As the weekend approached, I was hoping for good weather in Northern Idaho. The possibility of setting a new route on Scotchman Peak had been tantilizing me for 3 weeks now. When I saw the forecast for bad weather there, and good conditions on Hood, I quickly switched over to plan B. To my dismay, all of the usual partners couldn't make it, so I decided to spend the weekend down there.
I made it to Hood river at about 1:00, met up with my friend, then left to do some hiking. We visited the remote Elowah falls (my favorite gorge waterfall, due to no crowds), then hiked up to the top of Multomah. If you go up there, leave the platform to the right and lean over the edge while gripping the tree. The site of looking all the way down is spectacular.
After crashing at my buddy's place, I got up early and prepared for my solo journey. The trip up the Palmer was uneventful, though I only made 1,150 foot per hour, instead of my usual 1,500, due to a cold. Very few people were on the mountain to my surprise. I counted only about 15 other climbers. At about 10,000 feet I stopped to admire the west face of the steel cliff and the route I was about to solo.
After switching to crampons and ice tools, I headed up the 45 degree slope to obtain the base of the couloir. Once inside, I noticed some serious unconsolidated snow, but I was looking for a challenge. The postholing up to my knees through the first hourglass wasn't too bad.
The climbing above was very challenging as I continued to sink in above my knees on a 60 to 70 degree snow slope. The wind was gusting to about 50 miles per hour and blowing spindrift into my face. I'm glad I put my balaclava and ski goggles on. It was only 9:00 and the icefall was pretty minor, so I was content to take my time.
As I neared the base of the second hourglass at 11,000 feet, the amount of powder changed dramatically. I started to sink in above my waist and every step was a chore. Just under the point where it narrows, I sunk in up to my shoulders. I used every method I could think of including chopping a path through with my adze and tooling directly on the frozen gendarme tower to pull myself up. It was no use and the thoughts of downclimbing 600 feet of 60 to 70 degree snow couloir started to weigh heavily on my mind.
As I was pondering this, a massive gust of wind slammed my head into the frozen gendarme. The sound of my helmet hitting the ice was pretty loud, and the blow made me feel woozy. Another blast of wind came flying down through the hourglass, but I managed to stay put. I buried my head in the snow then wrapped my arms around my head to stay put. The wind was relentless, pummeling my back with frozen ice particles. After about 5 minutes it finally let up, so I carefully retreated down the steep couloir.
After about 15 minutes I made it back to the Hogsback path and took a long breather. I tried to reflect on what just happened and considered slogging up the easy Hogsback route. The only thing I could think of was I want off this mountain now!
I made it back to Timberline at about 11:30 and enjoyed talking to several people including Portland Mountain Rescue on the way down. Everyone was pretty surprised at my ordeal considering the warm, sunny, and near bleezeless conditions on the lower part of the mountain. The Palmer was a postholing, knee tweaking, slushfest, since it was 65 degrees at Timberline.