May 1, 2016
The famous Mt. Hood doesn’t need much introductory.. A paved road brings thousands of tourists and hundreds of climbers to treeline and adding a large ski resort nearby this peak is rumored to be the second most often attempted glaciated peak in the world (the #1 is Mt. Fuji in Japan). This is also the highest peak in the state of Oregon but at an elevation of a mere 11,000+ feet this is just a medium-sized volcano in the Cascade Mountains.
Having just ascended Mt. Baker a couple weeks ago I immediately turned my attention to the other volcanoes. For obvious reasons I spent more time researching Mt. Rainier and Mt. Shasta but both would be tough, if not impossible fairs for me in this season given my current work schedule. The other three volcanoes in between the two “grand daddies” were probably my best chances as they all seemed doable as day-trips if I really had the desire to push. It turned out that I did have a huge desire to push in this past weekend. Given the gorgeous weather there’s no excuse, even though that meant an “all-nighter” push immediately following an exhausting 14-hour work day.
The drive was estimated to be over 570 km, more than 6 hours one-way and the plan was to hit the road immediately after work (roughly 9-10 pm in the evening). My dad would accompany me in this trip but mainly for the purpose of driving in case I needed to take some breaks. Had I gone driving solo I couldn’t afford taking a single nap as the earliest possible time arriving at the trail-head by Timberline Lodge was about 4 am by estimation, and that was already considered as a “late start”. Thankfully the work day wasn’t that tiring and I did manage to put myself in an “exciting” state. I had never visited the Seattle-Tacoma Metropolis nor anywhere further south so part of me was actually looking forward to this road-trip. Though staying reasonably awake, I did make a mistake in the city of Portland by taking a wrong turn and got myself completely disoriented. I did not purchase any road map for this trip, but I did find a MacDonald nearby for some weak wifi signals, and managed to correct our bearings soon. Back to Mt. Hood Highway it was a cruise sailing to Timberline Lodge but we soon realized it’d be a tough day ahead.
There’s a huge high pressure system settling over the Pacific NW so I didn’t bother to look further into the details on the weather forecasts. In particular, I forgot that those high elevation volcanoes could be brutal in high winds. My car got pushed badly and I could barely stand balanced in that wind (and that’s just the parking lot)… I decided to take a short nap first and eventually dragged myself out of the car by around 5:30 am. My dad would simply not going anywhere as he had “never seen winds that strong”… Upwards I soon strapped the snowshoes on for the added tractions and the aid of those heal-lifts, but in reality snowshoes/skis weren’t really needed on this particular day (and probably for the rest of this season too). The wind was crazy but never seemed to get worse.
I was pretty much the last climber in the gang going upwards. I caught up and passed groups after groups and lots of folks were turning around (understandable given the high winds). Clouds were also rolling in obscuring the upper mountain and looking back I could see a huge lenticular cloud obscuring Mt. Jefferson to the south which didn’t boost any motivation, but oh well, it wasn’t nearly the strongest wind I’ve experienced so I knew the situation was certainly still in control. The lower hills seemed to drag on forever just like other volcanoes and once the grade steepened passing the upper chairlift I ditched snowshoes and donned crampons. It took me a good while to find a sheltered spot to hide my snowshoes and eventually found one beside someone’s tent.. Further up I caught up a group of ski mountaineers who started more than 1 hour ahead of me, passed them and continued into the “Devil’s Kitchen”.
Up until now I hadn’t taken any break apart from those 3-second rest steps, and the “Devil’s Kitchen” was somewhat sheltered from the wind as it’s pretty much right inside the crater. I was doing good on energy and had enough desire to just push to the summit right away, but realistically this was my last chance to eat/drink something without the wind. I also caught up and chatted with a group (who started at 2 am) and had some discussion about the route choices on the upper mountain. By the appearance the “Old Chute” was the technically easiest but everyone else was going for the “Pearly Gate”. Swapping a ski pole for an ice axe I figured I shouldn’t sit for too long so went ahead. A steep diagonal traverse followed by an aesthetic snow arete brought me to the top of “Hogback” (passing a whole gang on their way down and some were even roped), and now time for the fun (but short) climb ahead.
There’s still some traffic jam in the tight Pearly Gate and I had no choice but taking another food break to wait for a big (and slow) party clearing the channel. About 5 minutes later it was my turn. The route was a bit more difficult than appeared and the snow was very icy, but thankfully the grade wasn’t very steep (less than 45 degrees) and the exposure was minimal. I did fine with just one aluminum ice axe and once above the “Gate” it was a simple plod to the summit. The wind picked up again as expected, but wasn’t quite as strong as lower down. Ironically there wasn’t much to see from this summit other than the few volcanoes nearby. All other “mountains” were forested hills and that was very different from the familiar Canadian sceneries that I’ve got used to in these couple years.
Not doing any unnecessary lingering I soon started the descent. My dad was waiting for me in the parking lot for the whole day and part of me also wanted to get back home as early as possible for more resting (as I still had to work on the following day). Down-climbing the Pearly Gate required some caution but not overly difficult and soon I turned my face outwards descending to, and then down the “Hogback”, and then into the “Devil’s Kitchen”. I thought about tagging a nearby feature called “Crater Rock” as it looked tamely easy, but figured I probably shouldn’t claim it as a separate summit, so down the mountain I went.
Descending the steeper slopes with crampons on was kinda tedious but once picking up my snowshoes the grade dropped, and the snow had softened a bit thank to the solar power so I took my crampons off. I really wished to have my skis at this point, but jogging down the mountain was pretty fast anyway. Near the bottom the grade had become nearly flat and the post-holing took over so I eventually strapped my snowshoes on again (and passed a few more climbers struggling in the snow without the ‘shoes).
Back to the parking lot it was not even noon and my round trip time was just over 6 hours, a wee bit faster than expected. The wind surely did its job pushing me up and down the mountain on a fast pace without letting me to enjoy the trip, but on the other hand, I did manage to earn a few more sleeping hours so that’s also good. Dad and I took turn driving back home and the whole process took almost 8 hours thank to all the Sunday afternoon traffics and the fact we got ourselves disoriented in the city of Portland again…