June 8, 2007.
Today I would seek peace with the mountain that gave me a run for my money the first time I dared attempt to step foot on its finicky summit.My climbing team consisted of 11 students and assistance from my BCEP class and its fearless leader. We excitedly left from the Timberline lot at 12:30am, under starry skies and in good spirits. The group quickly fragmented into fast, medium and slow paces. Several fruitless attempts were made to keep us together. I’d promised myself I’d work on my patience and teamwork today so I struggled to stay with the group. Moving more slowly meant I was sweating and waiting less so it worked out better in the end. I couldn’t summit before anyone else so it was really pointless to try and move quickly.
The skies remained dark for what seemed like forever. The wind was calm, the air was buzzing with the conversations among a mix of new climbers and seasoned mountaineers. Several other parties were on the mountain today, but all seemed to choose slightly different paths so we weren’t tripping over each other all day. So far, it wasn’t as crowded as I’d expected.
Most of this climb is just a long, slow, slog. We stopped at the Silcox Hut, got cold, stopped at the top of Palmer, got colder…although I doubt the actual temperature ever got very low, I felt cold whenever I wasn’t moving. Long breaks are never in my plans. Again, a test of patience. I used these opportunities to add layers, eat food, and hydrate. As the sun rose, I was also able to scan the surroundings, to embed the scenery into my brain. I’d only been up here a handful of times, yet it was all too familiar-looking. I wished I was this location-aware on my first climb here.
Approaching Devil’s Kitchen, I stopped to catch my breath, only to have it stolen away by the sight of the mountain’s shadow in the pale, purple, morning sky. I stood there, letting the photons bombard my eyes. This was an astounding reminder of why I torture my body this way. We continued to the base of the Hogsback, where we took an extended break. Monty carefully calculated (over and over again) how many people would be on each rope team and who was going where. I roped up with Jerry and Dana, and we followed the first team up.
We proceeded very slowly about halfway up the hogsback, where we cut left to avoid the bergschrund and angled up via the Mazama chute. I noticed a narrow, steep ice chute to my right, which was my ascent route in February. Although it looked like fun, today we would be taking the super safe way instead. Most of the climbers were proceeding unroped; if I’d have had the choice, I would be doing the same. Nevertheless, practicing with all the climbing gear is worthwhile, so that when I need to use it in a dangerous situation I am more comfortable and proficient with the setup.
Eventually I crested the chute, and was rewarded with fine views of the cloudscape to the north as well as the steep, dramatic north side of the mountain. St. Helens, Rainier and Adams stood proudly above the puffy film of water vapor hovering over the lowlands. I felt the tug of the rope ahead of me and remembered I was part of a team and I couldn’t stand here gawking all day.The official summit lies just to the east, after following a short traverse along the narrow ridge. We sat there, soaking in the strong sun rays, and stuffing our faces with all sorts of goodies. We shared the peak with a few others: climbers, skiers, snowboarders, and other cool dudes. Although our summit team included 6 women, all the others we saw on top were men. Interesting. It looked much different up here today than when I last stood atop this mountain.
Eventually we headed back back down the route, stopping occasionally to fix anchors or struggle with clipping through. I kept twisting the rope up and getting annoyed…but eventually my brain started functioning normally and I was able to move the rope through the carabiners quickly. We stopped for a VERY extended break on the Hogsback, where we stripped off layers, de-roped, snacked, and relaxed. We watched skiers swishing down the slopes, fumes twirling heavenward from the volcano’s armpits, and the clouds waiting anxiously at the base of the mountain.The rest, as they say, is history. We downclimbed a little bit, all at our own paces and using an array of techniques. Eventually we all tested out our glissade devices and discovered design flaws that will need fixing before the next use. Near the bottom, the snow became slushy and the grade flatter so we ended up walking out. Jenn and I reached the parking lot first, where we chatted and waited for the rest of our team. Karen, who had to turn back early in the morning, greeted us with a box full of Voodoo Doughnuts! I devoured my Cocoa-Puffs topped, chocolate-glazed, chocolate doughnut in about 10 seconds.
In summary, we took 8 hours to summit, and 4 hours to descend, including several breaks in between. We completely lucked out by climbing in a 24-hour weather window, with moderate temperatures, low winds, and clear skies. The snow was crusty enough for good traction with crampons on the ascent and not too soft and mushy for the descent. Although there were many people on the mountain, it wasn’t as crowded as I expected.
At last, this route is out of my system. I hope to never return! There are more advanced (read: more fun) routes on the peak that I would like to try in the years to come. Now that I have made up for my mistakes on the South Side of Mt. Hood, I feel free.