Ascent of Mount Hood on 1989-06-21
|Date:||Wednesday, June 21, 1989|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||11239 ft / 3425 m|
Ascent Trip ReportWednesday, June 21, 1989:
I finally cut south through modern industrial parks to U.S. 26, was pleasantly surprised by a stretch of freeway that got me out of the sprawl, and was soon seeing the snowy white pyramid of Mt. Hood ahead in the blue sky framed by tall roadside evergreens.
Mt. Hood is only 11,239 feet high, but it stands all by itself with no other mountains nearby at all, and apparently it is far enough north to be permanently glaciated, even on the longest day of the year, today. Zummwalt’s directions said that there was a ski area on the south side of the mountain reachable from Government Camp, OR on U.S. 26, and after some nice high-speed cruising with bozo drivers happily turning off the road when I approached, I went through the tiny town and up a steep, winding but paved road that led to the Timberline Lodge. The parking lot here was spectacularly set right below the mass of Mt. Hood, with the whole peak visible, including the ski lift. I took a picture as I pulled in, again angry at myself for taken an inferior shot of the mountain from U.S. 26 earlier.
I walked up to the ski lodge building, called Day Lodge, and found out that there were two lifts open for skiing, that the area was open from 7 A.M. to 1 P.M., and that a ticket cost $16. It was now around 10 A.M., but I bought a ticket anyway, decided against renting skis in the little shop in the lodge, and returned to the car to get my stuff. I knew that I might want to hike to the summit of Mt. Hood, so I stuffed my daypack with what food I could scare up, extra clothes, first aid stuff, and the like. I then put on my boots, plastered enough SPF 15 sunblock all over my face and head to kill an elephant, and hiked up to the ski area, beyond the Day Lodge and next to the Timberline Lodge, a luxury hotel.
I put on my A.T. skis near the base of the lift while tourists watched (“Look, Mildred, real skiers!”), locked my ski tote to a pipe contraption sitting next to the lodge, made sure that my A.T. boots were as tight as possible for the downhilling I was going to be doing, and sidestepped up a steep ramp to the chairlift, which whisked me up out of the little glade of trees there into the staggeringly white galcierscape of the south slope of Mt. Hood.
There were two lifts operating, both in the same straight line up the mountain. The terrain under them was treeless glacier for the most part, with some bare ground and rocks showing occasionally, so one could ski wherever he wanted—there were no real “trails”. After a warmup run under the lower lift, feeling amazing that I was skiing on a hot, clear June 21st, I rode up both in succession for a long run all the way down. All told, I did about six or seven runs of varying length, sometimes getting on at a midstation on the lower lift to avoid going all the way down.
The lifts were very primitive and slow, and the crowds there were about 60% bratty little kids there for summer ski camp and about 25% snowboarders in rad threads. I rode up the upper lift a few times with one or another of the kids, one of whom, about 12, was complaining that his friends were throwing snowballs at him because he was so good even though he was younger than them. He claimed that he could go 60 mph and that he was he 3rd best skier in his age group in Washington State. I tried to seem impressed. He also told me, and I later confirmed, that the upper lift wasn’t open in the winter, because there was so much snow that it was totally covered, and instead they had a bunch of lower lifts below the currently open ones.
I stashed my pack at the top of the upper lift (8500 feet) for a few runs, then ate lunch on a rock there while I watched a ski patrol person explain to a reckless skier that he would have to pull her ticket, saying “look, I can’t help it, but I’m paid to be an ass”. Leaving my pack again, I skied another fantastic run on the mushy snow to the hut at the base of the upper lift, where I went to the bathroom and talked to two climbers who I had seen hiking down from the summit. They told me that they had started their hike at 3 A.M. and gotten a snow-cat ride up to the top of the lift, taking advantage of the more stable cold snow from overnight. This is what Zummwalt had done, too, and seemed to be the standard way of climbing Mt. Hood. Unfortunately, a ride cost $150 unless you had people to share with you. The guys told me to contact mountain maintenance to set it up and see if anyone else was going up tomorrow morning.
I rode the lift up again, arriving at 12:45, meaning the area would be closing soon, ate some more food from my pack, and decided to go ahead and try to climb to the summit. I was already at 8,000 feet, the point where snow-cats let people off, and well above the 6,000 foot Timberline Lodge, where I would have to start my climb if I didn’t want to cough up the dough for the snow-cat, and besides, I paid for my lift ticket already, and also, it was a beautiful day, so I decided to see what it was like. I realized that climbing a major, glaciated peak solo in the mushy snow of afternoon was perhaps getting in a bit over my head, but I was halfway there, so going for it seemed to be the right thing to do.
