Tuesday July 12th, 2016 I stood on the summit of Mount Hood, the state highpoint of Oregon. This was #44 out of 50 for me. This was a hard won summit, with my first attempt ending in failure after being turned back 700′ from the summit due to weather. The second attempt was also not without its challenges, so when I finally did make it, it felt like I had really accomplished something.
Hood has a reputation for nastiness, and has killed over 130 people. It’s one of the higher death tolls for US mountains. Even so, I was still surprised the intensity and variety of her wrath. Why is Hood a female? Because a male mountain doesn’t really care if you climb him or not, he’s indifferent. But a female mountain will fight you all the way to the top. And fight she did, throwing freezing rainstorms, icy winds, whiteouts, avalanches, hailstorms and even a fall for good measure.
As I mentioned, it took two attempts to bag this one, and the stories are tightly linked, so I have combined them both into this one trip report.
Summit Date: Tuesday July 12th, 2016
Summit Elevation: 11,249′
Trailhead Elevation: 5,860′
Elevation Gain: 5,389′
US Rank by Height: 13th
Round Trip Hiking Time: 13 Hours
To view a sortable table of all of the highpoints with completion dates, trip reports, photo galleries, blog entries an GPS tracks, visit the US State Highpoint Progress Page.
About the Mountain
Mount Hood, was called “Wy’East” by the American Indians who once inhabited the area. Hood is a potentially active stratovolcano located only 50 miles east of Portland. Steam is constantly spewing from fumarole areas and sulfuric gases are a hazard for climbers. Eleven glaciers grace Mt. Hood’s peak and the Timberline Ski Lodge is situated at the base of the mountain. At 11,249 feet, it is Oregon’s highest mountain as well as being one of the most visually impressive mountains in the nation based on its geographical prominence.
First Attempt – July 7-8th
Upon counsel from fellow climbers and people I respect, like Rick Crapshoot Overholt I opted for a guided trip for my first attempt. (Rick said this mountain really scared him, I now understand why.) One of the problems with guided trips, is there are typically inexperienced and unfit climbers on the trip and more often than not, one of them will not be able to continue and the entire group will be forced to turn around. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and didn’t want it to happen here since the hood season was closing mid July. So I opted for a private guide, meaning it would be just me and the guide. That was the only way to be sure that a weak climber would not sabotage the climb.
I arrived and met Ben my guide, he inspected my gear, which was legit, yea I’m using some hip hop speak there, because I’m all about the gear and if you’ve been following me for long, you know I agonize over the details.
So with the gear check out of the way, we proceeded to the elevator which took us up one level, yes, this climb really started with an elevator ride. From there we walked a few hundred feet to the ski lift. I know, I know. Why would a manly man take the ski lift? Well I didn’t want to, and I protested, but Ben looked up at the clouds and said he thought it might rain and wanted to get up the mountain beforehand. So we rode the lift, and I felt like a lamer, but it didn’t seem to bother Ben.
Let’s talk about Ben. He is a ruggedly handsome, friendly and talkative young man in his mid 30’s. I was intensely focused on my pre-climb checklists causing Ben to label me a quiet man during our first 20 minutes together, he later retracted that opinion.
Fun facts: Ben is a Sagittarius and he farts a lot. I’m not kidding, he really is a Sagittarius.
So Ben knew what he was doing, he has summited this mountain a few hundred times, and the rain he was concerned about came just as we completed our campsite. This involved hewing a level snow platform for the tent out of the steep mountainside snow and took a considerable amount of effort on both our parts. The snow was loose at this altitude, so we gathered volcanic rocks to anchor the tent lines.
Ben expected strong winds as well as heavy rains, and he was again not wrong, fortunately we had built a solid refuge and didn’t leave it until the following morning. As a result, we got 9 hours of sleep before summit day, which is a record in my book. The typical protocol is to cover skills with the client the afternoon of the first day, neither of us wanted to brave the near freezing temps in drenching rains and Ben was comfortable that I had adequate skills based on my climbing resume, so we skipped it.
Our campsite was within cell coverage, and Ben’s phone beeped all night with texts from other guides and woke me up numerous times. I kept thinking it was some of my own tech and I was concerned I was disturbing him. I was slightly annoyed the next morning to learn it was him all along, but the southern gentleman in me said to let it go.
Side note: I’m writing this trip report on a plane as I often do, and there is a very unattractive couple sitting next to me who are practically making out. It’s weird, distracting and making me very uncomfortable. Should I ask them to stop? What’s the socially acceptable thing to do here?
A Rainy Night
The wind howled and the rain fell throughout the night. We decided to awake at 1:00AM and if the weather was good, to make a break for it. We knew if we could get above the freeze line we would be dealing with snow instead of rain which is much more pleasant.
