Hood River County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Hood

Dates: June 18-19, 2004
Author: "Papa Bear"
Climbers: "Papa Bear" and PP&R group

I had been planning an attempt on Mount Hood for more than a year. My daughter, who lives in Portland, Oregon, had climbed Mount Hood two years ago (just one week before the disaster that saw 12 climbers killed and a rescue helicopter crashed) and she had loved the experience. She was happy to do it again with me, but felt she was not up to "leading" the climb in a technical sense, so we decided to use the same guide service she had used in 2002.

Guide Service: we used the Portland Parks and Recreation guide service (website, telephone: 503-823-5132), which is one of several that operates on the mountain. The cost was not cheap ($279 plus a non-resident surcharge) but it included a lot of amenities that I considered important: a full day training in basic mountaineering skills, a nearby lodge where we had a big dinner and a place for 4 or 5 hours of sleep, and perhaps most important - a reservation on the snow cat which took us from Timberline Lodge up to 8500 feet, just above the ski area. This eliminated the long slog up along the ski area with it's soft snow surface and 2500 feet of elevation gain. We found this service to be highly qualified and we had a fun group of people to climb with. We were all pretty inexperienced in technical climbing but generally a fit group of people. Other services such as Timberline Mountain Guides were also highly recommended. All the guides seem to know each other and were generally young climbing enthusiasts looking for a seasonal work. Rodney, our guide, was a graduate student at PSU.

If you are technically competent to do the climb without a guide service that is fine but if you skip the option (and expense) of using the snow cat, I suggest you climb the lower section the day before and camp (which is legal above 8500 feet) around 9000 feet and sleep the early part of the evening before starting the upper climb (probably at 1:00 or 2:00 AM if you are reasonably fast). There are several areas that are reasonably flat around the level of Illumination Rock that you might choose. To slog up all the way from the bottom in one continuous climb would be quite an exhausting undertaking. Believe me, our experience on Mount Adams earlier in the week attests to this. One other thing: bring snowshoes for the lower section and cache them around 8500 - 9000 feet. You'll be happy you did and even happier to use them again on the way down.

Day 1 - Snow School: We arrived at Timberline Lodge at 8:00 AM on Friday and were introduced to our guide Rodney and to the other group members. We were responsible for bringing proper clothing and boots, crampons and ice axe. The guide service supplied climbing harnesses and helmets. The Snow School lasted till about 2:30 PM with a break for lunch (on the slopes). It took place in a little gully near the Lodge with a good steep snow slope and plenty of room to learn and practice our skills. In the morning we practiced snow climbing, up slope, traversing and down slope, use of crampons and use of ice axe. In the afternoon we learned and practiced self arrest and then roped up and practiced climbing up, down, and traversing as a team. Lastly, we practiced team arrest. I found it informative and relevant and very helpful when we actually got on the mountain late that night. It was minimal basic mountaineering but it got us through the climb and was a good foundation to work from for future climbs.

The Lodge: We arrived at a beautiful A-frame lodge which was actually a condo in the Trillium Lake area, about 2 miles off route 26 just north of the road up to Timberline Lodge. We spent the afternoon organizing and shmoozing and had an early pasta dinner around 5:30 PM. One guy brought some beer and a surprising number of people decided to imbibe but I decided to put that pleasure off until after the climb. We got to sleep around 6:30 PM and around 10:30 PM people started moving around and I dragged myself out of bed. My daughter unfortunately had come down with some sort of intestinal problem and decided to take a pass on the climb. I was saddened by that turn of affairs but knew that with this type of high exertion - high risk endeavor it was the right decision for her.

Timberline and the snow cat: At 11:30 PM we piled into the cars and returned to the mountain and got to Timberline Lodge just before midnight. A few other climbers were milling around. Rodney put in the climbing permits for the group at the appropriate place and after a group photo, we piled into the snow cat. There were 10 of us in the back (9 climbers and our second guide, Rance) plus Rodney in the front with the driver. It would be hard to imagine fitting anyone else in, but I guess full groups of 12 have been known to fit. The snow cat runs every hour from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM and was booked solid for this weekend.

The prospect of good weather brought everyone to the mountain. PP&R had canceled most of their May scheduled climbs due to bad weather (as had other groups such as Mazama) so this was the first good climbing weekend of the spring season. After a half hour's smelly and noisy climb where we passed 8 or 10 other climbers slowly making their way up on foot, the cat left us off at the top of the ski area at 8500 feet. At last we were set to begin. It was 12:37 AM by my watch.

The Climb

Our route was the standard south face route, up across the Palmer Snow field (in our case by snow cat) then up for a rest stop at the Triangle Moraine. Then up onto the Hogback, across the bergschrund, up thought the Pearly Gates and on the summit. Our strategy was to get an early start so as to minimize the congestion with other climbing groups and to get through most of the snow surface when it was still frozen solid. For a map of the upper part of the route click here. Unfortunately this does not show the mountain as we climbed it. The prominent feature know as the Hogback is not labeled and much of the rocky areas shown were actually snow covered at this point in the season.

Up to the Triangle Moraine: The first part of the climb was done unroped and without crampons. Most of the group had trekking poles but I had decided not to bring mine. This was a mistake since both for balance and support they would have been helpful in this first part of the climb. We switchbacked up across the slope over a moderate grade. I felt pretty strong although one of our group was starting to fall behind. We passed over a small rocky outcrop at about 9600 feet which was the top of the Triangle Moraine, shown on the map by the small red cross marker. Here we took an extended rest of about 15 minutes, put on our crampons and harnesses and roped up. Most groups wait until the bottom of the Hogback, about 800 feet higher, to rope up but our guides wanted us to get some experience with team climbing before the hard stuff started. They used a short rope technique, with about 12 - 15 feet of rope between climbers. The guides said long roping would result in much stronger forces in the event we need to team arrest a falling climber due to the speed at which a fall can accelerate to in a few seconds.

