Mount Hood is 11,239 feet tall (3,426 meters) making it the tallest peak in Oregon. It lies 50 miles to the East of Portland and is a prominent landmark within view of the city. This makes the peak a popular climb, in fact the second most climbed glaciated peak in the Northern Hemisphere to Mt. Fuji in Japan. I had never climbed Mt Hood. I had a trip planned in 2002 but we decided to bag it the first night because of weather and then the 2nd night as well because we were too tired from climbing all day at Smith Rock. I had been planning to climb Mt. Hood this spring and had been just waiting for the right timing. I had tentatively set up a climbing date when my schedule and my climbing partners schedules all lined up. Now we just needed the weather to agree with us so we could make the attempt. During the week leading up to the climb the weather was forecasted to be good but not great. The weather report improved the day before we were supposed to climb and it finally looked like the tri was going to happen. There were four of us total going on the climb with a combined zero trips up Mt. Hood.
The plan was we were going to meet at my place Friday evening and head up to the mountain. We wanted to be climbing by 11:30 PM giving us enough time to reach the summit and be back down through the danger zone before things warmed up. This is when rock fall and icefall is more likely. We were going to climb the main South Side Route up and take the Old Crater Variation to the summit. This was the most popular route and looked like the safest this season as well. I was the only one of us four with a good amount of experience on the mountain so I did my best to educate them on what to expect. While it is easy to say it will be difficult with the terrain, lack of sleep, and altitude; you just have to experience it on your own.
Friday morning was clear with a few clouds in the sky and it looked like the day was going to be exactly what we wanted. The forecast was for cooler temperatures, a few clouds, and gusty winds on the mountain dying down after midnight. After what seemed to be a long day at work, I got home and started packing for the trip. I knew that some of the guys might need to borrow some items so I got those ready as well. Once 9 PM came we were all loaded up and ready to go. We stopped to get some goodies for the drive and caffeine for the ride home on the way. We arrived at 11:15 PM and began getting ready. At the Timberline Lodge it was in the upper 30’s when we arrived and the wind was blowing fairly steady. Timberline Lodge is at about 5,800 feet on the southwest side of the mountain. It was a bit colder than expected and I was wondering if I had brought enough clothing. We all put on our helmets, headlamps, and crampons upon leaving the parking lot and we were off at midnight. The snow was nice and crusty making for great traction with our crampons. At the base there were also several groups boarding the Snow-Cats up the mountain. If you were willing to pay you could get a ride up to the top of the Palmer Lift saving you 2,700 feet of climbing. We were a bit jealous of these people and kept telling ourselves that we were climbing it right. =)
Once we started up the cat track we started to warm up. If I stopped for too long I would start to get cold so this kept me motivated and moving. At about 7,000 feet one of the guys was just not feeling it and he decided to call it a day. We understood and let him head back to the car for some sleep. He still had a bit of a chest cold and was not feeling as well as he had hoped. Now down to three of us we kept up a good pace up to the top of the Palmer Lift. We took a couple small breaks along the way but made good time up. It is interesting climbing in the dark because there is not much to see. Just the occasional Snow-Cat passing us and little dots of light on the mountain. At the top of the Palmer lift we left behind the cat-track and had to find our own way up the mountain. Climbing Mt. Hood the slope gets steeper as you go, the most technical part of the whole climb is the summit push. Once off the cat-track we just followed other climber’s tracks up the mountain trying to find a good set of steps. These steps made the climbing much easier and we moved up the mountain rather quickly. The snow was still in good condition and on the last section before Crater Rock, we decided to lose our trekking poles and pull out our ice axes.
The last 500 feet up to Crater Rock and Devil’s Kitchen you could smell the sulfur coming out of the mountain. The smell was getting so strong that it was causing me to get an upset stomach. When we reached Devil’s Kitchen I was not doing too well. My stomach was really bothering me and at this point I noticed that my hydration bladder had frozen. Another one of my climbing partners was extremely tired that all he wanted to do was go to sleep. He decided it was best for him to turn around there and we told we would keep on trucking up to the summit. Even though I was not feeling very good, I decided to keep moving a bit higher up. Due to it being colder and windy, I decided to put on my extra layer of warmth and boy was I glad I did. I really wanted to get to the Hogsback so I could see the final section of the route and to know what to expect for the next time if I needed to turn around. The sun was starting to rise now and we were able to see the route finally. The little climb up to the Hogsback I started to feel a bit better and when we finally got on top of it I felt like I could continue on. We hung around up there for a couple minutes taking a break and determining which way we wanted to go. It was incredible to see how many people were up there. I would say there were over 150 people climbing the mountain that day. We decided on crossing the Hot Rocks and then climbing straight up the Old Crater Route from there. There were a couple guided teams in front of us and we just followed them up. The snow had now become crusty ice and people would knock off little chunks from time to time if they were not careful. The climbing was not too difficult and besides getting hit on the hand by one of these golf ball sized ice chunks the climb up was easy.
