Mt Hood – I’ve been working on visiting the highest point in each state for a number of years and now I’m down to the “tough” ones. Eric Morse and I have travelled together and enjoyed running to the top of some spectacular mountains. Late last year local Ultra-Runner Kristina F mentioned she was working on the state high points and had plans to climb Mt Hood (Oregon high point). Eric and I signed on and a little later ex-New Englander Richard Bolt joined in for the fun (I’ve run a number of HP’s with Richard as well).
Eric and I flew out on Friday morning and got to Portland while it was still morning. We drove towards Mt Hood and stopped in Boring, OR for a very nice run on the rail trail that runs from Boring to Portland (21 miles). We got in a second run after picking up supplies and arriving at our hotel in Government Camp, a very small town at 4,000’ about 6 miles short of Mt Hood proper. We ran through the town and were hit by the smell of weed and one hippy shouted to us “Rip it!” We were pretty sure that was a good thing, so I shouted back a “thanks” as we ran on. Richard joined us a bit later and we crashed pretty early (6pm local time) as Eric had been up since 1am and I wasn’t that far behind.
We were up at 430am fueling up with some coffee as we’d need to be running around sunrise in order to get to our class a bit later in the morn. We drove down to the Salmon River trail and parked at the trail head. Unfortunately we got stopped about a mile in by a stream we couldn’t cross (snowmelt). Fortunately the road was quiet and had little climb. We got in 6.5 miles and zipped back to gather up Rich. We got to the parking area a bit early which gave us time to look around including checking out the truly incredible Timberline Lodge (exterior used in the movie “The Shining”). We spent a little time in the hotel museum which was interesting.
At 9am we met up with our guides and with Kristina and her friend Jane. Our main guide went over all of our gear and asked us a bunch of questions to get a better feel for our backgrounds and abilities. We were all fit so that wouldn’t be an issue, the ladies both had experience climbing on snow and us guys had little to no experience with that. No problem, we had a 3 hour snow climbing class next! The class was great and the fact that we had an absolutely perfect day (sunny 70s but hotter standing around in the glare of the snow). We had the Mountain for a background behind us. We worked on putting on crampons and the various ways to walk in them and practiced self-arrest. Our guide was great, very informative but not overwhelming. I felt pretty comfortable once we wrapped things up.
Eric and I did another 2.5 mile run in the afternoon to loosen up a bit then had some food and tried to get some shut-eye. It was going to be a short rest as we had to be up at midnight. Boom, it was time to get going! Despite having everything ready there is always a last minute scramble. We were back up at Timberline at 1am and got the last of our stuff organized. At 1:30 we gathered together and made our way to the snow-cat. Timberline Guides have all climbers take the cat up to the top of the ski lift before heading off on the hike. We could see lights up on the mountain as other climbers had already started. We also passed a few while in the cat, it felt weird not climbing but it was the way they do it.
A little after 2am we were out of the cat and starting our climb. There were maybe 20-40 hikers ahead of us on the mountain but it wasn’t a race. We started out in crampons and used poles. The climb was steady and we started passing groups pretty quickly. After an hour we took a short break. At the “hogsback” we took another break and left our poles switching over to ice axes and roping up. Us guys were on one rope and the ladies on the other. I was first behind the guide and tried to find a rhythm and not get too close (and get kicked in the head). Some spots it was pretty easy to place feet as there were nice foot holes to step in on others I just kept trying to count in my head “step, step, pole, step, step, pole” over and over again. We made steady progress passing single hikers and small groups. I only had a moment of “YIKES” when I looked up during some of the early going and saw how straight up it seemed. We stopped again and I was shocked to hear that this was it. We were at the “Pearly Gates” and only a couple of hundred feet below the summit. Now we’d be on the rope and belay our way up. I felt pretty confident as I trusted the guides and the rope. We topped the gates then walked the summit ridge to get a photo of the actual summit just before sunrise, just under 3 hours into our hike.
We then walked over to the top and met Kristina and Jane. For a short period of time we had the summit to ourselves and enjoyed the sunrise. We got some amazing pictures as we hung out for about 15 minutes. The summit was now getting busy and it was time to go (a little after 5am). Due to all of the climber coming up the gates we’d descend via the “Old Chute” route. We could have descended the same way we’d come up and I wouldn’t have known since I kept my head down and just concentrated on my footwork. We were belayed down the Old Chute and then continue on down roped up. Richard was at the front with our guide at the rear calling out where to go. Rich kept up a great tempo and we got down to the hogsback in quick fashion. I was amazed at how many hikers were on the trail heading up. We switched from axes to poles and got off of the rope. I took the back of the line with one of our guides. I felt a little pressure as I was the slowest descender and it was easier for me to hang in the back and not push my pace (and maybe take a tumble). Soon enough we were down into the sunlight and at the top of the ski lift. Time to remove crampons and the pace quickened as the slope was a bit more gentle and the snow a lot more forgiving (I would not want to be hiking up in that mashed potato stuff).
We arrived back at the Timberline parking lot 6:36 after we’d left. No worse for the wear (sore quads would hit in the afternoon). After turning in our gear we headed on our separate ways. Eric and I headed back to Salmon River road for a tentatively 4 mile run (barely under 10 minute mile pace). It felt good to be moving and not be in big heavy boots! Rich headed to the airport and we crashed by 5 pm, it had been a long day. At 2am we were up again and out for a 3 mile run in Government Camp, we also ran a little on the Timberline road and got some great views of the Milky Way. After that it was off to the airport for the trek home. This was a great trip! Not much sleep but a lot of fun and state high point number 45 for me (44 for Eric). Onward!