AscentTrey and I went up the Southside (old chute) route on Mt. Hood along with Matt and his friend John. We left the parking lot around 10:20 to help get us to the summit before the sun rose and turned the slopes into slush. I was hoping/planning on us getting to the summit around 4 and off the more avalanche prone slopes by 8. The start of the climb was in the clouds and after an hour or so we cleared them and were treated to the mountain in moonlight and clear skies above. The conditions were about as good as it gets, low wind and firm snow. We made great time all the way up to the Hogsback, making sure to eat and drink along the way (learning from past mistakes). The snow was good right up to the Hogsback (10,300') where it got really steep and sugary. I think we were a little off route and the slope was steeper than usual because of all the snow this year.
It was still dark when we roped up on the Hogsback and had to use our high beams to see the route. We somehow were the first up there, which never happens. I went up the Hogsback walk for a bit and then hooked left to go straight up the old chute. Trey followed the tiny indentations I kicked into the firm snow and we made great time up to the rim of the mountain. We were greeted by an awesome view of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams standing in front of the coming orange and red light. Once on the ridge proper we hoofed it over to the summit to enjoy our thermos of half & half hot cocoa. The time was 4:50 and we were the first on the summit and had it all to ourselves for a while.
Matt and John soon reached us and we celebrated with the cocoa and taking pictures of the rising sun. There was no wind and the conditions were perfect. It made me think it'd be fun to slog up a tent and stay the night up there. More people started trudging over the ridgeline to the summit proper so we decided it was time to get going down. We reversed our way back over to the chute we had climbed up.
DescentFrom the ridge we could see the groups of people down at the Hogsback and West Crater Rim route. It made me glad we were on the way down and not up. Trey felt comfortable going ropeless down so we packed up the rope and headed back down the slope. Others had used the steps we kicked and now they were quite large and it was possible to get your entire boot into the steps. Now that it was light out it was possible to see the avalanche debris skirts to the (climbers) left of us on the West Crater route. I pointed them out to Trey to reinforce why we didn't do that route.
We made great time back to the Hogsback and rested a bit with more water and food, if you can call Gu food. After a bit of a rest we took off some gear and headed down the slope. Once it wasn't scary steep we busted out out rain pants and started the free (and sometimes painful) ride down. The snow was still super firm and we could get good speed all the way down. I tried using the little plastic sleds Dan and I used on Adams, but the snow was too hard and it was scary fast. We slid down pretty much the whole way from 9500' down to the flat area just above the parking lot. We all made it back to the car safe and sound. Trey and I drove to the Waffle Window and devoured a few waffles before falling asleep at home.
ThoughtsThis was probably the best climb I've had on Mt. Hood to date. The conditions were perfect and I felt very strong. For me it's 90% conditions, if the snow is crap then it's scary, or if it's solid then you're able to move quickly and be confident and enjoy it more. A little bit of scary is fun, but pit of stomach dropping out is not so much fun. The view from the summit ridge made all of the training worthwhile. It's indescribable the feeling of coming out of the darkness on the South side and popping onto the ridge and having the view of Mt. Adams and Rainier with the sunrise behind them.
Time has a different scale when you're at altitude and trying to move quickly. Looking up from the base of the wall it seems it should only take a few minutes to walk up to the summit. Going over the photos and timestamps I see it took over an hour to get from the Hogsback to the summit itself, and I felt we were moving pretty quickly. Time passes at least 5 times faster than normal. Sitting down for 'one minute' to eat a bite can actually be 10. Time can slip by very fast.
It is also amazing to me that you spend an hour of driving, three hours of packing and repacking, six hours of climbing and months of training for a payoff that could be measured in minutes. The amount of time spent on the summit is very short, once you are on top it is necessary to get back down to safety from the crowds and the sunshine. The moments of perfect light and views could be described as fleeting, and measured in breaths. They are made more special by knowing you have earned it, you're not just driving to the end of the block and having a look around, you spend much time and energy and sometimes are rewarded with grandeur.
Packing for climb from Sam Jackson
View Mt. Hood with Trey in a larger map