Although I had been climbing on a number of the Cascade Volcanoes for the last several years, I had avoided Mount Hood. I had never thought too much about climbing the mountain and I knew my wife was concerned about the accidents that were commonly reported on the news every few years. As I contemplate my thoughts now, I think I felt hitting altitudes on Mount Adams that were higher than Hood, that the climb didn't interest me enough to make my wife more uncomfortable than she already was.
After a successful summit of Mount Rainier in May of 2016, I started to consider the idea of climbing Hood. I felt the technical requirements, crevasses danger, distance, and altitude on Rainier were substantially more then those of Hood and I was really just "pretending" that I was "sparing my wife" at that point. I also must confess I was growing weary of answering "No" every time someone asked me if I had climbed Hood upon learning that I was "into climbing". I realize the later is not a good reason to climb a mountain. However, Hood seemed to be a "marker"for the average person despite my opinions that is was no where near as technical as Rainier or physically demanding as Adams.
Around the Spring of 2017 four other climbers who were quickly becoming my regular partners on vertical adventures had decided it was time to attempt Mt Hood. One of these climbers, Aaron, and I decided to make a training run up to the bottom of the crater on snow shoes. This severed as great opportunity to get"the lay of the land" on the South side of Hood and see what the conditions were like this season.
Since we weren't summiting we left the Wyeast lodge about 6AM on April 9th, 2017 and headed up the climbing trail from the East parking area. There was some decent powder that morning and the snowshoes came in very handy. We used the televators built in to our snowshoes and made an easy, but certainly not slow, pace up to the top of the Palmer lift house.
We had decided with all the recent snow fall, we would make a call about heading up beyond Palmer once we arrived. The avalanche report was pretty good that morning and the slope above the Palmer lift house was mostly ice and very stable. This side of the Mountain is usually fairly safe until your near the crater wall. We decided to go ahead and make our way up towards Crater Rock.
We continued our easy pace up toward the crater. When we got within a few hundred meters of Crater Rock we started to get a whiff of sulfur coming from the infamous furmaroles in the crater. This smell coming from the Devils Kitchen area. This is the furmarole to the climbers right of Crater Rock. We proceeded up until we found a spot at the bottom of the crater, near the foot of Crater Rock, where the sulfur was being blown over our heads high enough that we couldn't smell it. At this point we took a break to grab some food and admire the amazing views in the crater.
You really can't appreciate how beautiful the ice formations on the crater walls are until you see them up close and in person. I finally understood why people like to climb Hood so much. Visually it's much different then the other mountains in the area. We could see the Hogs Back was just 20-30 minutes above our current location, and then the summit was a mere 200-300 vertical meters above that. Climbers were coming down off the summit at that point and it was very tempting to just go for the summit. Unfortunately, that was not in the plan for the day and we had left late in the morning and the sun was out in full force on the crater wall. I'm sure we could have easily hit the summit, but that was not the well planed lowest risk possible approach that we always attempt to follow. We snapped a few photos, changed out some gear, and headed for the lodge. We made it back without incident. Total ascent for the day was around 4,500 ft (1,400 m), in about 8:23 including stops for breaks and photos. We definitely had beautiful conditions and left the parking lot ready to return and attempt the summit very soon.
All of the photos, accept for the Palmer lift house, are from Aaron's iPhone 7.
After the successful training run, we decided it was time to make our first summit attempt. We checked the weather daily, monitored the avalanche reports, and decided on April 29th. A couple members of our climb posse thought the fresh snow was still too dangerous for their liking. Three of us, myself, Jeremy, and Larry got our gear together and hit a Dutch Bros in Gresham about 10 PM for some energy drinks and coffee. We headed up to Timberline Lodge and hit the mountain side about 12:15 AM.
