Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mount Hood - South Side - 01.22.11

5200'+ elevation gain
7 miles RT
Left car: 5:00 am
Summit: 1:00 pm
Back at car: 4:00 pm
11 hours car to car

With babies on the way Josh and I were trying to plan one last mountain attempt before we are relegated to in town duties. We were hoping for an overnight, but weather and conditions did not cooperate for that type of adventure. The weather looked better further south, so we opted for a climb of Mount Hood, with an overnight in the parking lot. With not much recent mountain activity more committing routes were nixed and we were just going up the standard south side route. (Also due to the fact that the snow wouldn't be too good for skiing and at least we would get ~2000' of groomed skiing in to mitigate the poor snow.

The ride down to Hood always takes longer than expected. This time we didn't encounter too much traffic, but we arrived in the Timberline parking lot around 11:30pm. It was windy and I was not encouraged. But a full moon and a view of the mountain was an encouraging sign. After a visit to lodge and signing in we went back to the car to consider sleeping arrangements. I balked first and opted to sleep in my bivy sack outside, while Josh and Matt slept in the front seats of the car. While I was fairly warm, the wind buffeted my bivy sack and made falling to sleep difficult. A few times during the night people made noise or trucks drove by that woke me up. Next thing I know Josh was waking me up at our 4am wake up time.

We ducked into the alcove at the day lodge to gear up away from the wind. This is when I realized I had made a few packing errors. I didn't bring the ideal ski socks, but I wasn't too concerned about that. But I was mildly concerned about not bringing a hard shell. When we were finally underway, I opted to skin in my puffy jacket for lack of a better wind blocking layer. The wind had not abated since going to sleep. It may have been even more intense as we started up. The snow was frozen solid, but the skinning went well aside from a few slips.

When we got to the Silcox Hut there were a few parties turning back. They were getting turned around by the wind. We took a pause in the lee of the hut to discuss our options. The snow was way too hard for us to ski back to the car at this point. At a minimum we could head up to 8500' and ski once the sun came out. I made the prediction that the wind was from the high pressure coming in and that it should mellow out later in the day, but who could be sure? We kept going uphill.

Above the hut the wind was worse. One bout carried plenty of ice pellets that felt like getting shot repeatedly by paint balls at close range. I told the guys if that event repeated twice more I was turning around. It didn't, but many strong gusts stopped us in our tracks. As the sun rose and we got higher, we adjusted to the wind more and the wind even started to wane. We took a brief stop at the top of the Palmer Chair before continuing.

Above the ski area the terrain was all rime. Without ski crampons the skinning was proving difficult. We shot for a ice out cropping that others were at so that we could stash our skis. We took another break there leaving our skis behind. We put our crampons on and started to boot up. This is where I realized that ski boots are not ideal for French crampon technique. There is just no ankle flex. Matt had it worst as he was in resort boots, due to his lack of owning AT boots. We made slower progress over the delicate and not so delicate rime petals. Due to our inability to easily walk with the ski boots on, we took indirect lines and made many switchbacks to reduce the angle and ease our ascent.

We arrived at the Hogsback a bit tired and I for one was not particularly motivated. We discussed the route with others there who were not going for the summit because they felt it unsafe. We talked with a group coming down from the summit. After a lunch break we opted to leave our packs at the Hogsback and head up with some essentials. We put on harnesses and carried the rope, just in case we needed it and we were on our way. Josh was motivated and jumped out ahead of Matt and I who were just plodding along. We took the old chute variation as most of the beta we got sounded like the Pearly Gates might be a little sketchy in the heat of the day. An hour later we stood on the summit. To our surprise, the summit was much less windy than most of the ascent. We stayed briefly to snap a few pictures, and then headed back to our packs.

Coming down the chute turned into a circus. A party who ascended Leuthold's Couloir was down climbing and skiing the chute. Another party of young boys was trying to climb the chute and this made it difficult to stay safe. At one point I noticed that one of the boys had only one crampon on. Despite the antics we made it back to our packs safely. Although I was dragging behind. I think due to food and hydration, but I can never be sure which one. We packed up and headed back to our skis. Heading down was quick and we reached our skis after coming down through all the rime covered slopes which had not softened up. Josh and I were ahead of Matt and we discussed carrying our skis back to the top of the lift, perhaps another 300' of vertical or so. Walking on the terrain was hard enough, skiing couldn't be any better. At least it wouldn't be fun. Matt, in his resort boots decided to ski it because he could not wait any longer to stop walking. It took him about the same amount of time to ski it, but he didn't fall and did a good job.

Once at the lift Josh and I prepped to ski and then the three of us were off. I took my time skiing as I was tired and made a few stops to rest. I took a wrong turn at the Silcox Hut onto the cat track which was difficult skiing. After a hard face plant, I started skiing the icy snow on the side of the cat track and then eventually I found the nicer "groomed" snow to arrive at the lodge later than Josh and Matt.

Overall this was a nice trip. We had a bluebird day (not in the forecast.) Other than the high winds for a good portion of the morning the weather was fine. We were a little tired, but that is the drawback of being a weekend warrior. It surprises me just how many novice climbers we encountered including the three young boys who had rented gear and didn't really appear to know what they were doing. (They carried helmets up to the Hogsback, but left them there to go for the summit.) It was a bummer the skiing wasn't good, but we sort of expected that, which is why the destination was Hood for the groomed slopes.

Every time I see pictures of the Mount Hood in winter I love the rime ice. I think it is truly beautiful. I am glad I finally got to see it first hand and marvel in view. It made it difficult for me to ascend to the summit as I was content at the Hogsback taking in the views of the summit rime. I always like coming to active mountains, and the smell of sulfur dioxide is more subdued in the winter when in the crater of Mount Hood.

My pics are here.

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