Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mt. Hood Ski Descent with Holm... Take 2

Well, I wasn't able to attempt the climb last year as I was missing an ACL so when Chris and I both saw the weather forecast for Hood this past weekend we thought the opportunity had again presented itself to summit Hood with a possible ski descent.  The weather called for for bluebird skies, winds of 10-20mph and the NWAC avy conditions were at low to moderate.  Emily and I had just picked up shovels, probes and beacons and everything looked perfect for the attempt including Emily and I having hotel room in Portland for her flight to Florida for arbitration training the night after the climb saving us from a long drive back to Corvallis.  But, yet again Moody Mt. Hood had her way with us and stopped us cold once again... hit the link to read on.

Emily, Chris and I drove up separately on Friday night, leaving Corvallis around 7pm.  The plan was to drop Chris's  car off at his brothers house which was conveniently located right next to PDX where Em and I would also stay the night so she could catch a shuttle from the hotel to the airport at 5:30am.  We offered Chris to stay the night with us if he was tired but he ended up driving home anyway.  On the way up we stopped for dinner just south of Portland in Lake Oswego for a big dinner of pasta, and all you can eat soup, salad and breadsticks to stack carbs for the long climb early the next morning.

 After dropping Chris's car off at his brothers we made it to the climbers parking lot at Timberline at about 11pm after having to stop briefly at Ski Bowl for me to pick up a current Winter SnowPark Pass for the car while we climbed.  Thankfully, Ski Bowl is open till midnight and the shop was still open to pick one up on our way.  It didn't take us long to unload the gear from the car and lay it in the snow next to Chris who set up a bivy next to the car out of the wind.  We kept the ski boots and bags inside the car to keep them from freezing overnight.  I grabbed Jason's tripod he lent me and walked over to the edge of the lot to try to capture some night shots with the stars above Hood but with the wind and my freezing hands I was working quickly and the shots certainly didn't come out as good as the ones from the Trinity Alps I had taken... oh well.

It took me a little while to fall asleep and throughout the night there were cars pulling into the parking lot and making noise and at about 2am other climbers started to wake from their vehicles and prepare for the climb which was also noisy... so none of us got a good night's rest and 5am came all too quickly.  Compared to a bivy in the wind waking up in the Prius and being able to turn on the heat easily is always awesome.  It took us longer than I thought (as usual) to get ready and by the time we had walked up to the lodge to sign in for the climb the first rays of light were already illuminating Hood above us and bathing the sky in orange.  As I had expected we definitely were not alone as there were multiple other parties preparing for their own summit bids and signing in at the register.  

After Chris helped Emily into her new super-light Dynafit bindings at the base we began our skin up the mountain.  As the sun gradually rose to the east I stopped repeatedly to take photos over the Timberline Lodge to the south where we could clearly see Mt. Jefferson and the Sisters in the distance.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to taper down the ISO on the camera so the photos didn't come out as perfect as I had wanted them too but still beautiful nonetheless.  Emily was super stoked to have bindings that were so light and easy to move up the hill and I was super excited to see that the Timberline resort Groomers had smoothed out a trail for us of fresh corduroy all the way to the top of the Palmer lift.  We heard from other skiers who skinned up the ice earlier in the morning before the groomers churned up the slope and said it was horribly tough and they were slipping everywhere while we had it easy.

As we climbed the wind howled down the mountain at us from over the southeast shoulder of Hood trying to press us backwards as we climbed.  My legs at first felt painful and tired but then I got into a rhythm and like always the pain went away.  I continued to take photos the entire way up replacing the lens hood with a circular polarizing filter I had just picked up to cut down the glare of the sun off the snow.  To my wonderment it turned the skies super dark over the peak and increased the contrast really making the pink morning clouds pop in the light of the rising sun.  

We only had one small mishap where Emily dropped a glove and it started to get blown off the mountain.  I instantly launched myself downhill after it but because I my bindings were in the highest climbing position it was awkward and I fell, which dislodged my helmet and sent it tumbling down the mountain which I then had to further chase after.  All told I went down about 50-75 vertical feet which I then had to climb back up quickly so Emily's bare hand wouldn't freeze.  Instead of lecturing her on what happened and just calmly said that she could guess what the consequences could be of losing a glove on a more serious mountaineering trip and that if it ever happened again to not hesitate because it could mean losing a hand.    

We trudged our way up the groomer making it to the top of the Palmer lift by just after 10am.  This was in stark contrast to when Chris and I had started from the base at nearly that time 2 years ago.  Therefore I was happy with the time we were making and more than happy to stop for few minutes to put on some moleskin on hot spots that Emily and I had on our feet.  It also came to my attention there that my camelbak hose was completely frozen solid.   Stupid choice to bring it in the middle of winter in high winds... dumb. So, I had to yank out the bladder, twist the top off and drink out of it directly.  

After I had gotten Emily's feet fixed and got her back into her boots and bindings she started up the hill as I got myself ready.  When I started to follow I noticed she wasn't moving anywhere and when I got to her I saw why.  Her mohair/mix skins were not sticking to the now completely iced up surface above the nice groomers we had left.  This was not a good sign.  I helped her point her skis directly uphill to test if the full coverage on the ice would hold and instantly they went out from under her knocking her headfirst into the icy slope.  I checked that she was ok and hadn't hurt her neck and asked her if, even if she climbed up the slopes ahead, would she be comfortable then skiing down them on tired legs?  She said "no" and knew what that meant and said she felt defeated.  I told her I too was concerned but with Chris ahead of us on the slope and looking anxious to keep going we decided she would descend back to the car and wait for us to try to summit.  I felt bad watching her go but was happy with her choice.

