Mount Hood Trip Report – In the Wake of Tragedy
June 8, 2002
Palmer Glacier/Southside/Hogsback Route
Our initial trip included plans for a double summit of Mount Hood and Mount Adams in a little under 40 hours. The trip to Hood was nearly cancelled due to closure of the mountain’s climbing routes. This occurred secondary to the May 30th bergshrund fall involving nine climbers and the subsequent crash of a Pave Hawk H – 60 helicopter during the rescue attempt of the injured climbers. The afternoon of our flight into Portland marked the reopening of the route – and gave us the opportunity of the first summit after a week’s closure of the mountain.
On our arrival to the Timberline Lodge we were assaulted by wind gusts up to 30-40 miles per hour, driven fresh snowfall and spindrift with temperatures in the twenties. A group had left a little before midnight despite the weather. We decided to doze for awhile to see if conditions would improve. Despite my 35-degree bag and my Nissan bivy sack (my rental car) I experienced a cold couple of hours. Upon opening the door of the car a good quarter of an inch of spindrift would accumulate within seconds.
At 3 AM the weather appeared to be improving. A Timberline Mountain Guide trip took a snowcat to the top of the Palmer lift but turned back due to high winds and thigh deep snowdrifts. Using the ski area as a handrail to find our way back down we decided to start up. If the weather improved we would still be in a position for a summit bid. I wouldn’t say we were climbing in a full-on whiteout, but conditions were tenuous. After an hour and forty minutes of climbing we found ourselves above the top of the Palmer lift. It was cold. My gloves were rated to minus twenty degrees but my ice axe containing hand would become painfully cold after five minutes.
At this point the weather began to look better to the East with clear skies and visible stars. Looking toward the West only invited an eyeful of spindrift. Encouraged by the apparent improving conditions we continued toward Crater Rock. We could occasionally make out both Crater Rock and the Steel Cliff through the fleeting snow and clouds we ascended through. The winds were sustained at 20-25 knots with gusts to 40 knots. Just below Crater Rock we nearly descended but decided to continue on for another thirty minutes. If conditions failed to improve we planned to descend.
Shortly after this decision we bumped into a lone climber named John from Vancouver. His presence on the mountain and his previous four summits rallied us on toward the Hogsback. He had encountered two other groups who had been descending due to the conditions on the mountain. Above ten thousand feet the weather improved. We climbed under crystal blue skies with essentially no wind. We skirted the bergshrund to the East. I was sobered by the thoughts of the three climbers who had died there a little over a week before. The bergshrund approached forty to fifty feet in depth.
We carefully plodded up through the Pearly Gates. The angle of the slope at the end of the bergshrund increased to forty degrees. Soon thereafter the angle relaxed. John was about twenty minutes behind me, and my partner Jay was about forty minutes below. I walked onto the summit without another person present. There was not a single footprint on the summit but my own. Two thousand feet below me there was a carpet of dense clouds with only Mount Jefferson visible to the south. John and Jay soon arrived and we took several pictures before descending
On the descent we skirted the ‘shrund to the West and lightly stepped across a softening snowbridge. For most of the descent the conditions were excellent with good visibilty from Crater Rock to the Timberline Lodge. Soon after our arrival at the lodge the weather deteriorated with clouds enveloping us and more snowfall started. I was interviewed by Portland Channel 8 News. We were the only party to make the summit that day and the first since the May 30th accident. A dozen other climbers turned back and missed our awesome summit day.