Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Makes Mount Hood Different?

This past weekend, I traveled with two good friends to Portland to celebrate one of their fathers 60th birthdays. Despite all the discussion of the recent events, we decided to stop in at Mount Hood to try a winter ski mountaineering style ascent.

After the 12 hour push of driving, we arrived around midnight in the Timberline Lodge parking lot. We had decided to attempt the standard South Side Hogsback route as the day was calling for 90% chance of snow with high winds and low visibility.

After crawling into our tent, we took a short nap, waking up around 6:00 a.m. We ate, packed our bags, put on our skins and started up. A little snow occurred that night, but the real storm didn’t hit us until ten minutes into our climb.

We followed the line of the chair lift to guide us through the low visibility. After reaching the top of the Palmer lift of Timberline Ski Resort, we made the decision whether or not to press on. Having climbed this route during the summer, I understood what direction Crater Rock was and about how far we had until the final ridge through the pearly gates.

As we started into the “backcountry” portion of the climb, thoughts passed through my head of what it must have been like for the two groups that found trouble on this same mountain earlier this same season. Within minutes, our visibility of 20 feet shortened to less than 5. The wind was pounding us from the west. We each experienced a little vertigo and found that we had reached our limit. A mountain that so many consider a “walk in the park,” or as posted on summitpost.org, “A mountain that can be climbed in high heels,” had proven to us its strength and power.

Keeping our skins on, we descended the “cascade crud” back to the top of the Palmer ski lift. There we stripped the skins and continued the next 500 vertical in survival mode. Prior to the resorts mid mountain, we were finally getting turns in that were worth the effort.

From parking lot to our turn around point, we achieved 3200 vertical feet. The skiing wasn’t great, but the experience was fun. Even in horrible weather, we were able to maintain a solid smile.

I have a very different perspective of Mount Hood now. I understand that it can be powerful and furious. A mountain of any size, shape, and history should always be taken seriously. Mount Hood is known for creating situations within the climbing community. I hope anyone considering climbing this mountain applies good judgment in their preparation and during their climb as it is widely understood that it can be unforgiving.

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Blogger outdoorspro said...

Good call, coming back down in that weather.

Hood gets so nasty because it is a cone, standing alone above everything around it. There is nothing to shelter it from any of the winds and weather that come in off the Pacific, and those Pacific storms can be incredible!

Most other Pacific NW mountains that experience that kind of weather can get pretty remote during the winter, but Hood's easy accessibility means that more people will be able to try it in questionable conditions.

3/13/2007 6:29 PM


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