31 July 2013

Skiing Mt. Hood - Summit Trip Report

Skiing in July is awesome.

To get my 21st month of Turns All Year, I convinced a few friends to come ski Mt. Hood. I've never stood on the top of Oregon before, and the idea appealed to me. So did taking a shortcut via two chairlifts to 700' below our camp. Some would call that cheating. I would call that being awesome. Tomato toMAHto.

Our adventure began early Saturday morning. Leaving Seattle at 5:30, we made it to the parking lot at Hood around 10:00am. My first thought upon seeing the mountain after my four hour nap (I get car-narcolepsy, don't judge!): "Where the hell is all the snow?" I mean, look at this:

View from The Magic Mile Lift

Not to be deterred by the lack of skiing from the summit, we picked up our $15 tickets for the Magic Mile chair. They are no longer selling the $35 climber's pass (apparently to discourage people from climbing) that would normally take climbers one way up both the Magic Mile and Palmer Chairs. So we planned to skin up from the top of Magic Mile and skip Palmer, but were pleasantly surprised when we were able to hop right on Palmer lift sans ticket, whisking us up to 8,540'.

Happy cheaters Ben and Johnny 

Exhausted from our big morning, we began the trek up to camp. We found what we thought to be a sheltered area on the rocks at 9,250' and made camp. Seeing as we made it to camp by 2pm, we briefly entertained the idea of making a few laps, but decided that sun-cups are sucky and we'd rather lounge in the sun. In bathing suits. And tutus.

Don't lie, you want a tutu too

The remaining two gals in of our party arrived around 5pm after skinning from the top of the Magic Mile chair (Palmer closes at 2pm). Legitimately tired from their journey, we made some food and broke out the fancy plastic wine glasses while we took in the amazing sunset. Not as spectacular as the show Rainier put on for me last month, but still pretty impressive nonetheless:

If you are bringing wine, spring for the fancy china

Photo by Kristen Wangerin

Summit Pyramid at Sunset


Anticipating a 5-hour trip to the summit and back, we got up for a 5am departure from camp. Turns out, we picked the windiest place on the mountain so camp. The night was...sleepless.

The morning was clear but quite windy, and the wind complicated and delayed our departure from camp until 5:30.

Theresa packing by headlight

Kristen the BIRTHDAY girl!

Crampon time

Unsure of how high we could ski, we threw the skis on our packs and opted to head to the east of the obvious hikers trail along the pummice ridge.

This was a mistake.

Do not do this.

I repeat, stay on the trail or risk wasting an hour to gain a paltry 400' by traversing a super sketchy snowfield above a crevasse, then scrambling up a 5.4 scree slope without protection while boulders start careening down the hill if you so much as give them the wrong look. Not. A good. Idea.

This is what wasting an hour looks like

We finally regained our proper ridgeline to the east of crater rock. Freaked from our chossy scramble and cold from the wind, we briefly contemplated bailing on the attempt, but thought better of it when we saw someone coming down from the summit. In passing, we asked him how it was. He simply replied, "Stinky." Yes sir, yes it is.

By 9,600', the snow was cold and hard and a sun-cupped disaster zone. More or less unnecessary 'training weight', we dumped our skis at the top of the last skiable snowfield. Any higher ski attempts would have required serious carryover and potentially catastrophic results if one of us were to happen to fall into a fumarole (as Hood is an active volcano with aforementioned stinky venting holes, which can asphyxiate a climber trapped in the oxygen-less void).

Meeting the Stinky Man - Sunrise summit cone in background

Working toward the Hogsback

We reached the Hogsback and could see the open bergschrund (a hanging crevasse). The standard Pearly Gates route was completely dry and absolutely a no-go. We opted to instead take the next most direct route and climbed the west chute/old route to the summit ridge. The climbing conditions were quite pleasant with the sun-cups forming an almost staircase up the chutes. An ice axe was a must, and I was happy to have my whippet as well. The chutes are close to 55 degrees at the top.

Hogsback with dry Pearly Gates. Old Chute pictured left.

Bergschrund - the split is about 15 feet

Looking back toward crater rock

To borrow from Johnny's trip report, "The exit from the chutes onto the summit mound is via a skinny choss ridge, barely class 2 but vertigo-inducing." AKA we topped out of the chutes to stand on a pretty skinny ridge with crazy 2,000' exposure on one side and a threatening 500' tumble on the other.

View from the top of the chutes

We dropped crampons and traversed along the ridge to the summit, which was devoid of snow. It was also completely devoid of other climbers also - one huge advantage for climbing so late in the season! In keeping with tradition, we cracked some breakfast beers to carbo-load for our descent. The wind was still quite strong on the summit, so after capturing our AWESOME summit photos (seriously people, this is how you do it!) we got out of the wind and headed down.

Happy Birthday Kristen! This is how you do a summit photo!

It only took about an hour to get back to our skis, then a whopping 5 minutes to ski the 600' back to camp, where we broke everything down in under an hour. Laden with our heavy packs, we struggled to ski the remaining 700' to where those magnificent grooming machines had made sweet, sweet spring corn for us. The skiing was pretty incredible once we were in the resort. Even with 40lbs on my back, I was having the time of my life carving into the smooth slopes. We briefly debated trying another lap, but concerned about traffic back to Seattle we begrudgingly finished our run, hopped on the Magic Mile lift, and schlepped our gear back to the car.

Hood will probably go for a few more weeks, but it was really, really melted out, and the sun cups were really, really terrible (and I've skied Muir in August!). If you head out be aware of rockfall in the late morning and afternoon. This would definitely be a hazard and was a major concern as we traversed to the Old Chute.

Another successful summit and another successful month on skis! Thanks Ben, Johnny, Kristen, and Theresa for joining me on this adventure. Who wants to ski in August?

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