Mount Hood via Old Chute VariationThis is a report of our recent trip to the Cascades (we're still here, so here's hoping for a few more peaks). More photos of both Mount Hood and Mount Rainier can be found at my site.
June 10, 2011
My admiration for the tallest point in Oregon began about 6 years ago. Traveling to Eugene to meet my future in-laws, I found my face pressed against the airplane window. The slopes of Hood had appeared from the low-lying clouds to create an impressive wall of snow and ice. My first thought was that we were going to crash into the slopes. Once feelings of safety returned I found myself captivated by the view. After spending the entire summer hiking bare rock in Colorado, the sight of this mountain's nearly permanent frosting was a bit of a shock. Only moments later the view evaporated back into the Oregon clouds. It was years of occasional visits back to Oregon before I caught another glance at the mountain and my desire to stand on it's summit grew. Unfortunately, our vacation timing never really seemed to work out, and I was beginning to feel that the continually bad conditions on Hood meant the mountain didn't want me up there. Finally, my wife and I were able to organize ourselves for an earlier trip, and with the Oregon snow pack close to 200%, it seemed like we would finally have our chance.
Deciding to make a trip out of it, we also made plans for Mount Rainier and easily convinced our friend Mark to join us. After the long drive from Colorado, we soon were wandering through the Oregon wilderness toward the Timberline Lodge. Mount Hood had been teasing us on the drive as it came in and out of the clouds. The weather had been fairly rainy before our arrival but the forecast looked pretty good for the next few days. As we rumbled to a stop in the lodge's parking lot, all of the mountain had emerged from the clouds except the very top. As we sat and watched the clouds blow and reform over the summit, we began to wonder if it would be clear for us in a few hours. After quickly refilling our water bottles in the lodge, we drove to a nearby empty snow-park and threw out our sleeping bags hoping to get a few hours of sleep.
The alarm came early, and other than a brief rain, we slept well. We started up the trail at 2am and steadily made our way up the edge of the ski slope. It was strange hiking past the roaring snowcats that constantly groomed the slopes. The moon was on the other side of the mountain, and other than their wandering headlights, the mountain was hidden in darkness. After passing several parties we neared the top of the ski runs. The snow was hard but the slope felt comfortable with just boots and trekking poles. As the light began to rise, our pace increased and it was nice to discover that the hike to the base of the Hogback was steady and easy.
As the sulfur-stink from the first fumarole wafted down to curl our nose-hairs, we stopped to don crampons and helmets. There had been an accident the previous day due to falling ice (it had involved numerous climbers and several had to be rescued) and it put us on guard. The traverse to the old chute put us directly under the cliffs that had dumped onto the unfortunate climbers, and it was obvious where the block had tumbled off. Not wanting to waste time, we pushed on.
As we began up the Hogback the clouds descended onto us. The traverse left and into the old chute was more by feel than by sight, and we began to wonder if we should turn around. As we stopped to discuss the options, a party appeared before us and informed us we were 15 minutes from the summit ridge. With the solid boot pack, multiple other parties, and a solid compass heading, we decided to push on. Climbing through the narrower chute to climbers right, we crested just in time to see the clouds part.
We had passed all the other parties, and as we strolled onto the summit at about 7am, we enjoyed the newly cleared views to ourselves.
About ten minutes after we arrived, the masses showed up. About 15 people in various levels of gear all crowded onto the summit. The guy in blue jeans, no gaiters, and crampons twisted halfway off was my favorite. Not wanting to spoil the moment, we quickly packed up and headed back down. The final chute had proven to be fairly icy and crowded, so we strolled over the small knife-edge and descended the wider and less-steep portion of the old chute. Our descent was uneventful, and we soon went from icy snow up high to mid-calf deep slush down low.
Back in the parking lot, we watched the crowds come and go. It was amazing to watch all the snowboarders primping themselves like they were getting ready for prom. This had been both my wife's and my first state highpoint, and we were glad it was Mount Hood. The snow conditions felt great, and we hoped Rainier would go as smoothly. Although we had fun, we looked forward to getting a little bit farther from the hoards. After a long period of eating handfuls of gummy bears and people watching, we reluctantly crammed back into the car and headed north.