Monday, June 26, 2017

Mt Hood, via The Sunshine Route - June 2017 - 11,250ft

Stepping out of the car on Monday at the Tilly Jane Trailhead, the sun beat down on us with intense heat. A smile crept across my face. Finally the hours of running and hiking up and down hills around Boise was hopefully going to pay off this week. I wondered if I was going to be fit enough, if the last few weeks of sinus infections and trying to heal set me back. Would we would be defeated before we even set foot on the mountain?

We picked Melissa up at the Portland airport in a hurry surrounded by a million cars. Not even one week ago did she know she was going to be coming out to the pacific northwest to come and climb with her brother and myself. Melissa sat down in the car and asked us, “so where are we headed?!”.

Mt Hood is 11,250ft and one of the family members of the Cascade Volcanoes. She stands out from her neighboring beasts not from size but from her shape. Unlike her football field crater neighbors, her summit is steep and holds its triangular shape.  She ranks as one of the most climbed and skied mountains in the lower 48 and though her reputation may be known as an easy up and down on her south side, her North Side is labeled as “treacherous” and is highly unclimbed compared to her ski lift, activity filled south side.

The Sunshine Route was appealing in a few ways. The fact that the route was an easier route that lies on her north side, with glacier travel and some crevasse crossings, with a ridge climb finish was appealing by itself. More importantly we had high hopes we wouldn't see many other climbers on the route.

We arrived just after 4pm at the Tilly Jane trailhead. Only two other cars were parked in the parking lot and with about 1900 ft of elevation to climb ahead of us, we quickly packed our gear, smothered sunscreen on all exposed skin, threw our packs over our shoulders and stepped foot onto the trail.

The trail climbs between big trees and soon you step out into the remains of the Gnarl Fire that scoured the land a few years back. The skeletons of the trees line the trail, but with their lack of needles, it opened up a window to our objective. She towered above the horizon in the most symmetrical triangular shape.

With summer light on our side, we hiked through the warm evening light until the remains of the Gnarl Fire were behind us and we were soon walking through cool air the was coming off the snow patches that suddenly started to appear. With the snow, also came our camp area. The Tilly Jane camp ground has been a place to overnight and a place of refuge for climbers and skiers alike. I am sure many other climbers bypass this camp spot, but since we had started so late we took the opportunity to lie our gear out on a picnic table and enjoy our previously purchased sandwiches. We watched to sun dip below the horizon, and huddled into the tent with the first true day of climbing just a sunrise away.

Our first early morning arrived, and we all felt well rested and ready for the day ahead. We quickly packed the gear and immediately switched our hiking shoes for mountaineering boots as the snowline was just ahead on the trail. The trees became smaller and smaller and eventually we emerged passed the treeline to our first marker of the climb. The stone hut marks the point where you either continue straight ahead and climb the more difficult, and direct line to the summit called “The Cooper Spur” or you start to trek right towards The Snow Dome, which is was our objective.

After a quick break at the hut, we once again put our packs on and climbed down through the skree of the ridge and emerged onto the Eliot glacier. We placed crampons on our feet, harnesses around our waists and helmets on our heads. We all tied in, did partner checks and before we knew it Melissa was leading the way to The Snow Dome.

Mountaineering is still such a new thing to me, but this moment of finally getting to rope up has been such a goal for the last few months, that the nerves of what lay ahead slipped away and only excitement filled me up.

Our objective for the day was to get to our high camp on top of the Snow Dome. The large obvious snow field that lied in the middle of the mountain. We set off and with warm temperatures looming we thought we would have a more active mountain on our hands but with only one large crash of ice off the headwall, we were pleasantly surprised to be climbing on a very peaceful day.  I’m thankful we had such a quiet mountain, between the lack of recent training and illnesses  proved to affect our climbing and our 3500ft day was slow moving. Granted, we had all the time in the world but our fast and light goal was feeling slow and heavy.

