PreambleSometimes it's easy to be in a good mood.
Right now is one of those times. Only about an hour ago, the Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to their second Stanley Cup Finals in the last three years. And less than six days ago, my more than two-year quest to add Mount Hood to my state highpointing resume came to a successful conclusion after two not-so-near misses. Two seemingly unrelated events. But for me, not so much. Part of my theme for my 2013 Mount Hood trip ... my entire theme, in fact ... was to not only climb Mount Hood but to also pay tribute to the only city I really love.
It started when I walked into the Timberline Mountain Guides offices on May 31 while wearing my Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Champions hat and was greeted by two guides from Massachusetts, one of whom told me he had grown up just minutes from the old Boston Garden and was himself a hardcore hockey fan. My fellow client Glenn then told me a few hours later that he had been at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 only about an hour before twin bombs rocked Boston into the world spotlight. I continued to wear my Bruins hat throughout my three days on the mountain and then decided to take my only summit photo while holding a "Boston Strong" T-shirt, privately paying my respect to the victims of the bombing and acknowledging the city's rallying cry in the days after terrorism found its way onto Boylston Street.
So understand that for me, this particular highpointing trip will always have a Boston feel. But basically, it's still a story about climbing a mountain.
May 31, 2013
The conversation began in the offices of Timberline Mountain Guides. There were just three of us. Max would be guiding me and one other client on a three-day, two-night trip on the south side of Mount Hood. This particular agenda is not TMG's most popular two-day program where the mountain is attempted in one big push after a one-day snow school on the lower slopes. No, we would be setting up camp halfway up the mountain and spending two nights camping before an attempt on Day 3. The question we debated was whether we should hike up from Timberline Base Lodge to a camping area just above the Palmer lifts or take the ski lifts to about 8,500 feet and then traverse over to a more out-of-the-way camping spot near Illumination Rock.
For me the answer was easy. In my two previous trips to Mount Hood, I had spent a lot of time on the lower half of the mountain. In March 2011, my climbing agenda ended before it really even got started as major avalanche conditions high on the mountain quashed any hopes of an assault on the summit. Instead, I would spend two days skiing Mount Hood; one day at Timberline, the other at Mount Hood Meadows. Then in July 2012, I decided to abandon my planned solo attempt after hiking to the top of the Palmer lifts and seeing that the mountain looked a little too burnt out for my liking. In short, I had spent enough time on the lower slopes Mount Hood. I was ready to get high as quick as possible and save as much energy as possible for summit day.
We all soon came to the same conclusion that we should maximize our chances for summiting and dropped $35 apiece for one way lift tickets to the top of Palmer. From there, it was simply a matter of a 45-minute traverse to the base of Illumination Rock.
We had our camp set up by noon and would spend the rest of the day doing some pretty basic snow school activities. One difference I noticed from my experience on Mount Rainier with International Mountain Guides was that Max of TMG focused on Day 1 on walking techniques whereas the guides at IMG spent a lot of time reviewing self-arrest techniques and exercises. Different mountains, different focal points. In any event, I've done several snow schools at this point and always find it a fun way to spend a day. By late afternoon, we had finished up our first day's agenda and enjoyed the rest of the daylight hours amidst some very picturesque scenery.
June 1, 2013The weather was supposed to be perfect according to the forecast. But we all know how that goes. Our first day on Hood had been dominated by bright sunshine and temperatures that felt much hotter than they actually were due to the exposed nature of the mountain. When we went to sleep, we were expecting more of the same for Day 2, but a windy night ushered in some unstable weather and while we enjoyed some mostly clear skies during the morning, thick clouds eventually moved in and dominated the day. Not so bad actually for keeping things comfortable while doing some more advanced snow school activities.
After an early breakfast, we donned our crampons and started working on some different techniques. I have been running around the mountains in the Northeast in winter since the early 90s and feel pretty comfortable with crampons, but my fellow client Glenn's experience was somewhat more limited. So Max wound up spending a lot of time coaching Glenn while I just kind of went off and did my own thing on some nearby slopes for much of the early part of the day.