Chris and I continued onward up the slope, now in crampons with our skis on our backs.  The weather was absolutely beautiful but the surface we were walking over was the worst I'd ever seen.  There were knobs of ice sticking out of the snow everywhere the size of trailer hitches... and it still didn't occur to me that we would have to ski down this...  We continued onward up the slope at what seemed like a snail pace chatting with other climbers on the way trying to get beta on the crater and summit routes, but to our dismay the main story we kept hearing was about a Chinese skier who had tumbled down 800 feet of slope early in the morning.  I had found a cell phone on the way up about 5 minutes prior to hearing this and thought, "uh oh.. that could be the dudes phone!".  

We got to "the kitchen" area and found ourselves inhaling huge gulps of sulfur from the nearby vents that after some time formed an aweful taste in our mouths, especially mine with my frozen camelbak.  Thankfully, with Steel Cliffs cutting the wind out of the equation and leaving nothing but the sun overhead the slope softened up on the climb to the base of the Hogsback and my camelbak quickly defrosted so that I could wash the sulfur out of my mouth.  At just about noon Chris and I were exhausted having eaten last 7 hours ago and a bit dehydrated (I learned later that Chris had run out of water there).  We decided to take a long break at the base of the Hogsback where I got some great photos of Crater Rock and the volcanic vents steaming all around us.  

After eating some food, drinking a bunch of water and resting for 15-20 minutes it became decision time for Chris and I.  We had heard that the Pearly Gates was a solid wall of ice we would need ice screws and ice tools for so that was out of the question.  The other route was up the old way via the West Crater route up a steep slope of snow.  There was a climbing party that was coming down after clearly attempting that route and coming to a sheet of ice about 60 feet tall that one climber said was nearly unpenetrable with his axe... not a good sign for us.  I spotted another possible route that hugged the cliff line more closely but with the the sun beating down on it and nearly no wind it was a risky choice for the afternoon as bowling ball sized rocks had the very real possibility of raining down on us.  Our first decision came easy... there would be no skiing from the summit.  

Our second decision was less easy to make.  The people passing us were older and looked a bit less experienced then us at first but then another rope team couple attempted the route and also turned back.  Still, I could see Chris really wanted the summit so we started off.  60 feet up the Hogsback with Chris ahead of me and and my legs starting to burn already I yelled to him, "we have 800 feet to go, both our legs are tired and if we actually make the summit we still have to ski that shit we just climbed up that that Chinese dude wrecked bad on..... you sure you have the legs for all that?".  Chris stopped, turned with a defeated look, nodded and said, "let's get out of here".  I knew he was bummed as I would be two being turned around twice at the same spot in two years, but we both knew the risk of a bad injury was too great to try for the summit.  Turns out it was totally the right decision.  

Back at the base of the Hogsback we popped on our skis and enjoyed a nice descent through soft snow back down past "the kitchen" and onto the top of the Palmer where everything changed as we again entered the winds below Steel Cliffs.  We got to a point where a climber was ascending who looked terrified for us.  He said, "guys, it's really bad here..."  I looked at Chris and we talked about the possibility of skiing over the trailer-hitch ice balls... no way.  There was no way that skis on edge could slide sideways over that shit so we opted to take off our skis and put our crampons on again for a very slow and cautious descent for several hundred feet.  

We finally got down to a slope that looked free of ice spikes where we could put on our skis.  Unfortunately, the snow was only about half an inch to an inch deep which was precarious at best to take our crampons off on and try to click into our very finicky Dynafit bindings.  To my amazement, after a good 5-10 minutes of struggling we both were able to click in and get our gear organized.  The ski down to the top of the Palmer and groomers from there was the worst skiing I've ever encountered in my life.  I thoughtfully had put on my knee brace before the descent and I'm glad I did because if my ski had caught an edge on ice my new ACL would have been wrecked.  Although not advisable as it looks the binding down, both Chris and I opted to crank the toe piece of our bindings up to prevent release because if a ski were to come off it was gone... without a doubt down the face of Hood forever...  The descent back down to the ski slopes was so chattery and icy it felt like a jackhammer was being taken to both bottoms of my feet.  

When we got back down to the lifts I called Emily who was in the car and happy that we had made it.  From there it took us only about 15-20 minutes to make the long ski descent back to the car which was great on the soft groomer to finish the awful day.  Back at the car we all enjoyed a beer after the climb, signed out the lodge and stopped at Calamity Janes in Sandy for some great burgers and a 32oz beer to rehydrate me!  From there Emily drove both of us back to Chris's car and we headed to the Marriott Courtyard for the night where I passed out by 8:30pm.  I awoke at 5:30am to Emily kissing me goodbye for her airport shuttle.... what a day!

I considered creating another post for the Super Bowl Party tonight I threw after driving home from PDX but because the Patriots completely blew the offense in the last 4 minutes which lost the game for them I'll simply put this paragraph here in disappointment.... Lots of friends showed up and the warm weather allowed for a fun game of washers but Amy Jo, Loomis, and their friend Casey showing up rooting for the Giants didn't help matters.  Oh well, I still think Brady is Jordan of the NFL.  Go Pats!

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