Climbing Mt Hood on a Beautiful Fall Day

Everything lined up almost perfectly for me on Monday. I worked Saturday, so I wouldn't have to work on Monday. And the weather forecast was calling for clearing skis on Mt Hood, Oregon's tallest peak at 11,249 feet. I packed up my gear and headed to Timberline Lodge for a solo climb of Mt Hood via the South route. The temperature has been warm the past couple weeks, melting all the new snow that fell in October below 8,000 feet, so I wasn't sure what it would be like on the upper mountain. I was hoping to be able to summit via the Pearly Gates variation (climbers right of the hogsback), but that would be dependent on the snow. Pre-season climbing of Mt Hood is not very popular as the conditions are often dangerous and not favorable for summiting.

Mt Hood South Route Elevation Profile

I arrived at Timberline Lodge just after 7 AM Monday morning. I knew that was a late start, but I didn't want to climb in poor weather as the forecast didn't call for clearing skies until later in the day. When I arrived at Timberline Lodge (~5,900' elevation) it was raining lightly, foggy, and breezy. It's not what I had hoped for, so I slowly got ready to climb, still hopeful the weather might improve. Around 7:45 AM, the clouds lightened up a little and I almost saw the sun. This was a good sign, so I took off following the path that switchbacks up the mountain underneath the Magic Mile chairlift.

Light Rain and Fog at Timberline Lodge     First Glimpse of Mt Hood Near the Top of the Magic Mile Chairlift

As I climbed, the weather began to improve. I broke out of the clouds above the Magic Mile chairlift. Mt Hood looked as beautiful as always, but rather bare of snow. There didn't appear to be significant snow until above the Palmer chairlift. The temperature was still warm in the upper 40's with winds around 20 mph and gusts a little higher. I made good time since there was almost no snow on the ground in most places underneath the chairlifts.

Clouds in the Valley Below Mt Hood     Mt Hood from Lower Part of Palmer Chair Lift

I had great views of the clouds below and other Cascade mountains to the South. It was turning out to be a beautiful Fall day in Oregon. And to top it off, I was all alone. There was no sign of anyone else on Mount Hood. The only human trace I saw were a couple old ski tracks from a day or two ago.

Looking Towards Mt Jefferson from Near the Top of Palmer Chairlift     Valley Below Mt Hood Masked in Clouds
Mt Hood from Above Palmer Chairlift     Clouds Breaking up Below

It was all snow above the Palmer chairlift (~8,500'). Sometimes it was firm with my boots only sinking an inch or two, and other times I postholed up to my thighs.

Jason on Mt Hood     Steel Cliff

As I climbed higher and the terrain became steeper, I noticed the top layer of new snow was pretty weak. It ranged from a couple inches to about a foot of unstable snow on top of a firm icy base. This is pretty typical in the early season high on Mt Hood, but not what I had hoped for.

At about 9,000' the snow started to have an icy crust. I was able to easily break through and kick step my way higher up the mountain without crampons. At about 9,300' the icy crust became too solid to kick step so I took a break and put my crampons on.

Looking Down the South Slope of Mt Hood     Illumination Rock

As I started traversing up the hogsback the snow became a little softer again and the weak top layer of snow became even more noticeable. It wanted to give way every few steps, causing me to slide down a little every now and then. The weather however was very nice with the wind dying down to just a light breeze.

Hogsback Leading up to the Crater Rim     Devil's Kitchen

The snow changed again once I was atop the hogsback. There was a thin layer of freezing rain covering the snow. It was thin enough to break through, but the snow still felt unstable. That was confirmed when I studied the Old Chute (climbers left) and Devil's Kitchen Headwall (climbers right). There was abundant evidence of loose snow avalanches. At that point I decided it wasn't worth trying to summit today. I didn't like the prospect of the snow giving way and sending me shooting down either the Old Chute or the Pearly Gates.

Hogsback     Looking Towards Mt Jefferson from the Hogsback
Mt Jefferson     Bergschrund at the End of the Hogsback

Since I was already there, I decided to climb to the end of the Hogsback where the bergschrund (a crevasse, or series of crevasses, at the upper end of a mountain glacier. "bergschrund." from dictionary.com ) was wide open. I have always wanted to walk inside and it appeared safe enough to do so today.

Jason on the Hogsback     Almost to the Bergschrund

I climbed up to the bergschrund and looked down inside. It was not very deep on the downward side, maybe 10-15 feet. But the upward side was about 40-50 feet high and composed of a jigsaw puzzle of jagged ice formations. It was very pretty. In a couple months in will be completely filled in.

Top of North Side of Bergschrund     Looking Down into the Bergschrund

This was my high point of the day at around 10,800' in elevation (about 450 vertical feet shy of the summit). Since no one else was around, I suppose that makes me the highest person in Oregon on Monday!

Looking Down the Hogsback from the Bergschrund     Looking East Towards the Steel Cliff
Jason at the Edge of the Bergschrund     Looking up at the North Side of the Bergschrund from Within

I carefully climbed down into the bergschrund where I quickly took a couple pictures before climbing back out. The ice forming the upper wall of the bergschrund was overhanging and looked as though pieces might break off and come crashing down at any second. Not wanting to become a statistic, I didn't linger long, but I have to admit it was pretty cool down there. I would love to explore some larger crevasses sometime.

In the Bergschrund     Jason in the Bergschrund

Before heading back, I took another look toward the summit of Mt Hood. With the weather so nice, it was disappointing to turn back. At least I was rewarded by spectacular views most of the day.

My Foot Tracks on the Hogsback     Looking Down Toward Timberline Lodge

A cold front is foretasted to be on the way later this week, so hopefully the snow conditions improve. It would be nice to be able to go up on skis my next trip up Mt Hood.

Mount Hood from Timberline Lodge

Gear List

Osprey Variant 37 Pack
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Komperdell Powerlock Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe
Petzl Elios Climbing Helmet
Grivel G12 Crampons
CamelBak Antidote 70 oz. w/Insulated Drinking Tube
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
La Sportiva Batura EVO Mountaineering Boots
Conform'able Pack Pro Set Battery Heated Insoles
Marmot Expedition Mitts
Head Outlast Waterproof Ski Gloves
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Columbia Sportswear Men's Peak 2 Peak Jacket
Triple Star Packable Down Hooded Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
Columbia Men's Head Wall Pants
Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pant
Seirus Ultra Clava
Altice Venture Rx Glacier Glasses
Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Rx Goggles
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
First Aid Kit
iPhone w/NeoTreksGPS
Suunto A-10 Compass


1 comment

Darren, Sat, 11/10/2012 - 10:55

Dude I admire your courage, wish I was up there with you. Looks pretty easy if you got to the end of the hogs back and into the Bergshrund. Awesome man, congrats on your success, even though you didn't make it to the summit, you still got up there and gave it a shot. Well done

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