Clackamas County Highpoint Trip Report
Mount Hood (11,239 ft)
Dates: February 25 and 26, 2005
Author: Ben Knorr
I had previously tried to climb Mt. Hood in early June of 2004 with a
friend in Salt Lake City. We did the prerequisite course with
Timberline Guides (even though both of us had taken a mountaineering
course through Exum in April) on the first day in a misty rain the
whole day. The next day, with most of our clothes still a little
damp, we were able to climb from the top of the Palmer chairlift to
the base of the Hogsback. That was as far as we could get due to poor
weather and unstable recent snow. We were the only ones that tried to
climb it that morning.
Fast forward to December of 2004 -
I'd talked with a co-worker about climbing mountains, and found he'd
been up most of the Cascade volcanoes during his time in college.
He didn't understand the appeal of wanting to climb a mountain like Hood
in summer, as I had tried. He explained that in winter, there are
less people., better snow, less crevasses...sounds a lot more
convenient and safer to me! Anyway, I had given it some thought,
and found out Daniel of Txmountaineer.com was planning a winter trip this year.
He decided on February 25th, 2005. I booked a flight in
advance to tag along, and hoped for good weather.
As the date approached, it became clear that the Pacific Northwest was
in the midst of a horribly dry and mild winter. Snow fell on the
weekend before our trip, and it was clear and sunny for the rest of
the week. As luck would have it, there would be a nearly full moon on
our trip too (and at night to boot!). Everything was falling into
place.... As Mr. Burns would say- Exxxcellent. The only drawback was
that the snowpack on Mt. Hood is somewhere around 25% of average for
this time of year. Climb soon, or don't climb in summer this year!
February 24, 2005
I flew from SLC to PDX (1.5 hours late!) a few hours after work.
Because of the flight delay, my hopes of a nap faded. It was the
beginning of a new no-sleep record for me. Right from the airport to
my sister's house we went. I re-packed my bag and booked it up to the
Timberline Lodge to meet up with Dan and Don (of Vancouver, WA who has
climbed Hood 8 times previously).
February 25, 2005
It should be noted that a Snow-park Pass is required to park anywhere
near the mountain in winter (even at night). The passes are $4.00 and
can be picked up almost anywhere near Mt. Hood. After forgetting
about this fact, I was lucky enough for a guy that was closing up the
lodge to slip me a free pass. I won't reveal your name,
anonymous federal employee - trust me.
We went ropeless since Don didn't have a harness with him, and he
speculated that it wasn't necessary on the south side/Hogsback route
because of the low crevasse danger. Our walk began at 1:30AM on the
25th from the parking lot at the lodge. A few minutes out, Dan became
stricken with flu symptoms. Apparently he'd been sick recently, and
speculated he may not be fully recovered yet. A bummer for sure, on
such a pretty night! Because of the moonlight, we never needed our
headlamps at all. We slowly continued up the ski-slopes, but were
only passed once by two fellows. It looked like a quiet night for
climbers. We made it to the top of the Palmer chairlift around 5AM if
I remember right...and lucky for us (it seems that I may have been a
lucky guy to this point!), the Palmer chairlift shed/operator booth
were open completely and all the lights on. We rested in the booth
(note- nobody was around to tell us *not* to do this, and no posted
signs were seen) which had a heater. This seemed a little too
exotic...Dan didn't think he could continue, and figured he would end
up going down from there. Don and I left the shed and strapped on
crampons for the rest of the way.
A few minutes after leaving the Palmer lift area,
Don started feeling dizzy and cold in his hands.
We kept taking breaks, but Don seemed to also be suffering from altitude
effects due to him having the flu a couple weeks previously. We made
it to a little over 9,000 feet and decided to just watch the sunrise
and see if we could spot any climbers on the hogsback yet. We had
both seen what looked like two crevasses on the Hogsback, but it was
difficult to see for certain since neither of us had binoculars.
After the sunrise at 6:45AM (five minutes before the GPS thought it
would rise), I soaked up the views, unsure if I'd see them again
anytime soon. Don was getting cold, so we headed back down towards
the lodge. After waking Dan up, we found that Don's van had a flat
tire from all the gravel that is dumped on the road up to the lodge.
We helped him change it, and decided to split. I had briefly
considered coming back up to the mountain later that night, since I so
wanted to see how far I could comfortably go.
After napping in Portland for four and a half hours (I had been up for
about 33 hours), my sister and I went out to eat, and I tried to think
clearly about whether or not I should try Hood again. On one hand, I
was utterly exhausted from not sleeping much. I also contended that
I'd gone halfway up the mountain already, and doing it all again so
soon would probably be quite difficult. Oh, and I was now feeling a
cold coming on too (sniffle, sore throat). A couple of beers later,
and I thought 'well, see how you feel at midnight.' After snoozing
for a half hour or so while watching Tommy Boy, I decided that as long
as I don't fall asleep at the wheel, I would try it again. I knew
that the weather was still forecast to be clear at least until late
Saturday night. I also knew that there would be other climbers on the
Hogsback route, so I might be able to pseudo-tag-along with them.
February 26, 2005
At about 12:15, I started back out towards Timberline Lodge.
There was a low-lying layer of cloud perhaps up to the 3,500 foot level.
It made for a foggy drive. Once again, Mt. Hood poked out of the forest
in the moonlight, which was the most incredible experience the night before.
I had never been able to see Mt. Hood unshrouded the previous June.