I put my skins on my skis, unlocked the heels of my bindings, and headed up above the ski area. There were a lot of footprints and trails to follow in the snow, so I knew where to go, even though since I was closer to the summit, I couldn’t see it ahead. The going was very steep, and I had soon stripped down to my t-shirt as I switchbacked uphill, sweating like crazy. Behind me a ways were about four snowboarders hiking up in my tracks, carrying their boards, proabably so they could get in one last super-long run.
After an hour of this wearying uphill skiing, punctuated by frequent rests to just wheeze and pant, it got steeper, and I started smelling something noxious that I couldn’t place. There were also frequent rumblings of rocks that had been loosened by melting snow falling down the mountain, but none ever in the totally snowy route I was taking. I got a little higher and realized that the smell was coming from volcanic steam vents in the bottoms of nearby rocky ravines and was your basic rotten egg stench of the volcanic sulfur.
The footprints led to a place where a steep traverse began, leading to the top of a little snowy ridge, and I realized that the traverse was too steep to ski across. Therefore I removed my skis, planted them firmly in the snow, and started hiking across the slope with my trusty ski pole as my only item of technical gear. There was a nice path beaten down in the snow, so I didn’t sink in very far as I hiked up to the ridge.
The ridge was a sharp, narrow hump of snow called the “hogsback” that led directly towards the jagged ice cliffs that guarded the summit. Although it dropped steeply to both sides, to the right down to a steam vent, I felt I could handle it, so I continued hiking up. About halfway up the ridge a large, deep crevasse perpendicularly sliced right across its path, so I followed the path in the snow around it to the right, climbing down, probing with my ski pole to make sure it was safe to cross where I finally did cross its path, and then climbing back up to the hogsback. Another half-hour or so of labored ascent on the sharp crest brought me to the base of the ice cliffs, where a shower of ice pellets was raining down on the little ledge beneath them. However, by staying on the outside hummock of snow on the little ledge I avoided this hailstorm and made my way to a narrow, steep colouir that seemed to be the way to surmount the cliffs.
The colouir was very steep and covered with ice-crusted snow in odd sastrugi-type formations, and I climbed it by kicking steps in the crust with my A.T. boots. I climbed in a hurry to lessen my exposure to ice showers, pretty unavoidable in the colouir, and was good and winded when it ended on a small, less steep plateau covered with the funny ice crust. Unbelievably, I realized that I was just about on top, just like that—I had expected a lot more false summits and ridges. Another minute brought me to an abrupt precipice falling off to the north, and the summit was the highest point along the edge of this cliff. It was now 4 P.M., and I had the apex of Oregon to myself under the partly cloudy June sky.
I rested, took a picture of myself (which was difficult without any place to put my camera), ate the last of the chocolate and raisins I had brought with me, and admired expansive views in all directions, encompassing snowcapped Mts. Rainier, Adams, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. I then noticed that another prominence along the cliffs little to the west might be higher than the one I was on, so I went over there, but once there I realized that the original hump I had been on was clearly the summit, so I took a picture and made the two-minute return trip to my pack. I took another picture and then realized that I had better get going, since it was getting cloudier and cloudier. As I was putting my pack back on, though, a small plane approached the summit and passed very close above me. I waved and jumped up and down, and the plane made another pass, this time even closer, seemingly close enough to touch from the edge of the north cliff, before disappearing to the south.
The downhill hike to where I had left my skis was a breeze. After carefully downclimbing the colouir with my back out from the mountain and skirting the ice cliffs, the hogsback provided a perfect soft surface for downhill plunge-stepping. I went around the crevasse and shortly met up with the first climbers I had seen since leaving the ski area, two guys in full technical gear. I told them of the hazards above, they told me that my skis were still where I had left them, and they were jealous of the easy time I was about to have of getting down to the Lodge.
Their jealousy was founded. In two minutes I had plunge-stepped to where I had left my skis, and after taking another picture of myself, taking off my skins, tightening my boots, and securing my pack, I was off. My technique was poor, and my turns wide in the interest of safety, but it was still a blast as I cruised down the steep glaciated snowfield, arriving at the top of the now-deserted ski lift in a few minutes. Stopping only to take a picture of the tracks I had left, I then started down the ski-area portion of the glacier, but soon discovered why it was closed at 1 P.M.—the snow was like Elmer’s glue, and difficult to impossible to ski on, especially with my crummy A.T. gear. I soon found an area that had just been groomed by a snow-cat, and I messed up the grooming by skiing down on the track, but it was much better than the glop to either side. By 4:45 P.M. I was down at Timberline Lodge, although behind it, and I had to ski across to get to where I could get over to the parking lot. I had now fully realized the power of backcountry skiing, descending 4,500 vertical feet in about ten minutes. Fortunately, by being extra careful, I had avoided falling during the whole day, and my shoulder was fine.
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