What You Need to Know Before Climbing Mt. Hood
Oregon’s highest summit, Mt. Hood, at 3426m, is one to behold. It is an ice cone beautifully rising above lush green vegetation. A mountain-lake nearby, by the name Mirror Lake, gives a perfect reflection of Mt. Hood.
Mirror Lake Photo By Kkmd
It lies on the border between two counties; Hood River and Clackamas about 80km south-east of Portland.
In North America, this glaciated peak is one of the most coveted by climbers and is situated within Mt. Hood National Forest. After Japan’s Mt. Fuji, it is the second most popular spot for climbers. It houses 12 named glaciers and snowfields, which cover about 80% of the mountain. The famous skiing zone being the Palmer Glacier within Timberline Lodge.
Due to past minor eruptions, it is characterized as a potentially active volcano though informally the mountain is considered dormant. Fumaroles near the summit (Devil’s Kitchen and Hot Rocks) contribute to the fear that an eruption is imminent. Although an explosive eruption is unlikely, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the chances of an eruption between 3-7 % in the next 30 years.
Mount Hood Climate
Mt. Hood experiences the Mediterranean type of Climate.
The average temperature is 46.8°F (8.2°C). July is the warmest month with temperatures averaging 63.6°F (17.6°C). While January is the coldest month with temperatures averaging 30.2°F (-1°C).
The highest temperature (35°C) was recorded in July and the lowest temperature (-21.7°C) recorded in January.
The mountain gets 38inches of precipitation yearly. December receives the most precipitation while July has the least amount of rain.
Snow is 57 inches on average.
Climbing Mt. Hood
Contrary to popular opinion that Mt. Hood can be tackled by inexperienced hikers, ascending this snow capped peak requires technical skills and experience. This trivialization and carelessness have led to a number of deaths on Mt. Hood. Actually, an unprepared climber has sadly considered a risk to other experienced climbers.
It will take a roughly 4-7hours to summit Mt. Hood if you’re in peak shape but 6-9 hours if you aren’t.
Now that we have ascertained that this mountain is a technical climb, proper mountaineering equipment, and safety skills are mandatory. Due to rapid weather changes, safety greatly depends on the climber’s fast judgment, skill, and preparation.
I will not hesitate to emphasize the need for proper training before tackling Mt. Hood. Physical conditioning is quite essential if you want a successful trek. I suggest going on training hikes or making use of hilly terrain that more or less simulates the high elevation of Mt. Hood. Carry a weight of about 20-30 pounds consisting of the equipment you will need on the mountain, on your back during these training sessions.
You should also be trained in crampon and self-arrest techniques using the ice-axe. Familiarity with other safety techniques like First Aid, crevasse rescue, roped travel, navigation and avalanche condition assessment will be an added advantage.
Make sure you are aware of the risk elements associated with the climb. Get to know the type, how to avoid or mitigate it. Some of the dangers on the mountain include:
This happens due to strong winds, sun, and vibrations that loosen the surfaces holding the ice and dust. So the debris comes tumbling down the slopes. Rockfall is likely to occur during Fall and Summer while ice fall is likely to occur during Winter.
Get an early start off between 12 am and 2 am so that you’re back to the base before 9 am when the danger of ice/rock fall is highly likely. Also, once on the upper slopes wearing a helmet would be recommended.
Fumaroles are openings or vents on the earth’s crust in volcanic areas that emit poisonous gases like sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and carbon dioxide. These sulfurous gases smell like rotten eggs. They are active all year round. Lingering near these zones might trigger suffocation, nausea and it is potentially fatal.
Avoid getting comfortable around these zones and keep your walk steady.
These are huge masses of snow moving downhill. The velocity of an avalanche increases rapidly in volume and mass as it gains momentum picking up debris and snow on its path.
They normally occur due to a temperature increase that causes melting of ice normally between 9 am and 1 pm a structural instability or a trigger from climbers.
An avalanche condition assessment should be carried out each time a climb is attempted, especially after snowfall in spring.
These are open and deep cracks that occur in glaciers. They vary in size and depth. On the popular South route of Mt. Hood, the Bergschrund crevasse is the primary one. Other crevasses can be present during spring and summer above Palmer.
Navigate carefully around them.
A potential danger is higher when there’s a massive influx of people attempting to climb the mountain, especially during the summer and spring months.
Be polite and patient. Ensure that there’s adequate space between you and other climbers. Move fast and carefully especially through chutes.
Improper clothing on Mt. Hood would lead to a numbing frostbite. I suggest the 4-layer approach that entails shell, insulation, mid layer and base layer. All clothing should be synthetic or breathable.
Gloves, socks, hats and boots and balaclavas should be part of your essential itinerary.
Tip: choose well-fitting and comfortable boots prior to getting crampons.
- Crampons-These will ensure you have a firm grip on the ice while offering stability and traction.
Other necessary equipment includes; gaiters, trekking poles, helmets, map or compass, sun protection cream, overnight gear, a mobile device, climbing harness, rope, food, and water.
- Ice axe-It is quite portable but having the skill to use it for self-arrest is necessary. Practice several times before the climb.
- Headlamp-You will definitely need a headlamp considering you will be climbing Mt. Hood at night.
- Shovel-This will ensure that you can quickly dig yourself or someone else out when bad weather pulls the rug under your feet and you/they are stuck in a snow cave.
- First Aid Kit-You should carry a light-weight kit from which you can dispense aid to yourself or another climber in case of an injury.
You will require a Wilderness Permit from Climbers’ Cave or Timberline Lodge to access Mt. Hood National Forest.
