Long, Rambling, Self Indulgent Trip ReportIt’s spring time and a girl’s fancy turns to thoughts of volcanoes. Mount Hood seemed like a good one to kick off the season with so I was very happy when Mike agreed to join me for a mid-week trip down to Oregon. We hoped to avoid the weekend crowds and enjoy a leisurely schedule. The weather forecast was looking absolutely perfect so we were cautiously optimistic when we left Vancouver around 7:30am on Wednesday morning.
After braving the early morning Starbucks crowds, the Massey Tunnel and the border we were soon cruising down the I-5 enjoying the view of Mount Baker. We made a bee line for the Seattle REI Flagship store where we enjoyed an hour or so of gear whoring and picked up some stuff we needed.
Next stop was Denny’s for some much needed breakfast. Our waitress was weird. Actually, she was down right creepy. She looked like she’d never seen the sun and needed a good round of antibiotics and a few more brain cells. Very strange experience. Didn’t stop us from scarfing down way too much food though.
Next on the gear whoring tour was Second Ascent in Ballard which is a store that sells new and used climbing gear. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything too interesting here. I guess I’ve been spoiled by my many amazing deals on gear this winter. It takes a lot to impress me now.
We were on the road again in search of volcanoes. Soon Mount Rainier came into view, then Adams, then Mount Saint Helens and finally just as we were crossing into Oregon, Mount Hood appeared. We didn’t actually have directions but we figured it would be pretty straightforward. I mean, we could see the damn thing right? Well we got spanked by the Portland traffic system. We had no idea where we were going and traffic was pretty bad so we decided to just get off the highway. Imagine our surprise when practically at the end of the off ramp was the Portland REI. Well, we had to check it out of course. After a strenuous climb to the second floor and more gear whoring we decided to hit the road again in search of groceries for the trip.
Getting out of Portland proved to be quite a challenge. After about an hour of driving in circles (all roads dump you back into downtown and the signs are a cruel joke meant to keep tourists from returning) we decided it was time to take drastic action. We pulled out the GPS. With a little help from modern technology we were soon headed in the right direction.
We passed through the lovely and charming town of ‘Boring’ and stopped for dinner & groceries in Sandy. Mike and I have very compatible tastes in camp food. We loaded up on Boston Cream Rolls, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks and all the other basic staples of a serious climber’s diet. We stopped for the night at Government Camp which we pulled into 12 hours and 23 minutes after we’d left Starbucks.
Next morning, with an utterly unsatisfactory sleep under our belts, we headed up to Timberline. The wind was positively HOWLING. When we got out of the truck we were blown back against it. Getting changed at the truck was obviously not an option so we staggered into the lodge with our gear which was fortunately heavy enough to keep us from blowing away. We registered at the climbers booth and after one last Boston Cream Roll, started climbing.
It’s only 2000 feet up to camp from the parking lot but this was made a lot more difficult by the fact that the wind was doing it’s best to blow us back down to the parking lot. There wasn’t any serious exposure though so we were never in any real danger. It did make the trip up a lot more interesting though.
It took us about two hours of travel time to reach the top of the ski area where we would camp. To our extreme delight, the wind began to die down just as we arrived. Setting up a tent in that wind would have been near impossible. The second happy surprise was that there were these great half pike type formations in which we could camp. We had been expecting to have to build walls around the tent but the walls were already in place! This was most fortuitous given the fact that the snow was more the consistency of cement than fluffy powder. Digging our tent platform was an unpleasant task. First we had to hack through the hard layer of snow and blue glacier ice with an ice axe, and then use the shovel to scrape it away and smooth out the platform. It took about an hour before we had a platform just about big enough for the tent. After lunch and setting up camp we were ready for a nap.
We got up for dinner as the sun was setting. We should have bought two packages of Mountain House Lasagna because that one package did not go too far. Fortunately we also had a sourdough baguette and lots of cheese to fill our hungry bellies and give us energy for the long night of melting snow that stretched out before us. This was an agonizingly slow process. When we got tired of sitting outside watching water boil we moved everything into the vestibule of the tent where we could at least be warm and bored instead of cold and bored. After what seemed like hours we finally had the 3 liters of water we needed and quickly nodded off.
