Andy: As we've spent more time on Mt. Hood in the past few years, we have also become more interested in routes around different aspects of the mountain. Climbing the Cooper Spur allowed for a great view of the inciting North Face gullies. Completing the various south side variations inclines one to peak around the corner from the Illumination Rock col, towards the Reid Glacier Headwall, the Leuthold Coulior, and the infamous Yocum Ridge. The tick list continues to grow. I want to do them all. This is my home mountain; it's my backyard and I want to know it as well as possible. The Devil's Kitchen Headwall is easily seen from any of the south side variations. As soon as you crest the Palmer Glacier, at the base of the Hogsback, the rime cathedral erupts for 900' to the summit. We have eyed this line for a while and after watching the forecast clear for a couple days of splitter weather, we pounced.
The green line shows the left variation which we followed. The blue shows an alternative variation finishing to the right, then traversing back left over the ridge. Photo courtesy of Mountain Project/Jason Brabec.
Unfortunately, we did not prepare well for this climb. Unsure of exactly what the conditions would provide, we brought 3 screws and a couple pickets, which turned out to not be enough to provide the amount of safety we were comfortable with. But our biggest error was starting too late. By the time we entered the chute were the real climbing starts, ice was already raining down on us. Despite being mid-January, the temps were warm and as soon as the sun hit the upper walls, the rime ice dislodged and gravity took over. I led about 30 meters into the chute, up the first step and part of the second ice step. Although the climbing was enjoyable at first, my legs were tired after moving quickly on the approach. I was out of breath and my calves were pumped. In addition to the deluge of ice bullets, the snow found between the ice steps was not quite névé, remaining a quickly-softening, unconsolidated mass sitting on top of ice that was terrifying to climb on. The entire situation began to feel very out of control. I found a respite from the hail storm behind a pillar to the left and drove in a picket. The internal debate didn't last long - the conditions were only going to deteriorate further and I could not climb or protect this route within my safety margin. I bailed off the picket, cleaned the screws and debriefed with Corie below. We needed to hit this route at first light, bring more screws and move fast. Speed is sometimes the greatest safety.
Entering the first ice step on the initial attempt.
The weather gods continued to provide clear a forecast, so after a rest day we rallied back up to Timberline. With a much earlier start, we took it easy on the approach, saving our energy for the more technical climbing above. We reached the Devil's Kitchen as the alpenglow started to appear and quickly moved towards the base of the wall. I took off again, climbing the full 40 meters of our rope, to the base of the third step. The experience was altogether different: My legs felt strong, the snow and ice were more solid, and although it increased further into the climb, the rain of ice down the chute was much more manageable. The ice at the third step was fat and easily took two 21cm screws for an anchor. Corie launched up the final ice section and into a more open snowfield above and brought me up and out of the firing line. We packed the rope and trudged up the final section to the summit, finding it nearly windless and quite warm. Although the summit is already familiar, this moment was special. Learning some good lessons and finding redemption on this route made for a fantastic experience.
Corie leads up the final ice step.
Corie: Happy Birthday to me! After our very educational/humbling/frustrating attempt a couple days prior, we set out to make the most of the surprisingly-extended weather-window on my 28th birthday. I’m not a fan of alpine-starts anymore… I enjoy the sunrise, the peace, the ability to move at a casual pace, but, I’m definitely more of a fan of sleeping in and climbing routes with expediency. After the surprising heat during our failed attempt, however, we elected to hit the base of the route by 9am in order to be climbing when the ice/snow was solid. It was also kind of fun to skin up the Palmer without haste, enjoying the views and the quiet. I was shocked at how few people we saw coming up Hood that morning. On our previous DKH attempt, the mountain had been absolutely CRAWLING with climbers and skimountaineers and I had expected much of the same on my birthday.
Andy approaching the base of the DKH.
We skinned to a point about 30 feet below the entrance to the chute, ditched our skis, and racked up our harnesses. Andy would lead the first pitch since he was familiar with it and I would lead the second, and so on and so forth. The first pitch went relatively smoothly; Andy led nearly the entire length of our 40m and I started up, excited to warm up my tingling toes and fingers. The first ice step was straightforward but as soon as I rounded the first corner, I began getting PELTED with ice and small rocks and huge chunks of crusty, rimey snow. It was all I could do to keep climbing by the time I made it to the anchor Andy had built. I was climbing in intervals, timing my movements for the end of the ice flows and moving as quickly as safety allowed until the pelting began anew. It was a new kind of hell. When I reached Andy, he put me on belay, I grabbed the extra pickets from him and, since I couldn’t get a good view of the third step without getting sprayed with rime, asked which side looked better. Leading AI blind wasn’t in my original plan but the ice was solid and was taking screws well. I kicked and picked my way through the step, pulled off to the side (away from the runnel the ice was coming down), and belayed Andy up to me. We were out of the worst of it- a few hundred more feet of climbing on rimey, crusty snow and we would be at the summit.
Andy climbing through the third step and topping out a sweet RimeShroom.
For the first time in my brief climbing career, we had the summit of Hood to ourselves. The icing on the cake was that we had views for miles- 360° of mountains and blue skies. We smiled, finished the water we had on us, and down-climbed the left variation of the Pearly Gates (which, by the way, are essentially a staircase this year). A soft, post-holing traverse from the hogsback had us back to our skis and after a few minutes of rest, we skied back to Timberline, enjoying 90% good skiing on tired legs.
Obligatory Summit Selfie.
Mount Hood, Devil's Kitchen Headwall, 700' AI3
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 40m 9.1mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- 6 ice screws
- 2 pickets
- 7 alpine draws
- Materials for 2 anchors
- Skis, AT Boots, Poles
Total Time: 9 hours 20 mins
Total Distance: 7.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,174'
Andy's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/834409456
Corie's Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/834408060