From the moment we’d set sights on Mt Hood, we knew we wanted to be on the top. Not to mention, it ticks another off the list of 18 Cascade Volcanoes we plan to conquer. A friend we’d met while through hiking the Appalachian Trail was coming to town, and we wanted to take him on an adventure he’d never forget. All week long, we kept an eye on the forecast for Mt Hood and, as usual, we were lucky to discover an expectation of clear skies and bearable wind speeds.
We questioned our motives as we arrived at the parking lot of Timberline Lodge and the three of us climbed into the back of the Ford Explorer to attempt to sleep for a few short hours before our alpine start up the mountain. When our alarms went of in sync at 3:00am, we reluctantly left the comfort of our warm sleeping bags to get ready to head up the mountain.
Many headlights could be seen from climbers that began their summit attempt even earlier. We found comfort in this with the confirmation that others agreed it would be a great day to summit Hood. We strapped on our crampons at the base and as we warmed up, feeling excited and hopeful that the odds seemed to be in our favor.
The beginning of the climb followed a wide route established by the snow cats, who were up early prepping for the hundreds (?) of skiers that planned to play on the mountain when the sun came up. We’d done our homework, and knew to head straight for Crater Rock.
In the darkness of the early morning, it was tricky to follow the multiple routes that previous hikers had paved. We chose to follow a faint boot path on the highest, most direct route to get as much elevation under our belts as we could. The climbing was definitely challenging, but we were completely consumed by the exhilaration of the exposure ahead. While the sun changed the colors of the sky, we could see the hikers ahead traversing the famous Hogsback ridgeline.
The distinct scent of Devil’s Kitchen (the infamous fumaroles on our right) welcomed us to the adventure we’d been waiting for. One crunch at a time we made our way across the Hogsback-- ice axe, shoe shoe, snowshoe, ice axe, snowshoe, snowshoe-- toward the crux of the climb, the Pearly Gates.
The group of 3 in front of us chose to summit via the Old Chute, a longer, less steep roundabout to the top. We had our sights set on the Pearly Gates, and with wind conditions were calm at the moment, we went for it. The intensity of the situation seemed to shift in the blink of an eye, and the wind blew pieces of ice and snow directly through the seemingly vertical tunnel we were entering.
At this point there was no turning back, so we were forced to adapt the “don’t look down” mentality as we slammed our ice axes and crampons into the ice covered cute one at a time, ducking our heads when the person in front shouted a warning of falling debris. This whirlwind moment that probably only lasted for a few minutes will likely stick with each of us for much longer.
Exiting the Pearly Gates with the summit just a few steps ahead was a surreal moment. We were relieved to be on flatter ground and so very delighted to have conquered this feat.
Hugs, high fives and holy f***s were exchanged at the summit between ourselves and the 3 climbers from the Old Chute route who arrived shortly after. We swapped photo ops and celebrated our victory, but we didn’t stay long as the winds howled and we were ready to be out of the cold.
We unanimously decided to opt for the less steep Old Chute over the Pearly Gates on the descent, and carefully made our way along the narrow ridge that led us there. The elated feeling of reaching the summit faded into the background as we focused on each step back down.
Once we reached the familiar safety of the Hogsback, we took our time traversing the ridge. We basked in the sun and admired the views, pointing out St. Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, Glacier Peak, Jefferson, Three Sisters and Broken Top surrounding us. We traded stories with the climbers headed down and offered insight on the conditions of the Pearly Gates vs the Old Chute to those ascending.
Timberline Lodge and all of the people it hosted were clear in our view and the journey to the bottom seemed short. There were plenty of people around and we casually continued, expecting the end to come quickly.
Hours passed and we soon learned this descent would take longer than originally thought. Our adrenaline dwindles and the exhaustion his us hard. We trudged down, dreaming of the feeling of taking off our boots and the beers we’d stashed in the car to celebrate our victory.
Finally the ant-sized humans grew larger and the end was actually in sight. We were thrilled to reach the car and quickly got comfortable in the back to cheers and eat our packed lunches. Another adventure bites the dust and we couldn’t be more excited to have shared it with our buddy, Alpine!