Mt. Hood Climb (11,162 ft) via South Side / Hogsback Route - June 14-15, 2006
Trip theme: "Get it Wet. Dry it Out Again" or "Am I Suppose to be Covered in Ice?"
The original plan was to camp at the Still Creek campground at the base of the road to Timberline Lodge and to day hike up to 8,500 feet on Mt. Hood on Tuesday after our backpack was over. Plans have a way of changing though. It was drizzling and cold at the Still Creek campground, and if I had any hope of climbing Mt. Hood it was absolutely essential that I rest my knee as much as humanly possible (In case you skipped here directly, I hurt my knee on our 3 day backpack prior to Mt. Hood). So we bagged the day hike and instead took "free" showers at Timberline Lodge and played a game of hearts at the Wy'East Lodge. Camping was accomplished back on Hwy 35 about halfway back to the city of Hood River at the USFS Nottingham campground. The campground turned out to be great as it remained predominately dry while Mt. Hood was soaked in water, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We wound up camping here our entire time at Mt. Hood.
Wednesday morning we got up and headed over to Mt. Hood for our snow school. In keeping with our tradition, Ed & I choose to hire a guide service to 1) Ensure our safety, and 2) Increase our odds of summiting. George elected not to hire a guide as he had summited Mt. Hood twice in April alone and Ping was not climbing. We selected Timberline Mountain Guides as our guide for Mt. Hood. The sun was coming up ridiculously early this time of year so we found ourselves at the lodge plenty early, so early to allow another full game of hearts. We then met our guides Bob & Jeff, the other clients, and listened to the sketchy weather report. I informed the guides of my knee ailment and they seemed stellarly unimpressed. I guess either I wasn't limping enough or I looked like such a stud that it was irrelevant. Of course the weather was terrible. Just like the previous day it was around 50°F and misting at the Lodge. The show school was in a nice little gully just off to the northeast side of the parking lot. The slope was steep enough to get some good practice in despite the snow being pretty soft. We only had one other snow school as a frame of reference, but this was the best snow school we had attended by far (way better than the RMI one we would do later). In fact they covered everything that I wanted to cover in good detail: multiple techniques for ascending, safe techniques for descending, how to climb in balance, rope travel, ascending/descending on snow anchors, and self arrest in all imaginable positions. Very complete and very good for a one day snow school. I especially appreciated how they emphasized how not to fall as opposed how to arrest your fall. The self arrest practice was very entertaining for me as I enjoyed yelling down to Ed that he had fallen into a fumarole after each of his failed self arrest attempts. I appreciated the snow school even more on Rainier as I used much of the knowledge to improve my climb there as well. The snow school was a good 6 hours long and my Gore-Tex was totally soaked from all the mist/rain and the self arrest practice in the snow. The guides told us about the "free" dryer back at the Lodge so we availed ourselves of the opportunity and dried back out again. Amazingly my knee felt pretty good all day in conjunction with my popping Advil like candy. I was cautiously optimistic that I might have a chance the next morning on Hood. We ate dinner at a favorite place of mine, the Mt. Hood Brewing Company, where I bought Ed his dinner for beating me up Mt. Shasta the previous year. I recommend the burgers or the fish tacos.
The original plan was to sleep in the SUV in the parking lot near the Lodge, but everyone vetoed my plan and we stayed back at the Nottingham campground. 6:30PM had us in our tents and attempting to sleep for our 12:30AM wake up call. I haven't slept that poorly since our Kili climb. I must have slept intermittently at some point, but it seemed like I was totally awake for the entire 6 hour period. I was having strange random thoughts that just wouldn't allow my mind to rest. I don't think I was anxious about the climb as much as I was anxious about whether my knee would hold up or not. This whole knee thing was just ridiculous. During the 2 months I was training for this trip, both of my knees felt fantastic. It's hard to believe one decided to pitch a fit at the start of the trip.
Thankfully 12:30AM came around and we loaded up to meet our group at 1:30AM at the climbers register at the Wy'East Lodge. I popped a handful of Advil while I jammed to the climbing tunes on my mp3 player in preparation for the climb. We had to stand around a little bit waiting for the snowcat to arrive (part of the advantage to the guide service is you get a snowcat ride from 6,000 ft to 8,500 ft). As I got aboard the snowcat it occurred to me that I had made a critical error. This thing was going to be dark, enclosed and very bumpy. A recipe for me to throw up, so I took off a bunch of clothes to try and stay cool on the ride which helps with my motion sickness. The snowcat ride was like riding one of those fighter pilot virtual reality rides. We were getting bumped and jostled all over the place all in the dark. Several times it felt like we had gone backwards over ski jumps as the nose of the snowcat dipped wildly downward and then it would make a sharp turn. I stuck my head out the window eventually to get some air and saw that it was a blizzard outside. The snowcat suddenly came to a stop and the back doors were thrown open. Everyone suddenly jumped out the back of the snowcat and I felt like we were in a war movie where the troop carrier had just stopped on the shore and the sergeant was yelling "Go Go Go!". I was frantically trying to find my neck gaiter and goggles before the sergeant came and forcefully threw me out of the troop carrier. I found myself outside of the snowcat and it wasn't like the troop carrier on the shore, it was more like the troop carrier unloading us on the alien planet. It was dark, cold, windy, raining/sleeting, and very low visibility outside. I put on the goggles and followed Bob off into the night.
