After what felt like a resounding success on the Reid Glacier Headwall, we were excited to try our skills out on the Sandy Headwall. We couldn't find a lot of information on this climb so aside from a single paragraph in one of our guidebooks indicating that the Sandy was more difficult than the Reid, we really didn't know what we were getting into. So, we brought a selection of gear: the rope necessary for glacier travel, an assortment of screws, and two 'shorty' pickets just in case. We hadn't used anything but the pickets on the Reid (and that was only because Corie led us onto a crumbling, icy ledge in her excitement to get a snack) so the screws were mostly precautionary... we were glad we brought everything with us.
Leaving Illumination Saddle at first light, we clicked into our bindings and followed the initial portion of the route we followed during our Ski Circumnavigation of Hood a few weeks prior since we knew we would be set up well for a successful high traverse across the Sandy. The skiing was icy and bone jarring but skis were far faster than walking would have been. We bootpacked our skis up and over Yocum Ridge, getting a taste of the very breakable crust that had formed over the 3' of snow that had accumulated in the previous week. Ugh.
Booting up Yocum Ridge
We skinned as high as we could, reaching the base of the bergschrund and finding a much easier way across it than we'd encountered on the Reid's bergschrund the day before. The skinning was terrible and ultimately, we both switched to crampons, electing to punch and post-hole our way up the rest of the route rather than skate precariously across sections of the blue ice that had formed above the small, but open, crevasses. It was slow going. We took turns breaking trail, sinking in up to our thighs in spots with loud THUNKS as we broke through the thick crust. In hindsight, it probably would have been easier to take a lower elevation approach. The photo below shows our route in green, while the alternative purple approach is what we'd recommend. Staying lower on the glacier would allow for a more gradual angle of approach - our line was quite steep as the glacier sweeps up towards the rock, making for some extreme sidehill skinning. This approach line would also keep you below the small, triangular ice fall, eliminating the risk of slipping and falling into it.
Firmer snow and less-aggressive wind was found just below the various cliff bands.
The wind was starting to spit ice and small rocks down on us as we climbed higher so we took a shorter, steeper line that intersected with the main couloir, granting us a reprieve from the post-holing and granting us a 100' or so of climbing on firm névé and AI. We moved quickly through each successive pitch, traversing quickly across the open sections where the wind was howling and climbing up along cliff bands that offered more shelter and firmer, icier footing. One such section yielded 60° or so of an AI/WI mixture, an exciting surprise.
Traversing into the open and onto the first AI/WI section we encountered.
We moved up the headwall in this manner- traversing quickly across open sections and gaining elevation on firmer, more protected terrain. The Sandy does not offer any of the reprieves the Reid does. There is no good place to grab water or food and the sections of climbing are sustained between 40-55°. We were exhausted by the time we hit the flat, sheltered plateau that leads to the summit. Looking back on this climb, we could have planned the climbing out smarter by looking at the terrain ahead of time, finding pitches that might need protection before finding ourselves in the middle of them– we in no way recommend simul-solo'ing with a rope but we did our fair share of that on this route. Conditions could have been better, as well. The approach drained us mentally and physically to the point where we had each cursed loudly and furiously while breaking trail to the base of the wall (and during portions of the actual climbing).
Andy taking us to the top!
In short, this was a fun, engaging climb and we do recommend it- it felt more difficult than the Reid simply because of the sustained, committed nature of the climbing. Wait for a good window, plan your pitches, and prepare to enjoy this lesser-seen, wilder, side of Mount Hood.
Start: Illumination Rock, 9,200'
End: Timberline Lodge, 6,000'
Elevation Gain: '4659
Time: 8 hours
CalTopo GPS Track: https://caltopo.com/m/RERC
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 60m 8.5mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- Crevasse rescue gear
- 2 pickets
- 4 ice screws
- Skis, AT Boots, Poles
- Crampons and two tools