Elevation Gain: 1,623m
Total Time: 8 hours 10 minutes
Date: April 2nd, 2022
Occasionally, I’ll browse through old trip reports on sites like Steven’s to get inspiration for my next objectives. It was during my most recent perusal that Mount Hood caught my attention with an aesthetic steep snow line through rime towers to the summit. I knew little of Mount Hood, but further reading revealed it’s an exceptionally popular mountain with over 10,000 attempts each year. The standard route via the south west looked rather domesticated with a chair lift running up to 2600m and groomed tracks up to the same point. Nonetheless, the upper sections require steep snow climbing up to 40 degrees and inclement weather often guards the summit. At 3,429m in elevation it’s also the highest point in Oregon and 4th highest in the cascade volcanic line.
It’s not often that I’ll add a summit to “the list” and have the opportunity to do it in the same week. However, incoming weekend weather forced my hand, as a snow storm was bringing significant avalanche hazards all across BC and Washington. I looked further south and discovered a narrow weather window on Mount Hood for the Saturday. Friday evening was calling for dense cloud cover and around 6-7cm of snow. By Saturday morning, the weather was expected to clear, but strong winds and temperatures down to -25 would be present. Thankfully, I had a willing partner to endure the cold as Jacob was keen to get out of another rainy Vancouver weekend. We made a plan to leave Vancouver at around 5pm, when Jacob was off work and car camp at the Timberline parking lot. Then around 3:30am we’d get up and push for the summit.
On Friday, both of us ended up running a bit behind while he finished up at work and I was wrapping up a workout at the gym. Nonetheless we ended up leaving around 5:40pm and started the 6+ hour drive towards Mount Hood. We didn’t reach Government Camp, just outside of Mount Hood, until 1am or so and the snow fall was unexpectedly heavy. Jacob passed the small town and turned onto the road up to Mount Hood where a slick layer of snow covered the road. We made it only as far as the first pull out before the now familiar sound of tires slipping forced us to call the pull out home for the night. Now with only 2 hours until our proposed wake up time, I decided to push out our start time to 4:30am to give us a bit more chance of rest.
4:30am rolled around quickly after an awkward few hours of sleep and thankfully the snow plow had made a few recent passes on the road. We got going after a quick push out of the pull out and made our way to the upper most parking lot. There we discovered white out conditions and blowing wind. Neither of us were keen to start our day in such conditions and so I had a look at the forecast again. It was now calling for clear weather around 8am and the avi forecast had improved from M/L/L to L/L/L. That was more than enough to “twist our rubber arms” into an 8am sleep in and so back to bed we went.
I didn’t sleep very well with all of the commotion in the parking lot, but I was thankful to be in a warm car while the weather slowly eased up. Finally, at 8am we got up and started to get our gear on. Unfortunately, Jacob discovered his down jacket was missing and so we made the call to drive down to the pull out and do a search. Sadly, the jacket could not be found, so we drove back up and continued to get ready. Luckily, I had brought a spare down jacket and several extra layers just in case, so Jacob made use of those instead.
We started with snowshoes right from the parking lot and we were both thankful to have them. The route began, along a groomed track towards the summit, but the post hole opportunities were still endless. I didn’t make it more than a few hundred meters and could already tell this was going to be a long slog to the top. The path up was hardly a steep grade, but for some reason it was laborious to make each step forward. Huge gusts of wind were hitting us head on and that didn’t help either. I quickly swapped for a full-face balaclava, but the wind still found it’s way to any exposed part of my face. Jacob was in a similar boat, so at least misery had its company. We slogged on, passing all the ski touring groups as we went.
About 3 hours in and we reached the final chair lift station at around 2600m. To my surprise, there was an open door where several groups were taking shelter or warming up. We both wanted a break from the wind so stopped in for 10-15 minutes to eat some food and rest. Once we were ready, we put on the snow shoes again and started our way towards the summit. We crossed a few lowly bumps on our way past Illumination Rock and then reached the base of Crater Rock. I lead us climber’s right around the rock and discovered some very touchy wind slab along the way. Thankfully the slopes weren’t too steep here and we hit more stable ground about 40m later.
Around the north east side of crater rock we reached a strange volcanic vent of sorts, that’s known as the Devil’s Kitchen. There, we also came across the last pair of climbers that was still ahead of us. They were resting for a bit and looked hesitant about going further. To reach the hogsback (a long snow ridge leading up to the rime covered ridges known as the Pearly Gates), there were some nasty looking holes and crevasses to navigate around, so I could see why. They told us “[we] looked quicker so you feel free to ahead of us”. I laughed inside a bit because I knew we’d just been offered the chance to guinea pig the route up to the hogs back. No matter, because now we’d have the summit to ourselves and that prospect really excited me.
