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The weather this weekend didn't turn out as good as we hoped, so we canceled our plans to climb Mt Rainier and decided to ski Mt Hood and maybe summit if the weather cooperated. Our plan was to skin up from Timberline Lodge along the standard South route to the Hogsback. From there we planned to evaluate the weather and possibly climb to the summit via the Pearly Gates (which use to be the standard route to the summit before the Hogsback shifted to the left (West). In either case, we would be able to enjoy a long ski down.
Since the weather was not stellar and our main goal was skiing, we decided to leave much later than on a normal Mt Hood climb. We hit the road just after 6 AM and started skinning up the mountain around 8 AM. Visibility was poor and we couldn't see the summit. There were a couple other ski mountaineers who started about the same time as us. We took a break at Silcox Hut at the top of the Magic Mile chairlift. The occupants were kind enough to let us come in and look around. They had a warm crackling fire going and tons of food prepared by the caterer. This was my first time inside and it appeared to be a great place to stay with a large group of friends. As we were leaving and getting ready to continue up the mountain, the clouds briefly parted, giving us a glimpse of Mt Hood. Unfortunately, it was short lived and the clouds and fog rolled right back in.
We continued to climb up the Palmer Glacier, getting a glimpse of the summit every now and again. We kept hoping it would stay clear, but it didn't seem likely. While the snow was soft down lower, it was icy as we skinned up Palmer. The air temperature was just above freezing, but the wind seemed to keep surfaces below freezing (the fog was freezing to our hair).
Above the Palmer chairlift, the conditions became very icy, so we decided to ditch our skis and don crampons instead. As we climbed toward the Hogsback, the weather seemed to improve with the summit remaining mostly visible. The temperature dropped to just below freezing as we continued to climb. We talked to several climbers who were on their way down, including two women who had summited for the first time. They were glowing with the joy of their accomplishment. I always enjoy talking to those who are climbing for the first time. It reminds me of my first climb and how I instantly became hooked.
We stopped for a break on the Hogsback and evaluated the conditions. It appeared as though the weather might hold, but then it began to snow and the clouds partially obscured the summit. We still wanted to summit via the Pearly Gates (climbers right) and decided to climb up the Hogsback to the Bergschrund and make a final call. The crevasse was only about 50 feet deep and a little more than 100 feet wide this early in the season. Normally I climb up the Old Chute to the climbers left, so this was my first time staring right into the schrund. Ultimately we decided to turn around only 600 vertical feet shy of the summit. The weather appeared to be turning worse and it was getting late. We were the last climbers of the day as everyone else was already headed back (granted they started about 6-8 hours earlier than we did).
We quickly descended to where we stashed our skis above the Palmer chairlift. I observed the summit once on our way down before it was again engulfed in clouds. We cautiously skied the icy slopes of Palmer Glacier until snow became softer down lower. It was a quick and fun ski down the mountain. I can't believe I use to walk all the way down! We made it safely back to the car and were on the way home by 3 PM. Our timing was perfect as it started to rain at Timberline Lodge before turning to wet snow.