Climbing Mount Hood to Crater Rock

I finally had a free day Sunday with okay weather for a solo climb up Mount Hood to Crater Rock. This was my first trip to this elevation on Mount Hood and my plan wasn't to climb all the way to the summit. I am saving that for a future trip. Mount Hood is Oregon's tallest peak at 11,239 feet elevation. It's known as Wy'east to the Multnomah Tribe. The route I took is known as the South Side Route and starts from the historic Timberline Lodge. It is about 6 miles to Crater Rock and back with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet.

As I was driving to Timberline Lodge, I was a little worried about the weather. I encountered everything from rain to sleet, hail, and snow. Luckily the conditions improved as I pulled into the Lodge parking lot. There were a few passing clouds near the summit, but I could mostly make out the mountain. The temperature was around 16° F.

After getting a free wilderness permit at the climber registration kiosk, I set off on my Atlas 10 Series snowshoes towards the summit at 7:30 AM. I followed the snow cat trail to the East of Magic Mile chair lift. Near my path, I came across a large ice-covered rock split in the middle with the sun shining through. It was the only object on the otherwise smooth slope.

Mt Hood from Timberline Lodge     Random Rock on Climb up Mt Hood

As I progressed toward the Palmer chair lift (atop the Palmer glacier), the weather began to change. Clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and it began to snow. Visibility was okay for the time being. I had noticed another climber above and to my East and I eventually caught up to him. He was a nice gentleman from Virginia and we decided to climb together. It was his first time on Hood and he had similar plans of heading to Crater Rock and maybe the Hogsback. He was on split boards with skins, which would allow him a fun descent after our climb.

We continued to follow the snow cat trail to the East of the Palmer chair lift. The weather worsened and we soon had near total whiteout conditions. We could barely see our feet and even the cat tracks were disappearing. The temperature was around 10° F, but felt much colder with the wind. We stopped for a quick break at the top of the Palmer lift just after 9:00 AM. Just as we were about the continue, the sun came out and we were above the clouds. It reminded me of being on an airplane, flying through the clouds, and then finally looking down at them. It was surreal. We finally got our first clear glimpse of the crater and summit.

Mount Hood Above the Clouds     Mt Hood from Above Palmer Chair Lift

We continued our climb over snow and ice. The wind-swept slope varied from several inches of snow on top of ice, to a couple feet of powder, hard snow crust over powder, and exposed blue ice. Illumination Rock came into view to the West as we approached Crater Rock. My new friend started to fall behind, so we decided to part ways and I charged ahead.

Illumination Rock     Crater Rock

Soon the Steel Cliffs were to my East. They were completely covered in ice. They look much larger than the pictures below convey.

Steel Cliffs     Steel Cliffs Above the Clouds

As I continued to climb, Illumination Rock could be seen well below me. The clouds became farther and farther away, but remained near the top of the Palmer chair lift.

Looking Down on Illumination Rock     Looking Down Towards Palmer Chair Lift

Once I made it to the base of Crater Rock, I decided to continue on a little further. The sulfur smell from the fumaroles at Devil's kitchen was fairly strong in the mild wind. The weather was pretty nice at this point and the temperature was around 20° F. The trail became narrow and icy, not suitable for travel by snowshoe. As I didn't have crampons, I decided to stop at this point. I was at 10,423 feet in elevation, just shy of the Hogsback and a little over 800 vertical feet from the summit. It took me about 3.5 hours to go 3 miles and gain 4,400 feet.

Fumarole in Devil's Kitchen     Devils Kitchen

I climbed down about 100 feet to a safe area to have lunch. Katie was kind enough to make me a sandwich the night before. As I basked in the sun, I watched the clouds below start to ascend toward me. I knew that meant my climb down would be a little more precarious than I had hoped. I finished lunch and took off my snowshoes for my descent. With my ice axe in hand, I began climbing down the mountain.

Hogsback     Jason Just Below the Hogsback

Just before I reached the clouds at about 10,000 feet elevation, I took pictures of a few ice formations. The clouds then engulfed the mountain along with winds and snow. The whiteout conditions made seeing my feet difficult, let alone the steep slope I was climbing down. I found another climber's trail and followed it for a distance, even though it was heading SW toward Zig Zag Canyon. After dropping about 500 feet in elevation, the trail was still headed in the wrong direction, so I left it and headed SSE to get back on course. Without my GPS and compass, I would have quickly become lost, as the fall line heads SW towards Zig Zag Canyon. Many climbers have become lost and needed to be rescued because they follow the fall line instead of heading magnetic South back to Timberline Lodge. Click here for an explanation of the fall line on Mount Hood and the area known as the "Mount Hood Triangle".

Ice Formation on Mt Hood     Another Ice Formation on Mt Hood

Soon I saw the red outline of a snow cat parked at the top of the Palmer chair lift. The rest of the way down was easy to find, as I simply followed the snow cat tracks along the chair lift. At the bottom of the Palmer lift the visibility improved as the clouds were now above me. I made it back to the Lodge a little after 1:00 PM.

It was a great trip and I was happy to have made it back safe and sound. I heard on the news that a climber got lost in the whiteout. It serves as a reminder to always be prepared. Extra food, water, a compass, and a GPS are mandatory in my book. On a nicer day, I would love to explore the South slope of Mount Hood a little more. Until next time, I will savor the memory of this trip and its exquisite views above the clouds near Crater Rock.


Jon Bell, Mon, 03/21/2011 - 22:11

Nice write-up of the Hood trip and nice outdoor blog altogether!

jloomis, Mon, 03/21/2011 - 23:12

Thanks for the compliment Jon. I am glad you enjoyed my report on Mount Hood. Hood is such a prominent feature near Portland, Oregon offering tons of opportunities for the adventurer.

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