Wy’east Face, Mt. Hood

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The Wy’east Face of Mt. Hood is unique among Oregon ski mountaineering objectives in its sheer size, spectacular position, and sustained 40 degree pitch, combining for a total descent of well over 5000′. It looms over Mt. Hood Meadows, impossible for any skier or climber to ignore. I’ve been dreaming about the the line since first seeing it in 2009, but the magical nexus of fitness, skill, weather, psychology, and partners failed to align while I lived in Portland.

Luckily, I still have friends in Portland, and they think of me, now and then. Late Thursday, P. Innes got in touch and proposed the route for Saturday’s continuing high-pressure window. I scrambled to make it happen, and despite brake failure on I-5, we were bivying in his car at Bennett’s Pass by 11 that evening.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about the outing itself. We were skinning up the left side of the resort boundary by 5:45, clearing ski area development for good just as dawn was beginning to glow on the eastern horizon. It was one of those surreal, vivid, alpine dawns, etched into memory by the gleam of glaciers against the sky’s fantastic gradient and endless ridges of dark forest beyond. We were treated to near-total solitude, passing a single party of two early on, and from our high lonely vantage it was easy to fall in desperate love with the Pacific Northwest all over again.

It was icy, slow skinning, and before long we decided to simply boot up the exposed moraine comprising Vista Ridge. At its terminus, we switched to crampons, and then climbed up the left side of the face. It was not so icy as to pose problems, but icy enough to require focus. We topped out around 3:45 into the day, and after peering over the ridge at what seemed to be hundreds of climbers on the Hogsback, clipped in to our bindings and made our first, cautious turns over the roll.

It didn’t really soften up, or even feel as soft under our edges as it did on the ascent. But after a few nervous stem Christies it was easy to find a rhythm and enjoy steep fall line skiing of a sort where a single long moment stretched into eternity. Below 7000′, the snow softened into beautiful corn, and then it was over and we were having breakfast Rainiers in the parking lot.

In the middle of what’s been a climactically trying winter, it was exactly what I needed.

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