Things started off great as we made our way up towards Silcox Hut. We felt pretty good, but took a short break anyways and then headed up towards Palmer. It's quite a jaunt from Silcox to Palmer. When we arrived, we noticed it had gotten a lot colder. When you stop climbing and take a break, your heat leaves you fast. We knew this and were reaching for another layer in our packs. However, with the extreme cold, we decided to grab our heaviest layers and large gloves or mitts. Even still, the cold was penetrating. I was wearing double mountaineering boots that have a second synthetic boot inside the main boot. However, Larry and Jeremy were wearing single mountaineering boots and their feet were getting very cold. Singles are usually perfect for Mountains like Hood and mine should have been overkill. Regardless, we had to stop on the Palmer glacier for Jeremy and Larry to try and warm their feet. They crammed oxygen activated warming packets into the front of their boots. Meanwhile, my legs were cramping bad, every step I could feel my hamstring lock. We fussed about for a few minutes on the side of the mountain and then continued on.
We made our way up the Palmer towards Crater Rock in discomfort, with a decent amount of distance between each of us. I think subcoiunsly, we knew we would just be complaining if we could communicate easily. We blasted through Devils Kitchen and up onto the Hogs Back. My legs were starting to calm, but still seemed angry with me. I knew Larry and Jeremy's feet had to be frozen. I grabbed my avy-shovel and started digging a wind break into the side of the Hogs Back. When they arrived we took a bit of a break in the hole I had created. We sat their silently shivering, not saying much. This happens when were in "first person to say lets go down and we'll all agree" mode - we just don't talk.
At this point I'm thinking we better get moving soon or were not going up. Feeling cold and cramped up, I causally ask "should we rope up or just go for it"? We had agreed a head of time we were going to use a glacier rope and place protection up the crater wall through the "Pearly Gates". Larry looks at me dead eyes and says "If our wives see us in pictures up the crater wall with no rope..." he didn't have to finish, I knew he was right. We pulled out our harnesses and I started setting up our rope. We we're using a 40 meter 8.2mm glacier rope and setup about 30 feet apart. We had four 24" pickets for protection.
We started up the Hogs Back onto the crater wall and started placing protection a couple hundred feet up where it turned into a 50 degree slope. I was getting concerned about having enough pickets for our small 60ft rope length. Turned out, Timberline Mountain guides was on the crater just a head of us, and they were roped up and placing protection too. We started alternating pickets with their placements and were able to get up to the gates without reseting anything. We deiced to go to the climbers left side of the Pearly Gates, no one seemed to be using the right side. There was a ton of traffic on the route and long lines trying to get through the gate chute, alternating with ascending and descending climbers. People started to get impatient and jump around other climbers. I immediately understood why accidents happened up on Hood and was extremely happy to be on a rope with protection placed. We waited patiently for our turn to get through the gate chute and up above the congestion. Passing through the Pearly Gates is incredibly beautiful and thrilling with all the rime ice coating the walls.
After all three of us got up through the chute, Jeremy proclaimed he wasn't going an inch further until he checked his frozen toes. He sat down on the semi-flat area 100ft (30m) below the summit and pulled off his boots, and then his socks. By this time the sun was up and it was starting to warm up. We wrapped his feet in Larry's parka and laughed at him as his toes thawed out and he grimaced in pain. Once Jeremy's toes were thawed, we made our way up the short distance to the summit.
We were pretty happy to make the summit on our first attempt and with so many issues during the ascent. We roped back up and prepared to fight back through the crowds. It took a bit to get through the chute. We waited at the top for climbers coming through on the way up, and others tried to pass us and force their way into a chute with room for one person and a large drop to no-where at the end. I stuck my ice ax out in front and made it clear "we weren't standing their for the view". Once the chute cleared of uphill travelers, we made are way down. Timberline Mountain guides was a head of us and pulling their hardware as they went. With out their placements, we passed our spare pickets down the rope as needed to make new placements.
Once we made it back to the Hogs Back, we felt a sense of relief knowing the most technical part of the days climbing was complete. We took a short break and I repacked our rope and hardware. The side hill of the Hogs Back is relatively steep and the Devils Kitchen furmarole acts as a funnel at the bottom of the hill. It may be wise for less experienced or concerned climbers to stay roped up through this section. We took the most direct path that leads between the furmarole and Crater Rock. A safer option may be to take a wide berth around the vent and slice the flatter section of terrain that resides between the furmarole and the crater wall.
