Mt. Hood - August 9th, 2008Timberline Approach - Hogsback Route
After the successful trip up Mt. Adams the weekend before I decided to give Mt. Hood a try. I knew before I started that the conditions were much less than optimal – Mid August, a heat wave the week before, and a weather system that was in the area. That being said, I was going to try and be as safe as possible. The only good news about the conditions was that it was going to be below freezing from about 9000 ft and up.
I left Hood River at 0230 and made it to Timberline Lodge at 0330, signed the papers in the climbers cave and was headed out at 0345. I thought there would be a few parties headed up on a Saturday morning but except the two headlamps I saw almost on top there was no activity. I missed the direct trail to the Silcox Hut so I walked up a ski run all the way up to the Palmer Lift terminus. The temp was right around freezing but I was feeling good. I saw several extremely bright shooting stars right over Hood that kept me entertained and made me wish I had a nice camera. I made it to the scree trail above Palmer at 0530 and passed two campsites shortly after. The first guy I talked with had tried to climb the mountain a month prior and was turned around after two people got hit and hurt by rock fall. He said it was shorts and t-shirt weather on that climb. Well, it was a lot colder now. I moved on and passed a pair of climbers also headed up. These two had their plastic boots on and looked ready for about anything. I didn’t see them again on the hike. They must have thought better of weather that was rolling in.
This is where the fun started. After the scree trail ended I had to cross the top part of a glacier that connected up to the Hogsback. The clouds that had been staying low until then moved in quickly and visibility dropped to about 25m. The owners of the two headlamps that I earlier saw high on the mountain were coming down and I inquired about the route. Right then we heard a loud crack up to our left in the clouds. We looked at each other and slowly started to move right. When the first of the cooler sized boulders came crashing through the fog in our direction we started to get our butts in gear. After a 50 foot spring across the glacier to avoid the boulders we stopped and shared a “that was close” moment. The rockfall got me a little worried but they said it was straight forward climb for the rest of the way. I would come back to this conversation later in the day.
I started up the Hogsback and caught up with the last climber ahead of me. We reached the top of the Hogsback, at least as far as we could go before several crevasses blocked our way. The visibility was down to about 10m at this point and neither of us had been up Mt. Hood before. We figured we would keep going around to the left and see where that took us. After a 50m traverse and a 400 ft climb up 35 degree snow and ice we came to a narrow, rocky chute with two fixed ropes hanging down from the top. This is where my alarm bells started ringing. I felt somewhat exposed to a fall and extremely exposed to rock fall. I figured if I just kept moving I would be up and back down quickly. I made it up the first 15 foot section and started the second section which was about 30 feet. My feet couldn’t get purchase on the rock with the crampons and wished I had an ascender to prevent a nasty fall. I started thinking how dangerous it was going to be coming down and I decided to pack it in. The time was about 0900 when I started down. The other guy passed me and started trying the second rope section. I was hoping that he didn’t fall because it was going to be a long hike dragging someone. He eventually came to his senses and followed me down. After some sketchy down climbing on the slope we made it back to the Hogsback. The other solo guy was trudging up through the snow and fog and looked at us for direction. I said there were fixed ropes and we couldn’t find another way up. He said “Nobody told me about fixed ropes” then quickly turned around and started heading down. That was a pretty entertaining moment. He didn’t even consider going up after he heard about the ropes.
After searching around for another way up I started down because I was getting cold and needed to get moving. I checked my thermometer and it was reading 20 degrees F. That coupled with 30 mph winds was getting pretty uncomfortable. The down-hike was uneventful as I followed the well-worn trail. I soon came to the ski lift and an abundance of skiers who were enjoying some really good summer conditions. I kept to the left of the runs and made good time back to the lodge. I walked into Timberline Lodge at 1145. After checking my GPS unit I saw I made it to 11095 ft. Close. It was a good day even though I didn’t make it to the top. I learned my lesson about late season Mt. Hood attempts and will give it another go in the spring or early summer.
[img:430722:aligncenter:medium:Looking up at the weather on my way down.]