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Timberline

Started: 2017-06-13 20:41:25

Submitted: 2017-06-13 23:34:01

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2-3 June 2017: In which the intrepid narrator celebrates Cascade Volcano Day at Mount Hood

I took Friday, 2 June off work to fly to Portland to meet Willy and celebrate Cascade Volcano day, my irregular holiday for climbing the active volcanos of the Cascade Range. (I previously observed the holiday while climbing Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.)

Friday: The Travel

I caught BART to SFO and immediately spotted a quartet of jumbo jets arranged in front of the international terminal: a United 747 and 787, an Air India 777, and a Singapore Airlines plane I didn't immediately recognize. Once I made it through security I looped back to the international terminal to check out the plane in detail -- and confirmed that it was an A350, my first confirmed sighting of the relatively new type. (I've probably seen one flying over my house, but not close enough to positively identify it from the ground.)

My flight to Portland departed a few minutes late on an E170 regional jet. While queuing for takeoff I was impressed by the variety of aircraft and airlines out my window and declared it to be an "exclusive scene from the golden age of aviation".

We landed in Portland without incident. I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane to get a good view of Hood as we landed; the first I saw was it looming in the distance over the end of the runway while we taxied to the gate. I rented a car and drove to REI at Clackamas to buy food for the camping part of our trip. Properly fortified I turned east, towards Mount Hood. As I approached the mountain I could see its steep snow-covered west face peeking out from the hills as I wondered what precisely I thought I was doing trying to climb the mountain.

I met Willy at the Government Camp Rest Area; he had driven over from Walla Walla that day. (He had spent more time driving, but I had come further.) He reported that all of the higher-elevation camp sites were under snow, so we headed back down US 26 in the general direction of Portland for a few miles to Camp Creek Campground. It boasted 25 sites, most of which were empty on the quiet Friday afternoon at the beginning of the summer. We claimed a site with the remains of an old CCC cook house -- a stone fireplace in front of a ground paved with flagstones, and the foundations of the roof.

Camp Creek Campground
Camp Creek Campground

I took a picture of the campsite with my 360° camera, which you can see here.

After setting up camp we walked around the campsite and ended up walking up Flag Mountain across the creek, on the other side of a closed but not obviously damaged road bridge. We turned around when we reached what looked like the local maxima and returned to the campsite for supper.

For supper I cheated and bought backpacking meals at REI, which only required hot water to reconstitute them. Willy brought our father's old Svea 123 camp stove, which is older than both of us. After heating enough water to cook our entrees, the stove developed a leak from the fuel cap that burned a sooty yellow flame and diverted enough pressure from the regular flame that it faltered. We tried several times to tighten the fuel cap (including with the assistance of the pliers on the multitool I remembered to bring) but couldn't get it to work.

After eating we set out in my rental car to see if we could find anything to help us resolve the camp stove situation; I expected to find various camping- and outdoor-supply stores along the road. (We listened to the Hamilton original cast recording on the way. During our hike Willy had asked about the song "Right Hand Man" covering the New York campaign of the Revolutionary War; I played it from my iPod during dinner, and when we set out in my rental car the stereo hooked itself up to my iPod and started playing the next song.) We drove west down US 26 through various small towns until we reached Sandy. There we found an Ace Hardware that was closed for the day and didn't see much else that looked useful before we found a Safeway. We bought breakfast that we didn't need to heat (granola with UHT milk for me, soy yogurt for Willy) and headed back to our camp site for the night.

Saturday: The Approach

On Saturday our plan was to begin our acclimatization to altitude by hiking as high as we could get, then return to Mount Hood for our summit attempt early Sunday morning. (I'm paranoid about losing my adaptation to altitude after living at sea level for more than a year.) After breakfast we drove to Timberline Lodge on the south slope of Mount Hood, located conveniently at timberline. The lodge serves the Timberline ski area, which was packed with spring skiers enjoying the year-round snow on the Palmer Glacier.

We poked our head into the climber's grotto in the corner of the 1970s brutalist Wy'east Day Lodge, then walked through the 1930s art deco WPA Timberline Lodge before hitting the trail. We thought about trying to hike along the Timberline Trail that orbits Mount Hood, but the thick spring snow covered the trail to the point where I didn't think we would have much luck trying to follow the trail. Instead we ascended the Climber's Trail along the eastern edge of the ski area, following the approach route at the beginning of the south side climb on Mount Hood.

Timberline Lodge and Mount Jefferson
Timberline Lodge and Mount Jefferson

The snow was soft and slushy, making it somewhat more difficult to get a good foothold on the snow. The trail had been tracked by hikers and climbers going up and down; I could clearly distinguish which direction the person had been going based on stride length. Ascending the slope required smaller, more careful steps; descending the slope allowed lengthy steps plunging deep into the snow, relying on the soft snow as a cushion against gravity.

The trail went parallel to the two lifts that climbed the Palmer Glacier. Half way up to the top of the lift we walked to Silcox Hut to see what was there but found it closed; instead we ate a snack on the bench outside before resuming our climb.

Jaeger and Willy with Mount Hood
Jaeger and Willy with Mount Hood

We returned to the climber's trail and continued our ascent to the top of the trail, roughly level with the top of Palmer Lift and the top of the ski area. In terms of ground distance we'd covered about half of the distance to the summit, and almost half of the elevation, but it was by far the easiest part. It took us about two and a half hours to ascend to the top of the trail; when we reached the top we were satisfied that we'd had a good day hiking, but I was daunted by the prospect of returning early tomorrow morning, when we'd have to hike all the way back to begin our ascent of Mount Hood.

Willy climbs towards Steel Cliffs on Mount Hood
Willy climbs towards Steel Cliffs on Mount Hood

From there we could see the rest of the route up the mountain, including the famous (infamous?) bergschrund at the top of the Zigzag Glacier. I tried to identify landmarks from the vague route descriptions I found online and get a feeling for the ascent we'd make in the dark in the morning.

Cravasses below Steel Cliffs on Mount Hood
Cravasses below Steel Cliffs on Mount Hood

We descended the climber's trail, and when we reached the bottom Willy got out his ice axe and crampons for a brief practice run with his new technical gear before the next day. (The last time I climbed snow was Chiefs Head Peak two years ago, but I figured my muscle memory from at least a dozen climbs held.)

Back at the trailhead we looked through the Timberline Lodge again, then returned to my rental car to drive back to our campsite. We stopped only briefly before continuing to Ace Hardware in Sandy, where we found a replacement washer that worked in the camp stove, giving us enough hot water for supper. We went to bed early, with my alarm set for a minute after midnight to wake us up for a long day of climbing.

For more photos from my trip to Mount Hood, see Photo set: Mount Hood.
Most of what I've told you is an absolute fact.
- Doug Logan, 22 December 1999