Reported by Jane Merrow
Six aspiring ascendants met at 1:30 am at Government Camp to begin the adventure. Three of us were experienced mountaineers – Roger, the outing leader; Dave, his second; and Scott, who had climbed the same route the day before and was doing it again as practice for an adventure race. Three were novices – Bill, Tom, and Jane. After sorting out gear and filling out forms, we proceeded to the parking lot at Timberline to register for the climb and start up the mountain.
At 2:15 a.m., the sky was clear, and the moon and stars reflecting on the snow made Mt. Hood a glimmering presence. We climbed by moonlight for the first mile or so, seeing the lights of other climbers and the grooming machines in the distance. It was in the upper 20s to low 30s, and the winds were blowing an average 30 miles per hour, so windchill was a major factor in trying to stay warm. The footing was rough, with many frozen steps from where people had plunged down in softer snow the day before. As the moon went behind the horizon, our headlamps became essential. Initial conversations faded away as the work of moving up the mountain and staying warm became more demanding.
Bill was having trouble staying warm, despite adjustments of layers and gloves, and was finding the climb more taxing than he had expected. He was from Eugene, and lacked the altitude base advantage that those of us from Bend had automatically. After a couple of hours, he made the difficult decision to turn back. Roger decided to accompany him down, so the group was down to four.
We continued crunching up the far right side of Palmer, planning to stop on the level area even with the top of the lift to put on crampons. When we discovered that we had hiked above our goal, we decided to just keep going. It was too cold to stop for long, and the light of dawn was beginning to show in the east. The lights of Madras, Redmond and Bend showed us we weren’t all that far from home. The snow was crisp and footing had changed to some fairly well-defined steps, so crampons weren’t necessary yet.
We had passed the top of Palmer at about 5 am. The wind was still blowing, gusting sometimes so that we would cling hard to our hiking poles to stay standing. Daylight brought the views of Jefferson and the Sisters, as well as a solid layer of clouds to the west at about 5000 ft. and apparently rising. Dave and Scott were watching the weather; a climb in whiteout was not something anyone wanted to do. The climb steepened. At these stretches of steady effort, and many other parts of the adventure, Dave would remind us, “I love to climb!”
Just below Crater Rock, we stopped to put on crampons and helmets and pull out our ice axes. Dave roped up with Jane and Tom, while Scott climbed unroped. We continued up past the Steel Cliff and finally saw the source of the occasional whiffs of sulphur -- the Devil’s Kitchen. Moving steadily, we found ourselves on the Hogsback. It would have been impossible for us to estimate our speed. Time was just that next step.
On the left side of the Hogsback were the fumaroles. Tom had been reading about the rescue of someone who had slipped and fallen into one of them. Not something we wanted to see. Later in the year, the bergschrund opens up and parties have to climb around it. We were able to step over the two small cracks that marked the beginning of where it would be. Step by step we ascended toward the Pearly Gates, beautifully coated with rime ice. By the time we got to the Chute we novices were flat-footing, side stepping, and walking “le canard” with confidence.
We came into the sunshine for the first time just above the Chute and were truly grateful for the warmth. That last few hundred feet to the top seemed the hardest, especially with 7-8 other people relaxing above while we were still laboring. But finally we made it to the terrific view of Cascades peaks rising through the clouds. It was 9 am.
We got our summit pictures, then moved down the summit ridge to where the wind was calm. We ate and drank a bit – this had been hard to do on the move. Roger called on the radio about then and we were able to share our success with him before he headed back to Bend. After a short rest, we descended. Not surprisingly, this all went much much faster than going up.
Below the Hogsback, we removed our crampons, tied our ice axes onto our packs, and jumped into the icy chutes from previous days’ glissades. Not the most comfortable glissading conditions; truly hard on the rear end. Scott said farewell to the seat of some pants that day. But sliding rather than plunge-stepping down seemed a good choice for the tired legs. The glissade chutes were viable only partway down to Palmer, and after that we were slogging in the warm sunshine and soft snow back to our cars.
We reached the parking lot at about noon. The adventure was over, but the memories would be ours for a lifetime.