‘Tis the season for Mt. Hood! Seems like everyone is making their way out west to get Oregon’s tallest peak this spring… and I’m no exception. I need this state, and its neighbor to the north, to have all the highpoints west of the 100th Meridian. The opportunity came to me a few months ago when I saw a trip being organized by a hiking group in my area. Their plans were to hit Hood and South Sister in the same week, which sounded great to me. I was in!
This tour of the Pacific Northwest started with a 4-night stay at a vacation rental in Government Camp. The first day was a rest and prep-day after that long drive from Salt Lake. Day 2 was the proposed summit-day. Day 3 was a back-up, just in case. We all went to bed early on the afternoon/evening of Day 1 since the plan was to leave at midnight for an alpine start from Timberline Lodge.
By 12:05 am, we were all loaded up and on our way to the trailhead. Not too many cars were in the parking lot following a busy Memorial Day weekend. However, the American Lung Association was doing their Climb for Clean Air fundraiser the same day we went. Otherwise, there probably would have been less than a dozen people on the mountain that day.
Our climb started just after 12:30a by following the groomed Climbers Trail to the right of the chair lifts (even though we couldn’t see them). As we we got near the top of the Palmer chair, guided groups were being dropped from snocats. We assumed these were the groups that stayed in the Silcox Hut.
It was a beautiful clear morning with a sky full of stars. Notice the Big Dipper in the picture below.
We continued making progress toward Crater Rock.
The adventure got more exciting with the smell of sulfur in the air and the sight of steam exiting the fumaroles at Devil’s Kitchen. At an altitude of 10,000 feet, we were 3 miles in and 4,000′ up from where we started. It took us 4 and a 1/2 hours to get here. This was also where we got our first good glimpse at the Pearly Gates, the route we would not be taking today.
A boot pack continued up and around this fumarole. You can see the guided group ahead of us for perspective.
The various routes to the top became visible above Devil’s Kitchen. It was also more apparent to see why the recommended route was the lower traverse at Hot Rocks over to Old Chute.
Here’s the lower traverse through Hot Rocks, another steaming fumarole at the bottom section of the Hogsback.
Once you cross Hot Rocks, the path following Old Chute is straight up from there.
I never really thought the pyramid shadow was that big of a deal…until you see one for yourself!
The Pearly Gates route was off the table for two reasons: First, a recent heat wave melted out the snow bridge (pictured left). Secondly, traveling through that deep trench to either of the gates (pictured right) would have been like crawling up a dangerous funnel if any loose rock broke free.
The last 50 yards of Old Chute is not the place to pull out your camera. I had all 4 limbs biting into that icy slope with a pair of ice axes and crampons. A guided group to my right, all roped up and secured by a picket, veered to the right and ascended the One O’clock Couloir. I followed Old Chute to the top of the ridge and into the sunlight.
A short distance along the ridgeline and the summit comes into view.
Looking back at where I just came from, you can see the guided groups now cresting the ridge from the One O’clock Couloir.
Incredible views to the north of Mt. St. Helens, Rainier and Adams.
A sea of clouds to the west with Mt. Jefferson poking through.
3.7 miles and 5,200′ of elevation in 6 hours! I think we could have started an hour or so later and still been fine.
For the way down, I chose to descend the One O’clock Couloir. I knew there would be some deep pockets set by the guided group’s ascent. Sure enough, it was like walking backward down a staircase. This chute was also clear of people now as we stayed in front of the larger group that hadn’t started down yet.
One small step at a time until you feel comfortable facing downhill.
Climbing an active volcano was definitely cool!
From Devil’s Kitchen on down was not too exciting. We just followed the soft and slushy groomed Climber’s Trail back to the trailhead.
I was back at the car by 10:30a where I waited for others to regroup before heading over to Timberline Lodge for a all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Final stats for the day: 7.14 miles and 5,300 feet of elevation in 9 hours and 45 minutes.
As for Day 3, our planned back-up day, I skied at Timberline!
This is the only ski resort in North America to offer year-round skiing. How could one pass that up?
On Day 4, we left for Bend, Oregon to hike South Sister.