Leading up to the decision to climb
There was only one problem, I did not have the necessary skills for climbing in the snow and ice that is required in the higher elevations, at least if I wanted to be safe and smart. So for my birthday last year, my wife, bless her heart was going to buy me a guided trip with beginner snow climbing classes for Mount Hood. Unfortunately due to my work schedule and the climbing season wrapping up, it did not come to fruition. But for my birthday I got my first realization that it was going to become a reality. I got a great set of crampons and an ice axe as well as a head lamp. Now other than knowing how to put on the head lamp, I had no knowledge of how to properly use my equipment, so while out at one of my wifes favorite places to go, Barnes and Noble, I ran across a book called Mountaineering The Freedom of the Hills. After purchasing this book, I read through some of the skills that I would need for Alpine climbing, although I believe there is no substitute for experience.
So still eager to climb a bigger mountain, I began trying to set the plans in motion to climb Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest peak.
Planning and PreparingNow in order to climb I was going to need several things.
- Mental Preparation
More Gear, mainly cold weather gear
A guide and basic snow skills instructor
A climbing partner, so that I would have a witness other than the guide
Time off from work
The Mental preparation for me was the funnest part. I read up on Mount Hood as much as I could and tried to look at as many pictures as I could of the route I planned to take so that I could have an idea of what to expect. This site has been very helpful in allowing me to do that relatively easy.
Physical Preparation - The weather here in Southern Oregon this Winter has been pretty lousy, but I still tried to get out and hike and do some lower elevation climbs to get myself in some type of shape other than round. Although, in hindsight I could have done more in this area to prepare myself. The nice thing is my mental focus tends to keep me going even when my body has gotten tired. So one thing I've learned is endurance is not always physical.
Gear - Now gear is something I did not have a lot of, other than my birthday presents I had received earlier. So over the next several months I shopped online and made long drives to REI to get geared up. Amongst the list was a whole layering system from bottom layer to outer shell, helmet, harness, ski goggles, a better set of gloves and I would later need a new camera since my primary one decided to malfunction. So a few months and about $1300 later, but definately warmer and more prepared, I had my gear and my new camera.
Instructor/Guide - For my guiding service, I went with the same guides that my wife was looking at when she was planning for my birthday. I chose Timberline Mountain Guides. It was convenient because my days off come in 4 day stretches and they offered a two day summit climb. One day for learning and practicing beginner snow climbing skills and the next for a summit attempt. I chose to do a privately guided climb in order to have a better chance summiting and closer to one on one instruction. They were very flexible and answered any questions and concerns that I had about the climb. I was very pleased with this guiding service.
Climbing Partner - Originally my wife was going to join me on this one, but it wasn't exactly cheap, so she went ahead and opted out when I had a partner secured. My friend Brett from work has the exact same schedule as I do and he enjoys a good challenge, so he was easy to talk into doing this climb as he had no previous beginner snow climbing skills either. So now I had everything I needed or wanted for preparation of this climb, the time off was a breeze since I always have a four day off stretch and my schedule seldom changes.
Arriving/deciding/ClasstimeThe time has finally arrived to drive up to the mountain, take my class and attempt the summit of Mount Hood. Although, I must say things were not looking all that good as far as the weather goes and leading up to our trip there were a few bumps in the road.
I was packed, lunches and dinners were packed, so we were pretty much ready to go at this point. My wife went with me to keep me company when I wasn't on the mountain. There was just a couple of problems, we were going to get a few groceries before we left and the night prior, we were in a rush to get to work and forgot the list. Not to mention, I had forgotten to give my pager back before I left work. Not just any pager, but the pager that is reserved for medical emergencies at the hospital. So we made a trip back in (about a 1 hour drive, round trip) to return the pager and to get our groceries. By this time we were very tired, we had both worked a twelve hour shift prior to this and we were hoping to leave by around 3pm or 4 pm. This did not happen. We did not get home until about 1pm, so we were going to sleep until about 5 o'clock. Well we didn't get on our way until about 9pm. Arriving at the hotel at about 1am on Tuesday Morning, we were exhausted. Sleep came fairly quickly, knowing that I had to be up early the same morning to meet Brett at our hotel and and to take our beginner snow skills class.
