!
Anyway, the info I was able to gather from those at the bar that night was that October is the absolute worst time of the year to climb Mt Hood. I underestimated how little snow would be on the mountain this time of the year. The contention was that no one goes up this time of the year. Just not enough snow cover on all the loose rock up there. Well, you can guess how that bit of information affected my already shaky confidence.
The next morning I got organized, bought my lift ticket (the horror! I cheated), and headed over to the lift. Hikers are able to ride the lower "Magic Mile Skyride" which offers a nice jump start for those who may be so inclined. This lift ends at the base of another lift which takes skiers and snowboarders another thousand vertical feet higher. After begging the second chair operator to let me on it, with no luck, I proceeded to hike up under this second chair lift. This proximity to the lift riding, teen age "knuckle-draggers" left me as fare game for heckling which persisted for the hour or so it took me to hike up the trail consisting of loose dirt and rock to where that chair lift ends. "How high are you going?" twenty times. "Why aren't you taking the lift?" thirty times. All the while I'm barely able to breath (I was at sea level the day before). Trying to hold a conversation with the fast-moving conversationalists, forty feet above my head, at an elevation of eight or nine thousand feet, with sixty pounds on my back was a real pain in the lungs.
At the halfway point up this trail where I was passed the time counting the lift towers, I took my first break at the lift's midway station. There I had a nice chat with that lift operator who turned down a twenty dollar bribe and wouldn't let me on the lift there either - errrrr. He said how even he would never climb Hood at this time of the year. Just the morale boost I needed in my time of weezing pain. I finally made my way to the top of the lift and sat where all those dirty rotten knuckle draggers got off to make their way down the hill and proceeded to heckle them for a half hour about their inabilities to ski. It was sweet retribution.
From here I had another five hundred vertical feet to climb to reach an area called the Lunch Counter (snow line). Once there, I found a spot protected from the wind (which was blowing at a steady 15-20 knots), set up the tent and passed out for about an hour. I got motivated to make dinner and melt snow just as the sun was going down. Awesome sunset falling with Portland in the foreground. I forgot how long it takes to make water at 9,000 feet, with a pot full taking roughly 23.7 minutes. Hey, I had to put my new wiz-bang Suunto altimeter, thermometer, chronometer, stop-watch, alarm clock to good use.
Climbed back into the tent at about 9'ish, with temps just below freezing, and set the alarm clock for 5am. I woke up at 4am and laid there for about an hour and a half (I kept hitting the snooze button on that wiz-bang alarm clock watch). Got up, made more water and ate two two-year old Pop Tarts I found in an outside pocket of my pack. Age only made them a little chewier. While chewing I couldn't help but wonder whether I was going to get sick from these really old Pop Tarts.
After that hardy breakfast, I donned the crampons, grabbed the ice axe, and started out for the summit. After traversing my way up the big snow field towards Crater Rock, making my way around a couple of big crevasses towards the top of that field, I had to work around the big rock across from Steel Cliff (such inviting names) toward Hogback Ridge. I made my way up to the ridge and followed that to the bergschrund at the base of the chute leading to the summit ridge. It was here that I remember the guys in the bar telling me the best way past the 'schrund is around to the right of it. Well, this is where I met the mid October blues. There was no way around. There wasn't enough snow in place to connect a safe route onto the chute. I sat here for fifteen minutes contemplating defeat. Something that I had not formally considered in my three previous Cascade climbs.
To date, the only mountain I had to turn around on was Ixta in Mexico three years prior. Had my summit luck ran out? Were the gents who were enbibing on "buckets" of whiskey at the bar right? I concluded that they were. I started on my way back down the Hogback. After traveling about fifty yards I stopped, turned around an stared back at the chute and the 'schrund blocking my way. I stared up, thinking to myself how would Alex, Ed or any of the other great climbers I've met or read about at length get around this problem.
After studying left and right I saw a possible route around to the left. I went for it. Going this way required traversing the base of the steep chute which was tricky in itself. I reached the "Pearly Gates" front pointing in the ice with help from the ice axe in one hand and looking for any sketchy hand hold with the other. The volcanic rock on this mountain is loose and it was here in the chute as well (wear a helmet!). The only thing helping me at this point was the
early morning hour and the fact that everything froze over pretty well overnight. After another fifteen minutes of extremely hard work I was up on the slope approaching the the summit ridge.
Making my way onto the ridge was incredible. The snow was whiter than white and the sky beyond the ridge was a blue like the color of the Windows death screen. After a short walk along the ridge I was on top of Mt Hood. Yee-ha! After the obligatory self-portrait of me with Adams, Rainier, and what's left of Mt St. Helens in the background, I noticed some low cloud cover moving in from the west. And with that, the wind was steadily picking up. I made an executive decision and decided it was time to high tail it off the summit before the clouds were on me entirely.
I always say it's easier going up, and descending the chute proved my opinion true again. I don't have lot of experience in front pointing backwards and this task had caught my attention more than anything but my wife and kids. Made it down through the Pearly Gates and the traverse across the lower chute, back down to the edge of the 'schrund. As it winds up, I was little too close to the opening and my left leg started making it's way down through the snow to
the knee. Instantly, I hit the deck with one arm wrapped inside the crevasse and ice axe planted firmly in the glacier. No sooner did I realize that I saved myself from a trip to the bottom of the crevasse then I realized that my pack lid, which was holding some incidentals went flying when I pulled the self arrest move. The lid was nowhere to be found, but problems could have been much greater at that moment. I crawled up to the edge of some of the lower crevasses situated directly below my plunge point, looked into the deep caverns but could not spot the pack lid anywhere. It contained my rubber crampon things and my prized winter conditions Petzl head lamp. You know, the kind that has the battery that hangs around your neck so it stays warm. I know it was a small price to pay to the mountain which let me up and down in the hardest season to climb her.
I made my way back to my base camp, packed up and headed down the mountain to the top of the skier-only chair lift where I shamelessly begged again for a ride down. These guys are consistent with a resounding NO as the answer. Counting the twenty or so lift poles back down to the Magic Mile lift I caught a ride on that one for what I shamelessly considered to be one of the finest chair lift rides anywhere - down the mountain.Back to Morrison's Hiking & Mountaineering Page