Once we made it through the Devils Kitchen section it was the typical down hill slog you find at the end of most climbs. We're big on glisading, but the terrain and lack of consistent steep slope below the crater meant we had a lot of walking to do. These walks off the mountain always seem never ending. Eventually we all arrived back at the lodge and happily changed into fresh clothes in the Wyeast Lodge restrooms. I hit the gift shop for some of their rare huckleberry licorice, while Jeremy and Larry planned where to get an after summit beer!
As soon as we got home, the rest of the guys were talking about when we could hit it again so they could attempt to summit as well. Larry had schedule conflicts and Jeremy had enough Hood for one season, so I made plans with Aaron and Eric to make another attempt. We planed out a trip for May 19th, 2017 and their buddy Todd decided to join us as well.
The four of us started up the climbers trail near the lodge on the freshly plowed "snow road", created by the Timberline Lodge snow-cat operators who were preparing the ski runs for the next day. Things started off well. We were making a decent pace and the temperatures seemed to be a little warmer than the last trip which was very welcome. However, as we started to approach Silcox hut, I noticed Eric was slowly falling behind. This was not normal at all. Normally Eric is hard charging out of the gate and we need to lasso him so we can all keep up. As we pulled into Silcox landing, Eric confessed that he had hyper-extended his knee halfway up and it wasn't feeling right at all. He needed to go back down before it got worse. I stated that I would go down with Eric. I had already summited and Todd had technical experience to get he and Aaron to the summit. Aaron said, no, he would take Eric down and I would take Todd to the summit. All of a sudden Eric piped in "STOP! No one is taking me down. I can see the parking lot from here. Forty more climbers are going to walk past me, along with several snow-cats. I can make it back down fine." We reluctantly agreed, he made good points, but we didn't like leaving a partner on the mountain without his team. I gave him the keys and he said he would be sleeping in the truck when we got down.
Eric started making his way down one thousand vertical feet, about a mile. Aaron, Todd, and I started heading up towards the Palmer lift house. We made good time up to Palmer and put on our crampons when we arrived. The temperature at Palmer was not near as cold this time which I welcomed happily. We made our way up towards the crater without incident, doing a bit of traversing on the steep section just below Crater Rock. We took a quick break where the snow flattens out as you arrive into the crater. This is the spot Aaron and I had stopped to turn around on our scouting run several weeks back. It offers great views of the North and East sides of the crater on clear days and we could see climbers moving up and down through the Pearly Gates above the Hogs Back. Once we had taken a quick break, we stated to head up between Crater Rock and the Devils Kitchen Furmarole to gain the Hogs Back.
It's not very far, but the snow gets steep as you near the top of the "snow spine" running between Crater Rock and the North Crater wall that we call the Hogs Back. Each step was into soft windblown snow thats drains your energy when your already tired from several hours of climbing up to the crater. When we finally toped out onto the Hogs Back I started to lay out our rope and get my harness on. As Todd and Arron jumped into their harnesses I suggested Todd lead with Aaron in the middle and me bringing up the rear. I had lead last time and wanted try and captures some good images of Todd and Aaron with my GoPro camera. Todd was experienced with the gear and so I felt this would be a good configuration. We used the same 40m rope, 10m spacing, and 4 pickets as with the previous trip. There was no one else using protection that day, so I told Todd we would have to wait until we were up on the face before we could place our first picket if we didn't want to reset half way up.
We decided to go through the right gate this trip. The right side offered zero congestion as no one seemed to be going through it, but it looked very climbable to us. There was some ice just below and through the right gate, which made it very hard for Todd to get the pickets to go in. As I saw him working away, I wished I had brought a couple of ice screws. He eventually got them to go and we worked our way through the icy chute and up to the snow above the gates.