Mt Hood, Oregon
Dinah & I camped in an RV park in Welches, OR and I met with Timberline Guides for an orientation and a snow climbing class. They showed as how to climb steep snow slopes with and without ice axe and crampons, and we practiced roped travel. The guide warned us that we would face extreme cold temperatures and that even thou’ the forecast said 20% change of precipitation, it WOULD rain. We were told to go home, get some sleep, and show up back at Timberline Lodge at 12:30AM dressed to climb.
I arrived at 12:15 dressed in long underwear, shorts and my hiking Hawaiian shirt, insulated top and bottom, Gortex rain pants and jacket, mountaineering boots and gaiters, warm hat, heavy mittens, helmet, headlamp, and climbing harness, and carrying a pack of about 20 pounds with snacks, water, a heavy coat for rest stops, extra gloves, goggles, sun glasses, an insulated shirt, crampons, ice axe, hiking poles, and a few other items. But temperatures were in the 40s at elevation, winds were around 10MPH, and I ended up shedding the insulated layer and leaving it in the car.
We boarded a Snowcat for the ride to the top of the ski area at about 8,500 feet, turned on our headlamps, and started up the slope. We would hike about 1 mile to the top during which we would gain about ˝ mile of elevation. We had started as 8 clients, including a family of 4, and 3 guides, but I believe the 2 youngest family members had dropped out before we started.
On the lowest slopes we kicked steps with our boots, and used hiking poles for balance. As the snow got harder and steeper we added crampons, and when we reached the top of the ridge near Devil’s Kitchen, we stashed our hiking poles, pulled out our ice axes and roped up into 3 teams, each with a guide leading. My team consisted of 3 men, a 2nd team was the 2 remaining family members, and I think the 3rd team consisted of 1 woman. Each team headed up at their own pace, and we passed and were passed by other teams. The moon was almost full, and the sun was beginning to rise on the other side of the mountain. Behind us Mt Hood cast a giant shadow that appeared to be a perfect pyramid.
A few hundred feet from the summit the snow became steep enough that our guide built an anchor in the snow, tied us into it, and then continued up a snow chute alone to place another anchor above the steepest part. We then unclipped from the lower anchor and climbed the steepest part of the route, protected by a rope attached to the upper anchor. A short traverse across the summit ridge took us to the top of Mt Hood, 11,239 feet; the highest point in Oregon. We arrived about 5:30AM Our guide said that the weather conditions (warm temperature, little wind, no precipitation, good visibility) were the best he had seen at the top.
After 10 or 15 minutes taking pictures, making phone calls, and enjoying the view, we traversed back to the snow chutes where we descended by an easier chute. Our guide had to place another anchor at the top of the 2nd chute and took a while to do so, telling another guide that he needed a strong anchor because he had “a lot of meat” hanging from his rope.
When we had down climbed to the lower anchor, I needed to clip our rope into it, and when I bent to do so, my water bottle slipped from its position on my pack strap and started down the slope. In no time this Gaiteraid bottle full of water gained speed and became a deadly weapon. Amid shouts of “Water Bottle” we watched it careen down the slope, fortunately missing everyone below and disappearing off the side of the travel route. On future mountains I need to carry my water inside my pack.
Climbing up had been hard on the heart and lungs, but climbing down was hard on about everything else. My back, knees, and ankles were soon sore. The snow remained hard, and so we continued with crampons, until we reached the spot where the snowcat had left us. At that point we had come down 1 mile and, since the snowcat was not going to take us down, we still had about 2 miles, and 2,500 feet of elevation to go. The snow was slushy and slippery and that last 2 miles seemed a lot harder than the first 1 mile. I was a happy camper when we finally reached the Timberline Lodge. Just 3 more high points to complete the lower 48!