We were awakened at about 4:45 by the snow groomer preparing the runs for the resort. It took a few moments for me to figure out what the sound was as you aren’t really expecting heavy machinery when you’re camping in the alpine. I reluctantly dragged myself out of my warm sleeping bag and we got ready to go. We were on our way just before 6:00am as the sun was making its way up over the east side of the mountain. We were on the south side so we knew we had some time before it would hit our slopes. The route was already dotted with climbers scattered between camp and the Hogsback as we made our way up the Palmer glacier.
It was fairly easy going for the first 2000 feet. We stashed our poles and switched to our ice axes as the grade steepened below the crater. The stench from the crater was truly foul and Mike named it ‘ Mount Hood’s Ass.’ We had a great view of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters as we climbed in the early morning light. There seemed to be a traffic jam at the Hogsback so we took our time as we approached, then paused for a break and to allow the traffic to subside on the route before continuing on.
To this point we had been unroped but we roped up before heading up the Hogsback and over the bergschrund (which had been opened up just days earlier by a snowboarder who experienced a sudden and unexpected in altitude). Much to our surprise there was an unroped group sitting and standing around right on the snow bridge over the bergscrund which was open on either side of them with a small crack about 6 inches wide running the length between the two larger openings. We moved through this section too quickly to say anything to them. At this time of year the rest of the snow bridge could go any time so crossing it with the added weight of 4 people was not particularly pleasant but we got through without incident.
At the top of the Hogsback are the famed Pearly Gates which were everything I had anticipated. Pearly white, glistening ice formations rise high above you as you climb through the narrow slot that leads to the summit. Unfortunately we couldn’t really enjoy them on the way up as there were so many climbers kicking ice down on us so we just moved through as quickly as we could.
The summit was now in sight. Mike’s legs decided that ‘in sight’ was good enough for them and my head started pounding but we pushed on and were soon standing atop Oregon’s highest peak looking out at Rainier, Saint Helens, Adams, Jefferson and the Three Sisters. I made 4 friends for life when I pulled out my first aid kit and distributed Advil to the other climbers who also had pounding heads on the summit. Headache or not I had to do my summit cartwheel which I executed carefully, hoping I wouldn’t have to do it more than once. The wind was quite strong up there and it was chilly but we were just happy to be there.
After hanging around for about 30 min it was time to head down to lower elevations and lunch! We’d only brought a bit of chocolate and a few bars with us, expecting to feast upon bagels, turkey and cheese back at camp. The descent was quite enjoyable as we left the wind on the summit and had sunshine the whole way down. We took our time and enjoyed the views and the weather as we climbed down. Unfortunately the snow had softened up enough that we weren’t able to get a good glissade going.
We arrived at camp ravenous only to find that the ravens had beaten us to our lunch. We’d stuffed all our food into a small snow cave but they had found it and there was nothing left for us. We were very tempted to crawl back into the tent and sleep but we knew we had a long drive ahead of us so we forced ourselves to pack up and head out.
It felt heavenly to take off our heavy plastic boots and slip into clean clothes back down at the lodge. We were quickly packed up and in search of food, determined to stop at the first major chain restaurant we could find. This turned out to be a Denny’s south of Seattle about 3 hours later after getting lost in Portland, yet again. After dinner, a state trooper was kind enough to pull us over to express his extreme concern for our traveling at the speed of traffic. Unfortunately he wasn’t around when the drunk driver pulled onto the highway, swerving all over the road.
This was a fabulous trip. Beautiful mountain, excellent climbing partner & driving companion for a long trip, enough weirdness along the way to keep things interesting and a good physical challenge. It’s a long way but it was well worth it. Looking forward to doing it again via a different route.
For more pics from this trip, visit my web site.