At 6:15 AM we ascended the final chute and got on the summit. We had to walk another 200 feet or so over to the true summit and the view was great. It was a bit hazy out but you could see the Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Saint Helens. You could even look down on Portland and also see the sun reflecting off the Columbia River to the east. The wind was blowing pretty strong on the summit and since we were not moving it was getting cold quickly. We were up there for a little over 5 minutes and John my climbing partner called his Dad from the summit. It was the only person we figured would be awake at that time. The descent was not too bad, my stomach was bothering me again and we moved fairly slowly down the chute to the snow slopes below. Some teams had actually set up anchors to lower their climbers down, I did not think it was necessary for this and we both felt completely comfortable down climbing. Halfway down to the Hot Rocks the sulfur started to get to me again and this time I had to find a hole to puke into. Not my favorite thing to do but I felt much better afterward. The descent is always so much more tedious than the climb; I am not a fan of descending.
At Devil’s Kitchen we decided to put away our ice axes and pulled out our trekking poles. For the next 1000 feet of descending we slowly switchbacked down the hill. It was still in the shade at this point so we were able to keep cool despite the air temperature rising. My stomach was also still a bit on the unhappy side so I had to do my best not to pound down the hill too much. At about 9,000 feet we stopped to remove a layer and continued on down the slope now in the sunshine. We were able to also start to drink a little water from our hydration packs as they started to finally thaw out. At the top of the Palmer Lift we stopped to remove more layers and also took off our crampons. The snow had now become much softer and we were able to plunge step down. My toes were starting to really hurt though as they were getting beat up by the front of my plastic boots. We kept on trucking down and I swear it felt like 80 degrees out. The wind had virtually stopped and the sun was blasting down on us. I was very envious of all the skiers on the slopes and wished I could snag a pair for the rest of the descent. The last 1,000 feet of the cat-track was 6 inches deep slush but at that point we did not care. We were surprised to see how many people were starting up the mountain at that point in the morning.
At 9:30 AM we reached the parking lot at the Timberline lodge and were just happy to be done. My feet were so sore that I could not wait to get my boots off. This did not help much but it was better. We did find out the temperature was only 47 degrees at the Lodge but it felt so much warmer. The other guys were just coming out of eating breakfast and we piled back into the car for the drive back to Bend. Overall I definitely recommend climbing Mt. Hood. It is a good challenge and a beautiful mountain to climb. The South Side route is not overly technical depending on snow and weather conditions. While May and June are the best times to climb, they are crowded. You will definitely not have the mountain to yourself but this should not deter you, it is worth it. As always, your mileage may vary.
- Ibex Hooded Indie– I used this as my baselayer under my jacket and it kept me at a good temperature most of the way up. The hood was great at filling the gap between the top of my jacket and the bottom of my helmet.
- Outdoor Research Tremor Pants – The more I use these pants the more I like them. They blocked the wind and kept my legs warm the whole way. I really appreciated the thigh zips on the descent.
- Arc’Teryx Alpha LT Jacket – I love this lightweight shell jacket. Block the wind well and the pit zips were great on the descent. Also it is tough to appreciate the higher up pockets until you have a pack on and they are still fully functional due to their location. Good jacket!
- Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 Tights – Comfortable, breathable, and warm. I could not say more.
- Icebreaker Quantum Zip Top – I used this as my extra insulating layer. At first I was afraid I did not pack a thick enough layer for higher up but it toned out to be just about perfect. At 260 g/m2 it was just enough.
- Osprey Talon 44 Backpack – I originally wanted to use my Talon 22 backpack but I was surprised to find out it does not have ice axe loops. I had to use the 44 and it was too big for the little stuff I carried. This caused the axe to move around a bit on my back and sit rather close to my head. Good thing I had a helmet on.