It is truly a massive mountain, the likes of which I had never
seen before. By 1:15AM, I arrived at the lodge, this time to at least
twice as many cars. The cup of coffee I downed was a lifesaver - I was
firing on all four cylinders again (turbo 4cyl?). The snow was the
same as the night before- a good lightly frozen icy mix that was easy
to walk on. It had also been freshly groomed too. Apparently
climbers are supposed to use the cat-track to the East of the ski area,
but like the night before, I continued up a gully slightly to
the East of the lift. I walked with a guy named Brad for a little bit,
and decided to forego a break until I reached one of the lodges at
mid-ski-run level. I met two guys (I think they were Thomas and John?
they were hilarious) and walked with them off and on up to the top of
the Palmer chairlift. I was comfortably walking without a headlamp
due to the moonlight, in a fleece long sleeve shirt and fleece vest
with only a baseball cap.
Upon reaching the Palmer lift house at the top, I put on another layer
and cramponed up. There were a few other people at the lift house,
and a few others already above it heading up. After a few minutes,
we proceeded up the slopes, past where I had visited yesterday.
Everyone kept a good pace, which I liked since I didn't want to sweat
too much and get wet/cold. Eventually, the snow became a little
harder, but there were good bootprints all over to use. Various
groups took breaks and a few of the groups eventually merged together
(I was more or less tagging along with John and Thomas). I didn't
feel that I needed to have the axe out until just before reaching the
Hogsback. The bootprints were easy to follow still. I reached the
Hogsback by 6:30AM and saw the sky rapidly growing lighter.
Surprisingly, I saw a guy had bivied on the Hogsback since 4:00 AM or so!!
It looked quite chilly. I didn't have a thermometer, but I
would guess that it was 15-20F at this point. Eventually, several of
the groups arrived (along with some solo folks) and it looked like it
was finally time for me to go further than I'd gone before. I was #2
in line going up the Hogsback, which had a good track that looked like
it went all the way up to the Pearly Gates. The bergschrund was indeed
snowed over on the east side and on the top of the ridge, but had some
cracks open to the west. The slope became steep after crossing it, and I
bypassed a fellow who had to stop and readjust a crampon.
Near the Pearly Gates, it became icy with very hard snow all around.
I wasn't sure of which way to go, as it all looked steep and slick.
Feeling at the edge of my "comfort zone", I slowly progressed up the very hard snow.
I kept trying to pound my axe into the snow, but it would only
go in a couple inches. My mind was definitely somewhere else,
as somebody below yelled to use the pick "that's what it is for"
... of course that is why it is there! THANK GOD! Here I am,
a mountaineering novice, trying to stick the shaft of my axe in,
and befuddled and scared as it seems nothing is working. When I started
using the pick, it felt more natural. Duh. After a few minutes,
the re-adjusted crampon guy caught up and passed me.
Once out of the gates, it eased up a little and the snow was a little less iced over.
I walked up and finally saw the northern horizon over the summit.
Breathtaking is an understatement to how I felt upon seeing the view.
Mount Saint Helens looked to be only 30 miles away, Mount Adams the same.
I could hardly believe that I'd made it. It had taken me roughly 5 hours from
the car to the top. It was sunny, clear, relatively windless, and
views that were mind-blowingly awesome for my tired mush lump of grey
matter to soak up. I saw the Cooper Spur, that John had ascended
after three unsuccessful attempts the previous year (this was his
first Hogsback trip, but second summit). Very cool.
Volcanoes everywhere, a glacier at my feet...WOW.
The summit was ice covered snow, but not as thick as in the Pearly Gates.
On one hand, I was so happy to be there, but on the other,
I thought how unsure I was of getting down safely. A quick question to
one of the solo'ers got me a couple tips that would hopefully help me
get down. After a lot of pictures and a shot of Jagermeister from a very
generous climber, I began the decent after it looked like most of the
group that arrived at the Hogsback around 6:45 had topped out. I watched
a few guys go down backward, which looked like the logical way for me.
Apparently some people are comfortable with slowly walking down forward -
I only saw myself slipping and unable to arrest, so backwards I went.
It must have taken 30 minutes for me to enter the Pearly Gates,
and to get to the bergshcrund. The guys ahead of me had found
some bootprint steps that helped immensely. I turned forward and
comfortably walked down after reaching the bergshrund. I don't recall
how long it took for me to get down the mountain, but it was a while
since I wanted to call my sister to make sure she knew I was down safely.
One tip for the decent that I hadn't considered - flexible
plastic sleds that can be rolled into a tube are efficient means of
decending the ski area where shmucks like me need to walk...
and walk...and walk. The overall trip from car to car was about 10 hours
with a lot of putzing on the decent.
After reaching the car, I tried to reflect on all the emotions I felt
on the climb. Perhaps it was since I was climbing around people I
hadn't really known, or perhaps it was that I was feeling like a
chicken while ascending and decending the icy section of the Pearly Gates.
Honestly, it was the scariest thing I have ever done on a mountain.
I am very grateful that experienced climbers were near
enough to correct my potentially dangerous mistakes (not using the
pick when the snow/ice became too hard). While my "comfort level" is
now higher, as always when doing something more difficult, I have a
greater respect for proper technique and for steep hills. What is
easy to read about proved to be difficult psychologically to overcome.
Now, I'm far more interested in ice climbing. I am a mountaineering
novice, and now freely admit it.