Mount Hood Ascent Attempt, 2/5/12
The forecasts (meteorological and avalanche both) were perfect and we made the decision to try and summit Mt. Hood (11249′) a few days before the attempt, triggering a frenzy of planning and scrambling for gear. Five of us left Portland around 0130 on Sunday. We made a tragic miscalculation about the availability of fast-food coffee in Damascus, OR, and had to sleep in the proverbial bed of gas-station joe, but otherwise, things went smoothly enough. By 0330, we were moving up Palmer Glacier from Timberline Lodge (5960′). It was monotonous, even on skis, but with the massif growing ever larger against the stars and our shadows stretching away to the east under the moonlight, there wasn’t anything to complain about, really. At the top of Palmer, those of us on skis dismounted and we donned our crampons and started the slow ascent and soon enough the sun was rising as well, a glorious pink to purple to navy gradient from across the Great Basin that revealed (in a satisfying irony) that the normally-sunny expanse of Eastern Oregon was drowned in cloud while normally-sodden Western Oregon was absolutely clear, with the lights of Portland and the farmland of the Willamette Valley and finally the stark relief of the Coast Range at the terminus of the continent, all visible. To our south, the glaciated peaks of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters were enjoying dawns of their own, sentinels of the lower Cascades, sometimes clearcut and sometimes dense with ancient firs and rhododendrons. Above us, the constellations receded along with the glimmer of climber’s headlamps, and by the time we reached the base of the Hogsback (~10600′) it was brilliantly sunny. We climbed to its top before deciding the hour was too late for all of us to comfortably continue across the rapidly warming and slide-prone final pitches of the climb at our current pace, turning around as a group. Our descent was leisurely, somewhat drunk on altitude and sun. But we were shaken out of whatever complacency might have taken hold by witnessing two accidents, one harrowing. Our rear guard, Nate, was the first to reach both victims, and ended up staying with the second until she was evacuated. Rattled, tired, and grateful, the rest of us left for home, Hood receding to its usual place on the Portland skyline. We’ll be back.