Ascent of Mount Hood on 2012-08-17

Climber: Ed Wandall

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Friday, August 17, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Hood
    Elevation:11239 ft / 3425 m

Ascent Trip Report

This trip report is sort of a cautionary tale. Though I wouldn’t say Mount Hood is ‘closed for the summer’ you must check the conditions prior to heading up. In late July of 2009 my brother and I got up to the top of the Hogsback, but bad snow conditions and rockfall turned us back. I made a mental note to come back and climb Hood earlier in the season when the conditions were better. That went out the window when I had a free weekend in August. I promptly booked a room at the Timberline Lodge for my wife, and headed out.

Summer conditions on Hood are totally dependent on the snow load and temperatures. If anything there was less snow on the mountain this year, than in 2009. This means the crater chutes will be steeper. I knew when I landed in Portland and it was 100 degrees that the conditions would be less than optimum. Temps at 6000 feet at the Timberline Lodge were in the low 80’s. I set the alarm for midnight, organized my gear, and went to bed early.

On Friday morning, August 17th, at 12:30am, I started from the Wy’East lodge under headlamp. No moon at all, very dark. I took the trail to the Palmer Ski Lifts, but if you want a slightly more direct route, head up to the Silcox hut, then hike up the snow poles that divide the Palmer snow field, about 100-200 yards to the east of the lifts. I was actually feeling rather ill and made a mental note to not eat at that restaurant near the airport hotel I stayed at the night before. All in all, though, the snow was in excellent condition and I made decent time to the top of the lifts. When you reach the top of the lifts, you want to climb up and over the snow berm that is the top of the ski area and get onto the moraine. Once on the moraine, follow the climber trails past some rock shelters to the White River Glacier. The moraine is a drag, one step, slide back a bit, another step, slide again, etc. I didn’t see lights ahead of me, which was surprising. I did see too parties behind me coming up, one group of three, and another group of two. I decided to slow down a bit, as I had never done the Old Chute route and having someone else break trail was fine with me. However, that was’t to be. I saw the group of three turn back, and the other pair weren’t gaining on me at all. So I would solo it.

A word about the White River Glacier. You cannot get on the glacier too early, as it ends in a cliff. Stick to the moraine until you are just below Crater Rock. I put on the crampons here and broke out the ice axe. Dawn was breaking, so I could turn off the headlamp and I could see the Hogsback and the bergschrund clearly. The ‘schrund’ was huge and quite visible from Timberline. Now you have to side-hill around a snow slope between Devils Kitchen and Crater Rock. Don’t go too high, as you will just have to downclimb a bit on the Hogsback. Pick a line that will intersect the Hogsback at the low spot. As you get close to the Hogsback the slope lessens. You may want to practice some self-arrest techniques here, as you are about to start the committing part of the climb.

Now, here is where the CoHP and Peakbagger beta becomes priceless. To all of you who have taken the time to write detailed trip reports, you are seriously helping climbers…thank you very much. Most of the reports this year, and in previous years in July and August, make it clear that being on the Coleman Glacier (the glacier hugging the crater wall) after the sun hits it for an hour or so is bad, and only gets worse as the morning progresses. Descending is going to be the tough part, and the climbing community lost a very skilled mountaineer in June coming down the Old Chute route. I didn’t like anything I saw ahead of me. Pearly Gates were totally dry, not any snow at all, just steep loose choss and rock. The right chute looked okay up until about 100 feet from the crater rim, then it was melted out. Looked gnarly. Middle chute looked okay all the way to the top, but steep. West Crater Rim route looked steep and far, but looked good all the way up. What I didn’t like were two or three obvious rockfall chutes dropping from the crater rim. There was so much rock fall that these chutes were a foot or two deep, carved out by rocks bouncing to the Hot Rocks area below. AVOID THESE, but don’t think you are free from rockfall, as the whole face gets peppered by the rim above.

