This TR is about my climb on May 24, 2003. I wrote this a few days after I did Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood has always been a mountain I've wanted to climb but never got around to. I finally climbed it this past Saturday and can now set my sights on Mt. Adams across the river and Mt. Jefferson to the south. Mt Hood is of course, the highest point in Oregon and counts as the county highpoint for Clackamas and Hood River counties. As one of my goals is to climb the highest highpoint in each of the 36 Oregon and 39 Washington counties, it was high on my list and had to be done. (For more info on county highpointing go to www.cohp.org )
I started in on doing county highpoints just this past February and have really enjoyed it. County highpointing has helped me to get into decent early season condition which made a big difference on Saturday. Mt. Baker, Mt. Olympus, Mt. Adams, Glacier Peak are a few examples of Washington county highpoints but there are also a wheatfield or two in eastern washington that count and must be done too (Adams and Franklin counties).
Anyway, a recent report at another site about a guy's Mt. Hood solo effort on last wednesday gave me the idea about going solo if the weather looked good on Saturday. Solo allowed me to be flexible in my plans for the weekend. Initially the weather report for Saturday and Sunday was not encouraging so I had an alternative plan to do some counties in western Washington/Oregon that weather wouldn't make any difference to. Then when I was near Morton Washington I got a weather report that said the Seattle and Portland areas would be o.k. until late saturday. I headed to Portland and Timberline. Of course I hit the Memorial day traffic that was heading out of Portland and grid lock was something I hadn't planned on but had to put up with. I finally made it to Timberline at about 7 p.m. (after a delicious Blizzard milk shake at the Dairy Queen in some little town west of the mountain) and looked up at a beautiful mountain that had been blessed with beautiful weather. It had been 30 years since I had last climbed any major mountain (Mt. St. Helens before she blew up) and wasn't sure I could pull this off solo. I knew that if there was ice above the bergscrund that I'd wait for another time when I could enlist a partner but then again, if it was snow covered (the ice) and I could punch steps up the thing, it would be doable.
I slept in my car for a few hours in the Timberline parking lot and got up at midnight to double check all my gear and get the necessary paperwork filled out. When I looked up at the mountain I was amazed to see the lights of climbers already on their way up. I wish I had a picture to share of this as it was fascinating to see. Two guys in a vehicle next to me also got up and started to get ready. They looked over at me and grinned. The grin of people who were halfway out of their minds (I had the same grin)
A parade of climbers..
I was on the way at 1:30 a.m. and joined a parade of climbers going up by headlight. It was a beautiful night, the milky way lit up the sky overhead and as I got higher on the mountain, the glow of lights from the Portland area to the west and the Dalles to the east grabbed my attention. A paper moon arose from the east and the night wasn't particularly cold. One thing you had to make sure you did was to try and step in footprints of other climbers as the snow would be consolidated enough to hold your weight. Otherwise you would posthole and that drains you of needed energy.
When the dawn started breaking on the mountain, I was about 3000 feet higher than the parking lot. Three and a half hours to do 3000 feet made me realize I was going to have the legs to get up this thing. I had set myself some possible outs and one of them was how I felt after 3000 feet of effort. I had enjoyed the "stroll" up to this point and began to realize that my conditioning efforts was paying off. Snowcats passed me again and again full of people who had paid 90 bucks to eliminate the 3000 feet that I had to labor up but I didn't begrudge them the "paid" gain, I had actually enjoyed the simple act of pushing myself uphill humming the Four Season's oldie but goodie tune of "Walk Like a Man". I was indeed feeling manly, doing something I really enjoyed and that made me feel truly alive.
