Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mount Hood July 18th 2010


2 very motivated climbers with a bit a of non-sense
A car
A whole bunch of gear you won t need
48 h
Lots of gas
An appetite for Fast Food
About $100

After climbing Mont Blanc 2 weeks ago (with Bonn-Tien), I felt I still needed some high elevations as I always love to be high. I had already climbed Baker so it felt like a natural transition to attempt Mount Hood. The weather has been fantastic these last weeks and the reports about the South Route of Mount Hood were excellent. It was necessary to take the Old Chute variation but the level of difficulty seemed to still be in my range.

Looking for a partner (rare at this time of the year since everyone is out of town), I posted a thread on the VOC trip board, and after 24 h got a response from Mohammed, which I had met on my February Sphinx trip. He was even more motivated than I was to climb this summit as this was his first American volcano. We talked about the dates and the logistics and set the departure for Saturday morning at 6:30 am. Unfortunately Bonn-Tien was going to miss out on this one as she decided to ditch me and go tubing near Princeton. I understood as she has been climbing all spring and summer and was probably tired of snow and ice. But I just can t get enough of that white stuff!

Mohammed arrived exactly on time Saturday morning. We had a very smoothed border crossing and were in the USA at 8 AM. Once we arrived at Seattle, the weather got clouded which got me a bit nervous but also surprised as the weather forecast was excellent. Fortunately as soon as we arrived in Oregon the weather was super sunny and we had great views on Mount Hood, hopefully we would get to see Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helen on our way back. There was a lot of traffic but we still managed to make it to camp by 16:30, roughly 10 hours after our departure, including breaks and border crossing. We went to the tacky touristy Timberline Lodge which was fairly dirty and crowded. In the summer lodge, there is a climber’s registration room, where we put in all our information and picked up our free permits. Those permits are to be put on your pack. They have all your information and reminded me as a body tag, something that would allow them to identify me if I were to fall off the North face of Mount Hood.

We found a cool camp ground about 1 km under the Timberline lodge, quite small but very convenient, although we had to pay $16 for the night. We setup camp and skipped dinner as we were still full from a late all you can eat Chinese buffet lunch. We roughly went to bed at 19:00, a bit late since I spent an hour speaking with a Washington climber to plan a trip to Mount Olympia.

As soon as I hit my sleeping bag, I collapsed, dreaming about my morning peak.

I naturally woke up at 23:30, ready to attack the ascent of Mount Hood. I woke Mohammed up and we both start putting on our climbing clothes. It felt cool and I was worried to get too hot, but the coldest part of the night is usually around 6 and we were going to climb 1800m. We left our tent and sleeping gear and drove to the Timberline parking lot. We put on the harness and the helmets, while leaving the crampons in the bag packs. To be safe we had brought the AVI gear (as I had done on Mt Blanc) and also a 30 m rope. I don t know where the moon was but to me it was a moonless night. In the beginning you walk up this ski slope that has no interest at all, going through some snowboarding ramps. The really annoying thing about this part is all the CAT machines working around and having a hard time to follow the climbers trail. The CAT machines are annoying because they are super bright and just blind you while you are climbing.

After about 2 hours we made to the top of the ski resort, where people can actually get dropped off with a CAT machine… We were glad to be here, it was still pitch dark but the snow was just perfect, not too hard and not too soft. At this point we put on the crampons and we were heading into the backcountry. I had heard that this was the second most climbed mountain in the world, but I was very surprised to see how little people were around. We could only see three groups in front of us. We surely didn’t complain as this was a pleasant surprise. From the top of the ski resort, it was basically a long gentle slope all the way to the hogsback where the “mountaineering” part actually starts. On our way up, the smell of sulphur is actually very strong, there was lots of wind but it really didn’t help. It was almost an annoyance the smell was so strong, and I use to take the Parisian metro everyday so you can imagine….

Our timing was perfect as we were starting to get some light at the hogsback, we could see the bergshrund, and it was at least 10 meters wide. Luckily, there was an easy way on the left towards the Old Chute wall. We had to pass through some avalanche debris that had fallen a week before, the slab was quite big and I was glad it had fallen late in the afternoon when the top is empty of any climber. We started the final slope following some good boot steps. The ascent was very gradual and getting steeper and steeper. I took some picture mid way but unfortunately drop my camera cap lens down the hill… As it got steeper, the crampons and ice axe were getting more and more handy. I would say the steepness got to about 45 degrees but the boot steps made it feel like climbing a ladder. I had decided not to rope up as there was no risk for crevasses and the fact that we were not going to use any snow protection, it was a bit risky but not that bad. I finally made it to the ridge and the view just blew my mind.

On the North, Mount Saint Helen, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, on the south Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters. But the most mind blowing view was the huge pyramidal shadow of Mount Hood. When Mohammed joined me on the ridge, we started our small traverse towards the summit. We knew the ridge was very narrow at one part so we were mentally prepared for some exposure. Indeed the ridge at one point gets as wide as 50 cm, we still didn’t rope up… and got lots of adrenalin going through us as there was a 700 m drop on the north side and a 200 m drop on the south side. However the narrow part is very short and we quickly made it to the wide summit slope. After climbing for about 5:15 min we finally made it to the top. Again the views were fantastic and the feeling of accomplishment was incredible since we had left Vancouver less than 24h ago. We were fairly lucky as we had the summit to ourselves for about 10 min, but only a few climbers joined us. After taking some shots, enjoying life, we started heading down. We went back through the narrow ridge and made it to the top of the Old Chutes. I had to put my camera bag in my bag pack as it was very inconvenient to see my steps down.
Going down the Old Chute was probably the mort nerve wrecking part of this climb. The snow was still very hard which made it difficult to stick the ice axe. The beginning was extremely steep and therefore took a lot of time to go down. When I started feeling comfortable I used the pick of the ice axe which seemed to hold quite well. Once we hit the bottom of the slope it was an easy way back to the car. We made it back to the ski resort and gently went down all the way back to Timberline Lodge. The heat was back and we were glad to have summited early. We were back to our camp at about 11:30 and went for a 90 min nap. We woke up and drove straight back to Vancouver. Luckily we didn’t feel too tired but dreamt all the way back about our accomplishment. When we arrived in Seattle, we were blown away by Mount Rainier, just sticking out of nowhere, saying “Climb me....if you dare”
I thought to myself “Let me work on that...”