The TripSome (most) people consider mid-February on the coldest night of the year a mostly insane time to climb four miles and 5,300 ft to the top of Oregon. The only feeling I have for them is sympathy.
A series of unfortunate events cut our Hood attempt team from Summitpost down to a final group of three by the time we met in the frigid Timberline parking lot.
Two of us drove down from Tacoma and after a stop at a few brew pubs and REI in Portland made our way to Timberline by about 8 PM Saturday night in time to pretend to sleep. After various interruptions including my having to hop out and enjoy the coldest piss of my life there in the parking lot, we managed a very broken series of naps until we were awoken by Kevin's call around 2AM to discover our alarm was kind enough not to work and permit an extra hour or so of sleep. After sorting out the gear we wanted to bring in the lodge, we made our way to the trailhead at the late hour of 3-4AM. The wind had died down a bit and it was probably a nice warm 0-10 degrees F through the pre-dawn hours of our climb.
We all seemed ok with a nice gradual ascent staying slow enough to not need to stop and thus keep from freezing. We causally ascended through the ski area under a brilliant half moon and sparkling (and occasionally shooting) stars. A few hundred feet above Illumination Rock the sun began its own ascent over the horizon providing a demonstration of every color of orange from the dark eerie glow of the pre-dawn horizon through the brilliant glow off the ice as the sun erupted from the highland desert to our east. Nature always paints better than the best artist. Some experiences, penultimate among them, the alpine sunrise, give you the sense of privilege for being a stroke in the painting of the wilds. We continued to ascend the first fairly steep snow field above illumination rock and around to the right of Crater Rock entering a surrealist painting of fumaroles, icescapes, gendarmes, and the bergshrund characterizing the Devils Kitchen. In the throne rooms of the mountain god's it appears even Mother Nature and the Devil agree to cooperate to reward the alpinist.
Gaining the Hogsback we took our first notable break to adjust gear and talk with a pair who had started earlier in the morning. Ascending along a comparatively steep Hogsback we marveled at how this mountain could be dormant with so many fumaroles billowing around us. The Hogsback has shifted pretty far left this year causing it to be a bit steeper and provide one the splendid experience of a foot wide traverse across the steep slope leading the rest of the way over to the Pearly Gates, with the sun now turning to ice into a fire, I can now testify that you do see a brilliant light before entering the Pearly Gates; although I had more of a near life experience. Fortunately, I hauled my ice tools up a few thousand feet for nothing and the chute between the Gates was filled in with some nice snow permitting us to ascend it with simple ax self belays...A true blessing after many of last weeks climbers being turned back by an icy chute. Ascending the last stretch to the summit crest we met with the two earlier morning groups and enjoyed the practically eternal view from the summit. One climber was so satisfied with the experience that he stepped to the side and called in to quit work. "The love of the mountains [truly] is best." The descent was sizably less enjoyable. Highlights included being raped by ice trying to glissade, having to down climb several slopes, and being forced into a self belay on front points and 1/4 of the spike of my ax by part of the post-dawn ascent herd. Fortunately nothing could dull the supernatural wonder of the ascent and we made our way down the final ski slope stretches on auto-stumble.
I enjoy archaic technology and still have to develop film, but I am sure Richard (Madmallard) and Kevin will post theirs soon.
We were girfted with arguably the best day of the year, a great team however random, and I savored the return to the alpine world after my December crash and the poor January weather. Savoring the cool mountain air(between more than a fair share of rotten eggs), the sharp bite of the mountain bize, the strain of the ascent a sanguine pleasure is unavoidable. Beholding the beauty of the alpine environment, a beauty that all words are not sufficient to describe, mixes within your soul to define happiness!