Twice last month I ventured North to Mount Hood National Forest.  Under certain forgiving winter conditions, it seems there is no better place to be in Oregon.  Mild temperatures and calm winds allowed for a perfect opportunity to snowshoe backpack up to Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks adjacent to Mount Hood.  Less than a week later, I returned for the whole enchilada, a winter summit attempt of Mount Hood itself. 

I solo climbed the mountain last April in pristine conditions, and this climb started out in a very similar manner, albeit this time on skis.  I intended to make a skin track up to Devils Kitchen; a crater just 1,000ft below the summit where fumaroles spew sulfuric gas into the air.  From there, I planned to put crampons on my ski boots and trudge one step at a time to the summit, then down climb back to Devils Kitchen, and ski down to Timberline lodge.  That was the plan anyway.  

Myself and three friends started the climb in great spirits and unseasonably warm conditions.  I could not believe that I was climbing in the middle of January wearing only a light base layer and thin fleece.  Before long, the mid-mountain became a solid sheet of ice, which made for much slower moving.  By the time we made it to 9,000ft, one member of our team and a member of a different climbing party both took falls and subsequent slides down the unforgiving ice.  Both individuals were fine, albeit quite spooked with the thoughts of "what if...".  

We all took mental note of the conditions and proceeded with exhausting caution.  We even ditched our skis much lower on the mountain than expected to put on our more secure mountaineering crampons.  After the ordeals of dealing with falls, multiple gear changes, and precarious movement mid-mountain, we made it to Devils Kitchen about an hour later than planned, just as the sun was rising.  

This was the inflection point of the outing, and where I ultimately decided to turn around.  I was lacking enthusiasm and motivation, partially the product of a midnight start to the day.  Then there were the falls lower on the mountain, in a relative "safe zone".  Falls higher on the mountain would almost certainly be more consequential.  I watched people queue at the base of the Pearly Gates, an incredibly scenic, yet popular path to the summit.  The stuttering way people were moving higher up on the mountain did not inspire a ton of confidence in me while watching from below.  


Mount Hood, Oregon

The one thing I have learned about climbing Mount Hood is that while the mountain deserves your respect, other climbers might warrant your fear.  In narrow chutes like the Pearly Gates, one slip and fall can wipe out an entire climbing party.  Trust in your own abilities may not be enough to be granted safe passage on this mountain.  If you do slip or get taken out by another climber and cannot arrest your fall, you may end up in one of the scolding fumaroles below.  Unfortunately, that almost happened to the climber pictured at the bottom of this photograph.  

While deliberating on my next move at the Devils Kitchen, I watched and photographed this lone climber struggle to down-climb one of the variation routes of the Devils Kitchen Headwall.  This technical section requires a lot of experience and perfect conditions to climb safely.  He spent nearly an hour crawling back down the steep slope.  Near the bottom of the chute and almost back down on safer terrain he took a fall and slid dangerously close to one of the fumaroles. 

January 22nd, 2022 was a strange day on the mountain.  A sunny Saturday with a perfect forecast brought climbers from all over out of the woodwork and it became evident that not everyone belonged on the mountain that day.  Opposite to the forecast, these were not forgiving spring-like conditions.  Ice was abundant.  Wind was far stronger than expected, and coming from seemingly every direction.  This day was a humility test.  Thankfully no one got hurt, but I saw or heard of four people taking falls that day.  In the high country no fall is a safe fall. 

My decision to bail from the climb just shy of the summit at Devils Kitchen seemed justified by the time I got down the mountain and heard stories of chaos from other climbing parties.  To come away from the day unscathed was priority number one.  To be able to photograph first light illuminating the icy cliffs of the Devils Kitchen Headwall was just a bonus.  Mount Hood remains for a long climbing season to come.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In