I figured I needed the goggles, because the guides had put theirs on, but I couldn't see a damn thing. We trudged up the slopes and I could barely follow Bob in front of me. At one point I told him I was having a hard time following him due to visibility and he seemed confused. I would later find out he had taken his goggles off right away with no problems. My goggles kept icing up but I was warm, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other following Bob up the mountain. We stopped for a break and to put on crampons after an hour or so. I needed to get these damn goggles off but I couldn't figure out how. Everything was all iced up. Where was the clasp? I couldn't find it, Ed help me out! He couldn't find it. What the hell I'm an idiot, it's underneath my hood! I get the goggles off and suddenly I have sight, much better. I take a look at myself and I am completely covered in rime ice from head to toe (I think technically this type of ice is actually referred to as glaze ice). I can't get my pack off because the clasp is iced over, I can't open my water bottle because it is iced over, etc. Eventually I beat my pack enough and beat the water bottles enough to knock the ice off and I'm on my merry way. So we're putting our crampons on and I'm all ready to go when I look over at Ed. He is fumbling around with his crampons, which are all in pieces, and he is freaking out that he can't get them on. He also can't get his ice axe out because it is frozen to the strap. Usually I am the one who has some sort of freak out at a rest break so it was a strange quirk of fate that it was Ed this time. I calmly helped him put on his crampons and remove his ice axe, and like a true friend declared that he now owed me dinner.
The climb up to the Hogsback was uneventful. I was certainly happy to be able to see and have the sun come up. The weather improved dramatically as we got above the cloud cover although it was still pretty windy. We took another break at the bottom of the Hogsback and I was finally able to get the camera out and take some pictures. We still had a lot of ice on us but the pictures don't really do it justice. Case in point, I was unable to turn off my headlamp until well into the descent as it was covered in ice. The Hogsback looked steeper than it had in the pictures. We roped up at this point and our guides informed us that they would be putting in protection for our climb above the Bergschrund. This seemed unnecessary but as we approached the crux of the route it seemed to be a very prudent choice. The snow here was hard on top but soft underneath. A fall would likely not be arrested until we hit something undesirable like the Bergschrund or a fumarole. After sizing the slope up in person I was all in favor of the protection. At one point we were standing on a sinking snow bridge waiting to be belayed up, but no worries. Climbing up above the Bergschrund and through the Pearly Gates I was thinking, "Man this is steep, how the hell am I going to climb down this?". As we are nearing the summit, I looked behind me and up pops George's head. He had started the same time we had but I had figured for sure he had turned around due to the inclement weather and having previously summited. But nope, there he was. Climbing the same way we had with no protection at all. We had made the summit and photos were had by all. Unfortunately it was mostly covered in a cloud and we only had a very brief glimpse at Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier off in the distance.
Summit photos in hand we now had to get back down through the steep section we had just climbed. There would be protection above the Bergschrund but we had to down climb through the Pearly Gates to get there. I'm man enough to admit that this unprotected section was a little bit outside of my comfort zone. Mostly because I figured that the run out of a fall was something ugly several hundred feet below. We very slowly and meticulously down climbed while roped together through this section. George on the other hand seemed to have no issues at all and just fired on ahead. At one point I slipped, lost footing and yelled "Falling!". I managed to self arrest myself right about the same time the rope went tight. I thought, "Man I need to be more careful". Come to find out later that Ed had actually pulled me off balance with the rope causing me to slip in the first place. Geez. During the last little bit to get down to the belay point I put a crampon point onto Ed's helmet and the fellow up rope of me, Mark, put his crampon point lightly into my thigh twice. Thankfully we got to the belay points and got down below the Bergschrund. Whew! After I got home I found out that 3 people had fallen 2 days after we were there in this same section above the Bergschrund in probably similar conditions. They got all bloodied up and had to be helicoptered off the mountain. So apparently my sixth sense was correct about the climbing conditions and kudos to our guides for putting in excellent protection. The climb the rest of the way down was mostly uneventful. I got to see the route we had climbed up in the dark and managed to take a few pictures along the way. My knee miraculously felt fine, no doubt a testament to heavy Advil usage. Back down in the parking lot it was back to the mist/rain but no matter. We were done and on our way to Mt. Rainier.
Later after getting back, I thought more about my level of concern on the down climb and whether it was warranted or not. I feel pretty good that I was able to judge my level of climbing ability and match it to the conditions and come up with a result of "Be real careful here". Especially considering that 2 days later 3 people fell and were seriously injured in likely very snow similar conditions.
|Campsite at Nottingham campground||Inside the Timberline Mountain Guide room|
|Putting on crampons at snow school||Ready to go at the climbers register on Mt. Hood|
|Ed covered in rime ice||The Hogsback, followed by the Bergschrund, followed by the Pearly Gates. It's steeper than it looks in the picture|
|Climbers coming up from the Devils Kitchen||Death by falling into Fumarole #1|
|Death by falling into Fumarole #2||Looking back above the clouds|
|Mark after banging off a bunch of the rime ice. Check out the other guy behind me||How the heck are we going to get back down that?|
|Whoever steps on the rope owes Bob a beer! (The green pack is me)||Cool, we're through the scary part and almost to the summit|
|Ed on the summit of Mt. Hood (11,162 ft)||Mark on the summit of Mt. Hood (11,162 ft)|
|Ice axe on the summit of Mt. Hood with Mt. Rainier (left) and Mt. Adams (right) in the background||Climbing down into the void. Good thing the clouds were there to hide our predicament|
|Coming down. Check out how you can see both below and above the clouds all in the same picture||Finally we're having a nice day! Look how nasty it looks back up higher on the mountain|
|Mark on the side of the ski slope during the descent||Bob and Jeff our guides|
|Of course after we're back down and driving away the weather is perfect up on the summit|
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