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It's been awhile since my last climb, but mother nature cooperated on Sunday, providing ideal conditions for climbing Mount Hood via the South route. My climbing partner wasn't able to join me, so I went up solo on this trip. October is often a poor month to climb Hood due to rockfall, but this year's combination of leftover snow and a couple early season snow storms yielded great conditions on Sunday. There have been several freeze-thaw cycles the past week to consolidate the new snow. I had been watching the mountain from town the past couple weeks, noticing how white the upper reaches have become. Each time I observed Mt Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain at 11,239 feet, I grew more anxious to climb. I also had several new pieces of gear (MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes, Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pants, eZeefit Full Foot Booties, Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket, and a CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe) that I was excited to test out.
I started later in the morning than typical for a Mount Hood climb, due to a weather forecast that called for cooler temps most of the day. I arrived at Timberline Lodge just before 8 AM and started climbing around 8:15 AM after checking in at the climber registration kiosk. The weather was mostly sunny (except for an extremely thin layer of high clouds), with a light wind, and temperature around 40°F. On the drive to Timberline, I had clouds most of the way and even a few sprinkles. But once I started up the windy road to Timberline, I drove out of the clouds at about 5,000 foot elevation level.
I kept an open mind as I began climbing - following the Timberline chair lifts (Magic Mile and then Palmer) - regarding whether or not I would attempt to summit. You never really know what the conditions will be like at 10,000 feet until you get there. As I continued to climb, the wind picked up a little and the temperature dropped to just above freezing. The colder conditions made me question how far I wanted to go, but I pushed on toward the summit (about 3.3 miles each way).
I was able to avoid most of the snow patches until about halfway up the Palmer chairlift. The snow I encountered was frozen nearly solid and quite slippery without crampons or snowshoes. I waited until just above the Palmer chairlift before putting on my new MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes. Crampons would have been lighter, but I wanted to try out the Ergo™ Televators (heel lift bar), which ended up working very well.
I made it to the Hogsback in about 3.5 hours. The snow was still frozen and the Old Chute and summit ridge were completely snow covered, so I decided to proceed to the summit. The rime ice-covered summit ridge gave the illusion that it was the middle of winter. No rocks were falling and there wasn't any evidence of recent rock fall. Ideal conditions for climbing in my book. And to top it all off, there wasn't another climber on the South side of Mount Hood Sunday. I had the whole mountain to myself, which was a real treat. Complete solitude except for a few ravens.
As I climbed toward the summit, I followed sporadic steps left by a previous climber (probably a day or two old). They were helpful, but soon disappeared, at which point I front-pointed (German technique) the rest of the way up the steepening slope. I found a narrow slot between rime ice-covered rocks and successfully gained the summit ridge.
Once on the summit ridge, I had great views of surrounding peaks tall enough to poke out of the cloud layer below. While the wind was pretty calm climbing up the Old Chute, it was now uncomfortably cold on the ridge. I quickly headed the last 50 yards or so to the summit.
It took me about 4 hours and 15 minutes to reach the top. I enjoyed the view from the summit of Mount Hood for a short while before climbing back down towards the Hogsback. The last time I climbed Hood, the snow had softened for the climb down, making plunge stepping possible. Unfortunately that was not the case this trip, so I down-climbed nearly all the way back to the Hogsback. Many of the steps I had used on the way up were filled in with spindrift by the time I started climbing down. Eventually I made it back to the Hogsback and then quickly climbed down the mountain from there as the snow had started to soften a little. When I hit the top of the Palmer chairlift, I took my crampons off and saddled up in my glissade sled. In short time, I was below the Magic Mile chairlift where I walked the rest of the way back to Timberline Lodge.
My round-trip time was 6 hours, 50 minutes. The best part of my climb was experiencing two firsts: I summited Mount Hood solo and I was the only climber on the South route. I had a fantastic day and was quite pleased with the new gear I brought along on the climb. I thank God for the nearly perfect conditions and my safe return home. Now I am ready for winter to come so we can enjoy more snowshoeing adventures!