Jacob and I swapped our snow shoes out for cramp-ons here and took out a single ice axe each. Then, I started climber’s left around the volcanic vent, probing for weak snow bridges. None were found and we were across the problematic area in short order. From there it was a steep-ish climb up another wind affected slope to reach the hogsback. The wind slab was touchy here as well, but only 2″ in thickness so it didn’t pose much problem. Once on the hogsback, I swapped my last pole out for a second ice axe and then started my way up.
It was a tiring effort, despite not being all that steep. By the time we reached the base of the pearly gates the wind had died completely. Now we were faced with some strong solar radiation, but it was a pleasant reprieve initially. From the hogs back it was about 10-15m traverse across the slope and then an ascent directly through the rime towers began. The snow was in excellent shape with a strong ice crust on top that allowed for good purchase of my ice tools and a mix of front pointing and the occasional kick steps on the feet. I hit one spot of soft wind blown snow and one section of pure ice, but otherwise it was bomber.
As I ascended through the rime towers, I started to get pelted by debris from higher up. Seeing as we were the only ones in the lead, it dawned on me that the solar radiation was melting the rime higher up. All too late, I realized the abundant overhead hazards now above us. There were no shortage of precarious rime chunks ready to flake off, so I picked up the pace to get out of the firing zone. It was a sadly exhausting affair with so many layers on, but I eventually exited the steep rime channel and reached the tamer summit ridge. Jacob was a few minutes behind so I walked along the ridge and finally stood on top of the summit.
Not too much later, Jacob caught up and sat down on the summit without much fanfare. His attention was immediately put towards his left foot which had lost all feeling from the cold. We spent a few minutes on the summit while Jacob tried to get some blood flowing again. I spent the time to take some photos and then put a deadline on getting down. I was concerned the snow conditions would deteriorate under the strong sun and didn’t want to down climb steep slushy snow if I could avoid it. A few minutes of more rest and we started our descent. I walked outwards to the pearly gate exit at climber’s left.
From the exit, I could see two more climber’s coming up and called out to see how many others were coming up. Even a mere 20m separation was enough to muffle each other’s voices, so the best I could communicate was to get them to take the right channel while we would descend the left one. Once they were out of the way, we faced inwards and started our down climb. The left channel had more precarious rime slabs ready to drop so we had to climb as carefully as we could. Despite the extra precaution, one my kick steps sent a dinner plate sized chunk down. Unknown to me was the fact that three more climbers were on the way up. I failed to call out the falling chunk in the heat of the moment (the reality is they never would have heard it) and it disappeared in the distance. When we exited the split in the rime channel we ran into the three climber’s who weren’t too happy about this huge chunk coming down without warning. I apologized for the mistake and amends were made.
Jacob and I moved on past them towards the traverse where another two climbers were now on their way up. Truly a traffic jam on the way to the Pearly Gates. A few more meters and we reached the traverse and then continued our down climb on the hogsback. Despite by initial fears, the snow remained in perfect condition under the sun. I was still content with the call to head down when we did, however.
About half way down the hogsback we reached a flat spot and stopped to rest. It was here I had a big rush of excitement about what we had just climbed. Now 1000+ meters above the clouds, surrounded by wind carved rime towers it dawned on me how special a place we were in. Truly a divine moment at the base of the Pearly Gates. The kind which keeps me coming back for the mountains time and time again.
After taking in all the views we could, we started our way down again. This time facing outwards as the slope angle eased. Returning down the slope below the hogs back was easier this time as the wind slab had mostly diminished. I put away one ice axe at this point and switched for a pole before continuing on. We followed our descent path past crater rock and sought the softer snow sections for easy plunge stepping down. Just before the ski lift hut, we paused for another break. Then I lead the way down the groomed section all the way back to the car. I largely manged to avoid the firm crust and that made for a very quick descent.
We finished just a few minutes past 8 hours. Despite how gassed we felt on the way up, I was fairly pleased with the overall time. Neither of us wasted time getting out of our gear and into the car. We stopped for an hour outside of Portland to get some dinner and coffee and then headed down the highway again. Just outside of a Starbucks we ran over a nail, but it seemed to resolve itself. Then another 30 minutes down the highway the right front tire completely exploded. Jacob pulled over and we spent another 30 minutes sorting that out before getting on our way again. Standing on the shoulder of a dark highway, mere feet from cars whipping by at 70mph was surely the sketchiest moment of the trip. At around 2am we pulled into Vancouver after a long, but successful mission.