The day of the Mount Hood hike could not have been any better: clear sky and cold. I started my hike (solo) at 5:50 AM. (I really wanted to start at daybreak, but I only hit the sack at 1 AM, so I wanted my sleep). Temp was in the low 30s which kept the snow all good and frozen. I hiked on a Tuesday when not many people were on the mountain. I made the mistake of having breakfast before I left; for the first hour of the hike, my body’s entire energy was directed towards digesting food. Therefore, my breathing was heavy and I felt a lot of discomfort. After that, things got better. I had micro spikes -3/8” (not real crampons) on my boots. That really helped with my hike on the frozen snow.
At about 6:30 AM I could spot a group of 7 hikers all the way up on the final ascent, from the Hogsback toward the Old Chute. There were also two guys hiking very close to the ski lift, about .5 miles ahead of me. About 1:45 hours into my hike, the operators of the ski lift decided to start the lift. Darn! – I said. I could’ve waited and used the lift for the 2 miles. As I passed the top of the ski lift (I was hiking about 0.25 miles to the right of it), I also passed the two hikers who were hiking very close to the lift. I kept going up and the slope started to be more and more abrupt. At one point, it became quite difficult to hike with my small micro spikes. Lucky me, I came across and followed a nicely frozen track of foot steps. It looked like the foot steps were made the day before, when the temp was probably a little bit more above freezing. They were a bit sunk in but, fortunately for me, they were frozen and I used them as steps. I followed these foot steps until they were not visible anymore.
When I got to Crater Rock, one guy was coming down. I talked to him a bit. He was telling me how he and his friends attempted to hike two days before, but, there was such a blizzard (read my post on Mount St Helens from two days prior), that they got all confused and lost even before they reached the top of the ski lift. They made the smart decision to turn back. It took me 2:45 hours to get to Crater Rock. This hiker was really impressed with my time. He did not say how long he needed to get to Crater Rock, but I did not care. As far as I was concerned, I was not going fast enough, and it looked like I was going to slow down even more from there on. As I continued to the Hogsback, I could see the group of 7 hikers descending, all of them clearing the Chute at this point. I could also spot two hikers that were making their way to the right of the Bergschrund Crevasse toward the Pearly Gates. This year, that route looked very dangerous and I could tell, by the lack of tracks, that not many hikers were going up Pearly Gates, as of yet.
When I reached the Hogsback, three of the seven hikers were already there and resting. It did not take much to tell them that I was hiking for 3:10 hours so far. They told me that they left the Timberline Lodge at 12 midnight. It took them 7 hours to make it to the summit. I did not say anything, but that seemed like and awful long time. To be hiking for 7 hours, starting at midnight, and only be 2/3 done, it’s a strenuous thing. While I was sorry for them, the multi-point question came from them: do you have an ice pick? No. I realized at that point that I totally, entirely, irresponsibly forgot to bring one. Well, they said, that is bad. The Chute is all ice and it will be very dangerous to go up that way. One girl was even nice enough to almost give hers to me. However, because I was not from Oregon, she figured I was not honest enough to be trusted with mailing it back.
So, I continued toward the Old Chute having their best wishes. The hike from the Hogsback to the Old Chute was not bad. All these hikers going up and down in the past two days left a very nice hiking trail in the snow. Mid-way to the Old Chute I met the other 4 people in their group. One guy also asked me about my ice pick. I felt like an idiot. I had second thoughts. The rest of the hike looked so difficult, that actually I considered going to the Chute and decide there if I can keep going up or not. The guy said “I’d give you mine but I still need it to go down”. In actuality, from that point on, going down, nobody would’ve really needed an ice pick, but I couldn’t say anything. It wasn’t his fault I did not bring one. The funny part is that this guy also asked me if I was from Oregon. When I said no, he replied with “have a safe trip.” I think people from Oregon don’t particularly trust other people. I kept going up and, in about a couple of minutes, the guy yelled at me. I turned around and he offered me an ice pick. He had two and he figured that, from that point on, he really did not need two of them anymore. Well, my friend, the distance between us was about 50 yards by now. I wasn’t going to hike down and back up for gold, let alone for an ice pick. I said that’s ok, thank you. He replied with strong words: “it will save your life. If you slipped, there is no way you can stop until you hit the fumaroles down there.” He was right; if I slipped, I was a goner. The snow was so frozen and the incline so steep, I couldn’t stop until I hit the rocks down in the fumaroles. Nevertheless, I did not hike down to get the ice pick.
I continued on to the Chute. I got to the Chute and that’s when I realized that I had never seen a steeper ice wall that I had to climb without gear. Needless to say, I had never hiked on ice before in my life. But, I took it a step at the time (one can easily establish my novice idiocy here.) In many instances I had no grip, nothing to support myself except the micro spikes on my boots. It was scary. I had a few instances where I slipped a few inches and I really thought that was it. Easy and with a lot of attention, I made my way up. I remember every step I took on that Old Chute, but I hope everyone gets the picture, and I don’t have to engage the drama writer in me. Once I cleared the Chute, there was just an easy, maybe 100 yards walk, to the summit.
The day was beautiful, with sun and clear sky. All white, puffy clouds were below the summit, which made for a beautiful view. In the distance I could see Mt St Hellens, Mt Rainier and Mt Adams. The two guys, who were hiking via Pearly Gates that I mentioned before, were already there. They got there a few minutes before me. They said they left at 4 am. I looked at my watch and I realized that it took me 4:45 hours to the summit. I could not really enjoy my time on the summit. I took a few pictures of the panorama, I asked the guys to take a few pictures of me, I took a few pictures of them, and I was ready to hit the road. All I could think of was how was I going to hike down that horrendous Old Chute without an ice pick.
So, I figured it out (hunger is the best cook.) I did not have and ice pick with me but I had trekking polls in my backpack. I brought them up to use when hiking down. So I took them out, I did not extend them but rather kept them short. When I got to the Chute, I used them to stick them in the frozen snow as deep as I could. That did not provide me with much anchor, but, it provided just enough stability so I could keep my balance while moving slowly. I would not take a step down unless I had both polls jammed all the way to the hilt in the frozen snow. Anyway, I eventually cleared the Chute and from there, everything was just going downhill.
By this time of the day, the snow started to melt a little bit, so it made the footing more stable. I hiked down greeting hikers going up. Below Crater Rock I decided to slide down on my back since it was much easier to stop if need be. I caught up again with the 7 hikers that I encountered going up. Boy, these people were moving slow. I kept sliding down as much as I could toward the Loge, since there was no danger anymore. I wished I could slide all the way to the lodge, but the snow was melting a lot in the sun - so much so that it slowed me down to a total stop. I hit the parking lot after exactly 6 hours and 18 minutes from when I started, and 6.64 miles, round trip.
My recommendations, besides the right hiking clothing: do not start hiking before the brake of dawn. Have crampons and at least one ice pick. I used 5 bottles of water but, keep in mind, that it was a cold day. All the food I ate on the mountain was energy food. No whole food.