Climbing Mt Hood South Route Via Pearly Gates Variation

I had been planning to climb Mt Hood the weekend of June 1st, but was instead blessed with a new baby boy! I quickly canceled my plans and as it turns out the weather wasn't that great anyway. I made the same plans the following weekend for a solo climb of Mt Hood's South route Pearly Gates variation. The weather forecast was looking perfect for Friday night into Saturday morning. My plan was to drive up to Timberline Lodge Friday night after work, sleep for a few hours in my car, then start climbing around 1:30 AM on Sunday morning. If all went well, I planned to be back home before lunch on Saturday.

Mount Hood South Route Elevation Profile

Mt Hood's South route is the most popular route on the mountain, especially this time of year. It's about 3.3 miles each way with about 5,300 feet of elevation gain to the 11,249' summit of Oregon's tallest peak.

I arrived at Timberline Lodge just before 9 PM on Friday. After taking some photos and signing in at the climbing register, I went to sleep for a few hours in my car. I heard climbers arrive all night long and by 1 AM Saturday morning the parking lot was already a zoo. This is the first time I have climbed in the late Spring during the height of climbing season. I ate some breakfast, readied my gear, and set off climbing before 1:30 AM. The weather was great with light winds, clear skies, and a temperature in the upper 40's.

Mt Hood Sunset     The Night Before Climbing Mt Hood

There were tons of climbers who had left well before me, but I started passing them by the hoards above the Palmer ski lift. I must have passed 60-70 climbers by the time I arrived at the Hogsback (~10,500 feet in elevation) around 4:30 AM. It was still dark, and I couldn't quite see my intended route to the summit, so I decided to stay put for about half an hour. I watched one climbing party after another head left and up the Old Chute to the summit. The Old Chute is the most popular way up with only a few climbers heading to the right and up through the Pearly Gates. The Pearly Gates variation is steeper and can have some short stretches of near vertical ice. It used to be an easier route (the main route in fact) before the Hogsback substantially shifted left (West) to its present location around 2006. Now it's a little more technical, often requiring a second axe. This morning no one was heading up the Pearly Gates until just before I decided it was light enough to make my push for the summit. It almost appeared the Bergschrund had opened up all the way across my route, but luckily there were still snow bridges. I made the steep traverse right and then started climbing up through the Pearly Gates. I broke out my second axe just so both my hands had something to do. It made climbing through the Pearly Gates easier, but was not necessary.

Climbers on the Hogsback and Old Chute Before Sunrise     Two Climbers Passing through the Pearly Gates

I enjoyed some great views as the sun was rising on the other side of Mt Hood. The route was is great condition with only a little bit of ice. I found it much more fun than the Old Chute variation that was presently clogged with dozens of climbers. It was nice to get away from the crowd and climb a route I hadn't been on before.

Looking Towards Mt Jefferson from the Seep Slope of the Pearly Gates High on Mt Hood     Looking Down from the Pearly Gates at Mt Hood's Shadow

I gained the summit in about 45 minutes and came across what appeared to be deer or elk prints. I am not sure if they were real or if someone brought up a hoof as a joke. It has been reported that bears, elk, foxes, and wolves have been sighted on the summit in the past.

Ice in the Pearly Gates     What Looked Like Deer Prints on the Summit Ridge of Mt Hood

This was my fourth successful summit of Mt Hood. I had a fantastic climb in great conditions. The temperature was below freezing from above the Palmer ski lift to the summit with firm snow. I couldn't have asked for a better day to climb.

Lots of Climbers on the Summit of Mt Hood     An Endless Line of Climbers on the Summit Ridge

I took a few photos from the crowded summit before heading back down via the Old Chute.

Mt Hood's Shadow from the Summit     Looking North From the Summit Towards Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams
Looking Down the North Side of Mt Hood Towards Cooper Spur     Lots of Climbers Coming up the Old Chute

The Old Chute was crowded with experienced and inexperienced climbers alike. I am always amazed to see how many people rope up on this route. One fall and a whole team could roll down the mountain, tangling others with them on their way down. I steered clear of the masses, but still found some great steps to climb down the chute on.

The Old Chute and the Bergschrund     Mt Hood's Shadow from the Old Chute
The Bergschrund     Looking Back Up the Old Chute

I made my way down off the Hogsback and toward the Palmer ski lift. Above the lift at about 9,000 feet in elevation I saddled up in my glissade sled and sledded much of the rest of the way down. It took me about 2.5 hours to get back to my car around 8:30 AM. I ate a quick snack before heading home. It was a great day and new experience for me climbing Mt Hood with hundreds of other climbers with the same 11,249 foot goal.

One Last Look at Mt Hood on a Beautiful Spring Day

Gear List

Osprey Variant 37 Pack
Petzl Elios Climbing Helmet
La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX Mountaineering Boots
Conform'able Pack Pro Set Battery Heated Insoles
Grivel G12 Crampons
CamelBak Antidote 70 oz. w/Insulated Drinking Tube
Komperdell Powerlock Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
Petzl SUM'TEC Ice Axe Hammer
Foam Sit Pad
Glissading Sled aka "Glissade Diaper Sled"
GoLite Kenai Pertex 2.5L Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
Triple Star Packable Down Hooded Jacket
Columbia Head Wall Soft Shell Pants
Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pant
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Marmot Big Mountain Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Altice Venture Rx Glacier Glasses
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15
First Aid Kit
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
iPhone w/NeoTreksGPS
Suunto A-10 Compass


1 comment

Dan F, Thu, 03/06/2014 - 13:18

To cool you caught me in the back ground of the summit pics you had taken. I'm the one in the bright yellow coat on, all most on the summit. It was a bit windy and a big crowd. The group coming across the ridge behind me had the old chut plugged up so I came up the chut that's called 1 o'clock to take the summit ridge. Man what a beautiful day it was that day!

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