Mount Hood - Palmer Glacier, March 2002
After calling off the previously planned Mt. Hood trip due to poor weather, Scott Harder had high hopes for the upcoming weekend. I expressed my interest in joining Scott's party and promptly invited myself. Our self-anointed "leader" (what's this shit about a leader anyway?) then cancelled at the last minute and so the final party ended up being Scott, Alison, Bill and myself.
We all piled into Scott's Rodeo Saturday afternoon and made the endless drive south to Oregon. We eventually reached Government Camp, at the base of the mountain, and soon discovered that the road leading up to Timberline Lodge was closed thanks to a fatality accident that had apparently only just occurred. We were informed that it would be maybe another four hours before the road would be re-opened. So, feeling somewhat unsettled by the tragic turn of events only a few short miles away, we dropped into a pub to kill some time. Within two hours we learned that the road was once again open and so we completed our drive up to Timberline Lodge. Not long thereafter, Scott and Alison retired to the Rodeo for the night and Bill and I were left drinking beer in the windy and cold parking lot. We talked shop for about another half-hour and then crawled into our bivy sacks for some sleep on the iced-over pavement.
With the exception of Bill, we all rented touring skis for the first time and made rapid progress ascending the Palmer Snowfield. Apparently, the groomer operators don't take kindly to those that poach the freshly groomed runs and therefore make no effort to steer out of your way. Only on Hood! The slope became considerably icier just beyond the groomer tracks. I took maybe two steps on the moderately graded slope and my skis immediately slipped out from underneath me. Time for crampons. Bill and I climbed ahead for awhile and stopped to wait for Scott and Alison near Illumination Saddle. There were others heading towards and over the saddle.
Looking up from our resting point, we could see strange rime-ice formations plastering the rock. The smell of sulphur coming from fumaroles in Devil's Kitchen was everywhere and it was beginning to make me nauseous. Continuing up, Bill and I soon reached the Hogback and waited there for Scott and Alison again. The sun was beating down on us and it certainly didn't feel like March. Restless to reach the summit, I pulled out my axe for the only somewhat steep portion of the climb and started climbing up the Hogback.
Later in the season a bergschrund forms about two-thirds of the way up the Hogback. There would be no evidence of the 'schrund today and we enjoyed perfect route conditions up through the infamous Pearly Gates and on to the summit. From the top we were able to behold the usual suspects, Mounts Adams, Rainier and St. Helens plainly visible looking north. We could also see Mt. Jefferson, the Sisters, Mt. Bachelor and what may have been Mt. McLoughlin or Mt. Thielsen, way off in the distance. Aside from the obvious volcanoes, I was surprised at how small the Cascades in Oregon really are.
We reached the summit in a leisurely 5 hours. Scott would end up chatting with fellow OSAT climbers while the rest of us looked around and ate beef jerky. Shortly thereafter, a dude wearing track shoes with inch-long spikes and a fanny pack walked up onto the summit and yelled "2 hours and 45 minutes" or something. Wow! Needless to say, he had difficulty descending in those shoes. Soon, we too began our descent and looked forward to the much anticipated ski back to the timberline lodge.
I returned to where I had cached my skis and nervously put them on. It had been 10 years since I last skied. I immediately knew something was terribly wrong when I began to skid backwards uncontrollably and crashed on the still crusty snow. I made a second attempt only to fall once again. I found it hard to accept that I had completely forgotten how to ski, but decided to walk back down just the same. I met Scott back at the top of the Palmer chairlift and was very relieved to hear him say that he too was having a hell of a time skiing with mountaineering boots. Aha! I never imagined that boots would make that big of a difference. Alison, Bill and I would all end up walking all the way back down to the car. Scott however kept trying to ski down the groomed runs and eventually got used to it, though with much effort. The parking area had turned into a big slushy mess and we wasted no time packing up and drove home.
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