I climbed Mt Hood yesterday.
Trip Report follows.
7:00 am Summit Ridge
I arrived at the top of the Old Chute to find a hand-width ridge of wind swept snow at the terminus of the chute. My calves had stopped at the bottom of the chute in protest. They sat down with a good view of the hot rocks and told me not so politely that they might not be there when I got back down to them. But then I'm jumping ahead.
12:55 am Timberline Lodge
Steve and Nat and I loaded up and started on our way. We got to Timberline Lodge at about 10 pm Monday night. Nat and I had been watching the weather stay mostly stable for the week before. The forecast looked clear and stable through Tuesday evening. We each asked for a day off from work and got it (I know, not so hard core to use a day of actual vacation time for a last minute climb). Steve (our third) worked as a nurse and had time off until Thursday. He had also been watching the weather closely. We loaded into the cars after a good dinner and jetted up to the lodge. Nat and I grabbed almost 2 hours of fitful sleep in the car while Steve organized his gear and relaxed in the climbers hut.
We tromped around near the climbers trail to test the snow. We had snowshoes in the car, but the snow seemed mostly good for boots. We only sank a few inches on the worst test steps so we elected to not carry snowshoes. After that we just loaded up and started marching. We had seen a guy in a green fleece hat when we first got to the lodge. He was headed up to Illumination Saddle to grab a little sleep in a bivy and then on to conquer Leuthold Couloir. We didn't see any really fresh looking tracks when we left 2 hours later, so we figured that we started to the left or right of his path.
1:45 am Silcox Hut
We worked a pace line up the lower slope. I "kicked" steps in the mostly nice snow 15 minutes or so and then handed off the lead to Nat. I fell back to third in line and got a nice restorative few minutes as last man in line. Nat cycled on to Steve after 15 minutes and so on. We made decent time to Silcox and stopped for the traditional quick break.
2:46 am Palmer Snowfield Lifthouse
The paceline worked great up to the top of Palmer. The wind kicked up when we got there and the temperature seemed to drop. I dressed in all my layers for the break while we arranged our gear and strapped on the crampons and ate a quick snack. Even with the extra clothes I felt chilled as we prepped for the next leg. I shed my puffy coat but kept on my rain pants and the extra fleece top I'd donned for the break. Nat and Steve both left an extra layer or two on as well, We all figured we'd shed the layer after we got too warm moving. This didn't happen until we were on our way down.
Above Palmer, the snow got trickier to gauge. The half moon gave flat light. Sometimes what looked like crust felt like powder; sometimes what looked like crust barely took crampons. We weaved around and up the slope towards Crater Rock trying to avoid the deeper snow. The wind kept on us and kept us from overheating. We still didn't see any other boot tracks but chalked it up to darkness and proximity.
5:50 am The Hogsback
The snow only got softer as we got higher. On the last bit of the Crater Rock ascent the snow got consistently calf height or deeper. NWAC had marked avalanche danger as "moderate" while specifying slopes facing the sun and getting warmed during the day. The steady susurrations of tinkling ice coming down the Steel cliffs opposite us made me nervous. It didn't feel warm enough to be melting out but the sound didn't reassure me.
We steadily traded leads traversing on our way to the Hogsback. The snow stayed near knee depth as we trudged on. The same light that baffled our snow sight also hid the Hogsback until we were almost straddling it. Another quick break and we took off again.
7:00 am Summit Ridge
So we kept on through the deepish snow across the Hogsback. We broke left just under the lower set of rocks between us and the old chute. We paused a few minutes after starting the traverse and snapped some pics of the sunrise. The high clouds coming in from the west lit up spectacularly and gave us a great show. We turned back to our pace line and found that my turn as lead got shorter. This was good except for the fact that Nat and Steve's turns also got shorter. My calves checked out about this point. They screamed every obscenity they knew (and I didn't know that there were that many!) and sat down. I pressed on without them and managed to get to the firmer snow of the Old Chute.
Just in time for my turn at lead. Sigh.
The climbing became fun here. Firm windpack snow with good purchase to crampons. The slope angle made alternate ax grips usable and gave our shoulders a break from cane position. Even without my calves I made decent time to the top. And to the tiny knife edge ridge. To my right stood a tall wind-packed lump of snow and ice. Then a gully. Then another gendarme-like clump of the same sort of snow. I turned downslope and shouted to Nat that we chose the wrong route. I felt tired; the wind scoured the top 40 feet of the chute and started to chill me; the very sharp edge of the snow ridge unnerved me a little.
Nat climbed the last bit to me and we sat waiting for Steve. Steve reached us in short order and we started talking the options. Another climber started up the chute during this discussion. He caught up to us after a few minutes and climbed over the first lump very firmly and definitely kicking each step and planting his ax and trekking pole carefully in the snow. Nat left him plenty of room and then followed to the top of the first bump. He watched while the climber dropped into the gully and started figuring a way to get over the second bump. The climber worked at it for a few minutes and seemed to make progress. Nat didn't seem reassured by watching though. We might climb through it with reasonable facility, he reasoned. But we might not down climb it to get back. And the drop into the gully below gave us a tremendous feeling of consequence.
We dickered for a few minutes but the decision had really already been made. We had made it to 11,200 feet. Steve and I had summited Hood before so the decision went a little easier for us, I think. We carefully picked our way off the first lump and then started back down the chute. I wondered about the solo climber on Leuthold. Did he turn around? Had he been strong enough to kick steps in the soft snow and get to the top of the couloir? What was he going to do when (if) he hit the summit ridge? The snow didn't look any better to the climber's left of the old chute.
8:20ish am The Hogsback
The same snow that made going up so painful made descending fairly nice. We picked out way down the chute on the firmer snow and then hit the soft stuff and made goodish time. We got to the end of the Hogsback and sat down for "lunch" and lots of water and some sun. We snapped some pictures. We reviewed the conditions. We went through our decision about a dozen times. And came to the same conclusion.
The other climber came down and introduced himself: Keith. He had made it past the second hump in the ridgeline and said it opened up nicely after that for an easy shot at the summit. We chatted for a while. And then he trotted down ahead of us. We started down in the blissful, perfect plunge-stepping snow less than 10 minutes after Keith departed. We tried glissading, but except for the cat track between Palmer and the off-piste area, the glissading was only so-so. The cat track provided fast glissading and Steve proved himself the glissade master, leaving Nat and I way back.
10:30 m Timberline Lodge
Back at the car. We drove down and ate the second biggest hamburger I've ever seen in my life at the Zig Zag Inn. Then we drove home.
Standard solo gear: Ax, Crampons, Helmet, Spare set of calf muscles
Mostly good. The summit ridge seems to be changing a lot and relatively quickly. The other climber Keith told us that a month ago the summit ridge was less severely built up and wind packed. I, of course, forgot to dig out the camera while at the top of the Old Chute so I have no good pictures of the ridge conditions
All Grown Up
5 years ago