August 9, 2006
I had to come out to Portland for work, so I was anxious to get a climb in while I was out. After flying into PDX from Memphis, I hustled to my hotel to grab dinner and hit the sack early. I wanted to get an early start at the trailhead, so I was in bed by 7PM.
August 10, 2006
At 12:30AM the alarm goes off and I ease out of bed. A few minutes later and I am rolling out of the parking lot and headed east on the interstate to Hood River before cutting North on WA-141 to Trout Lake and the Ranger Station. It was 3:15 before I got to the trailhead and 15 minutes later I was on the trail.
The South Climb (aka South Rib) is about 11.4 miles round trip, with almost 7000’ of elevation gain on the climb. Typically, it is done with a high camp over the course of 2 days. I was trying to go round-trip in a day, hoping for 12 hours or so car-to-car.
I hiked up the trail in the dark, constantly looking behind me for the mountain lion I was sure was stalking me (this seems to be a recurring theme for all of my solo alpine starts in the mountains). Well, if he was there, he let me be and I made it up to the toe of the remnants of the Crescent Glacier by the time it got light enough to ditch the headlamp. But there was some sleet/ice precipitation for a few minutes and the clouds above looked threatening. I could clearly see St. Helens to the West, and it looked OK. Maybe these would break up or the sun would burn them off…
It was colder than I expected, but I trudged on trying to keep warm by moving fast rather than stopping to put on additional layers, a hat or gloves. After climbing over the Crescent on the rock rib to its west, I made my way to a low angle snowfield that climbed from the rib up to the Lunch Counter. No technical difficulties here, still kept on hiking with trekking poles (i.e. no axe, no crampons). I also had my eye on a party of three making there way up the South Face snowfield that had camped at the Lunch Counter.
The route above the Lunch Counter in similar conditions as I experienced. Photo by Dean.
Just over the Lunch Counter (where I saw a few other parties bivied), the main South Face snowfield was looming. It was melted out for about 200’ near the top, separating the lower snowfield from its upper portion. Here it got steep enough to warrant crampons on the hard frozen snow, so I stopped and buckled my BD-Sabertooths onto my leather boots, added a layer, hat and gloves. Still, it was low angle enough to climb with trekking poles, so I continued…
By the time that I reached the portion of the face that had melted out, I was getting blown… The rests became every few minutes rather than every hour or so. I still had not been within shouting distance of another climber on the route. I was still over 500’ above my 1000’ per hour goal, so I wasn’t too worried. After the weather earlier and seeing a plume of clouds whipping off Hood to the South, I was a little concerned about the weather at the summit, but from here it was good, so I kept climbing.
As I got into the steepest part of the upper portion of the snowfield, the party of three that I had been watching above me climbed down past me. They had bivied at the Lunch Counter and seemed rather surprised that I had come all the way from the trailhead. They said that the weather above was pretty crappy, but they had waited around on the summit until the clouds broke, and hung out… I finished off the snowfield and traversed the false summit on the west and followed a boot track to the end of a talus ridge descending from the main summit at the top of the saddle between the two summits. As soon as I rounded the false summit, I could see the main summit was engulfed in a large lenticular and visibility was come and go, getting pretty bad at some points. But I climbed into it to the toe of the ridge in the saddle.
I waited around for about 15 minutes trying to see if the clouds would break, but they didn’t. While waiting, I noted that a few hundred feet to the west was a large crevasse, and to the east was obviously the way to the SE chutes. The visibility was not good, and trying to descend in a whiteout didn’t sound appealing (to say nothing of the fact that climbing the scree ridge looked like less fun than a barrel of monkeys, to say the least). So I decided that this was far enough for me, and I began my descent.
I didn’t want to take the time to break out the shell pants, so I down climbed rather than glissading. A good idea I rationalized since I was solo and there was no one around to keep a watchful eye on me. I passed one party of four on the lower part of the South Face snowfield, kicking steps into the much softer snow than when I had ascended the same slope. I’m glad I missed that!
As I made it off the lower snowfield and approached the ridge next to the Crescent Glacier, I met a party of two melting snow for water. I offered up a bottle of Gatorade, took a quick break to socialize and then hustled off.
I caught up with the party of three that I’d seen high on the mountain at a glissade chute to shortcut the ridge around the toe of the Crescent. With the opportunity to have them keep an eye on me, I followed them on the glissade. I didn’t want them to have to wait on me though, so I used my trekking poles for my break rather than getting out my axe. Needless to say, they weren’t nearly as effective as the other guys' axes and I rocketed down the cute, then out of the chute, but still I sat upright and let gravity pull be down the slope. I made it a little wet, but no worse for wear, but a comment from the other party sounded like they thought I got a little out of control. How right they were!
After that, they hiked on faster than I could keep up and I marched through the heat down to the trailhead alone, except passing a trio of girls headed up a few hundred yards from the trailhead.
I made it back to the car at about 2PM.
Good day in the mountains…too bad I had to work the next day.