Mount Hood Half Climb
May 22, 2016
Coordinator: Fritz Capell
Summit Altitude: 8500 feet
Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
Round-trip Distance: 4.6 miles
Excursion Time: 6 hours (car-to-car)
Carpool ratio: 1.3 (people/cars)
The weather forecast wasn't good, in fact it was terrible. But who would we be if we let that stand in the way of a Hood Half Climb? We hope for weather that is at least a little bit challenging, lest we start to think the mountain is a walk-up. But hovering right above freezing, and raining? Even I started to wonder, as I drove up in the downpour, whether this was just plain stupid.
Even though we decided that the weather wasn't good for tents, most of us took the good advice to spend the night - or at least half the night - sleeping semi-comfortably in our cars. Wendy, Jed, Rebekah and myself even met for a leisurely beer in the Ram's Head Lounge before retiring for the night.
The weather hadn't miraculously improved by morning, but we all assembled about 5am and got ready to walk, retaining the hope that we could at least climb above the rain and enjoy a snowy day. Surprisingly, nobody chickened out due to the weather, and we would have been ready by our 5:30 departure time except that Evan and Kyirsty had some trouble finding the Climber's Cave, so we headed out about 6am.
The weather started out rainy and then got better enough that we had a brief sun-break to enjoy a spectacular view of the valley. But it didn't last long - it disappeared right before our eyes, and within a few minutes, we were socked in again, though we were indeed above the rain, so had only driving snow and ice with which to contend.
We only saw one other group on the mountain that day, a rather hardy crew that was descending just below the top of Palmer. They were well equipped and had made it to the summit, though I think it must have been a little more clear while they were ascending, or else they were just risk-takers. They seemed well-seasoned, and more than a little beat up from the climb.
By the time we reached the top of Palmer, around 9:30, we were all iced over on the windward side, and had already dispensed several spare pairs of gloves. Most of us would have been ambitious enough to continue, but it was evident that if we didn't have the lift-line, we wouldn't be able to see anything at all, so it would be treacherous travel above that point. Some of our group were cold and tired, so they stayed behind, but I agreed to lead a small contingent just up a ways into the white-out, so we could see what it was like.
Unfortunately, we had taken only a few steps into the fog when my GPS - which was our only lifeline without visibility - started to beep that it was low on batteries, and I had left the spares back in my pack. So I just led us in not-too-big a circle to the east, so that we would come back down on the cat-track that marks the top of the Palmer Snowfield, which I pretty much fell onto, the visibility was so poor. I think everybody was surprised to find us back at the lift after barely 10 minutes out, and I was prepared to change the batteries and head out again, but the consensus seemed to be that white-outs are pretty scary and dangerous and we all understood that from first-hand experience.
So we descended, sticking to the lift line as our only visible guidance. Usually I depart from it on the descent, at around Silcox hut or so, and take the more direct climber's trail to the parking lot, but due to the visibility still being near zero, we just stuck to the lift line - and frankly, I don't know the topology of that area very well. I was pretty sure if we just stuck to the lift line we'd end up at the lodge, but everybody was ready to go home and not much up for more adventure. It all worked out, and without too much meandering we arrived back at the lodge at about 11:30am.
And so it was that we all survived another Hood Half Climb, in just the right weather to really get to test out our gear and experience some mountain conditions, and even some actual white-out experience, under controlled conditions of course. I think everybody learned a little that would make them ready for a future climb, and everybody seemed to think it was a worthwhile experience.
Fritz (leader) says:
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