Mt. Hood

17 May 1997 - by Tony Cruz

Last Friday I spent a day at my companys plant in Hillsboro, Oregon. I traveled with one of my engineers, Brad Benson. Brad is Ph.D. in material science and a former geologist with extensive hiking but no mountaineering experience. He decided that climbing Mt. Hood was just the thing to do on his 39th birthday. After work I bought an ice ax in Portland at Oregon Mountain Community, a fine outdoor goods store well stocked with equipment for mountaineers. Thanks to Steve and Aaron for recommending it. Oregon has no sales tax! After some good Chinese Food in Portland we set east on the waterfall highway south of Interstate 84. As the sun set, we had excellent views of the Columbia Gorge and several picturesque falls, most notably Multnomah Falls, which is probably the better part of 300 feet high.

After this scenic drive, we continued south on Highway 35 occasionally getting views of a ghostly white cone in the distance that appeared too big to be real. We took Highway 26 east and before long we were at the Timberline Lodge parking lot at 6,000 feet. We did not know it at the time, but the exterior of the Lodge has been used in several movies, including The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The lodge is enormous and was teeming with tourists.

Next to the lodge is perhaps the best trail head information center Ive see for mountaineers, packed with informative posters, equipped with an audio-visual center and well sheltered from wind. There we spoke to several climbers, including a former guide who had summitted more than 30 times. He and the other locals planned to begin their climb at midnight. I decided to do the same, a development which shocked Brad, who had planned to get a few hours sleep.

The first mile was an uneventful slog over mushy class 1 snow. We reached the historic Silox hut at 6,900 feet where we rested and had some water. For 50 bucks you can take snowcat from the lodge to the hut and spend the night in a bunk, meals included. The restored hut is supported by volunteers and is run by the Timberline Lodge. It is much more economical than the lodge and more rustic. There you feel as I imagine you would in a cabin in Alaska, buried under the snow pack.

After the Silox hut the wind intensified and the snow was firmer. The route gradually became steeper as we pushed on under a mostly cloudless, moonlit sky. I kept my lantern off all night. At 3:30 a.m. we reached a building at the end of the Palmer ski run at 8,500 feet. We had done half the elevation gain and 2/3 the distance to the peak. We added a layer of clothing and watched a snowcat deposit climbing students who had paid $240 for a two-day class including a summit attempt. We found a door and warmed up inside. After a cat nap we fastened our crampons.

We moved up with the other pilgrims, heading to the right of Crater Rock, a prominent feature easily visible during the entire climb from Timberline. The sun came up. The wind intensified until it became a steady roar, blasting snow that stung my face. Climbers appeared out of the woodwork. There must have been three hundred on this route alone! I had not seen such a spectacle since I climbed Mont Blanc in 1992. Many of the climbers were already roped up, an unnecessary precaution to this point.

Taking several cat naps along the way, we crawled to the base of the Hogback just above the Devils Kitchen, a few hundred feet from the summit. Fumaroles steamed on both sides of us and filled the morning air with sulfur. We were actually in the crater. Most of the climbers who had not yet roped up did so at the Hogback. This feature is a gentle snowy ridge, much less exposed than I expected . The well-trampled path made the going even easier than it already would have been. A fall could easily have been arrested. The only concern was falling into a fumarole and this was unlikely. From the Hogback I saw a couple of climbers, one a woman wearing Nikes, on the technical ridge just to the east. Their route must have been much more exciting. The ridge was coated with snow with an unusual texture, as if it had been dipped in foamy white chocolate.

A few climbers got off the Hogback early and crossed the large bergschrund on the left side, after which they did a long traverse to the Pearly Gates, the steep narrow chute before the summit. But the majority of us walked the Hogback and crossed a snow bridge on the right. The crevasse was virtually filled with snow and ice, so a fall would have been more embarrassing than dangerous. Still I was glad that someone had fixed a six-foot length of rope to serve as a hand rail for crossing this, the most difficult obstacle on our route. The crevasse was a bottleneck and dozens of climbers crowded the 45 degree chute leading to the windy summit.

Someone said the wind was about 90 miles an hour. The gusts were so strong that you had to stay low and take care not to be blown off the mountain. Visibility was unlimited. To the north were three giants, Rainier, Adams and St. Helens. To the south were Jefferson, the Sisters and Broken Top.

It was late morning and we wanted to get down quickly before the snow got too soft. So we ate a quick snack, snapped plenty of photos and started down. I was annoyed with Brad, who had never before done a big snow climb, because he quickly descended and crossed the bergschrund where he sat and waited for me. I gingerly cramponed down and nervously went over the snow bridge which was now unprotected by the rope. I felt sorry for an exhausted woman I passed who was belayed every step of the way up the Pearly Gates by two female companions. They virtually dragged the terrified climber up the mountain, telling her everything was O.K. Back on the Hogback we watched dozens more climbers appear from below. We took off our crampons and began the long slog back. Fortunately we were able to glissade at least 2,000 feet. We arrived at the parking lot early in the afternoon, triumphant but dead tired.

We had already given up trying the long route up Adams on Sunday, because this years large snow pack meant an extra 6 miles hiking to the trailhead, making a day hike too arduous. We couldnt get motivated to try Mt. St. Helens either, so we had completed this weekends adventure in the Cascades. Hood was my fifth summit in the Cascades. I would rate our route as technically difficult as the Avalanche Gulch route on Shasta, mostly class 1-2 with a little class 3 snow. Under ideal conditions, Hood requires less effort due to less elevation gain from the parking lot (6 to 11K vs. 7 to 14K).

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