The  day moved along and after leaving the Tilly Jane camp at 5:45am we arrived at the top of the Snow Dome around 12:00pm. Joe probed out our camp spot on the glacier and drew lines in the snow where our camp was not to be crossed unless roped up. Melissa started to dig a flat spot in the slope to place our tent while Joe and myself removed the trash bags from our packs. We strategically placed them in the snow to melt water for our empty bottles. With no clouds in sight, we quickly filled all six water bottles, the cook pot, and the food cups.

50 degree slope with Anderson rock to the left.
A couple hours of labor was soon admired by the three of us as we rested in the tent. The backdrop of Adams, Rainier and St. Helens was mesmerizing. Just above our camp was the “crux” of our route. The crevasses that are under Anderson and Horseshoe rocks looked passable, but without getting up close and personal no one truly knew what was ahead.

With plenty of daylight still to come, Joe and Melissa roped up and set off to break a trail through the crux. A day of climbing with my head in a funny position left my neck throbbing so I opted to stay behind and make more melt water and rest while they spent a couple of hours climbing.

The route goes! Melissa and Joe
I watched as they climbed on, to the right side of Anderson rock, over the bergschrund until they were out of sight. A couple hours passed and though I couldn't see them, the wind carried their voices from 1000 vertical feet above me back down to camp. When they arrived back to camp the wind had picked up and was throwing gusts of ice into the tent. That didn't deter the smile that was on both of their faces as they had broken a solid trail to the ridge for the next morning.

By this time we were all tired, Joe made dinner and we climbed into the tent to enjoy spanish rice, and sharp cheddar cheese all wrapped up in a tortilla. When the elevation isn't affecting your appetite, it's no secret that all food tastes significantly better after a day of hard work. We snuggled into our sleeping bags and attempted to get some sleep.
Tent life

Sleep never came. With gusts of cold, mountain wind hitting the tent, drowned out any quiet, peaceful sleep we had hoped for. The night dragged on, when we had hoped the wind would stop, it only picked up. The alarm came at 4:10am and with the wind trying to blow our tent back to the trailhead, we hunkered in and waited it out. With an extra day in hand, time was on our side. We knew if we had to, we could wait an entire extra day to go for our summit push and with a trail already stepped out by Joe and Melissa from the prior day, we weren't in too much of a hurry.

The biggest benefit to staying and waiting out the wind was the fact that we finally were able to fall asleep. Even just a few hours made the world of a difference. Once we finally stepped out of the tent the wind had died down enough that we all looked at each other, and decided to go for it. So at 9:00am we got our climbing gear on and stepped out onto the route an hour later. With the wind whipping down onto our camp, we just assumed that the moment we passed the bergschrunds and climbed onto the ridge, the wind would be so intense we would have to turn around.

We stepped out of camp and started to climb. Over Anderson rock and back onto the snow, it got steep, and it got steep fast. Around 50 degrees we stepped into yesterdays trail and made good time up to yesterday's turn around point.. The wind had yet to even show a smidge of a breeze, so we kept on going. With Joe in the lead, an ice axe in one hand and a tool in the other, he pressed on and stepped across the crevasse under Horseshoe rock. We placed a couple pickets here for protection. When my turn arrived to cross, my foot plunged through the snow into the crevasse below, my heart took a leap out of my chest but after taking a deep breath I climbed on and before we knew it we had gained the ridge.

I stood up, expecting the wind to blow me back down. Only to quiet mountain air swept across my face. With another small water and snack break we pushed on. We knew there would be a couple of false summits but the ridge (compared to the climbed we had just finished) seemed easy and smooth. My crampons gripped to cold wind scoured snow with a comforting tension. You could feel the air coming into your lungs getting slightly thinner but time just seemed to slip away without notice. We arrived to another crevasse crossing and stepped passed without issue. Just above this the snow seemed to run out into oblivion. As Joe crested what looked like the top, he stopped and looked ahead. With me below him, and Melissa below myself, I called out and asked what he could see. The line to the summit was a ridge that truly makes Mt Hood different from her sisters. He hollered back to tell us it was the summit ridgeline.  We climbed on, and for the first time in two days we saw another person. Below to our right, little ants swept across the mountainside, passing the ski lifts, while climbers headed down from the summit trudging along through the wet snow.
Summit Ridge PC JDSTYLOS