A Rainy Morning
So we woke and it was clear, then as we were gearing up, the rain started again, then It stopped, then started again, and this pattern went on for a few hours. Finally, out of boredom more than anything else, we decided to make a go of it, so we geared up and headed out into an overcast morning with light drizzle. The rain quickly started up in earnest again, and we were pushing hard to get above the freeze line.
Gloves are difficult, and it’s the one aspect of my gear that I’m never quite satisfied with. I brought a full multilayer system, but I did not bring waterproof gloves. So in a vain attempt to keep the water out, I donned a gallon ziplock bag on each hand over my glove and tucked it into my sleeve. It was not sexy as far as mountaineering goes, but it did work, at least for a while. I’m not sure that any of this is really sexy, I mean when was the last time you heard someone say, wow, that is one sexy mountain man? I really don’t think that ever happens.
OK, my neighbors are still making out, and it’s really starting to bug me. Aren’t there some TSA rules to protect the children or something? I’ll ignore them for now, perhaps they will tire or get bored.
A Rainy Day
So up the mountain we went, the rain pounding us every step,of the way. It doesn’t matter how good your rain gear is, water will without fail, find a way to your underwear. I know, it’s brutal, but true. And once a mountaineers underwear gets wet, he’s done, no exceptions. I’m a smart guy and being familiar with this cardinal rule, I don’t wear underwear when climbing mountains. But Ben does and 700′ from the summit, his got wet. Additionally, all of our gear was covered in a layer of rime ice and then there was also a visibility issue.
To be fair, not being able to see is a bit of a problem on a mountain, but I’m convinced it was Ben’s wet underwear that did us in. So down we went through the pouring freezing rain, broke camp, and hiked down the mountain through more pouring rain and made our way back to the trailhead.
So attempt #1 was a bust, but I did gain some valuable experience and insight that would help inform my next attempt.
Second Attempt – July 12th
My goal was 50 by 50, and since the climbing season for hood ends mid July and my 50th birthday deadline was in October, I needed to complete Hood. So I cancelled my return flight and extended my stay to wait for better weather. Four days later the weather improved and I made my second attempt and here is that part of the story.
After observing my mountaineering skills during my first attempt, Ben suggested I solo the mountain. This of course appealed to me as I like the solitude and independence of going solo. One of my favorite things to do, is climb a mountain by myself, confidently stand on the top, beat my chest and yodel like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe it’s just me, but if there is someone else there it just feels weird, so I just yodel, which is not nearly as satisfying without the chest beating.
Another thing about guided trips is the roping. For some reason they always rope everyone together, and it’s a dangerous practice. If one person falls, it typically pulls the whole group down. Roping is only practically justifiable on heavily crevassed climbs like Denali for example . So going solo is actually safer as you reduce the risk factor or being yanked off the mountain by someone else’s error.
But the clencher was when Old Spice promised another shot at the contract if I went solo.
An Alpine Start
The snow reacts to the sun, getting soft and slushy, and you want stable solid snow especially on the more technical stuff, so the trick is to be high on the mountain before sunrise. So I started climbing around midnight and climbed throughout the night with a headlamp lighting my way. I know, it sounds way out there, but it’s really standard fare for mountaineering and is referred to as an Alpine Start. I shifted my sleep schedule leading up to the climb and got 9 hours of sleep before the climb which was amazing. Circumstances typically conspire against me and prevent a solid nights sleep before summit day, but not this time!
So up I went, this time my weight was half of the previous 60lb load from the first attempt as I was without all of the extra kit required for an overnight stay. And I started from the bottom, no ski lifts for this manly man. I made good time, and was clocking a respectable 1100′ elevation gain per hour for the first few hours. There isn’t much photography for the first part of the climb since it was dark, but I did snap a few of the early morning alpine glow. I tend to go longer when I’m climbing alone, moving 2-3 hours at a time between breaks. Hunger is what drives these stops, as man my size can burn more than 7,000 calories a day climbing, so calorie replacement is critical.
It began snowing which worried me because it was forecasted to be a clear day. The snow finally gave way to a rather aggressive hailstorm which was unusual and surprising. The pellets were big enough to hurt, but not large enough that I felt the need to shelter, so I continued to climb.
Around 9,800′ I broke through the snow clouds and got above the weather. As I continued to climb, I could see a layer of clouds extending into the horizon. Above this layer there were a few wispy clouds, but visibility was good which was reassuring.
