Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oregon's Highpoint: Mt. Hood

My story of Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood is the highest point in Oregon, with an elevation of 11,249'. It is a volcano in the Cascades about an hours drive southeast of Portland. My step dad and I used a guide service called NW School of Survival to summit Hood. Last year in May we made an attempt with Timberline Guides, but there was tons of late season snow and high avalanche potential so it wasn't safe enough to climb. This time Timberline was completely booked, however we found a great experienced guide Bob through NW School of Survival.

On Tuesday, June 21, 2011 I flew out to Portland to meet Bill (my step dad). He had flown out the previous day for a business conference. This wasn't my first time flying alone, but that doesn't mean it was easy. I had stayed up very late the night before writing a final paper for poetry and I had to catch the 5 am Dartmouth Coach to Logan Airport. Of course, I was exhausted after completing my last finals the day before, the paper, and packing, that I overslept. This was kind of a problem because my mom and older brother Ryan had to go to work. My two younger brothers are 7 and 10 so they wouldn't be able to drive me get to my plane. The only solution I had left was to drive to Logan by myself (!!!!) on roughly 3 hours of sleep and somehow get on my plane. For my first time driving to Logan it wasn't all bad, I bought a frappuccino and listened to NPR all the way to Logan and had no trouble checking in or with my flights. It was sure a relaxing way to start summer vacation...

I met Bill later that afternoon at the Portland Airport and we got supplies at REI and a local supermarket for our climb. Then we drove to the NW School of Survival where Bill rented an ice axe and I rented mountaineering boots, crampons (that fit the boot specifically), and an ice axe as well. That night we stayed at Timberline Lodge right on Mt. Hood with an elevation of 6000'. We had been planning our trip so that we got to sleep a few nights at higher elevation to aide acclimatization.

The next day we met our guide Bob at the climbers' register and we hiked a little ways past the ski parking lot into a steep gully. There we practiced different ascending, descending, and self-arresting techniques. We finished "school" and headed back to the hotel for dinner, packing, and some sleep. We planned to meet our guide again at the register at 11 to begin our ascent.

We left around 11:20 pm and started the slow monotonous climb up the Mt. Hood ski area. The weather was forecasted for clouds and rain, but it was clear, cold, and windy. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there was a fundraiser climb the same night and lots of other people were climbing Hood. But, they took a snow cat up to the top of the ski area (approx half way up) and then started climbing from there. It was very depressing to watch 3 snow cats pass us at 1 hour intervals. Each time one overtook us we got to see how far we still had to get to the halfway point. Eventually we arrived at the top of the ski area around 2am. There we took a good break and let a snow cat group go ahead of us to break a trail.

From there we continued on Palmer Glacier up the snowfield to Crater Rock, a huge rock pinnacle sticking out of the snow. (See slide show picture, large pointy rock) from there we crossed the Coleman Glacier and onto the Hogsback Ridge. The old route followed the Hogsback up the mountain to the Pearly Gates and then to the summit, but it has shifted so we merely used the Hogsback as a resting spot to rope up. Due to crevasse danger we were roped at approx 40 foot intervals. On the left of the ridge was a 200' patch of dirt and rock where the heat from volcanic vents had melted the ice and snow. We proceeded up the dirt area and then to an 800' steep pitch to get to the summit ridge. There we met a bit of a traffic jam with the other groups and we skirted around them as they set up running belays for added protection. The top of the pitch just below the summit ridge was extremely narrow and steep. Once on top of the ridge it was a simple traverse to the true summit. However, it wouldn't have been ideal to fall there because there was a several thousand foot drop on our left and a steep snow field leading to a thousand foot drop on our right. Luckily, there were no missteps and we were on top of Oregon around 6am.

It was spectacularly clear with few wispy clouds on the horizon but we could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier (Washington's highpoint) in the distance. The wind was mild but it was absolutely freezing! We stayed on the summit for about an hour and walked back along the summit ridge. There was another bottleneck heading back down the entrance to the snow field so we waited there for another 30 mins. We descended the steep pitch and dirt patch all roped up until the Hogsback. There we took a long break, untied, ate, and drank. Unfortunately I had gotten shin bang from the boots and it was quite painful descending thousands of feet. (Shin bang occurs from the repetitive stress of hard plastic boots against the shin bone and a month later I still have bruised shins!) It took about 3 hours to get back to Timberline where we thanked Bob, gave him our gear to return, and got massive mugs of hot chocolate. Then we crashed until around 10 pm when we woke up had salads (I find trail food much too sweet and salty) and slept for the rest of the night.

Overall we had been climbing for about 11 hours from trail head to trail head, gained 5249' of vertical, and walked 7.2 miles round trip. Even though I thoroughly resented not having a snow cat, it did feel like a bigger accomplishment now that I can say that I've climbed all of Mt. Hood under my own power.

Kristen Kelliher


  1. What a wonderful adventure Kristen! Kudos on successfully summiting Mt. Hood. What an accomplishment.

    There are no limits on what you can do in life... you drove and managed Boston and Logan traffic no problem and then climbed Mt. Hood!

    We'll be cheering you on from Norwich. Laura

  2. Congrats Kristen!! Keep it up. Norwich is very proud of you!

  3. Congrats Kristen. Your very own public library is following your adventure and cheering you on.