The end of summer is approaching, and with an impending move to tropical paradise, I decided to take it upon myself to soak in all the Northwest had to offer. That’s a lie; the Pacific Northwest has so much to offer I could spend my life trying to experience it all, but I had a few items at the top of the list I wanted to scratch off.
I’ve been living in Oregon for a year, and I’m an avid mountaineer. When I’m away from snow-covered peaks too long, I feel like a piece of me is missing. So it was embarrassing that after a year in my new home, I hadn’t made the 3 hour drive to trek to the top of the state. Not only was it a mountain I’d been wanting to climb, I’d just committed to climbing Mt Rainier again, IN JUST OVER A WEEK, and I needed to see what kind of shape I was in. So finally, on a ridiculously spontaneous and unprepared whim, I decided to get after Mt Hood.
First came organizing the necessary gear, but with a catch: it had to go on my back, which would be on a motorcycle for the next 3 hours. I’m more than a little proud of this part. All of the following ended up on the back of my bike with me:
-Tent -Sleeping bag -Ice Axe -Mountaineering Boots -Crampons -Food -Snow Pants -DSLR Camera -All additional climbing necessities.
Might not seem like a ton, but start trying to put it all in a pack that will essentially become a sail on a motorcycle traveling 80 mph all night, and suddenly it’s the fucking world. Not to mention I could never shake the awful image that god forbid I crash, the ice axe strapped precariously to my pack was headed on a one-way exploration directly up my ass. It would be a grisly end, but more importantly, an embarrassing obituary.
After getting everything strapped down, smashed in, and ready to go, I was getting out about 5 hours later than planned. At 10pm, filled with those unique anxious-excited jitters that only come prior embarking on a wild adventure, I jumped on the motorcycle and headed off into the night. Even in darkness the ride was incredible. I cut through the forest in endless corridors of pine trees. Through my helmet I’d see flashes of glowing forest, illuminated for fractions of a second by my headlight, then gone forever.
I set up camp and finally crawled into my sleeping bag by 1 AM. The problem- I was scheduled to start the climb at 3 AM. When the alarm began incessantly beeping at 2:50 AM, I said SCREW IT, and figured I’d have a late start at 6 AM. So with the sun rising, I began the long slog up Mt Hood.
Unlike South Sister, which I’d climbed with Kels two weeks prior, Mt Hood does not offer that removed, wild Oregonian atmosphere one can lose themself in. It is still beautiful, but there is a massive lodge at the trailhead, and the first couple hours are spent hiking past ski slopes and chairlifts. There is always that moment when you ask yourself, “What the fuck am I doing?”, when trekking up a steep hill as smiling families effortlessly fly overhead. But hey, you have to earn mountains, and I’m not inclined to taking the easy route.
Once leaving the ski slopes, Hood begins to truly reveal herself. You enter a crater made by a long dormant volcano. The eruption blew such a massive hole that it created a world of its own, completely removed from the nearby slopes. I had to continually wonder what exactly constitutes “dormant”, as several vents in the crater poured foul smelling gas from all sides. The thick vapor fills the crater with a delightful rotten eggs smell, that all who enjoy natural hot springs are accustomed to.
After trekking across the crater, I had my first view of the Bergschrund. Early in the year it can be completely frozen over, and by mid season partly open. Hitting the mountain this late however, it was WIDE open. It made crossing directly over it out of the question, so I hiked around and began the grind up the steep slope leading to the Pearly Gates. This is a small opening of sorts in the steep wall where you can climb onto the summit ridge. It was steep going, and I was glad to have crampons strapped on, but nothing exceedingly technical.
My favorite part of the climb came at the very end of the pearly gates. As you approach the top of the slope, it looks as though you’re coming to a sheer drop-off, or the end of the world. However, I’m used to slopes looking like this from below, but typically there is a wide section on top or a gradual slope back down the other side.
Not here: Hood did not disappoint. As I made the last step up to the summit ridge and peered over, I was surprised by a near sheer drop on the other side, and a very narrow ridge leading towards the summit on the right. It was magnificent. I scrambled along the ridge, and finally set foot at the top of Oregon. There was no wind, and past my sunglasses I felt the warmth of the sun on my face. After reaching enough summits with freezing 50mph winds, I don’t take days like this for granted.
It was here that I did something I had never done before- I took a casual nap on the summit. Perhaps more remarkably, when I awoke feeling warm and cozy, I found a friend waiting for me. For some time Kels has been trying to convince me that ladybugs are my good luck charm, as they have been popping up all around me on adventures. Well here at the top of Oregon, at 11,250 ft, I went to pick up my ice-ax to begin the ascent, only to find a ladybug resting on the blade of my ax. I have no idea how or why he would have ventured so high, but it reminded me that even the smallest moments on a climb can connect me to a much bigger world, and that through climbing I find not only adventure; I find myself.
Look for Part II of the story coming soon, as I take you on the adventure I began 8 days later- Mt Rainier!