Snowshoeing In July: Illumination Rock - Mount Hood, Oregon

After spending Saturday cleaning house and hearing about Jason’s summit attempt on North Sister, I was ready for another adventure. Never one to sit still for long, Jason was game for more activity after a good night's sleep. Temperatures were expected to climb into the upper-80’s on Sunday, so we decided it might be fun to beat the heat with an adventure to Illumination Rock on Mount Hood. At 9,543’ elevation, Illumination Rock sits on the Southwest side of the mountain, North-Northwest of Palmer chairlift. Our trip was 5.7 total miles and began from Timberline Lodge at 5,900’ elevation. We followed Magic Mile chair lift, hiked up Palmer Glacier, and traversed Zigzag Glacier to reach our destination.

Illumination Rock Route Elevation Profile

When we arrived at Timberline, it was a comfortable 73°F. It was clear from the busy parking lot that many others sought adventure in the snow. We soon realized that the above-average (and still lingering!) snow pack this year would allow us to snowshoe nearly the entire way up to Illumination Rock. After a short distance on the trail, we donned our snow shoes and set out following the Magic Mile chair lift.

Pacific Crest Trail Sign on Mount Hood     Chairlift on Mount Hood Looking Down Towards Ski Bowl

As we hiked, we saw many skiers and snowboarders, many of whom appeared to belong to various summer ski camps and clubs. We even saw one team from British Columbia. Working our way up the mountain, we stopped near the terrain park to watch a few adventurous souls practice their jumps. Continuing past the top of Magic Mile, we followed the Palmer chairlift closely in order to avoid the skiers on Palmer Glacier. As we made our way up the mountain, we heard many woops of encouragement from chairlift riders passing overhead. Though this section of our ascent was the steepest, we enjoyed a slight breeze cooled by the snow below our feet. Upon reaching the top of Palmer chair lift, the summit of Mount Hood came into view.

Snowboarder Flying Through the Air     Top of Palmer Chairlift

Though more exposed than during winter months, there was still a considerable amount of snow near the summit and we could make out tiny black dots of climbers near the Hogsback. Jason was amazed how large the bergschrund on the hogsback was (it was non-existent when he climbed Hood in April). Looking South (away from the summit), we were able to see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters through the haze.

Looking Down from Top of Palmer Chair Lift     Large Bergschrund on the Hogsback Below Mount Hood Summit

As we traversed across Zigzag glacier, we found a wind shelter and a few other rock outcroppings where snow melt was more rapid. After having disappeared from view on part of Palmer Glacier, Illumination Rock once again came into view.

Rock Shelter Camp Spot Above Palmer Chairlift     Melted Out Rocks Below Mount Hood Summit
Illumination Rock and Illumination Saddle     Illumination Rock

Nearing the midpoint in our traverse, we were afforded an excellent view of crater rock and the steel cliffs. Compared to Jason’s wintertime views of the steel cliffs, it became clear how likely rock- and snow-fall were from these sheer faces during warmer weather. Steering clear of the rock fall, we continued our journey.

Crater Rock (from West side)     Illumination Rock
Rock Fall Near Illumination Rock     The Steel Cliffs

It took us three hours to reach Illumination Saddle. Though there was not a cloud in the sky, the intense sun was dampened by our elevation, making it quite pleasant to sit and enjoy the sceneary. We climbed to the top of Illumination Saddle to take in the views of the Northwest slopes of Hood. We could easily see Mount Saint Helens, Reid Glacier, and the much lighter colored Reid Headwall. Due to the rising temperatures and snow melt, there were also a few large crevasses visible in Reid Glacier.

Mount Saint Helens from Illumination Saddle     Reid Headwall, Mount Hood
Crevasse in Reid Glacier     View from Illumination Saddle

Always one for adventure, Jason decided to climb a snow field onto the side of Illumination Rock. He looked tiny atop this mound, standing next to the massive rock. After he climbed safely back down, we stopped for a few pictures together and then decided to begin our descent. After traversing Zigzag glacier to just above Palmer, we chose to glissade the rest of our descent using our glissade diaper sleds.

Jason up Close to Illumination Rock     Jason Climbing Down from Illumination Rock
Jason and Katie in front of Illumination Rock     Glissade Track Down Mount Hood

Though the snow was not ideal for glissading, we still enjoyed a leisurely ride down the mountain, thankful not to be post-holing our way back through the mush. We reached Timberline Lodge in just under two hours.

Magic Mile and Palmer Chairlifts with Illumination Rock in the Background     Mount Hood

Apparently still not fatigued, Jason decided to run to Government Camp from Timberline in order to train for the first leg in the upcoming Hood to Coast relay race. The 2,000 vertical foot descent can really take a toll on runners. I followed him in the car and picked him up 5.6 miles later.

Jason Running to Government Camp from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood

We plan to spend this week recuperating and preparing for our next adventure in Central Oregon. South Sister, here we come!

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Disclaimer: You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards of backcountry travel and taking the necessary precautions. Loomis Adventures may not be held liable.