On the summit

Mount Hood, 11,239 ft

Date climbed: August 24, 2007 11:52am

More pictures on the MITOC Gallery: http://mitoc.mit.edu/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=105386

Trip report by Eric Gilbertson

We had heard rangers tell us several days earlier that Hood was too hard and dangerous this time of year and “no one is climbing it.” Matthew and I found this hard to believe and decided we’d assess the conditions for ourselves and not be scared away before even seeing the mountain.

After finishing Adams on Thursday afternoon we drove across the Columbia river into Oregon and got to the Timberline Lodge trailhead by dark. Bilal couldn’t climb with us this time because he had to fly back east on Friday, and half the battle in climbing Hood was figuring out how Matthew and I would get back to Seattle on Sunday with our luggage. The main problem was that I had my laptop and a big suitcase (since I was interning out west all summer). Normally I’d just stash my extra gear at the trailhead, but I couldn’t risk my laptop getting stolen, especially since it had sensitive NASA information on it from my internship work.

After several hours of phone calls, brainstorming, and borrowing a wireless connection outside an apartment complex, we came up with about ten plans to resolve the situation. The one that was completely legal and might actually work was this: Bilal would bring the extra gear and laptop to a “Ken’s Frozen food and Storage” place at the airport and store it there. Somehow the airport would not be at all suspicious about a Pakistani man dropping off suspicious bags that weren’t his at the airport for several days. On Sunday Matthew and I would hitchhike from the trailhead to the nearest town, Hood River , and hopefully catch a bus north to Seattle in time for our flight.

Finally with this plan we could start climbing the mountain. Bilal drove back to Seattle with our extra gear and we started up the trail in the dark. In the rush to get going we had brought a few things like extra clothes that we didn’t need on the mountain, so we stashed these in the woods a little ways in.

By about 10pm we had to make a decision to either try to summit the next day or wait til Saturday. The problem with summiting Friday was that we would have to get our usual 3am-or-so alpine start, which was getting harder and harder after doing that most days in the past week. So we decided to sleep in til sunrise, then establish an advanced camp as close to the mountain as possible for a climb on Saturday.

We set up the tent that night in what looked like a nice spot in the dark, but by morning we realized we were right between two ski runs. Amazingly the resort on Mount Hood is open year round, fed by glacial snow pushed down the mountain by snowcats every night, so we were woken up by the chair lifts in the morning.

We packed up quickly around 8am and got outta there before any skiers could run us over. The hike up to the base was actually pretty easy, just some semi-steep scree fields up to about 9,000 feet, where you have to cross a little snow to get to the crater.

We got to the crater around 10am and were surprised to meet a group of three climbers who had attempted the summit that morning. (And those rangers said no one was climbing Hood). The guys had tried one of the snow gulleys but got scared away because it was too steep, too icy, and a rock fell down near them. They warned us that it was supposed to rain Saturday and we had better be careful.

Heading up the glacier

We considered our options and thought today might be our only chance to summit, so why not go for it. The snow would have softened up a little and the gulley didn’t look steep enough to need two tools (maybe 45 or 50 degrees), so we decided to give it a try.

There were some big crevasses on the bottom, so we roped up as a precaution. We considered climbing the Hogsback route (the most popular one), but it had a 15-foot-wide bergschrund blocking our path, so we went up the steep gulley those guys tried. I think it was called the Pearly Gates route. Anyway, our crampons dug into the snow/ice perfectly, and the climb was not that hard. There was one black shoot of scree and rocks that we stayed away from, and no rocks fell down.

At the top of the snow gulley we reached the crux – a steep section of rotten 3rd class rock/scree held together by a little ice. As I climbed I accidentally dislodged a softball-sized rock, and yelled for Matthew to get out of the way. Fortunately we didn’t climb directly below each other (for this reason), and the rock rolled well away from Matthew.

At the top of this pitch I poked my nose over the final boulder and was met with a monster 2000-foot cliff. It was covered in snow and I bet never saw sunlight. I sat down and belayed Matthew the rest of the way up.

We determined we had made it to the “Queen’s Chair”, on one side of the summit ridge, and the true summit was about 200ft east and maybe 10 feet taller. The problem was that between us and the “true” summit was a super sketchy knife-edge ridge with boulders precariously balanced in scree. We agreed that we were close enough to the summit and were probably just as tall if we held our ice axes above our heads. So that’s where we took our victory shots.

Matthew taking a break at the top

The sun was getting hotter so we didn’t spend too long at the top. I carefully downclimbed the sketchy 3rd class section and was relieved to finally get back to good old snow. The worst part about the descent was that it was too dangerous to glissade – the snow was still too firm and icy. We could wait for it to be perfect, but then the rockfall danger would be too great. So we downclimbed the whole thing and got off the snow by around 1pm.

Now we couldn’t just hike back down to the trailhead and be done with it, since we had packed several more days of food to account for possible weather delays, so we set up camp right there in the crater. I bet not too many people have gotten to camp right there, in the crater of one of the most popular mountains in the country, and had it completely to themselves. It was almost like a true wilderness experience, minus the ski lift visible below.

One problem with our camp was that the whole area reeked of rotten eggs from all the sulfur, but we thought it was worth it for such a cool location. And we could actually use the steam vents to melt snow for water because it was so hot!

The next morning when we headed down we saw about three parties trying to summit (one was a group of snowboarders trying to board all the way down), and one solo French ice climber on his way down. We laughed again at the rangers who said no one was climbing now.

As for our plan to get to the airport – it worked perfectly. Sunday morning we got our first hitch at 8:15am on car number 8, and our second one at 8:45am on car number 2. That left us with enough time in town to swim across the Hood River and eat our fill at the grocery store before hopping on the bus to Seattle . Right before we left Hood River we took a quick plunge in the Columbia River . That counted as our shower for the week.

(Note: Eric later returned to climb to the true summit of Hood on June 6, 2012 and June 16, 2015)

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