After that, it was rope work and belay techniques. This is when I started to gain a real appreciation for the location our campsite. There was no shortage of nearby steep slopes on which to practice. I think Max gained a good bit of confidence in our abilities and therefore his options for summit day. While the Old Chute route on the south side of Mount Hood boasts a maximum elevation of 50-degrees, we practiced roped travel on a 60-degree slope. Glenn had some early issues with exposure that gradually passed as the day went on and he became more comfortable with the protection being used.
We also practiced some different belay techniques during the afternoon and Max gave us the option for more exercises and/or practice, but we instead chose to wrap things up early and get some good rest for summit day. We all agreed to a 2 AM wake up for the following morning with hopes to be climbing by 3 AM.
June 2, 2013The alarm went off nice and early. 2 AM as planned, but I was already awake and anxious to get started. Uncomfortable though tents always are, I told myself through the night that there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I knew I would likely never have a better chance at reaching the summit of Mount Hood and couldn't wait to get on our way. A quick breakfast and I was ready to get into all my climbing equipment. The weather seemed about perfect. It was cold and clear with little wind. Maybe in the upper 20s at our campsite; just enough to give the snow a hard crust for good cramponing.
We were on our way and fell into a good pace as we traversed towards the base of Crater Rock. There were only a couple of parties ahead of us and as we made our made towards the boot path coming up from the Palmer lifts, another larger group fell in right behind us. We were to the base of the Hogsback by 4 AM and felt good about the time we were making as we took our first break and stashed our hiking poles in favor of ice axes.
As we started up the Hogsback, Max made a comment about keeping an eye on the group in front of us. Although we had planned an attempt of Hood via the Old Chute route, Max stated we had some options and didn't want to be working below a group that appeared to be climbing without plans to place protection. I thought he was referring to taking a slightly different line up the Old Chute, but he was actually considering taking a different route altogether.
We watched the group ahead of us break left off the Hogsback and start for the Old Chute. Moments later, we stepped off the boot pack to the right of the Hogsback and worked away from the Old Chute route. It only took me a few minutes to realize what was taking place ...
"We're heading straight for the Pearly Gates, aren't we?"
"That's exactly where we're going."
My enthusiasm soared as I've always felt this was a much prettier line than the Old Chute Route that has come into favor over the last few years as the Hogsback has shifted away from the Pearly Gates. Not only was I within a couple of hours of the summit of what had become my most difficult highpoint, but I was going to be heading up the classic route on the south side.
We soon reached the start of some belayed climbing to the base of the Pearly Gates. With a small group of just three, we continued to make good time and reached a ledge at the base of the Pearly Gates after about a pitch and a half of 50-55 degree climbing. Our guide Max was enjoying the route as much as Glenn and I, stating he hadn't been up the Pearly Gates in a long time. As Max led, he warned us that there was some very hard ice in one early section of the route that required some aggressive crampon and ice axe usage. Again, it was a little more than one pitch of climbing before we reached the summit ridge. From there, it was just a short walk to the top of Mount Hood and my 49th state highpoint at just about 6 AM exactly. The climb from camp had taken three hours ... very good time.
The descent was a little more fun than descents typically are as we chose to go down the Old Chute. So instead of simply backtracking, we got more of a full mountain experience. The downclimbing was fairly easy and the route was full of climbers. Whereas we had enjoyed the climb up the Pearly Gates completely to ourselves, we now shared the route back to the Hogsback with dozens of other climbers. It took us about two mostly uneventful hours to get back to camp. We then packed up and made our way back to the Timberline Lodge.
A great three days on the mountain and while Mount Hood may not boast the distinction of being the most difficult state highpoint (nor anywhere close to the easiest), it holds the distinction of being the one I've spent the most time on. Six full days between my three trips. Enough time for me to have made a connection with this beauty of a mountain.