Looking at pictures of the finish line to the summit online made me nervous. When it stood in front of me at 11,200 ft in the air my nerves slipped away and I took a deep breath and the entire time I climbed those last few feet to the summit, the smile on my face only grew and my breathing was short, not from altitude but from excitement.

We stepped onto the summit of Mt hood threw with high fives all around, a whoop and a holler in celebration of  bagging our first summit of the mountain. For me, this climb marked my first summit of any glaciated mountain. We took pictures of our ice axes in the air and smile across our faces.

Melissa lead the way down around 2:00pm. The snow on the way up was hard and icy but in the afternoon heat it started to soften. The crevasse crossings were fairly straightforward, and even though the thought of climbing down them made me nervous, we had ended up having no problems. We arrived back to camp and we laid in the tent, where the wind still blew.

Our rest was short lived, as we quickly packed up gear,  tied in one more time and headed down. The weight of my pack pressed against my aching neck and made each step into the wet snow excruciating. I was having a hard time seeing where to place my feet from the pain in my back and by the time we finally made it off the glacier, I threw my pack on a rock at the top of the ridge and fought off tears. We hiked down through evening light to the stone hut where Joe found us a place to sleep out of the wind. We climbed into the stone hut and turned on the stove and celebrated our summit with an Annie's Mac n Cheese dinner. To top off the day, I had saved my Milky Way for dessert and my first bite into the chocolatey goodness was the perfect way to finish off an amazing day.

We climbed into our sleeping bags, while the wind tried to still blow us away. I fell asleep that night with my wind guard tied tightly around my neck and goggles over my eyes.

Morning light peeked over the horizon and we all stepped out of our bags to watch the morning sun set a beautiful light onto the mountain we had just climbed. Our footprints had created a line that the naked eye could see all the way to the ridge. I looked at the mountain, almost in disbelief that not even 18 hours ago I had stepped foot ono the top of the Pyramid that stood in front of me.

The snow was hard and slippery and made for a tricky hike back down to the main trail without crampons on. The rest of the hike down was quick and enjoyable. Leftover climbing butterflies fueled my legs until we stepped out of the forest around 9:00am and packed up the car and drove back into town.
The Sunshine Route

Melissa was to fly out the next day and with an entre 24 hours to kill we opted to celebrate our climb by getting a cheap hotel and enjoy laying in bed and watching TV. We arrived at the Motel 6 in Troutdale and by the time we had got settled into our room,  poor Melissa had deteriorated and climbed into bed with a fever and shakes. Luckily, with the help of ibuprofen and liquids. her fever broke and was feeling a lot better by the time dinner rolled around. We ordered Dominos pizza and indulged on its cheesy goodness that neither Joe nor I had had in months. As a result it didn't take long for the cheesy goodness to make my stomach upset, but even so- It was well worth it!!!

The next morning we made a quick stop in Portland before taking Melissa to PDX and saying our goodbyes. It's so hard to believe that just a few days ago we had picked her up with only hopes that we would get to climb something. Now here we were, saying our goodbyes with a summit of Mt. Hood in the bag!!

As I am sitting here in the grass, with magical trees towering above me and a view of Mt Rainier on the horizon, I can't help but chomp at the bit for more. Though the mountains and I have a relatively new relationship, I am quickly learning of their addictive qualities. The way the wind sweeps your face, the massive objective that lies ahead, the mountains humbling qualities but the gift she gives when all the stars align.

Cheers to my first successful mountain summit, and cheers to hopefully many more successful climbs to come!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I love your writing! I felt like you were taking us all along on the climb! Thank you!