Meeting our guide and deciding whether or not to climb - Brett and I arrived early with plenty of time to meet Joe, our guide. Joe gave us an introduction of himself and his experience, checked our gear, asked us about our experience with climbing, had us sign the waivers that say if we die that they cannot be held liable. He then gave us the option, due to questionable weather to postpone the summit day for another time with better weather or to go ahead and try anyways the next day. After a short discussion, we decided to go ahead with it. After all we didn't want to have to make another long drive up to the mountain, and even if we didn't make the summit, we would still gain some experience, albeit expensive. Onward to the class we went. We learned how to kick steps, plunge step, self arrest techniques, traversing and the french step. We also learned several knots and proper roped travel. I must say the funnest part was doing the self-arrest techniques when we were on our backs-headfirst down the hill, although I hope I never have to use this technique. Our most valuable lesson learned was to wear sunblock, even when it is overcast. I have read that you should wear sunblock when in those types of conditions because of the reflection on the snow but like I said earlier experience is the best teacher. Oops. Back to our hotels to get some sleep for our 4am start and long day ahead of us tomorrow.
2:45am - I meet Brett in the parking lot and we started driving our way up to the mountain, not quite sure what the weather had in store for us. About two miles we realized the parking pass was still in my car so we made a quick turn around and picked that up. Back on the road, it starts raining, NO, downpouring on our way to Government Camp, it's not looking good for our summit attempt. As we make the turn towards Timberline lodge, the rain turns to snow and is still coming down pretty hard. Less than a mile to go to reach Timberline and the snow starts coming down much softer and much smaller flakes. Although a little more promising, we still are not sure how much conditions will be affected further up on the mountain.
4:00am - We meet up with Joe, our guide, and board the snow cat to be taken up beyond Timberline lodge. This snow cat looked very, very, very old. It looked like it was put into service when cars had to be cranked by hand to be started. Noisy and with the lovely smell of gasoline, we head towards our destination when all of a sudden. Vrrr, Vrrr, Vrrr, Chugg, Chugg, Chuggg. Followed by the driver's words, "these mechanics are payed way too much!!" He manages to start it back up again only to have it die a couple of more times. He radios down to the lodge and has them bring up a new snow cat which seems much more modern than its stalled counterpart. So we board the new cat and drive for what seems less than five minutes and arrive at our destination.
The weather appears suprisingly calm, just a little snowflake or two fluttering down to add to the one or two inches that have accumulated overnight. We work our way up to the first fumarole that is present along this route taking turns kicking steps, although my turn was rather short since I was the least of the physically fit. Thinking that our guide had eggs for breakfast, I said nothing, forgetting that there were fumaroles on this mountain until Brett said, "smells like sulphur." That's when the light bulb went off and I remembered. We continued to work our way up to the ridge that parallels the first fumarole, and took a stop for our guide to do a thorough analysis of the avalanche danger along this path. After about ten minutes of evauluating the conditions he made the executive decision to continue to the top of the ridgeline to reduce chances of getting caught in the path of an avalanche. When we reached the base of the Hogsback Ridge we took a well deserved break and watched as clouds moved in and created a white out situation. We patiently waited for the clouds to clear so that we could make this exposed climb with good visualization. The weather behaved. Blue skies, with the occasional cloud now. As we made our way towards the Pearly Gates, we came across the bergshrund. Now this is something that Brett and I did not anticipate, it was open, probably about two feet wide maybe at the most. Enough to step across at least. We were roped just prior to this point and as we crossed we tried not to look into the abyss, although, I could not help myself but to look down into this awesome natural phenomenon. Upwards through the steepest section of the climb as we crossed through the pearly gates right into heaven (the summit). We finally made it!! [img:185690:alignright:medium:]
It was a relief to finally be on the top, only to come to the realization that we had to climb down shortly. We made a quick descent in somewhat soft snow conditions heading through the Pearly Gates and back down the Hogsback this time having to leap the Shrund as two more climbing parties had crossed and made the opening just a little bit wider. Climbing down was not without incident though. As we were descending the Pearly Gates, I had to put my newly obtained Self-Arrest skills to use because one of my plunge steps just kept on plunging causing me to slip. Thank GOD for ropes and a sharp metal stick. On the way down we passed the two parties, one of which ended up getting caught in a white out and being lost overnight, thankfully to be found alive and well the next morning. As we continued our descent, the mountain disappeared behind us, most likely causing the conditions that the two climbers got lost in. High winds with lots of snow, right after we reached the highest point in Oregon. We were lucky.
Although nerve-wracking at times, this is an experience I will not soon forget. The views, the smells, the fatigue. It was all well worth it.