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Mount Hood Climb - Oregon's Highpoint
3 Photosets

2022-05-11  
2018-06-16  
2017-06-25  
mini location map2017-06-25
25 by photographer avatarSkyIslandHiker
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Mount Hood Climb - Oregon's HighpointNorth Central, OR
North Central, OR
Hiking
Hiking
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1st trip
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mitchstevens
Mt. Hood's summit has been at the top of my bucket list since I began hiking over 15 years ago. I've beat around the bush by hiking the 42-mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood twice and now was the time for the real deal. Several months ago Mitch and I booked a two-day Summit Program with Timberline Mountain Guides figuring that was the safe way to go, especially the first time. One of the prerequisites was to take a mountaineering skills course the day prior (Saturday) where we practiced steep snow climbing techniques, rope procedures and self-arrest. We had to rent mountaineering boots, crampons, helmet, harness and ice axe. We finished the skills course late Saturday afternoon which left little time for rest before our Sunday morning start time of 1:00am (check-in at 12:30am). We wolfed down dinner at the Huckleberry Inn and headed quickly to our lodging at Government Camp. Although I had 3 hours of bed rest I was only able to sleep about 45 minutes. Fatigued is not a good way to start a Mt. Hood climb in the dark.

Oregon was having a heatwave (Portland was 100 degrees both weekend days) and we thought this would be ideal weather for our overnight climb to the 11,245' summit. Wrong! The Cascades are mostly composed of rotten rock piles loosely held together by snow and ice. For Mt. Hood to be a safe climb the snowpack above 10,000 feet needs to be frozen over to minimize the risk of ice and rock falls. Because the mountain was thawing we knew we may not be able to make it all the way to the summit on this particular Sunday but hoped we might succeed with an alpine (super early) start.

We met our guide, Phil, at the Wy'East Lodge at 12:30am where obtained our permits and did a gear check. We then boarded a snowcat at Timberline Lodge (6,000') for a 45 minute one-way ride to the top of the Palmer Snowfield (8,450'). From the the top of the ski run it is only a 2,795' climb to the 11,245' summit via the South Side approach which lies between Zig Zag and White River Glaciers. However, the descent from the summit is 5,245' as we would not have the services of the snowcat.

We began climbing the steep slopes of Mt. Hood at 1:50am under a clear moonless sky. The only light was from headlamps, the twinkle of stars and Portland city lights way off in the distance. An earlier climbing party had kicked some nice flat boot steps into the snow so we were essentially climbing an endless staircase which was relatively easy. After about an hour the snow firmed up a bit and we stopped to put on our crampons.

The only thing that Mitch and I struggled with were the plastic mountaineering boots that we rented. They were stiff and heavy and were very uncomfortable. Next time we'll buy leather mountaineering boots, like the guides wear, if we can't rent them.

As we skirted around Crater Rock about 4:00am we could hear ice or rock falling in the Devil's Kitchen which was an indication that the mountain was not frozen :( . When we reached the Hogsback ridge (10,500') around 4:15am our guide suggested we take a break as he assessed the situation. We were just about 750 vertical feet from the summit but the steepest and most difficult part was yet to come.

While at the Hogsback dawn began lighting up the mountain and we were finally able to get some pictures. It was light enough to see the Hot Rocks Fumarole (steam vent) on Crater Rock which we had smelled in the darkness.

Above the Hogsback the terrain up the various routes becomes steeper requiring some semi-technical rope work. Phil, who had been getting reports from other guides, thought it was not prudent to proceed further due to the risk of ice and rock fall. We saw other climbers going for the summit via the Old/Mazama Chute which was somewhat frustrating, but since we paid Phil for a safe journey we readily accepted his decision to abort.

Our descent from the Hogsback was a 4,500' elevation loss to Timberline Lodge where we arrived at 7:40am, nearly 6 hours after stepping off the snowcat. Although not getting to the summit was a disappointment, it was a great and unique experience nonetheless. Besides, it gives me an excuse to attempt to summit Mt. Hood again in the future :) .

...just another crummy day in the Great Northwest!
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