22 May Mount Hood Trip Report
submitted by Frank Florence
“Did you see the forecast for Sunday? What do you think?”
I had seen the forecast and I wasn’t thrilled. A passing low pressure system and moving fronts meant that clouds would cover the top of the mountain and the chances for precipitation were good.
“Can folks push the dates of the trip up? Can we leave one day sooner?”
Green lights all around. We made the adjustment and planned accordingly. Four of us would be headed up to the Timberline parking lot on Friday evening. There wouldn’t be a lot of time for sleep. Even though our objective was the straightforward South Side route on Mount Hood, we all knew it made sense to get a very early start so that we’d be down before the weather blew in.
Bridger Mann-Wood, Emilie Cortes and I drove out of Bend Friday afternoon and made it to the ski area parking lot by 8 PM. Nathan Guyer, who’d been visiting family in Portland, met us and we quickly sorted group gear and hunkered down for a few hours sleep. There was a steady wind blowing, but only a few fast-moving clouds in the sky. Plenty of stars were shining so we knew the high clouds hadn’t yet begun to roll in.
“Is it midnight?” Afraid so. That was our alpine start wake-up time. A quick breakfast, final pack adjustments, and we were ready to go. Except…
“I’m not up for this today.” Emilie hadn’t slept at all and wasn’t feeling well. We discussed having her come at least part way up the route but it seemed clear she was not comfortable. OK. Stay here, try to sleep and we’ll see you in a while.
The wind had abated somewhat and that made conditions more tolerable, but I was surprised by how soft the snow was as we climbed the first berm out of the parking lot. Were temperatures this warm higher up? We started a steady ascent up the climbers’ path on the east side of the ski runs. The snow condition didn’t change much as we reached the Silcox Hut. But as we neared the top of the Palmer lift footing became more firm. We took a break, put on crampons, and then started back up.
There was a wide patch of deep tracks coming down from Crater Rock, attesting to the very warm conditions earlier in the week. Sometimes we followed the steps and sometimes it was easier to use the unbroken, crusty snow. We had some assistance from moonlight in picking our line, but clouds started to build and we eventually were relying solely on the limited view given by our headlamps.
A strong sulfur smell wafted down the slope as we approached the Hogsback. We made our way to the top of the ridge and talked through the options. Passing clouds obscured visibility a little, but we could make out the general area of the Pearly Gates above us. The pinnacles on either side were heavily rimed. Off left, ice and rock had fallen out onto the snow slope. But it seemed reasonable to traverse below that and make our way over to the Old Chute route. I moved up a short way along the Hogsback, wondering just where to start the traverse, when suddenly I saw a tracked path angling out left. We followed along that and quickly moved under the summit ridge to the Old Chute area.
The sky was beginning to get light, so we stopped for a final break, put away headlamps, and broke out a second tool each. The line we selected to the top of the summit ridge went through a narrow slot that was filled with frozen snow and rime. It wasn’t overly steep or difficult, but having a second ice tool made getting solid purchase easier. The three of us ascended without problem. From the top, it was just a short walk over to the summit where we watched the golden dawn climb up the volcanic peaks to the north. High clouds added drama to the view as we smiled and took it all in. Stormy conditions were coming, but we’d be back in the car when they arrived. Knowing that made the moment just that much more enjoyable.