Up to the Hogback: The climb up from the Triangle Moraine was steeper and passed up through a funnel between two large rock outcroppings. At this point the climber who was lagging began to get exhausted and he decided he could not go on. Rodney, our guide, secured the team, unroped and went down to the climber and took him back to the Triangle Moraine area where he set up a bivy for the climber and then returned to our team. Meanwhile we were down to 3 climbers and we followed the other team, led by Rance, up to the Hogback where Rodney would catch up with us. Once through the funnel we climbed diagonally up to the left to arrive a the top of the lower part of the Hogback. There we took another extended rest before the final climb to the summit. So what is the "Hogback"? It is basically a ridge of snow across the old crater and forms a line up to the last steep part of the climb. It is steep but it offers the best climbing route across this area. As an added "bonus", it is bisected by a crevasse known as the bergschrund about midway up the slope. This is where the glacier underlying the slope pulls away from the steeper part of the mountain above. Later in the season this get wider as the glacier pulls away and climbing this section becomes more difficult. Some years this bergschrund is bridged by a snow bridge where the Hogback crosses it but this year there was no such bridge, so we had to traverse to the left and cross the bergschrund where it was narrower.

Up along the Hogback and through the Pearly Gates: This part of the climb was the steepest and we were told it was a bit more difficult than usual due to the lack of a good track in several areas. The use of tracks, consisting of other climbers' frozen foot prints, is a great time and energy saver and where there was a good track we made good progress. Our rope team now was led by Rodney again and consisted of the 3 remaining climbers of our group. Movement along the Hogback was slow but steady. A short distance before the bergschrund we traversed to the left and this was rather easy in comparison. At the point where we crossed the bergschrund it was just a big step but a rather scary one nevertheless. You didn't want to fall in there. The blue glacier ice seemed to glow beneath the white snow covering. I wish I had some pictures of this part of the route but it was too dark and I was too preoccupied with climbing to fiddle with my camera. At this point the sky was lightening since it was close to 5:00 AM. We could see the top of the mountain was covered by a cloud so we would not see the actual sunrise.

After crossing the bergschrund we climbed up towards a rock outcropping and moved around it to the right and regained the upper part of the Hogback. This section was very difficult since several areas were very icy and were difficult to climb with no appreciable track. The last steep part of the climb goes through another funnel between some icy massifs which is known as the Pearly Gates. It is a treacherous but beautiful section. The beauty was enhanced by the cloud, lit from the top by the newly-risen sun, that hung just above the level of the Gates. The last person on our rope, just below me, was starting to tire at this point and she kept asking to stop for a rest. I felt I was pulling her up though this area, although I was no powerhouse myself. But we finally got through the Gates and onto the short easier slope to the top.

The summit: We were in a cloud but visibility was still 20 or 30 feet so we could see where we were going. Finally at 6:05 AM, we reached the summit. There was a heavenly beauty there although unfortunately the cloud precluded any view. About 10 or so others were there ahead of us. Our strategy of starting early had paid off since we didn't need to contend with any down climbing teams on our way up and only a few groups and individuals had passed us going up. We took the obligatory summit pictures and there were the usual phone calls and after 10 or 15 minutes we were off again. The strategy now was to get down before the crowd got too thick and before the snow could soften up.

Going down to the bottom of the Hogback: We reorganized the rope teams when we started down to even them out and I was switched to Rance's team. Going down was easier on my heart but not easier on my legs or mind. The top section through the Pearly Gates and down to the bergschrund was very tiring side stepping and belaying with the ice axe. There were traffic jams with up-climbing teams but lucky for us we seemed to get the right of way by convention. I found the down-climbing much harder than expected and, with my concentration waning, probably more dangerous. When we crossed the bergschrund I stumbled a bit and the rope team leader warned me to watch it. The traverse back to the Hogback was easier but I managed to stumble again. The leader warned me that if I lose my feet I need to be sure of my ice axe - which I wasn't. We finally reached the rest spot near the bottom of the Hogback and I tried to recover from my very tiring experience of the previous hour and a half.

Down to the Triangle Moraine: I opted to stay roped down this section since I was not 100% confident of myself, especially my mental alertness. Most of the others got unroped at this point. My legs were getting wobbly and I stumbled again yelling "falling". I was not happy at this point but we were soon down to the Triangle Moraine, where the terrain got easier and we finally unroped and took off the crampons. We took another well-deserved rest and a few more pictures of what had been too dark to see on the way up.

The last bit: From the Moraine to the bottom was easier but it eventually became a long slog through soft snow. As we got close to the top of the ski slopes (around 8500 feet), the snow got softer and softer and we began to post-hole. I missed my trekking poles, as on the way up, but I also wished I had brought snow shoes and stashed them somewhere for going down this section. The worst part was the last couple of miles along the side of the ski slope, where the cat had taken us last night. This seemed interminable with tired muscles and soft snow making it a real chore. But all things come to an end and at around 10:15 AM, my feet finally hit the pavement at Timberline Lodge. I turned in my harness and helmet, said goodbye to everyone and was done with the Glorious but exhausting Mount Hood.

One more comment: this was not a tourist climb! It was as hard as any marathon I've run (and I've run 15 marathons). If you climb this mountain, prepare well and take it seriously!

photos - The Mount Hood pictures start at page 9 of the album.