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Mount Hood, Sandy Glacier Headwall Route

June 18-19, by Mazama and friend, Tony Ferroggiaro, and SACster, Kipp Bajaj.

The headwall of the Sandy Glacier is that prominent west face of Mt. Hood so familiar to our gaze when driving, for instance, on this side of the Cascade crest. It is flanked by two dominant ribs -Cathedral Ridge from the NW and Yocum Ridge from the SW.

The Sandy Glacier can be approached a couple of ways. The most common path is an enduring approach from Timberline via Illumination Saddle, with a descent across the Reid Glacier followed by a traverse of Yocum Ridge at ~8600' to the lower Sandy Glacier and the headwall proper. A less common approach is via the secluded and scenic McNeil Point and the lower Cathedral Ridge, which starts from Lolo Pass on the west side of the mountain. Tony and I chose the latter route and it was truly rewarding.

A car shuttle was used. After leaving one vehicle at Timberline early Friday evening, we traveled back to Zigzag and up Lolo Pass Road to the Top Spur Trailhead. We were on the trail by 6:30 pm, ascending in good light through an understorey of Indian Paintbrush and Trillium. We arrived above tree line at the rustic stone shelter at McNeil Point (~6100') around 8 pm, in awe of the dramatic view of Hood's Sandy Glacier that was before us. Ominous clouds hung to the north and the south of us, but we had clear skies overhead that night.

We had the shelter to ourselves that night. After a light meal of smoked salmon, noodle soup, tea, and a tangerine sunset, we crawled into our bivy bags on the dirt floor of the McNeil shelter for a few hours of rest.

Saturday morning we were underway by 3:30 am, ascending lower Cathedral Ridge in search of a line down to the Sandy Glacier. We were on the lower reaches of the glacier by 5:30 am. The snow was initially soft and there was frequent post-holing as we navigated our way to the base of the headwall. (Overnight temperatures probably dropped no lower than 45 degrees F.)

After a few crevasse crossings, Tony and I were upon the main aspect of the headwall. The snow from here to the top was much firmer and we were able to use French and American crampon technique with good results. At ~8500' we entered a deeply-incised ice chute, which measured from 2' to 3' wide and a like amount in depth. This chute appeared to be a remnant of the previous weekend's torrential rains and must have funneled an enormously large volume of water from the upper west side of the mountain during that time. It plunged some 1500'+ down the length of the upper headwall.

Tony and I protected the route from here with a running belay, using pickets and an occasional ice screw, trading leads with each rope length. The climbing required two ice tools and crampon front points were frequently applied to the iced walls of the chute. Average slope angle for the duration of our climb was 50-60 degrees.

At ~10,500', we were getting pretty tired; my calves and hamstrings, in particular were feeling tight from the steeper climbing; and the sun was by now nearly in our faces. The snow was softening up. We discovered an inviting snow bench about this time-perfect for a nap! But we could have nothing of it, as we watched several thick, dark, menacing clouds approaching us from the SW. Distantly, the 'boom' of thunder could be heard. So, with Tony's prompt lead, we were back up. A wise decision.

No other climbing parties were seen on that side of the mountain that day (though we were told later by Rich that several hundred had ascended the standard route that morning). In fact, when Tony and I crested the West Crater Rim, no climbers were in view on the summit, save but one group, and this happened to be Rich Margosian's successful crew, who were just gathering on the Hogsback. After a warm greeting with the others, we started down the south side of the mountain, descending through a spontaneous, light snowfall.

A delightful climb!

Photos were taken by Tony.

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