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Ascent of Mount Hood on 1994-07-08

Climber: Glenn Slayden

Date:Friday, July 8, 1994
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Hood
    Location:USA-Oregon
    Elevation:11239 ft / 3425 m

Ascent Trip Report

The following narrative describes my solo climb of Mt. Hood near Portland, Oregon.

The summer ski lifts are open from 7am to 1pm and I decided to take a later than usual start for this climb by riding the lifts at opening, rather than an expensive ride on the early-morning grooming sno-cat, or hiking the ~2500 vertical up from the Timberline Lodge in the powdery volcanic dust.

Based on the beautiful weather, I made a quick-decision to take this trip, so I left the Seattle area at 3am on Friday, July 8, to arrive at Mt. Hood by 7am. Even for just one lift ride with gear, you are required to buy a full-day lift ticket, which is $25. Also, the management frowns on this use of the lifts--I was accosted by a staff person at the top of the slope (8500') who indicated that the ticket office wasn't supposed to sell tickets to climbers. He let me go when I protested that the lady who sold the full-fare ticket knew my plans before selling me the ticket.

I had had to remove my climbing skins and put on my skis in order to ride the upper lift, and found it awkward to carry my full size pack on the narrow lift when they paired me with another skier at the last second. Hiking just above the ski slope, I reattached the climbing skins to the skis and easily skied up a long, gently sloping snow field. Per the pictures and route descriptions in Jeff Smoot's Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes, I stayed to the right of a cleaving rock ridge, but soon this slope became very steep. I started angling slightly to moderate the slope so that the skins would stick, but I had a problem with the ski bindings prereleasing, which was becoming annoying.

In anticipation of having to move the release setting on the Ramer binding from DIN 8 to the next setting, simply marked "Danger", I had brought the adjustment tools, but for now struggled on carefully. Eventually, the slope became extremely steep and the binding released on a traverse, leaving me in a very precarious position. I was unable to reach my ice axe, which was strapped to the back of my pack, but I was able to use the ski poles as modest anchors. Carefully and methodically, I secured my position by kicking a step or steps, and removed my skis, plating them vertically in the snow.

I was then able to use the skis as a self-belay to move to a rocky section to my left. I noticed that to avoid the steep drop-off of Steel Cliff to the right, a trail crossed up a rock outcropping to further snow travel which I couldn't see above. At first I considered leaving my skis at this location, but eventually decided to carry them up further on my pack, in case further ski travel was possible above the rocks. This later turned out to be a good decision, because descending on the other side of the rock ridge would be much easier, as it was a much more gentle slope.

Above the crumbly rock section, I was able to ski up a bit more, but again the slope soon became too steep and I now identified a place to leave the ski equipment during the summit climb. I traded skis and poles for crampons and ice axe and was once again pleased with how easy the changeover was with the plastic boots and step-in crampons.

A well-traveled path climbed steeply up a snow ridge to the left to a saddle, and then along the Hogback ridge, with dropoffs to fuming smelly fumaroles on either side. The going was easy up to the one crevasse (bergschrund) along the route. This year, rather than pass to either side, the traveled path crossed a clogged snow bridge right in the center of the gaping chasm, which I leaped carefully and without incident.

Above the bergschrund, other climbers had apparently spread out and there were no established footsteps. This was the steepest part of the route, requiring front pointing (German technique) and careful piolet traction axe placement for backup and support--self arrest on this face would be impossible. I was tied in to my axe and triple-checking each placement. I noted that a route to the right, along the edge of the glacier, was less steep, and had been used by some people.

Although incredibly steep--the slope was in front of my face as I climbed it--this section was relatively short, perhaps 200 yards. It led to a short, narrow gully from which rocks were raining down periodically. In fact, one small stone hit my helmet--a construction hard hat--squarely in the center, making me glad to have this important equipment. I moved quickly through this mixed rock/ice terrain and came through to a very broad rising snowfield with summit candidates to the left and right.

As it turned out, the true summit was at center, about 300 yards up the moderate slope. The humpbacked edge of the snowfield fell of to the north (I did not want to approach too close to the edge because of unknown cornicing) to spectacular views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St Helens. To the south was visible Mt. Jefferson in central Oregon.

The summit was quite windy and I spent about ten minutes and took many pictures before descending in a plunge step back to the rock-strewn gully. Through and below the gully, I descended facing inward to the slope, again only using the adze or pick of the axe in piolet ancre, as appropriate, for every step. I did decide to descend the less steep route I had seen along the edge of the glacier, and gradually cut over to the bergschrund, arriving just at the crossing point. As I crossed the gap, a step leading down to the snow bridge collapsed slightly but I safely crossed and moved quickly away.

I now had an easy hike down to the col, where I met an elderly man with a wooden shaft ice axe and chatted with him as he strapped on his ancient rock-dulled crampons. Besides a helmet, he had little more equipment, and he mentioned that he hadn't been climbing since climbing a then-challenging Mt. St. Helens in 1967 or so. I gave him pointers on the terrain above and headed down to my stashed skis.

Reaching my skis, I pulled off the climbing skins and accomplished the changeover from crampons to skis. I locked the ski heel into downhill mode. The slope was steep but wide and I estimate that I was about 1600 feet above the top of the ski area. It was around 11:45 a.m. and the snow was really starting to soften up and become poor.

This is where problems with my releasing bindings really became serious as I couldn't accomplish even a single turn without a release. After becoming annoyed and receiving consolation from some late upward climbers, I decided to adjust the binding. I moved over to a sunny rock, removed the safely tether from my skis, and set up my ski shop, but not before a ski I planted in the snow fell over and pointed itself down the fall line. Being intensely aware of the immediate danger of an untethered, brakeless ski in that orientation, I leapt into action, sprinting over rock to the ski, reaching it just as it moved into open snow. I dove head-first through the air using my one chance to catch it, and belly flopped, ski clutched in my outstretched hands, arrested in the soft snow.

This excitement having passed, I made a note to be more careful with ski placement in the future. It took quite a while to adjust the ice-snarled bindings and get underway again, but the improvement was huge. I was able to easily ski in wide arcs with my gear-laden pack through the by-now hopeless heavy summer snow. In time I arrived at the top of the groomed ski slopes, and I aggressively skied the entire distance back to the lodge, with increasing confidence in the binding adjustment.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2739 ft / 835 m
    Grade/Class:2
    Route Conditions:
Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Skis, Ski Poles
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:2739 ft / 835 m
    Route:South Side
    Trailhead:Palmer Ski Lift  8500 ft / 2590 m
Descent Statistics
    Route:South Side
    Trailhead:Timberline Lodge  



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