Ascent of Mount Hood on 2015-05-24

Climber: Mihai Giurgiulescu

Others in Party:Jeff Webb
Tony Delgado
Graywolf Nattinger
Date:Sunday, May 24, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Carpool
Peak:Mount Hood
    Elevation:11239 ft / 3425 m

Ascent Trip Report

So far, Mount Hood is the only state highpoint for which I needed two tries to summit. On the first attempt two years ago, a late winter storm hit at the end of May, dumping several feet of fresh snow high up on the mountain and making avalanche risk unacceptable. We had to turn around at the base of the Hogsback. I chose to return around the same time of the year, Memorial Day weekend, and was successful in reaching the top on May 24.

After our team dwindled from 8 to 5 through injuries and other commitments, two of us flew into Portland International late on Friday night, where we were picked up by one of the guys who drove up from California. Together we checked in to the Best Western at Government Camp, same hotel as on the first trip in 2013, with the fourth team member rolling in not long after. On Saturday, we drove up to Timberline to assess the mountain and get some first hand info on conditions. While Government Camp and elevations below were socked in, Timberline (elev. 6000) appeared clear, with just some wisps swirling around the summit area. This reminded me of our experience on Rainier almost a year ago, when the upper part of the mountain was sticking out from a thick cloud layer. Maybe this was a good sign. We heard that several summit attempts had been thwarted by icy conditions above the Hogsback, with people choosing to turn around. Apprehensively, we drove off and proceeded to do a misty hike up Zigzag Mountain as a warmup.

We set the start time for 03:00 on Sunday. We were in the parking lot at Timberline by that time. The sky was completely clear, with many stars shining. Below Timberline, everything remained socked in. Even though I had filled out all the paperwork the day before and our packs were ready, it still took some time to get going. We put boots on the ground shortly before 03:30. High we on the mountain, we could already see the string of headlamps from the groups that had chosen to use the sno-cat and got dropped off at the top of Palmer ski lift. For us, that had never been an option as we wanted to climb the mountain from the bottom, the old-fashioned way.

We made good time to the Magic Mile huts, then to Silcox Hut. I wasn't expecting dawn to catch us so quickly, but it was good to be able to see the way up. While there was no snow in the immediate vicinity of the lodge, we hit it within the first within a quarter mile and stayed on snow the rest of the way. We didn't carry snowshoes and didn't see a need to put on crampons yet, though a snowboarding group caught up with us while trudging up in snowshoes and skins. At a break just below the Palmer ski lift end, one of guys abruptly said he was turning back. It was his first time on Hood, and said he got a feeling that he didn't like. While I respected his decision, I was (and remain to this day) baffled by the fact that he didn't really measure himself up. I climbed several big mountains with this person, both on snow and rock, and can attest he is a strong and experienced climber, but in this instance he simply called it a day without even trying. We passed him the second rope, which was now unneeded, and wished him well. He would wait at Timberline until we returned.

While losing one person did not help morale, the rest of us remained as determined as ever. Three including myself had undertaken the ill-fated attempt two years back and had extra motivation. The weather looked great and the conditions good, so on we climbed. We put on crampons at the top of Palmer and continued up what was a now a well-established boot track to Triangle Moraine. The route approached the base of Crater Rock, then rose to the Devils Kitchen at the head of White River Glacier. Even from far below at Timberline, the smell of sulphur was strong, and at the Kitchen it was particularly intoxicating. We didn't linger long. After skirting a fumarole to the right, the route veered left and straight up to the Hogsback. We noted the point where we had called it in 2013 - ancient history now. The sun hit us just as we crested the Hogsback and took a quick break.

Even before reaching Devils Kitchen we started running into climbers heading down. A large group passed us as we were ascending to the Hogsback. All of these had turned back, citing icy conditions. I was surprised to hear of so many failed attempts, especially since we had seen people on the summit ridge earlier on. We also learned that one person had taken a bad fall in the Old Chute, tumbling between 300 and 600 feet (numbers varied according to who told the story). Some of those who turned back did so after getting unnerved by witnessing the fall. On the Hogsback we ran into the unfortunate victim, who had bloody cuts on his face and looked shaken up, but was otherwise coherent, mobile and responding to commands. Guides and members of his party were in touch with the rangers and rescue teams at the base of the mountain, with a strategy being implemented for getting him down. I believe he walked off on his own - we didn't get to see the descent.

The main problem with Old Chute was that it was icy. As a result, we decided to use a variation that most of the others groups were following. Instead of going up the Hogsback to below the bergschrund, then traversing left into the chute, we traversed from the middle of the Hogsback left to a fumarole between Crater Rock and Coalman Glacier. We hiked up dirt and rocks through the fumarole. The advantage of this was that it allowed for a more mellow entry to the chute, as the few people who had started the standard traverse left of the bergschrund were having a really hard time getting around the ice pinnacles. Complicating the problem was a pretty big crevasse that had opened above the fumarole, so a slip on the traverse would send one straight into it.