The Hoggsback Ridge is the way up to the Pearly Gates which are the last technical obstacle before the summit. I consumed about 900 calories, then cached half my food, water, layers, and other stuff I would not need for the summit push at the base of the Hoggsback. The temperature was 27 degrees at this point, which is good for the snow conditions. Above freezing the snow becomes, softer, looser harder to climb and more likely to cut loose large slabs. It’s how avalanches are born.
There is a 15′ crevasse, or Burgshrund where the upper and lower glacier separate, that must be circumvented. When I channel my inner frog, I can jump pretty far, and I’m a fan of death defying leaps, but 15′ is a bit much. So this one had to be worked around. Here I caught up to climbers Aaron and Trinity, who were also bound for the summit.
Once I was above the crevasse, the snow gave way as I was transitioning my weight and I went down. As preparation for the big mountains, I have attended a number of advanced mountaineering schools where they teach rescue techniques and skills like self arrest in various conditions. Also most guides will run a short course before taking a group up a big mountain, so I’ve had at least a month of days on the ice practicing this sort of thing, and I’m pretty comfortable with it. My training kicked in, and I had my ice axe in position across my chest with the pick forward before my body hit the ice and the pick bit deep. Unfortunately the icy snow was too soft to hold me and I continued to slide rapidly picking up speed. It is generally considered a bad idea to use your feet to stop a slide because the risk of somersaulting is high. But considering the rocks below me, and the mouth of the volcano crater below that, I really needed to stop so I kicked in aggressively with both crampons and that combined with the ice axe held. I had slid about 30′ which is my longest fall to date. It wasn’t the scariest thing I’ve experienced on a mountain, but its in the top 5. As far as I know this stretch of ice is unnamed, so I’ll call it “Danger Falls”. I did drop my trekking pole, which had a GoPro camera mounted to it. It slid a long way down the mountain, so I decided to keep going up and retrieve it later if possible.
So the last obstacle from here were the Pearly Gates, and its another very step climb up sun-cupped icy snow. As it was even steeper than “Danger Falls” I took my time and kicked deep steps all the way up.
Finally At the Summit!
Once past the pearly gates, there was a moderate 30 degree climb, and I found myself at the summit at last. The weather was perfect and the visibility was excellent providing distant views all around. I could see Mt Rainier which I have climbed twice, Mt St Helens, and Mt Adams. It’s a very satisfying feeling to stand on such a hard won summit, the adversity makes the attainment of the goal all the sweeter. So I was really enjoying being here, and for once the mountain was cooperating. The wind died down, and it warmed up a bit making it very comfortable at the summit. It was still well below freezing, and took out my iPhone, but warm by alpine standards.
So after an extended time at the summit, I began my way back down, unintentionally taking a different and much steeper chute than the one I ascended. The snow here was rock hard ice and I could not kick solid steps. Once I was into it, it would have been more dangerous to climb back up, so I just went with it. A fall here would have been very bad as there were jagged rocks directly below, so I buried my pick deeply and worked my way down the chute backwards. This was one of the scariest climbs I have done, and it really had my heart racing.
I did get through the ice chute without incident, and it put me in a good position to down-climb “Danger Falls” and retrieve my lost GoPro and trekking pole. While I was making this climb, I realized I was in a slide zone and was continually getting hit with minor avalanches from high on the mountain caused by the sun which was now melting snow and ice up high. It was a bit unnerving and I made my way through this as quickly as I could but I still had to watch my footing as I did not want to fall again.
Once I got below the crater I put on my GoreTex pants and proceeded to glissade down the mountain. It was some of the most exciting glissading I have done, and at one point I estimate I was going 30+ MPH down the slope. If you are curious what its like, here’s a humorous video of a young girl glissading down Mt. St. Helens.
The mountain wasn’t finished throwing weather at me, and as I got below the clouds, I was greeted with more frigid rain, high winds, and whiteout conditions. The whiteout didn’t hamper me, as I just followed my GPS track to find my way back.
So that’s a wrap on Mount Hood, I found it to be one of my more enjoyable climbs. I enjoyed the challenge and the adversity made it all the more rewarding to stand on the summit, beat my chest and yodel like there’s no tomorrow.
Next: Second Attempt on Humphreys Peak, Arizona
The most common question I get is how did you get to be so manly? And answering that one is beyond the scope of this article, but the second one is “what’s next?”, so I’ll go ahead and answer that one here. I leave for Arizona on July 27th to make my second attempt on that mountain. Here is the Trip Report for my first Mt Humphrey Attempt which ended in failure. Humphrey will be highpoint #45 assuming I don’t get chased off the mountain by a freak summer blizzard.
Then I’ll have 4 easy ones which I plan to do in a single trip and then Texas which I’ll do on my birthday and you are invited. You can see what is completed and what is remaining on the US State Highpoint Progress Page.