Placeholder Routes & Places

Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Mount Hood/South Side

A successful winter ascent of Mount Hood, up via the Pearly Gates and down the Old Chute.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • With the several feet of snow that had fallen on Hood over the last few days, we expected to use our snowshoes. However, the high winds had scoured the surface, creating very icy conditions for the majority of the climb. Snowshoes were completely unnecessary. Good crampons and two ice axes/tools an absolute must (in hindsight).

We left Seattle around 5:15 PM on 12/30/17, stopping along the way for dinner. We arrived at the Timberline overnight parking lot at around 11. To our surprise, there were no climbing permits in the self-service permit box, so we were unable to fill one out. We went to sleep for a few hours, waking up to a 1:15 alarm. After a quick beacon check, we left the car at 2:15 AM.

We took a slow and steady pace, following the groomed track. There was a nearly full moon which meant that headlamps were optional. We did not need snowshoes or crampons until above the ski lift. 

At the top of the lift, we switched to our snowshoes, assuming that the fresh snow that had fallen over the week would make them a necessity. However, above the track, conditions were very icy. We used the snowshoes for maybe 500', until we reached a reasonably flat surface to switch over to crampons. There we stowed our snowshoes and made a waypoint on a GPS to make sure we picked them back up on the way down.

By the time we reached Devil's Kitchen, it was already 8 AM. We knew that we were not going to make our initial turnaround time of 9 AM. This was not due to any specific issues; it was simply that we were going at a slow pace. We had full winter packs that included full avy gear and shared bivy gear for an emergency. As a team, we discussed if a summit was worth possibly missing our New Year's Eve plans in Seattle. We all agreed that it was, and that we had plenty of energy and supplies to make it to the car later than anticipated. We saw no issue extending our turnaround time to 10 AM.

From Devil's Kitchen, it was clear that the majority of people ascending were going up the Pearly Gates rather than the Old Chute. Looking at the slope above the Old Chute, it appeared that if there was any chance of wind slab that was in the avalanche forecast, it would be there, so we opted for the Pearly Gates as well. The ascent up the Pearly Gates was fun and spicy. We did not rope up for it, and we each only had one straight shaft ice axe. In hindsight, an axe and a tool would have been much more secure. The ice in the Pearly Gates is really nasty, which meant that we had to go one or two at a time because of the amount of ice shooting down with one misplaced tool or crampon. I really struggled going up it, at first trying to place my axe in the cane position before switching to high dagger. Ida and Lauren got to learn from my mistakes and made an easy ascent through, after having to wait for a person to descend who seemed to be in a hurry, sending tons of ice pellets down, almost hitting them.

At the summit, we had a mini NYE party complete with hats, kazoos, and sparkly necklaces. We probably spent an hour at the calm, clear summit refueling, chatting with other summiters, and discussing our descent plan. We decided that we would not descend the Pearly Gates, given that there seemed to be a traffic jam there, lots of loose ice, and we didn't have a second tool, making the sketchy ice step difficult.

We traversed over to the Mazama chute, and saw that it was also sending a lot of ice down on people underneath. Given that none of us had ever gone that way, we opted for the Old Chute, which Ida had climbed in the past. We roped up for the ridge walk to the Old Chute, with Ida leading, placing 3 pickets for protection. The climbers behind us seemed annoyed at our conservatism, but we did it pretty quickly and felt that after already missing our turnaround time and descending a route that we didn't ascend, it was better to be safe than sorry.

At the top of the Chute, we unroped, and started to descend. It was very icy, again, making us wish we had a second tool. But with very slow and steady progress, we down climbed, facing in, axes in low or high dagger position, depending on how steep it was. There were several other parties descending this way, but unlike the Pearly Gates and Mazama Chute, the ice fall wasn't very bad. That being said, descending several hundred feet of 35-40 degree ice, unroped, is tiring and requires very high attention; one slip would have led to some serious consequences. 

Once we reached the ridge between the Old Chute and Pearly Gates, the rest of the descent was straightforward. It was still very icy, we kept crampons on past the ski lifts, but at least we were able to face forward. It was so icy that many of the skiers who were climbing that day ended up descending with their skis on their back. We reached the cars at around 3 PM, just under 13 hours from when we started. A long but awesome day. It was certainly a New Year's Eve to remember!

Takeaways:

  • I've never climbed Hood before, but had heard that it was a fairly non-technical, straightforward climb. Therefore, I thought that pickets and a simple straight shaft axe would be sufficient. The several feet of snow falling the week leading up to the climb confirmed this decision, to me. However, going forward I will absolutely always bring a second tool on this mountain, and a couple of ice screws.
  • A few little things slowed us down on the ascent, putting us slightly behind our initial turnaround time. As often happens on climbs, the small delays started to compound. I credit my climbing partners for their excellent communication and good sense throughout this climb. We didn't speed up or take shortcuts when we realized we were going more slowly than anticipated, rather we got more conservative and kept great attitudes throughout, making the climb safe and enjoyable.
    • Lauren was our MVP on the climb. She was quick, always the first to be ready after breaks, and super solid throughout. She carried our party favors to the summit, which made it extra special.
    • On our descent, Ida specifically was thanked by a solo climber, who was really struggling descending the Chute. She encouraged him while he was pretty freaked out, telling him how great his steps were. She did a lot to create a safe and fun environment, even for people outside of our small team!
  • This is the second time my inReach has sent an SOS from the upper pouch of my pack, even though it started the morning with the power off. I am going to contact Garmin and try to figure out how this keeps happening. Other friends have reported the same issue. I don't want to give my mom a heart attack every time I am on a climb.
  • Red Marker
    45.331193, -121.711229
    45.331192659 -121.711229366
  • Red Marker
    45.373444, -121.695662
    45.3734442 -121.6956615
 

Add a comment

Log in to add comments.
Lauren Bell
Lauren Bell says:
Tue, Jan 2, 2018 6:23 AM

Yeehaw!
Such a good day.
Our communication, conservatism and celebration made it an amazing climb.
We all understood the complications and talked about the options making decisions prior to being over committed in a situation.
I have to thank both Sherrie and Ida for being such stellar partners and helping me get a beautiful climb in for my Intermediate course.

Drew Eliott
Drew Eliott says:
Wed, Jan 3, 2018 2:33 PM

Excellent climb report. Thanks for sharing.
Definitely more challenging than my Pratt Mt. scramble close for 2017.
Cheers, Drew