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Mount Hood, half climb

Carpool Ratio (bodies/vehicles): 1.83

An enthusiastic group of students showed up for this year's Hood Half Climb. In spite of obviously dismal conditions, only one bailed, so 10 participated: Jerry Miller, Tim Eads, Sarah Martin, Michele Artery, Mallika Miller, Erin St. John, Donna Danies, Sarah Garland, Victor Whitacre, Tim Butler. All except Erinn and Jerry were 2009 climb school students. Erin was a guest of Mallika; I believe Jerry was a past student, and I had climbed with him before. Tim Butler, having reached the summit with me before, took the role of assistant climb leader.

Victor, Sarah Garland and I arrived at Timberline Lodge about 4am to gain some experience with headlamps and darkness. It was drizzling with a fair gusty wind, around 30 degrees F. Along with my dog Sydney, we tromped around for a little over an hour, heading east across the ridges, then back to the Climber's Registration area to meet the other climbers arriving at 6am.

Everybody was remarkably timely, and after a quick pep talk and before-photo, we launched out into the weather around 6:20am. It was about the best you could hope for a training half climb: the worst you could hope for a summit attempt. It hovered around 30-33 degrees, with gusty wind, and mixed snow, rain, and frozen rain. The terrain was slushy, few climbers were up (we didn't see any), and even the cat-tracks were sloppy and washed-out. Visibility was poor, ranging from perhaps 40 feet to a couple hundred. We never saw as far as Crater Rock, or Illumination Rock, or pretty much any mountain features except snow and fog.

We took the main cat track up for a while, then followed the poles marking the east side of the ski area. At about 8000 feet elevation we traversed the Palmer snowfield west to the lift line, and tracked it, reaching the top of the Palmer ski lift at around 10:10am.

We decided to descend from that point, instead of continuing up to the targeted 9000 ft. The navigation above Palmer would be sketchy due to low visibility and no tracks, all the students felt like the experience was sufficient, all of us were wet, and some were getting cold. We headed down the lift line, splitting into two groups according to descent rate, and collected back at the Climber's Registration area right around noon, which had been our target.

All of the students did very well. Physically, there was no reason to believe any of them wouldn't make it to the summit and back down, albeit some faster than others. All seemed well water-proofed, and reasonably well equipped. There were two weaknesses that were almost universal: gloves and layers. Most had only one pair of gloves; many good for skiing or so but inadequate for extended low temperatures, and few had extra for when those get wet. I brought several extra gloves and liners, and dispensed them all. Similarly, though most had enough outerwear to stay warm under reasonable conditions, most did not have enough for an extended stop, or other unexpected challenge. Most of them brought enough, but with little margin.

It was also difficult to keep the group together, which seems to be common with capable and confident but inexperienced groups. I suppose I worry too much, but as a climb leader it's awkward not to know where your people went, or to be able to assist if something went wrong.

But all in all, in what was for most of them a first climb, it went very well. All the climbers were enthusiastic, and with a few slight adjustments, ready for a summit attempt. They all looked like mountaineers to me! Any of them I would be happy to have on my team, and I hope I'll see all of them in more climbs this summer.

Fritz Capell

Santiam Alpine Club


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