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Climbing Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge
An excellent first hand climb description from Virtual Cascades

Climbing Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge
Located at the northern end of the Oregon Cascades, Mt. Hood is a jewel among the Oregon volcanic summits rising to 11,237 feet. With eleven glaciers carving their path down its steep slopes, Hood's beauty has been sculpted over hundreds of thousands of years by fire and ice. Just an hour from metropolitan Portland, the city's skyline is dominated by Mt. Hood's lofty presence. Mt. Hood is among the most climbed alpine summits in the world. 

The traditional route to Hood's summit starts at historic Timberline Lodge perched at 6,000 feet. We started our climb up the ridge that runs along side the ski area above the lodge. After gaining nine hundred feet to the level of Silcox Hut, the sky was clear but a stiff wind was already chilling exposed skin as we moved forward under the heavy loads of our packs which carried everything we would need to survive the night on the mountain.

Slowly we ascended to an elevation of 8,000 feet near the highest point of the Palmer Glacier. There we searched about the exposed rocky ridge until we found a camp frequented by previous climbers who had constructed a low stone wall as a wind break. Feeling we were climbing in the foot steps of historic mountaineers of the past, we erected our geodesic tent with some difficulty in the wind which had grown to a howling gale. After a Spartan dinner we sealed up in our protective life pod to rest for a summit bid in the morning.

At 4:00 a.m. we awoke and geared up in bone chilling wind. The prospect of getting up well before dawn in cold that numbs your fingers in seconds as you perform simple tasks like tying boots and strapping on crampons is enough to test the metal of most anyone. However, it is something you must work through for yourself each and every climb. The highest summit cannot be attained without first taking those first steps. The wind was gusting up to fifty miles per hour, and our preparations were hastened by the need to start climbing to warm ourselves. The route above Palmer Glacier progressed up steeper grades with only the crunch of my crampons on ice, the whistling of my breath, and a wailing wind to keep me company. As uncomfortable as I was, something began to stir in my soul with each step.

Two hours of climbing brought us to the base of Crater Rock, which is a remnant of an ancient crater wall protruding from the south side of the mountain. As the angle steepened we worked up to 10,000 feet and finally gained the Devil's Kitchen, a heated volcanic rock dome pocked by sulfurous geothermal fumaroles that expose the dome even during winter conditions. A smell like burnt gun powder cut the crisp air and seared our panting lungs. From this point Steel Cliff towered to the east, and the route turned left up the Hog Back, a snow ridge several hundred feet in height. The angle grew steeper as we ascended the Hog Back. This snow ridge has migrated back and forth across the face of the mountain through recorded history driven by weather patterns spanning decades. At the top of the ridge we joined the common traffic jam of other mountaineers roping up to ascend or gearing down after descending back to the safety of the ridge. We continued up the steep wall of ice hewn steps following a gradual traverse back to the right toward the Pearly Gates. 

At 10,800 feet we came to the Bergschrund, a huge crevasse which pulls away from the steep crater head wall as each season progresses. We passed the Bergschrund on the left and started up the very steepest part of the entire climb. A fall there would be a fatal error, and so we negotiated each step up the icy wall with utmost caution, sinking our ice axes securely into the frozen crust, and stamping crampons in with every step to secure our footing. The climbing was slow and exhausting. At 10,900 feet we passed upward through the Chute, a steep gully totally encrusted in rime ice. Above that we came to the Pearly Gates, which are rock formations totally encrusted in wind sculpted rime ice. Just another few hundred feet above that we saw the summit ridge come into sight. Our steps came slower as we climbed higher, but we knew our goal was drawing ever nearer. At last one foot at a time we gained the summit at 11, 240 feet! 

We approached the east edge of the summit cautiously since it is a tremendous snow cornice with a vertical drop of a thousand feet or more. To the north we could see Mt. Adams, St. Helens and even Mt. Rainier. To the south gleamed Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters like white diamonds in a sea of blue-green. The wind continued its attempt to blow us off the summit, but at 10:00 a.m. the sun shone in a clear sky as we looked down on the tops of clouds across the coastal valley to the west and the high desert of central Oregon to the east. The cutting wind didn't allow much time to linger, however. We took pictures and ate a snack before roping up and beginning the slow descent back down the frozen slopes. As we descended the temperature warmed and we glissaded much of the way back to our high camp site. Mt. Hood is climbed by many people each year, and I'm sure every one who visits the summit bring back memories of a this glaciated summit that will never fade.

Mt. Hood is a technical climb. There are no trails leading to the summit. Only climbers in good physical condition who have received technical training and with complete mountaineering gear should attempt this climb. 

East of Portland, Oregon I-205 to I-26. Take the turn off to Timberline Lodge. Snow park pass required during winter season.

Climbing Season:
Mt. Hood is best climbed between May and July to avoid avalanche danger in early season and rock fall and the Bergschrund in later summer and fall.

Safety Note:
White out conditions can rapidly produce zero visibility when blowing snow or surface level clouds occur. Complete disorientation can follow, so TRUST YOUR COMPASS! The slope of the mountain below Crater Rock leads west toward Mississippi Head, not back to the lodge. The compass bearing from Crater Rock to Timberline Lodge is 173 degrees from magnetic north. 

Copyright © 2002 R.A. Halterman. All Rights Reserved.

Virtual Cascades
click here to go to this interesting website


Webmeister's note: This is the best first hand description of the popular South Side Route to the summit of Mt. Hood that I have found. Go to R.A. Halterman's website Virtual Cascades for informative photos of the Cascades Range. Many of the photos are linked to photo-maps of mountains so that one can follow a virtual route up to the summit. Visit this interesting website!





Read more . . .
What about climbing Mount Hood?

Mount Hood - Bergschrund incident, final accident report and analysis
Mount Hood - helicopter crashes during rescue
Mount Hood - incident causes safety concerns

Mount Hood avalanche fatal to members of Mazama climb
Mount Hood - Fatal Avalanche described by Climbing Ranger

Avalanche avoidance is a practical approach to avalanche safety
Avalanche avoidance by David Spring  pdf 
Three personal experiences with avalanches
Experienced member of The Mountaineers killed in avalanche 
USA Avalanche risk descriptors 

Mount Hood - fatal fall on soft snow
Mount Hood - fatal fall on Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - fatal slip on hard snow from the summit
Mount Hood - lucky novice rescued
Mount Hood - lost on the mountain

How to travel over steep snow  
The traditional alpine mountaineer's ice axe
Learning to climb steep hard snow slopes 5 pdf pages

Learning roped travel and ice axe arrest
South Sister spring climb for gear and techniques

Mount Shasta - slip on hard snow
Broken Top - slip on snow
McArthur Rim - slip on frozen scree
Middle Sister - slip on frozen scree
North Sister - fatal slip on snow
Three Finger Jack - fatal slip on snow

American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering