Mount Hood: Ski Circumnavigation

May 7, 2017

We were not exactly prepared for the circumnav– you ascend the Palmer Snowfield, traverse around the mountain at a moderate elevation, a little up, a little down. We’re not actually climbing anything. No big deal, right? We knew it was going to be a big day, but 13 hours and 7K feet of elevation gain was a little bigger than we'd anticipated. This route requires some serious shenanigans – it’s the variety pack of ski-mountaineering tricks. You’ll downhill skin, sidehill, short-bootpack, long-bootpack, travel over ice and rock, maybe rope up for a few glaciers and, if you’re lucky, make solitary turns on a glacier few will ever see. This circumnavigation is also a good test of transition efficiency. Strategically placed and quickly executed transitions will save hours. 

 Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams from the Coe Glacier


We did the circumnavigation clockwise around Hood. This sets you up for early morning travel across the glaciers with the most significant crevasse hazard (Reid and Sandy), and decent timing for corn snow throughout the day. You probably get the most continuous and enjoyable descents this way too.

Descending the Reid Glacier and bootpacking up to cross Yocum Ridge.


Crossing Yocum is the first crux. We skied from the Illumination Saddle (9300’) traversing north across the Reid to about 8,300’, then traversed close to the ridge down to 8,100’. It looked possible to cross at 8,300’ but with skis already in downhill mode, it was relatively easy to make an icy traverse down to the lower and easier crossing point. We bootpacked up the ridge for 100’ of gain and the Sandy opened up beneath us. Gorgeous. Crossing at 8,300’ would buy you a little longer descent on the Sandy Glacier, but might take a little more up and down climbing.


Crossing the Sandy Glacier and eyeing the tempting headwall...


The Sandy was an awesome descent on wind-packed powder after rattling around on the Reid. We traversed and descended to around 7,300’ to cross the next ridge, gaining a view of the Glisan Glacier. The Glisan was very tempting to ski; it looks like an amazing descent with several sweet lines off the ridge that splits Clackamas and Hood River counties. From here, we turned the corner and worked our way East with a combination of skinning and a little bootpacking to gain the Coe Glacier. We crossed the Coe on skins, not far from the base of Pulpit Rock, but in hindsight, a downhill rip would have been more fun and faster. Either way, it’s back to skins to crest the ridge that guards the Eliot Glacier.

Crossing the Glisan & Coe Glaciers with Pulpit Rock in our sights.


The Eliot provided another great descent (about 1000’), with excellent corn near the bottom and rad views of the North Face and Cooper Spur. It’s possible to either ski-traverse out to the ridge crest, or boot up a quick slope to prevent more elevation loss.


The ski to bootpack ratio was slightly skewed ... 


We skinned up the Spur to about 8,500’ then dropped onto the Newton Clark Glacier for a long, slightly uphill slog above Mt Hood Meadows with great views into Newton and Heather Canyons. We rounded the final corner at 8,900’ looking down into the White River Glacier. It’s best to cross this glacier/canyon as high as possible. Although it looks improbable at first, it is relatively easy to ski-traverse high and exit the west side around 8,600’. However, we encountered a fair bit of blocky, wet loose debris and 2’ deep runnels, which made for slower going than we wanted. From there, rip it down the Palmer to those cold beers you stashed in the parking lot snow bank!



Start/End: Timberline Lodge, 6,000'

Elevation Gain: 6,949'

Mileage: 12.4

Time: 13.5 hours


Equipment List

- 1.5 liters of water each

- Snacks/Lunch

- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)

- Sunglasses

- Headlamps

- 40m 7.5mm rope

- Harnesses & ATCs

- Crevasse rescue gear

- Skis, AT Boots, Poles

- Crampons and ice axe


Caltopo Map (download our .gpx here):




If you're interested in doing this route, we recommend going with a guide or with someone who has previously done this route since the navigation can be a bit confusing. Oregon Ski Guides offers a really rad circumnav trip that includes a snowcat or Palmer chair ride to the top of the Palmer snowfield which helps save the legs for the descents!

Check it out:



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© 2018 by The Elective Mountain Refugees. 

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