20090511-12 Mt. Hood

Or, how to spend two days wandering around a mountain but never see anything.

my only photo from the trip / mariella is changing gloves
while mike and john reach the relative shelter of illumination
saddle / we had taken off the rope just a few minutes earlier
after i had scouted the last hundred feet to the saddle

Mike, Mariella, and Jon flew all the way out from Boston to climb Mt. Hood with me.  Unfortunately, they brought New England's incredible winter with them, and the storm hit the mountain on Saturday evening.  I woke up to rain in the town of Zig Zag, and wondered what the day would bring.

After meeting the team at the Timberline Lodge, we discussed our options in light of the weather and the forecast.  While the visibility was poor on Sunday, it wasn't terribly cold, and we decided to go ahead.  M, M, and J had originally wanted to camp on the mountain, and so we continued with the plan.  First we needed to reach the top of the ski area, but the highest chair wasn't operating, so all we could do was pay for a single trip up the mid-mountain chair - the "Magic Mile", which knocked off 1000' elevation and a mile of hiking (if the Palmer Express had been running, we would have knocked off another mile plus and 1500 more feet).  As we hiked up underneather the highest chair lift, we could see why it wasn't operating - visibility was limited to a hundred feet or so.

From the top of the Palmer lift, we roped up more to keep together than any fear of crevasses.  The Zig Zag and Palmer Glaciers are relatively still, and in the spring covered with 30+ feet of snow, making crevasse hazards non-existent at the elevations we were crossing.  We slowly traverse and climbed, in a complete white-out.  I used my altimeter to make sure we didn't climb too high before reaching Illumination Saddle, and we didn't see anything else until we were within 500' of the saddle itself.  We spent the rest of the evening setting up camp and cooking dinner.

That night the temperature plummeted and the wind increased in intensity.  I woke up at 2am, 3am, and 4am - and a bunch of other times in between - to perform a weather check.  After 4am it started to snow in earnest and my super-lite-weight, single wall, 3-season tent became overwhelmed by the drifting.  So I finally got up at 5:30am, put on every single layer of clothing I had, and packed up.  I was done dropping my tent by 6:30am, so I dug out the other tent - a 4-season, 3-man expedition model - and got to work cooking breakfast in the vestibule.

Getting down was intense, and we anticipated it a little bit by tying in again.  The wind, which sounded like a plane overhead from our relatively sheltered hollow in Illumination Saddle, carried along a gravel-trucks-worth of snow and ice.  Trying to not loose skin to this caused me to completely get turned around - as the steepening slope attested to.  So I used the GPS to quickly put a bearing on the compass and put the GPS away to save the battery.

The next hour was a slow downward walk - visibility was - perhaps - 10', but it didn't matter since there was nothing to see but snow, and the constant white out meant that my entire world was that compass needle.  At 8500' I stopped and broke out the GPS again - we were only 400 linear feet away from the Palmer lift!  A few minutes more and we crossed under the chair lift cables to find the flag line that marked the ski boundary and made a straight line down.  Despite having a 6' tall bamboo pole every 20 feet, the visibility was still bad enough that we kept the rope on - not to mention that we now had the winds whipping across our faces rather than beating our backs.  At the top of the Magic Mile, we found the unfinshed basement level open and took a much-deserved break inside.  That made the final descent back to Timberline so much more manageable by all of us.

We sorted gear inside the Timbeline Lodge, than had a beer and a toast in the bar before saying our goodbyes.  Mike called me from the airport yesterday in Portland - he said the mountain looked beautiful!