Author’s note: This trip took place in mid-June, with much more snow on the upper mountain. As a general rule I don’t recommend skiing off the summit after July 1.
Words: Ethan Stone
They say that Mt. Hood is so easy to climb that it’s been done by a woman in high heels. If that tidbit of Hood mythology is actually true, then I figured that hippy-killing park skier Andy Parry of Traveling Circus fame should have no problem reaching the summit.
We started up from Timberline Lodge in the pre-dawn glow of a Monday in June, the shadow of the mountain stretching out across the cascading hills to the western horizon. We hiked midweek to avoid the crowds of climbers that frequent Hood in the summertime, and departed later than most climbing groups to give the snow a chance to soften for a good ski descent.
Although Mt. Hood is known as an easily scalable mountain—it is reportedly the world’s second-most climbed snow peak, after Mt. Fuji—it is also no walk in the park. Rapidly changing weather, rock and icefall, crevasses and no-fall zones have all been contributing factors in Hood’s 130-plus fatal climbing accidents. Just last month, 59-year-old Kinley Adams of Salem, Oregon, fell to his death during a solo climb of the Leuthold Couloir.
So we kept our wits about us as we reached the Hogsback ridge inside the crater, crampon’d up and prepared for the final pitch. Inside the crater, the smell of sulphur is inescapable. Steam rises from the fumaroles in the Hot Rocks, indicating the presence of magma somewhere a few miles beneath. A group of climbers was clogging up the Old Chute route, so we headed for the Pearly Gates instead, encountering a tricky spot of ice climbing before reaching the summit plateau.
On a clear day like this day, you can clearly see Mt. Saint Helens, Mount Rainier and Mt. Adams to the north; Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and even Diamond Peak to the south. The summit plateau is a quiet place, a hurricane’s eye surrounded by tumultuous crags that drop away on all sides.
On the top, I thought about a passage by Jack Kerouac’s pal, the poet Gary Snyder: “West Coast snowpeaks are too much! They are too far above the surrounding lands. There is a break between. They are in a different world. If you want to get a view of the world you live in, climb a little rocky mountain with a neat small peak. But the big snowpeaks pierce the realm of clouds and cranes, rest in the zone of five-colored banners and writhing crackling dragons in veils of ragged mist and frost-crystals, into a pure transparency of blue.”
We headed down the summit ridge to the west, stepping into our bindings above the Old Chute for the ski descent. Turns were still icy off the top; creamy from the Hogsback past Crater and Illumination Rocks, and all the way back to Timberline, and sloppy by the time we reached the Timberline public terrain park.
A halfpipe, a jump line and a few rails to finish off a 5,000-foot ski descent – who could say no? Not the Hippy Killer, anyway.