When I crested a snow ridge I was amazed to see a line of climbers strung out going up the hogback. The summit was clear and these people were obviously going to enjoy a fine view. They were reaping the reward of their early start (many started as early as 11) and younger faster bodies. I stopped and put my crampons on as I noticed that everyone else had theirs on. I was on the hogback at 7 a.m., later than I had intended but I had slowed down (picture taking, putting crampons on, taking munchies out, making yellow snow, more pressure breathing and mountaineer rest step pacing, etc) but I took in the spectacle that presented itself. Strung out on the hogback and all the way up to the pearly gates was so many climbers that it looked like a Seattle freeway at 5pm. Some were going up, some were coming down.
This may be the busiest day of the year up here I thought. I sat down next to a rope team from California (Merced area) and we took each other's pictures. People were here from all over the world. I heard German, British, and Japanese accents. I saw young teen agers with their parents and a few oldsters like myself. I'd say the majority of climbers were in their 20's and 30's but that is understandable. Most people when they get to my age are still home in bed or getting ready to go and do a round of golf.
I decided to get a move on as a cloud cap was descending on the summit and I could see that my hoped for view might be just that, hoped for.
Several rope teams were heading up and so I plunked in behind them and just kind of followed. I met a guy who lives near me in Kennewick coming down. We chatted for a bit and then we both went our separate ways. Small world sometimes. The bergscrund had a good solid snow bridge and I went around to the left side to cross. Footprints (postholed ones) were everywhere and you had to pick your way carefully so you didn't sink in to your knees. The temperature on the hogback was 45 degrees, much too warm and a concern as you could hear constant ice and rock fall all over the place. As I looked up at the pearly gates, I got a little nervous thinking about what would happen if that stuff came down. Then I remembered that it was almost a year ago that the big accident on Hood had occurred very close to where I was. I could see how little room that helicopter really had up there and that the pilots and rescuers were very brave people. Not much room for manuevering a chopper around. Looking down into the bergscrund was rather chilling, I couldn't imagine being down in that thing.
Since I was in fog in this area, this shot shows off the gates well
These thoughts put a little adrenalin to get my pace moving and as I neared the pearly gates, the fog began. I just stayed right behind one of the rope teams and followed them up to the summit. It was like walking up a staircase.
Like walking up a staircase
I wondered what it would have been like if it had been nothing but ice. I sure wouldn't have attempted it solo. I could have gone up without crampons on on this day. I realized that I was on the summit when I practically bumped into one of the guys on the rope team. He looked at me and said "You alone?" I nodded yes and I could tell he disapproved of my foolhardiness. I asked, "it this it?" He replied "congratulations" and we shook hands. That was it. As I feared, I had no view from the top so I just turned around and went down. No pictures of myself standing studly at the summit (the pics I did take were worthless), no celebrating, and no hugs ( I was alone anyway) All I wanted to do was get down as the temperature was much too warm. A large chunk of ice had fallen near me on the way up and I realized that this wasn't the safest place in the world to be (doh).
I passed two guys with skiis and a snowboarder on their way up to the summit as I was going down. I really wished a little later on that I had brought skiis too although there was no way I would have skied down from the summit as they intended to do. Now the truly hard work began. Going down. The steepest part is through the Pearly Gates but the condition of the snow made it no problem cause if I'd tripped and fallen I wouldn't have gone anywhere, yet there were all these others encumbered by their ropes and on this particular day, I was glad I was solo.
The condition of the snow due to the warmth had softened so that every step downward became an effort. Take a step, posthole, take a step, posthole. It was actually harder work than going up and my time down was comparable to the time up. I really wished now I had stashed some skiis or had brought snowshoes. I had a few spots that I could glissade but for the most part, I had a good workout all the way to the parking lot.
When I looked back at the mountain, the upper reaches were totally covered in cloud and by the time I reached the parking lot at 1:30, the whole mountain was in fog. Twelve hours for me 7 up and 5 down. A great day and something that I will always remember. I'll have to go back up there someday to get that view I missed.
The cloud cap was taking over the whole mountain
The actual scariest part of the whole thing was falling asleep twice on the drive down to Hood River. I stopped there and got a good load of caffeine in a large sized Pepsi. The rest of the drive home was uneventful.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe