Damien and I left Washington at about 9:00pm on Friday and drove through the night to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt Hood. After spending a rather uncomfortable few hours trying to sleep folded up in the front seats of the car we began the approach. Our packs were extra heavy since we were lugging mountaineering boots up along with the rest of our gear. Our plan was to skin to Illumination Saddle. Then we would nap for the rest of the day in preparation for a nigh time start of the Leuthold Couloir. The freezing level was going to be 12,000ft once the sun came up. We wanted to be past the Hourglass and its infamous falling rim ice before the sun came up.

We followed the ski resort groomer trail a long the lower Chairlift to Silcox hut before Timberline opened it’s lifts to inbound skiers. We then continued up along the Palmer Chairlift which was not in service. It didn’t even have an chairs on the cables! Going seemed very slow by the time we neared the top. Lack of sleep and string sunshine to blame. And of course just as we reached the top of the lift at 8500ft a snow cat comes up and drops off 10 inbound skiers. Slightly disheartening after spending 4 hours trudging up hill to reach the same spot. But oh so worth the effort.

From the top of Palmer we began the mile long traverse left aiming toward Illumination Rock. The Illumination Saddle camp into view as we grew closer, but the traverse seemed endless with the heavy packs. Eventually we arrived at the saddle and set up camp out of the wind below the two saddle ridges. Towers of rim ice rock created magnificant castle-like ice sculptures around us. Rim had a way of making everything look like a fairytale. We were able to peak over the saddle and see the bottom of the couloir as well just before X rated Yocum Ridge. There were footprints to follow which woudl help in the dark and the crevasses did not look like they would present an issue.

Two other parties showed up at the ridge later that afternoon. One pair of backcountry skiers brought a front country Coleman tent that was mostly mesh with a tiny rain fly. They also had full sized beach towels, inbound ski cloths and some huge plastic lunchboxes. Nothing was ultra light or made for camping on a snowy volcano. The other group of three were skiers with proper backcountry gear. However, they were not climbing to the summit.

We slept hard, turning in at about 6:30pm and waking up once to see the sunset. At 2:15am we groggily slithered our of our sleeping bag and began the climb preparations. We began moving at 3:30am. Damien led us down the saddle and over the glacier to the base of the Leuthold Couloir. t would be fairly obviously even without the footprints. This took about 30 minutes. The Couloir is very wide in the beginning with snow from 50-60 degrees. One of two placed were a bit soft, but the bulk of the route was firm. There was some fine rim ice raining down on us, but nothing to cause alarm. Damien placed three pickets, but said afterward that he really only need one or two. I agree. The forth picket he placed at the beginning of the traverse toward the hourglass along with his ice axe as an anchor. He belayed me in from there and we swung leads.

The hourglass is infamous because it acts as a narrow funnel for all the rim ice falling off the rock towers the surround the chute. Sometimes golf ball or larger rim falls from the towards and zooms down the hourglass and with it being such a narrow space there is little room to take shelter. This is why we wanted to climb it in the dark when it was coldest. Even so, as I neared the entrance to the hourglass traversing left i could hear the rim rain loudly falling down the chute. I placed a picket near the wall just before entering the chute. I took a few tried for me to find a place to out it. beneath the snow was pure blue ice. It would have taken a screw. I found that staying on the far right side of the hourglass kept me our of the line of fire from most of the falling debris. A few pea sized pieces of ice hit me face and some bigger chunks hit my helmet, but nothing significant. Abut halfway through the hourglass I moved left as the protection on the right dwindled. Here here was a short 6-8 foot ramp where I actually had to swing my ice tools like i was climbing water ice. It was solid and fun though. The rest of the time we drove in our shafts or daggered the tools.

The Hourglass widened and present two chute options. I crossed over at took the far right chute. This part of the climb was like an endless hill that slowly sloped away so that you felt like no matter how high you climbed the ridge top never got closer. We were out of the line of fire from debris though and the sun was rising painting the sky with beautiful colors. The shadow of Mt Hood appeared on the valley far below us. Purely breathtaking.

Slowly the ridge-top began to stop growing further away. We expected there to be a lot of wind at the ridge crest when we topped it, but it wasn’t more than 10-15 mph. Gorgeous views abounded on either side, but ahead of us on the right the final 800ft of climbing reared up before us. After a brief break on the narrow ridge we climbed around the broad steep slope leading to the catwalk to a flat area where we could see the steep rocky cliffs falling away from the summit. We started up the final ascent here on 40-50 degree snow with a fair amount of rim ice coating it. It went quickly and we found ourselves on the final catwalk to the summit.

There was good trail stamped out on the knife edge walk to the summit. It was all i could do to walk and not run to the top. I was just so excited about my first volcano of the year! The summit was a bit crowded with folks who camp up the South Side, but it emptied out to no one soon after our arrival. Not a breathe of wind touch us and the perfectly clear day afforded us with views of Helens, Adams, Rainier, Three Sisters and Jefferson. I don’t think there was a single cloud in the sky. It’s hard to leave a summit with those conditions and we stayed for about an hour.

Folks are using Pearly Gates this year on the South Side for the final summit push. However, we opted to take Old Chute down instead. It is much wider than Pearly Gates and since so many folks were climbing up it we didn’t want to get involved in a bottleneck. There was a pretty good stairs stamped into the snow going down old chute though we did have to face inward for the bottom part due to the steepness. From there we basically followed the sidewalk that is the South Route to the base of Crater Rock. From Crater Rock we traversed below it aiming to Illumination Rock being careful to gradually descent to our small yellow dot of a tent and not go below it. The entire descent from the summit to camp took about 1.5 hours.

Damien happily walked around camp in shorts and down booties as we made water and chilled before making out final descent back to Timberline. Lots of folks passed through as we napped in the tent. None were climbers though. There were snowshoes left behind from another team we knew who started the climber about three hours behind us. We broke camp after two hours and enjoyed a leisurely ski back down to Timberline. Skiing among inbound recreationalists felt a bit strange with our giant packs. We weren’t half as agile as them on the slopes. It was still an wonderful ski down in good corn snow. First technical volcano of the year! VIEW VIDEO

 

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