Mt Hood Summit Attempt

The weather forecast finally predicted a mostly sunny day Saturday with moderate to low avalanche danger on Mt Hood. My last Mt Hood climb was an unsuccessful attempt up the Leuthold Coulior route due to illness and poor fitting boots. My friend Matt and I decided to try the Leuthold Couloir route again along with another climber Ryan. This technical route starts at Timberline Lodge (same starting point as the popular South route). Leuthold Couliour is to the West (climbers left) and above Illumination Rock. We planned to return via the South route (approximately 7 miles round-trip) which is standard practice for this route. The route follows the chairlifts up Palmer Glacier (like the standard South route shown in map below), but then heads west to Illumination Saddle across the Zigzag Glacier. At this point, climbers normally rope up before traversing down and across Reid Glacier to Leuthold Coulior (last big couloir before Yocum Ridge). Leuthold Couloir leads up to the summit ridge and then climbers traverse to the true summit.

Mt Hood South Route Elevation Profile

We left the Timberline Lodge parking lot just before 3 AM. The temperature was around 22°F with almost no wind. The sky was mostly clear with a bright, nearly full moon. Unfortunately the top of Mt Hood was covered by a cloud, but we were hopeful the cloud would dissipate as the morning wore on.

As we climbed above 9,000 feet, the temperature dropped to around 10°F with occasional light wind. It took us less than three hours to climb by moon light to Illumination Saddle. There was one set of fresh boot tracks leading to the saddle and eventually we met up with the climber who made them. He had climbed down from the saddle and started traversing across the Reid Glacier when he heard a loud crack and observed a fresh 10-15 foot crack nearby. At that point he turned around and met up with us near Illumination Saddle. We discussed the situation and all decided it wasn't worth the avalanche danger to proceed on our intended route. We made a new plan to climb up the standard South Route and hopefully gain the summit via the Pearly Gates (most climbers choose the less steep Old Chute to the West of the Hogsback).

Jason Packing for Climb with Help from Cat Bailey     Top of Palmer Chairlift Completely Buried in Snow

To gain the South Route, we had to back track a little and traverse Northeast toward Crater Rock. Eventually we met up with other climbers who had established a pretty good boot track to the Hogsback. Most times I have climbed Mt Hood have been during the off season, so it was a nice treat having a good boot track to follow. It's akin to walking up thousands of stairs.

Climbing Up Mt Hood Towards the Hogsback     Looking Down from about 10,000' up Mt Hood

Soon the Hogsback came into view as well as many other climbers, including a couple of large Mazama parties. As we first neared the Hogsback, the summit of Mt Hood was in view, but that quickly changed. Clouds rolled in as the wind picked up and quickly masked the entire summit. Route finding becomes difficult in low visibility conditions, so we decided to stay put on the Hogsback and try to wait it out. Unfortunately, after waiting an hour the conditions did not improve. Our fingers and toes had become cold while waiting, so we made the decision to turn back. It was disappointing (as was not being able to climb Leuthold Couloir), but the mountain is not going anywhere and will be waiting for our next trip.

Climbers on the Hogsback     Ryan and Other Climbers on the Hogsback Looking Towards the Cloud Obscured Summit

As we climbed down, the clouds cleared up and we could see the summit. We considered going back up, but minutes later the clouds were back again. Weird weather, but then again it's a mountain and the weather can change in a heartbeat.

Illumination Rock     Steel Cliffs
Cloud Obscured Summit of Mt Hood     Lenticular Cloud over Mt Hood

We took our time climbing down and stopped for a few minutes to dig an avalanche pit just for fun. Ryan has taken an avalanche course, so he showed Matt and I a few things about digging a pit and evaluating the avalanche danger. We found a semi-weak layer about 8-10" down.

Jason with Illumination Rock in the Background

The sun was shining, so our descent was quite pleasant. By the time we arrived back at Timberline Lodge, the summit of Mt Hood had cleared up and looked to stay that way for the rest of the day. I am sure those climbers that timed it right had a fantastic climb and a beautiful view from the summit.

Mt Hood, Oregon

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