I turned around and was still the only person on the mountain. I made my way up to the schrund, had a snack, drank a bunch of water, banged down a 12 hour energy shot, and started to traverse across the face. My plan was to switchback up the middle (standard) chute. I started and guess the lower face is 40-45 degrees. The snow was in great condition still, but light was catching the upper snow. I had to cut and kick steps for every step. It was too steep for any natural steps. Make sure your crampons are on securely. You do not want to lose one here. About halfway across the face, I saw the other two climbers reaching the Hogsback. I really wish THEY were in front, but I was already committed to my line. I just didn’t know if my line would work yet. As I reached the face about 500’ below the middle chute, I really didn’t like the look of it. Looked too steep for free climbing it, maybe 60 degrees or so, so I just kept working left (west). The climbers below me traversed low and started up the middle chute directly up the fall line.

The West Crater Rim route usually comes around the west side of Crater rock, then runs up along the ridge. If you come at it from the east side, on the normal South Side routes, you have to traverse the whole face, but it gets you to the crater rim lower than climbing all the way up the normal chute. I thought this was a good thing, and it probably is if the summit is frozen. As it was, I decided to go for it, and the higher I got, the steeper it got. 50 degrees gave way to 60, and out came the second tool. Even though I was above 10,000 feet with 600 feet of runout below me, I kept telling myself that this was no different than some of the easier ice climbing I have done back east. Except usually I am belayed. The last 100 feet of the route has to be close to 65-70 degrees, and this section had been in the sunlight for an hour. I was really worried about it, but no need. I could kick steps straight into it, and my axes bit hard, and in 15 minutes I was on top of the crater rim and though the crux was behind me. Boy was I wrong.

The West Crater route sticks you on the summit ridge about 100 feet lower than the summit, and maybe 300 yards west of it. You have to traverse the summit ridge to get to the summit, which is no problem if it is below freezing and all the rocks and moraine are frozen tight. When it is this warm, watch ever step, as almost every rock will slide out from under your feet and try to bounce down the very impressive north face of Hood. I wedged myself into some rocks, took off my crampons, and scrambled toward the summit. After a few dozen feet, I saw the prayer flags that were put up for the lost climbers from 2006, and a rappel rope that dropped straight off the north face and spoke of some epic long past. When I could see the summit about 200 yards away, I saw the other two climbers on top. Good for them, and great for me. I could follow them down.

I met them as we passed on the summit ridge, just behind the gates. I told them I was happy they didn’t follow my route, as it was a bit hairy. They looked at each other and told me they were going to go down the way I came up, as THEIR route was too scary! Great! They did say that they had a rope, and I suggested they rappel down the steep section. I had brought my harness, so I would meet them at the rap and go down with them. I rushed to the summit, took some video and sent good vibes to Bob Bolton and Adam Helman who were just over on Mount Adams. It was 9:30 in the morning.

I spent all of 5 minutes on the summit, then rushed to catch the other climbers. They chose the east chute, which kind of surprised me. You have to downclimb a short, steepish section of chossy moraine to get to the snow. Every step slid and kicked stuff down. They chose not to set up a rappel, which was sporting. I had to put my crampons back on, so they got a nice head start on me. This time the snow was much softer, so you could just make firm crampon placements, belay with your axe, and step down carefully. After about 200 feet of this, the slope eases a bit (it wasn’t as steep as the West Crater), but the snow got a lot more sloppy. Step, slide, step. Had to do a quick self-arrest about halfway down, and watched one of the other climbers slide about 15 feet. However, if you go carefully and slowly, it wasn’t any problem. Once we hit the Hogsback, we knew the tough part was behind us.

Heading down, just reverse your route up. The skiers will be all over the Palmer ice field ski area, so hike down below the lift. The ‘official’ route is to go east around the ski area, but this adds a lot of hiking to the end of your day. I stopped into the Timberline Ski Patrol tent and asked if it was okay to bomb down the ski lift, and they said it was fine. The snow by this time was like slush, so if you have your trekking poles, here is the time to use them. I was back in the lodge by 1pm.

Protip: You can’t wear your climbing boots in the Timberline Lodge, so either drop them at the door, or wear your approach shoes. On the second floor there is a bar with a great view of the mountain. Order the ICE AX IPA…a perfect beer to end your day, and since you have been carrying an ice axe for the better part of 10-12 hours, a 22 ounce Ice Axe IPA is perfect.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5309 ft / 1618 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:South route, West Crater Rim
    Trailhead:Timberline Lodge  5930 ft / 1807 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons
    Weather:Warm for the altitude
Ascent Statistics
    Time:9 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 

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