“Hey Mom, is climbing Hood still on your bucket list?” I asked that question maybe three years ago, to which my mom (Cyndee) had replied, “YES.” Every season since then, timing hasn’t worked out, or conditions haven’t worked out, or someone was nursing an injury. But this was the season that we’d actually check climbing Mt. Hood off the bucket list. And we’d do it in style. On Mother’s Day.
We left at 3:00AM. It’s always easier to wake up for an adventure than for work, but we were both definitely still tired. It’s about an hour and a half from Portland to Timberline Lodge (the starting point for climbing the South side route up Mount Hood). As we wound our way up US26 and gained elevation, we waited for the sky to clear. The forecast had called for only partial clouds, but we were driving through small rainstorms. Pulling into the Timberline lot a bit before 5:00, the rain had stopped, but visibility on the upper mountain looked minimal, and the wind was gusting to 20mph. We registered for the climb, reorganized bags, put on skis, and started our shuffle to the tallest summit in Oregon.
The start of Mt. Hood’s south-side climb is almost trivial. Timberline is nice enough to maintain a climber’s trail that’s groomed by snowcats, making for a no-fuss skin. Soon we were passing the Silcox Hut (6950’), which sits about 1000’ above Timberline. Shortly after that we had reached the top of the Palmer lift (8540’). Here, our nicely manicured trail ended, and we took a quick break to grab some water and of course, down a Range bar.
Given the typical chaos of getting gear and bodies out the door in the morning, it was so convenient to have a high calorie meal bar that made up for our nutrition shortage to this point. Plus, given that it was still a bit below freezing and somewhat windy, we appreciated that the bars were soft enough to easily eat, and that we didn’t have to take our gloves off to do so.
After passing Palmer, we moved into the clouds of the upper mountain. If conditions stayed like this, we would not be able to see well enough for a safe summit. The skinning also got a bit more advanced. Cyndee had minimal experience on backcountry skis to this point, but no one else would have known. I don’t even recall hearing any squeals when she slid backwards on a particularly firm part? We blew through another 2k’ of kick-turns on moderately wind affected snow.
We soon found ourselves nearing the top of the Triangle Moraine, a feature so named because it’s triangularly shaped, and it’s a moraine. A moraine is the earth and rocks pushed and sculpted by the movement of a glacier, in this case the White River Glacier which sits to its’ East. Not long after passing Triangle Moraine, we entered the Crater (10,000’). The clouds we had been waiting on all morning had still not burned off, and the prospect of summiting was looking more and more doubtful. It was now 9:00AM, and the gusty wind brought the real-feel temps close to single digits. However, with risk of rockfall minimal due to cold temps and minimal sunlight, we decided to wait it out for 30 minutes, hoping that the clear forecast we’d been tracking all week would materialize.
10 minutes went by, and if anything visibility was getting worse. 15 minutes, no better. 20 minutes, about the same. We made the call to start stripping skins and prepping for a descent, but bided our time, still hoping for the weather to get in line. One skin neatly folded and in my pack. Hey, there’s a glimmer of sunlight? Another skin wrangled into the pack, a stronger shot of sun. By the time we were done transitioning skis, the weather was starting to move in the right direction, although still not exactly what we would want to summit in. We decided to push on a bit further, and see how things progressed.
We gained the hogsback quickly, and felt good enough about visibility to push on to the pearly gates. Given the conditions, only one party had chosen to summit that morning, and they didn’t have much to say about route conditions on the gates. After booting our way over the bergschrund via a snowbridge, and up to the gates, we could finally see what we were in for. The left gate looked very doable, but there was definitely a pronounced 10’ section of legitimate ice climbing (WI2) to negotiate. Suspecting this might be the case, I was prepared to put my mom on a hip belay. Instead, she insisted on going without the rope.
In short time, Cyndee was moving her way up the left gate. I climbed just behind her. Between the two of us, we could write an article on “how not to climb ice.” But if it’s stupid and it works…we kicked and hacked our way up the short ice step, and soon regrouped at the base of the final summit ramp. Feeling the 11k+ of vert, we slogged our way to the summit (11,250’). We were pleased to see that visibility on the North side of the Mountain was clear, and the South was quickly improving.
There were only two other parties on the summit at this point. After chatting and a mandatory photo-op, we decided to descend via the Old Chute. As we traversed, we bumped into Bjarne Salen, photographer for Cody Townsend and “The Fifty Project.” Small world. The traverse to the Old Chute turned out to be a little spicy, with a short but exposed catwalk. We both elected to shamelessly scoot across it on our butts. Descending the Old Chute was no sweat, and before we knew it we were back to our skis at the base of the crater.
After a short break, we decided it was time to throw skis on and descend. The sun had been out for almost an hour, and the mountain was heating up. This was punctuated by occasional rockfall that would surely continue to increase throughout the next hours. The skiing down was better than expected, with chalky snow up top that transitioned to perfectly warmed corn. Only the bottom 500’ was truly mashed potatoes, which I considered a win.
Sliding the last couple hundred feet down to Timberline, and then walking to the truck, we were both definitely spent. A full day. But such a success! After all, we had nearly retreated a few hours previously. This will be a Mother’s day I never forget.