With at least two new Cascade volcanoes we want to tackle this Spring/Summer, Mack and I knew we needed to fit in at least one familiar climb to train on before then. After our Mt St Helens plans were scrapped due to weather (and permits are sold out for every weekend in May!), we decided to try for Hood. We originally intended to wait until Mack’s birthday weekend (Mother’s Day weekend), but the forecast was just too damn perfect to pass up. On Saturday afternoon, we packed up our gear (opting to leave behind harnesses, pickets, and rope this time around), took a short three hour nap, and hit the road at 10 pm.
The parking lot at Timberline Lodge was already bustling with climber activity and it was only 11:30 pm! We signed in at the climber’s register (creating a makeshift permit since there weren’t any left) and started up the climber’s trail at midnight. It’s amazing how strenuous this section felt compared to our first time last July. Maybe we were just out of shape (or moving faster since our packs were significantly lighter?), but I swear the hike up to Palmer Lift House felt more steep than last year!
Once at the lift house we took a slightly longer break to hydrate, eat a snack, trade trekking poles for ice axes, and don our crampons and helmets. Last year we waited to do this [crampons, helmets, ice axes] until we were at/near the Triangle Moraine. It was super windy and exposed, and our fingers went numb trying to get all of our gear on. Getting everything done in the sheltered vicinity of the lift house was far more comfortable.
The trek up to Crater Rock and the Hogsback from the lift house is pretty straightforward. Mack tends start to feeling the effects of altitude around this section, so we went slow and took our time. It was 3:56 am (earlier than I’d expected) when we reached Crater Rock. Crap. We were probably going to summit before the sunrise. Well, better than summiting too late. Four or five people were hanging out at Crater Rock, waiting to start the final stretch up the Hogsback through the Pearly Gates. Two guys in front of us led the way and we followed close behind. There was a pretty clear boot path most of the way up, which meant we rarely had to kick fresh steps.
About half way up, I started feeling a little whoozy. I’ve never had any sickly reactions to altitude. (I had to take slower, deeper breaths as I got closer to Camp Muir on Mt Rainier last Spring because it was a little harder to breath, but that’s about it) I’m fairly certain my reaction was to the plate of mozzarella sticks I’d eaten for “dinner” before we drove up. Such an idiotic move on my part. The ugly churning in my stomach definitely affected my concentration, but I forced myself to focus on my steps and ice axe technique. One misstep could result in me careening down this steep slope and into Devil’s Kitchen. Mack mentioned after our climb that despite his dizzying battle with altitude sickness, his mind became very lucid as we neared the top because he didn’t want to make a mistake that would compromise our safety.
I felt really anxious as we approached the entrance of the gates. The kick steps were a lot more shallow here, so we kicked in our own platforms. One of the guys in front of us wanted to get out a second tool to climb through the gates, so we were held up a few minutes, stuck in an awkward, slightly compromised position (and we were freezing!). I was happy when we finally started moving again. My mind and stomach settled once we passed through and walked the final little slope up to the summit. As I looked out on the land before us still blanketed in darkness and the colors of daylight starting to burst forth from the horizon, I felt perfectly content.
We considered holding out for the sunrise (which was supposed to be around 5:45 am). I didn’t feel like digging my watch out, so I don’t know what time we actually summited, but it was definitely a bit earlier than that. It was too cold to wait much longer and there was a long line of people already nearing the gates. Since descending is the most difficult and nerve-racking part (at least for me), we decided it’d be better to start moving. I snapped a few more pictures and we were off.
Down climbing through the Pearly Gates wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. We did run into a roped team from Timberline Mountain Guides, but the guide leading the way ended up being Brandon, our lead climbing instructor from Smith Rock back in March! We exchanged ‘hello’s and ‘great to see you again’s and Brandon had his team give us a little room to skirt by them through the narrow gates. We’re taking a Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue course (to review our skills from last year) through TMG in June. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Brandon is our instructor again.
The snow was still in great shape as we descended. I don’t think I ever felt nervous about my foot holds/platforms collapsing (like they had on several occasions when the snow was softer coming down the Old Chute the year before). A majority of the people coming up were still well below us, so I took the opportunity to take pictures while I wasn’t holding anybody up. The sun had risen in the last few minutes and I wanted to capture that beautiful mountain shadow stretching beyond Crater Rock.
We were just starting to feel comfortable with the descent when we looked below us to see the bergschrund wide open! It had been completely filled in on the way up, so I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it like this. How quickly the conditions had changed! There was still a snow bridge over its gaping mouth and climbers seemed to pass safely over it. We decided to do the same, but we knew we had to move fast when we got to it. Mack went first. He moved swiftly, but stopped short, thinking he’d completed the crossing. I was only a few yards away from him, but I started yelling (in a slightly panicked sort of way I imagine) at him to keep moving. As soon as he was in a safe spot, I started my crossing, keeping my gaze straight ahead (and on my feet of course) so I wasn’t tempted to stop and peer inside the crevasse. I breathed a sigh of relief once that was complete. Some climbers were already turning around because of the bergschrund. Others were traversing left to the Old Chute. Thank goodness we were heading down now!
Once at Crater Rock, we stopped to hydrate. I removed my helmet now that we were out of danger of ice falling and put on a beanie to warm my cold ears. I don’t think it was even 7 am yet, but it felt a lot later since we’d climbed through the night. After focusing extra hard coming down the Hogsback, we were now more relaxed and realized how tired we were. Napping right there by Crater Rock actually felt like a good idea with how sleepy I was, but we kept going. Warm sunshine awaited us down past the Palmer Lift House.
Although Mack is a much faster runner than me, I’m somehow faster at power hiking up and down snowy hills (with or without crampons). Similar to our July climb, I would power ahead, putting maybe 50 yards between us before stopping to wait for him to catch up (or at least get closer). At one point, I was so sleepy while I waited that I sat down on the slope, dug my ice axe in for good measure, laid my head down, and closed my eyes. It felt so good. I legitimately could’ve fallen asleep there. Once at the lift house, we put away our ice axes and got out our trekking poles. Mack removed his crampons, but I decided to keep mine on and deal with them once we reached the parking lot. We also attempted to put on sunscreen, but it had frozen in the tubes! Thankfully, neither of us were in the sun too long, so we didn’t end up burning. At this point, it was around 8 am (maybe a little after). We were almost done.
We were coming down a lot earlier than last year, so there weren’t many skiers/snowboarders yet. We actually had a fairly peaceful hike back to the car. Our feet were killing us by this point though. As much as I love my La Sportiva Nepal boots for the mountains, they sure do a number on my feet by the end of our climbs. It was turning out to be a perfect bluebird day. We had beautiful views of the Central Oregon volcanoes to the south, and I turned around often to gaze upon Mt Hood in all her glory. It was 9:28 am when we reached the parking lot. Wow! About 2.5 hours faster than last time! We rewarded ourselves with a refreshing four hour nap back at home, then beers and all the food we could eat later that night.