Saturday, June 26, 2004

Mount Hood, Oregon (11,239)

17th High Point Visited
13th Highest State High Point
5th Most Difficult

summitpost.org
wikipedia.org


My wife, Homeyra, had a physics conference planned for the last weekend of June in Corvallis, just south of Portland so I tagged along and planned my climb of Mt. Hood while she was busy working.  I discovered a guide service, Timberline Mountain Guides, that offer two types of summit trips - a one day and a two day.  I decided on the one day summit, but the day prior to my actual climb included a training day on basic mountaineering.

I was able to talk one of my friends, Scott Herrick, into making the climb together and joining my team.  He's currently living in Switzerland, but it worked out that during the same time frame he was conveniently in the states visiting family in Colorado.  He flew in the night before our training day and we camped at Still Creek Campground (3,600 ft) near the base of Mt. Hood. 

Our class began at 8:30 a.m. and we started by going through our gear list to be certain each team member was properly equipped for the variety of conditions that we would expect to find on our climb the next morning.  In addition to Scott & I, two other climbers Jeff from Tennessee, and Glen from near Portland and our guide Eric made up our team.  Eric has guided on Mt. Hood for many years and on our climb told us his stories of other climbs including a two week trip to Mt. McKinley in Alaska.  Next we hiked about a mile from Timberline Lodge and began our training of basic techniques of climbing and self arrest.  We learned how to step, how to use our ice axe, and hove to move together as a roped team. 

I had fabricated two mini sleds for glissading, one for me and one for Scott to use on our descent down the mountain the next day.  I took some plastic to a local ski shop and melted the front edge with heavy duty heat fans so I could create my sled.  Also I attached some kick boards made of soft foam to the top of the plastic for extra padding.  Also we I drilled holes in the sled to attach a strap to hold onto.  For the final touch we melted hot wax across the bottom of the sled for less friction and more speed. Key criteria is that it had to be light, durable, and fit easily into our packs.  At the end of our training day Scott and I gave the sleds a trial run.  We only had a short way to slide down, but they seemed to work like a charm.

That night we went to bed around 9 p.m. because we had to wake the next morning about 12:30 a.m. so we could board the snow cat by 2:00 a.m.  At our campground it never really dipped to much less than 50 degrees at night, but the higher elevations the temperature steadily drops.  We met the group at Timberline Lodge and signed in at the register.  Our snowcat was on time, so we boarded and began our climb.  The snowcat to the top of the ski area seems to some as cheating, but none of us complained knowing that we saved ourselves 2 hours of sleep and 2 hours of climbing!  We unloaded, turned on our headlamps, and began our actual climb.  Our first leg of the trip we used only our trekking poles as we made our way all the way to the lower part of Hogsback.  Up to this point I think we stopped only twice for a short break and to hydrate.  An important technique we learned was the rest step, where each step you pause for a brief moment.  This saves considerable energy and helps keep the heart rate lower.  Our strategy was not to break a sweat on the climb.   I also learned that using the trekking poles saves another 30% of energy making our climb more swift.  The poles were something I debated purchasing with all the other gear that I needed, but ended up the one thing that I was most thankful to have had.  While hiking, we pealed a layer, but every time we stopped for a break our first thing we did was to pull our down jackets out to stay warm while motionless.  Again another worthwhile investment!

Our final break before starting the lower Hogsback, we finally put on our crampons.  For this leg Eric felt the ice was firm enough so we continued up lower Hogsback with trekking poles and left our ice aces in our packs.  Our next break was at Crater Rock  We started to smell the sulfur that rises from the ground underneath us, but never did the smell really bother any of us.  Up to this point, the climb was steep, but for the most part for five healthy guys a walk in the park.  We were half way to the summit and already passed another team that started nearly an hour before us.  At Crater Rock is when things became serious.  We stashed our trekking poles and removed our ice axes from our packs and began to rope together for our next part up upper Hogsback.  This was my first real view of the bergschrund where only a few years prior to our climb there was a major accident and rescue of several climbing teams that slid down the mountain into the crevasse.  As we made our way closer to the bergschrund we discovered that there was a snow bridge that formed in the middle that allowed safe passage.  Up until this point we climbed up no particular trail, other that trying to stay in the footprints of the person or team in front of us.  Now along upper Hogsback there was a definite trail cut into the snow.  The route continued to gradually get much steeper as we made our way up upper Hosback.  Footing was very solid and we continued to steadily make our way closer to the summit. 
At the top of Hogsback there are many rock ledges hanging overhead and are quite dangerous, so though even very tired from the steepness of upper Hogsback, we pushed on with minimal break.  We were able to pause long enough to view one of the most memorable sights of all my climbing experience.  We were now above the clouds and the sun was beginning to rise from behind the opposite side of the mountain.  This created a shadow of the summit on top of the clouds.  Each of us snapped many pictures of this most wondrous site.   We pressed on to the last steep slope which took us to the summit of Mt. Hood.  Our climb which started at 2 a.m. was half way done as we stood on the summit by 6:30 a.m.  As we reached the summit the winds picked up heavily and I couldn't get my down coat out of my pack fast enough to try to keep warm in the cold mountain air.  With wind chill the temperature dropped well below 20 degrees.  Again it was still clear and you could see as far as Mt. Rainier 100 miles away.   Pretty magnificent just to see the reward of the last four hours of hard work.

Recently reading more about mountaineering, I reminded myself that we were only half way done, and often the return is more dangerous than the accent.  After about 30 minutes on the summit, a snack, and many photos, our wind chilled bodies were ready to begin the climb back to the lodge.  Again we roped together, but instead of following the trail back down the mountain we tested the ice and it was still very firm, so hiked down giving full trust to our crampons as they dug into the ice with every step.  Pretty scary because directly in our fall line was the bergschrund.  We made our way steadily down and carefully crossed the ice bridge that still stood strong over the bergschrund.  We continued down to just above Crater Rock where we unroped and gathered our trekking poles for our final two stages of our climb down.

We had one final break at the bottom of hogsback and were anxiously awaiting our opportunity to use our glissading sleds we had carried all morning up and partway down the mountain.  The sun hadn't hit the ice yet, so the ice was still very rigid.   Scott tried first, then myself on a small slope.  We went so fast so quickly it was scary.  The worst part was the sled took the abuse of the bouncing over the foot holes that our path crossed.  Thank goodness for the extra padding incorporated into the sleds, but the abuse was too much and the plastic that we used started to become brittle and break apart.  First Scotts split in two, then mine.  We still had a long long way to hike and much preferred the sledding method, so tried to hold together the pieces of the sled for the rest of the way down.  Once we got low enough that the sun was hitting the slopes the slide down was much softer and easier to dig our ice axes into the snow to control our speed.

We finally made it back to Timberline and gazed back up and the mountain standing proud behind us.  What a great experience.  What will be next?