Corie: Mt Hood, or Wy’East as it should be called, can be seen as the quintessential “test piece” for PNW mountaineers. Its prominence on the Portland skyline draws climbers from all around and the popularity of the climb has grown to the point where you can literally pay someone to take you to the summit… and back. Frequent news of climbers falling to their death, or substantial injury, is constantly making headlines, so going into this climb was a bit ‘heady’ for me. Despite having scaled terrain much steeper and technical than what we were planning on scaling during our climb, I still felt incredibly nervous as we started up the Palmer glacier. I didn’t want to be “that climber,” “that person that got life-flighted out of a vent on hood…” but I swallowed my fears, wrenched myself out of my own crazy brain, and fell into the rhythm of the climb as the sun came up and the 10+ climbers in front of us came into view. What a change from the other mountains we’ve been up in the last 8 months…
After the long slog to the top of the lift, we stopped for water/snacks and threw on crampons so we wouldn’t have to stop again for a while. The terrain gradually increased in steepness until we hit Crater Rock, which, was stinkier than I could ever have imagined. Oy.
Up to the hogsback we went, seeing two TERRIFYING rope teams heading up in front of us which caused quite the clog of people trying to get their climb on. Everyone was heading up to the Pearly Gates so we said “sure, why not?”
Well… oops. After several extensive stops waiting for the aforementioned rope teams to get out of the way and through the gates, we eventually had our chance to finish the climb. Climbers coming down said “yeah it’s in good condition today” and “no, you don’t need two tools” … Andy and I are NOT ice climbers. But, today, on this day, on my first time on Wy’East, we became ice climbers. And I was terrified beyond the point of tears the minute we got into the ice chute. 50 feet of slabby ice climbing sat in front of us and hundreds of feet of 70* snow slope lay below. What did we get ourselves in to?
Andy, thankfully, was a rock star, miracle worker, SANITY PRESERVER, MOTIVATOR, and I didn’t pee my pants or cry, or fall to my death. Somehow, my rock climbing skills combined with his calming presence and we made it through the gates. And stood on the summit. Exhausted. Happy. And not happy about the looming descent.
We ended up coming down the old chute, slowly on my end because my adrenaline had tapped all of my energy reserves and I was exceptionally nervous about the fumarole staring me down at the bottom of the hogsback. Once safely back to Crater Rock, we laughed, ate more food, took some selfies, and started down. I’ve never felt so accomplished in my mountaineering career. We survived. CELEBRATIONS.
Andy: I can’t remember where I heard it, but the quote that “Mt Hood is the most underrated and overrated mountain in the world” has always stuck with me. This was my third time up Hood, or Wy’east as it should be properly called. The climbing on this mountain can be easy or quite difficult depending on the route taken. And even the “easy” routes can quickly become desperate as conditions change overnight. I think this leads to the overrated/underrated classification, and also why we see at least a few deaths on the mountain every year.
We took the Pearly Gates, which I understood to be pretty casual and the old standard route until the hogbacks started to shift in the past few years. As the hogback has developed this year, it seems like the Pearly Gates are once again becoming the direct line. Additionally, the bergschrund was basically non-existent and presented no extra obstacle as it has in prior years. However, once we got into the “gates” or the narrow chimney section, we found pretty solid water ice which was not exactly what I was expecting. Routes change, conditions change, and I shouldn’t have had any expectations for how we’d find this section. Nevertheless, it didn’t look too bad and we decided to try it.
Looking back now, I wouldn’t do it again. Climbing a 50 foot water-ice slab would not be bad with steel crampons and two technical tools, but with ski boots, 10-point aluminum ‘pons, and a long-handled axe, it became a little nerve wracking. Corie wasn’t much better equipped: better crampons, but loaning her my whippet pole didn’t provide a whole lot of additional security. We never felt super insecure, or close to falling, but knowing we didn’t have the proper tools and basically zero experience ice climbing, it was scary.
I think our experience highlights exactly why this peak is so underrated and overrated. There are tons of people attempting this mountain on every weekend with decent weather and I’d venture to say that most of them have unrealistic expectations or aren’t prepared for the variation of conditions they could encounter.
Originally, we were planning on taking the Old Chute to the summit due to Andy’s two previously successful summits and due to our lack of familiarity with either of the Pearly Gates variations. However, when we arrived at the Hogsback, there was a line of people heading up the right side of the Pearly Gates and no boot pack leading up the Old Chute. We decided to follow the more well-traveled route after conferring with climbers who had done the Pearly Gates recently who stated that the route was in good condition. The narrow “gates” section would have been much faster and much safer with proper ice climbing tools. The main concern coming up this route was the run out: a long fall down a 70* snow slope that would be very difficult to arrest.
After our spicy experience coming up the Gates, we elected to come down the Old Chute which, a number of parties had also elected to do. The downclimb through this section was, at most 45* and the snow was in pretty good condition for crampon’ing and climbing.
Overall, there is a lot of elevation gain during the climb (it averages out to be over 1,500′/mile- most of the gain occurs in the last mile), and a lot of traffic so be prepared to wait in line or take alternative routes. An alpine start is a must to avoid the crowds. Mount Hood offers a wide variety of climbs of various difficulty. However, even within the easier routes, conditions and the amount of recent traffic on a route can alter the difficulty level.
A NOTE ON ‘LEAVE NO TRACE’
We noticed a fair amount of human waste during this climb, both in the form of feces and trash. This is unacceptable due to the fact that “Blue Bags” are available right next to where you fill out your climbers permit.
Please be respectful, both toward fellow climbers, and this beautiful mountain.
Pack it in, Pack it out.
Equipment List- Pearly Gates, Right Variation
- Identical to Saint Helens
Under the conditions that we climbed this route, two ice climbing tools would be preferable (and we wish we’d had them)
Total Distance: Approx 7.2 miles (3.5 to the summit; the GPS died)
Time: 9 hours Car to Car
Starting Elevation: 5,810’ (Timberline)
Summit Elevation: 11,236′’
Elevation Gain: 5,426′