Trip Report    

Mount Hood: Reid Glacier Headwall

West side best side.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The bergschrund is easily crossable on the left but looks difficult on the right. Snow was in good conditions. Dropping down the west crater rim looks like it will be difficult later on.

  • 0300: Roll out
  • 0700: Illumination Saddle
  • 0800: Base of RGH
  • 0930: Top of first couloir
  • 1130: Base of second couloir
  • 1400: Top out
  • 1430: Begin descent
  • 1545: Finish Crater Rock debacle
  • 1630: Back at cars

People: Nick Wang, Julia Syi

Our original intention this weekend was to ski the White Salmon Glacier on Shuksan, but with the high temps and avalanche risk we had to find somewhere with less risk. With Hood's avalanche risk being green and the wind forecasted to be blowing from the N/NE, I decided I could try to accomplish a childHood dream (from 2 years ago) of climbing the Reid Glacier Headwall.

RGH is supposed to be one of the most committing and aesthetic lines on the mountain. Every report said that past the first couloir, it's easier to finish than to bail. They also said that you shouldn't expect to need or use protection, and if you do you aren't really ready for this route. That would explain why every trip report on this route seems to be from free-soloists.

We had heard concerns of the warm temps making it harder the climb (due to icefall). From talking to people who've done it before (and my own experience in Leuthold's Couloir in May 2019) being pelted in unavoidable. We hoped our skis would provide some extra protection against that.
With that in mind, and with the intention to ski down, we chose the right hand variation at first (8c) which was the shortest, and marked waypoints for the center variation as well (8b) just in case. I would try to do the main variation without skis in the future. We packed as little as we needed for the climb, especially with ski equipment being that much more. Each of our indivudual bags was ~27 lbs for the uphill.

After a heinous drive from Seattle (as usual) we got to a basically empty lot at 8pm. I forget when we usually get to the lot, but I was surprised to see it so empty. Another out-of-stater said local usually roll in at midnight, so this was to be expected. The wind was extremely discouraging at 30 mph(?), and made for a rocky night.


Looking good as always

The morning was not much better, with the winds dying down a bit but not enough to make me not want to give up right away. Well, we didn't drive through 6 hours of traffic for nothing, so we would skin straight up through the wind. The snow down low was like loose sugary blocks with chunks of ice in between, which make for some difficult skinning. Half way up I had to put ski crampons on for purchase. The booters seemed fine though. From the top of Palmer's Chair it was more ice with some soft snow underneath. We were hoping the ski down would be nice.


Illumination Saddle being illuminated

At Illumination Saddle we met a team of 4 from PMR going up Leuthold's. They told us Reid's was in really good condition (as of 4/11) with a short section of ice, but the middle/right variations could be icier at the top. Ice on an ice climb, who'd have guessed. We were also passed by a free soloist shooting up Leuthold's. All were long gone by the time we were roped up.


Fashion is paramount


All red all the time

Descending the saddle was steeper than I imagined. The solid snow was helpful, but on one step I punched through a soft patch underneath the crust and fell over and had to arrest with an ice tool. A perfect start to the climb, but we didn't drive 6 hours through traffic for nothing! My knees would hate me tomorrow, but there was work to do today!


Reid Glacier Headwall from below. The left entrance would be our route. You can see the exit from the right entrance.

From the base of the headwall the bergschrund looked like it was filled in at the left but peeling apart on the right. There didn't look to be a nice passage to the right couloir, so we decided to do the central variation. The ramp up was 'mellow' and snow good for booting, which steps going to your heel. We took some time to shield ourselves from the falling debris, set up a 'belay' just before the couloir, and made our way to the hogsback above for a break.


Ascending the lower slopes


Getting to the first couloir

From here we could see Leuthold's, the left variation, and the variation we intended to do. It looked so close but so far. Our progress was a lot slower than I thought it would be, and kicking steps above the couloir was time consuming. Here the snow was firmer and to get good foot placements you really needed to give it a good swing.


Hogsback above the first couloir. Our route in on the far right of this pic.

We were hopeful when we made it to the base of the last couloir. The sun was shining above us and the exit seemed just out of sight. To my surprise we found real ice (not waterfall ice, but chunks of blue ice) in the upper couloir. We stayed right of the debris funnel to avoid the sun, where frontpointing was required most of the way and steps had to be chopped out. At this point we were getting tired, and each simulblock basically became a pitched belay.


Leading last couloir where the snow got icy.

We topped out at 2pm, quite a bit later than I first anticipated (I underestimated the length of the route and thought we'd top out at noon). Not really in need of a summit, we started our descent.


Topout at the west crater rim. It's a steep descent into the crater itself.

Going through the heavy slush at skier's right of Crater Rock was a pain. A decent amount of time was needed to get realigned after a ski popped out and almost fell into the hole. From then on it was rime and chicken heads to the resort, and creamy and smooth snow to the parking lot.


Skiers incoming!

All in all a great, tiring, full effort and full value day. Would def do again, but earlier in the year. We could have done a better job at keeping fueled and hydrated (we brought 1L of water and our lunches down to the car). We could have also kept up conditioning in the winter (but winter is the ski season so that will never happen).


Planned waypoints and route taken.


Dinner of champions


  • Boots: Scarpa Maestrale/Gea RS (only boots to not crush my feet)
  • Skis: (BD Helio 95/Atomic Backland UL 78).
  • 70m x 7.3 mm Beal Gully (someone joked it was like climbing on a reinforced shoestring)
  • Petzl Lynx crampons
  • Petzl Quarks for leader, Petzl Gulleys for follower
  • 4 Ice screws (10, 17, 17, 22), 3 pickets, all used.
  • Standard glacier kit.
  • 2L water and 1000 cal per person.

Photo credits: Julia Syi