People kept coming down as we ascended the chute. A guide was roped up to his client and keeping a close eye on him. Though the chute had seemed really steep from the Hogsback, being on it wasn't that bad so we kept rising. The slope kept getting steeper the higher we reached, but the snow had softened up some after being in the sun so I felt confident about continuing. While initially there was a boot track in the chute, this disappeared about halfway up. We could see where the chute terminated on the summit ridge, so started angling left towards a set of ice pinnacles. At this point, though still in the sun, the snow had a hard layer underneath, and the angle of the slope was getting close to 50 degrees. A fall here would have had serious consequences; acutely aware of that, I blocked all else from my mind and engaged the deep focus required for critical climbing moves. We reached the base of the ice pinnacles, then made an ascending traverse to the right and finally popped up on the summit ridge.

As soon as our entire party reached the ridge, we heard shouting from below. I caught a glimpse of someone tumbling uncontrollably on the left side of the chute. He may have been on the bergschrund traverse and slipped. He seemed to be heading straight for the fumarole crevasse, but thankfully stopped right above it. The person lay there for a while, then started moving. Someone was making their way down to him. On the way back we heard he had been able to descend on his own to Palmer, from where ski patrol evacuated him.

With the results of two falls fresh in my mind, I knew there could be no room for error now. We were almost at the summit and had to get there. The route now followed the ridge staying right below cornices. On the left side, towards the north, the cornices dropped off vertically. I didn't dare look. On the right, the slope tobogganed right into the ice pinnacles. There were two very exposed sections, with only steps kicked into snow, where one could not stop even for a second. The ridge widened after we crested a hump, then rose to the highest point. There were a few others relaxing on the summit, where we joined them triumphantly.

For a little bit, the satisfaction of finally having made it overwhelmed other feelings of fear and doubt. Of course, we now had to go descend all that, but for the time being we took in the incredible views. To the west and south everything was under the thick cloud layer, but I could see Jefferson and Three Sisters far into the distance, floating above everything else. Northerly, St. Helens was fully surrounded by clouds at its base, while the bulks of Adams and Rainier shone through the vibrating atmosphere. From the cornice we were on, I could still peer down the north face of Hood, where glaciers were glittering in the sun. To the east, the warm blue haze of lower elevations reminded me that I was on top of the world again. There was no wind. In one word: perfect.

The total time spent at the summit was about an hour (we got there around 09:00). After the requisite picture taking, sustenance and relaxation, we headed back. Walking the exposed sections of the ridge again felt uneasy, but thankfully they were short. At the top of the chute again, a party ahead of us began kicking steps while facing into the slopes. We followed their tracks, while also setting up a deadman anchor at the top from which we lowered our 30-meter rope. While we didn't tie in to the rope, I found it useful psychologically to hold on to with one hand while planting the ice axe with the other and kicking steps. After miscommunication regarding the next anchor, I took out the picket I had hammered in and proceeded to descend using just the ice axe and the steps. The slope remained steep and seemed to go on forever, but it had softened up some more. It finally relented so that I could face outward and plunge-step the rest of the way down to the fumarole, but the time in the chute, right below the pinnacles where a piece of ice would occasionally break off and sail by, were some very nerve-wracking minutes.

All in our party descended the chute without incident. We regrouped at the Hogsback, then everyone took off at their own pace. The other three glissaded sections of the route to Devils Kitchen and then to Palmer, but I chose to walk. At the top of the ski lift we took off the crampons, then wound our way through the mass of skiers and snowboarders waiting to take off down the hill. We veered off to the left of the groomed runs to avoid any high speed encounters with the casual day use crowd. There was some postholing lower down the mountain where the snow was really soft, but for the most part the descent was easy on the knees. The last half mile or so was on use trails and dirt roads, and we finally stepped into the parking lot at around 14:00. I signed us back in, we found our friend who had waited all this time, and left the crowds behind as we drove back down into the clouds, to the calming touch of a hot shower and the restorative power of a big meal.

I know we got lucky on this attempt and I am grateful the mountain allowed me to succeed. There were many lessons learned, just like there were on the failed attempt the first time around. I am thankful for having been with a strong team who did not get discouraged in the face of adversity and misfortune that befell others. Most of all, I am further convinced that there is no substitute for experience when taking on Hood. Despite being the lowest Western state highpoint, it is one of the most difficult of the bunch, so I make it a point to remind others contemplating the climb to make sure that they do so wisely.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:5439 ft / 1657 m
    Elevation Loss:5439 ft / 1657 m
    Distance:7.8 mi / 12.6 km
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:5389 ft / 1642 m
    Extra Loss:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:3.8 mi / 6.2 km
    Route:South Side/Hogsback/Old Chute
    Trailhead:Wy'East Day Lodge  5900 ft / 1798 m
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:5389 ft / 1642 m
    Extra Gain:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:South Side/Hogsback/Old Chute
    Trailhead:Wy'East Day Lodge  5900 ft / 1798 m
Ascent Part of Trip: OR Hood 05-15

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Zigzag Mountain2015-05-23
2Mount Hood2015-05-24
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Mihai Giurgiulescu
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