The Climbers’ Registration Form shows the number of people in your team, climbing dates, emergency numbers etc. It is not mandatory but I highly recommend it. It is also acquired from Timberline Lodge.
The Sno-Park Permit is seasonally mandatory. It is required by the Transportation Department of Oregon for car users from November through to April.
Best time to climb
Depending on the route chosen, any time of the year can be ideal to climb Mt. Hood.
However, mid-April to mid-July is the best time recommended if using the South Side routes which are the most popular. However, ultimate indicators of the best time to climb should be mountain and weather conditions.
Accommodation on Mt. Hood
Portland is only a few kilometers away from Mt. Hood (about 2 hours) If you’re a speed maniac possibly an hour. It offers several options for accommodation, easy access to the airport and rental cars. Most climbers opt to leave the city in the late evening so as to climb at night.
You may choose to stay in Hood River. It’s an awesome place to stay and is closer to the mountain, though smaller without a major airport.
Though expensive, you may prefer to stay in the iconic Timberline Lodge. It is the most convenient and it holds plenty of history for your gulping. Its architecture is equally mind-blowing having been built with giant beams and boulders with rusty finishes and cozy fireplaces.
If not, a cheaper alternative, operated by a climbing organization in Portland would be the Mazama Lodge which is also closer to the mountain.
The Cascade Huts are more of a Do It Yourself (DIY) kind of huts. They are one-room rustic cabins that accommodate up to 8 people each and are well-stocked with stoves, sleeping bags, utensils etc. During summer the huts provide water and food as well.
There are other several inns and resorts that offer affordable accommodation in Government Camp.
If you prefer to camp, there are several options for this. Mt. Hood National Forest and the Timberline Lodge Parking lot would suffice if you have an RV.
You may also camp on the mountainside but be cautious of rock fall and avalanches.
Mountain climbing routes
The classic climbing routes are the South Side routes, North Face Right Gully, Cooper’s Spur, Devil’s Kitchen Headwall, Ravine, Sunshine Route, Wy’East, Sandy Glacier Headwall, Reid Glacier Headwall, West Crater Rim Route andLeuthold Couloir.
The recommended and popular routes to the summit of Mt. Hood are the South Side Routes.
The South Side Route begins atTimberline Lodge parking lot. There are three variations of this route once you get to the Palmer ski lift; the Pearly Gates is most popular with climbers, the Old Chute which is normally an alternative when there’s congestion at the Pearly Gates and the West Crater Rim variation is for climbers who want a challenge.
Ascent via the South Side Route
Arrive at Timberline Lodge at around 11 pm, organize and gear up aiming to begin the climb 12 am. Walk along the ski boundary as you head north. You will find a worn path which will be your highway till you reach the Palmer Lift House.
Take your first break at Silcox Warming Hut which is slightly above Timberline. The lift houses act as landmarks and windbreakers not as shelters. They simply provide minimal protection.
If visibility is poor, you can use the lifts and get to the Magic Mile Lift House. If not, continue from Silcox on the main trail to find the Palmer Lift House. Check weather conditions as you take your second break. If the conditions are unfavorable, consider turning back or waiting for improved conditions.
From this lift house, heading north you will arrive at Crater Rock. I suggest using the eastern side of Crater Rock to get to the Hogsback ridge that links it to the rim of the summit. It is fairly reliable and more protected. Put on your crampons at this juncture.
From the Hogsback, you will have two variations to get you to the summit; the Pearly Gates and the Old Chute.
The Pearly Gates
This is the shortest and most direct route to the summit. It is also the steepest with high probabilities of rock/ice fall. To navigate this route safely, proper mountaineering gear is required.
Move swiftly and carefully especially if it is springtime when a large cornice forms on the northern side of the rim.
The Old Chute
This may be your best option if the Pearly Gates are in bad condition. It is, however, less steep, though it has similar dangers as the Pearly Gates with a risk of avalanches.
Once at the summit, celebrate your achievement, grab a snack or drink, take some photos and begin heading back.
It is normally said that the summit of a mountain is just half of the journey. Descent from the summit of Mt. Hood will probably take you half the time you spent ascending, roughly 2-4hours. This does not mean it is an easy feat, though gravity will be your best ally.
I strongly recommend that you descend using the same route you used to the summit because you will now be familiar with the landmarks, obstacles, and conditions. However, Old Chute offers an easier descent.
I suggest that you come up with an emergency plan in case of any mishap. You should also alert a friend or a family member who will not be taking part in the climb. Include information on the route you will take, a timetable, check-in time, probably time for a search to be initiated, family member contacts et al.
To report an emergency, dial 911.
You can also contact Portland Mountain Rescue directly on 503-222-PMRU (7678)
Other important contacts include;
Mt Hood Information Center-503-668-1700
Oregon State Police-503-731-3030
Mt Hood (ZigZag) Ranger Station-503-622-3191
Washington State Police-360-696-6161
Mt Hood (Hood River) Ranger Station-541-352-6002
- Emergency/ Rescue/Helpline
Fauna on Mount Hood
Mount Hood is home to several animal species. You will find amphibians like bullfrogs, spotted salamanders, and the American toads. On the other hand, reptiles like the milk snake, garter snake, and snapping turtles also exist here. Further, you can spot some of the soil animals like Earthworms, beetles, termites, and many more.
Mount Hood is home to several animal species, amphibians like bullfrogs, spotted salamanders, and the American toads. On the other hand, reptiles, like the milk snake, garter snake, and snapping turtles, also exist here.
Chipmunks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, bats, squirrels, fisher cats, and turkeys are some of the mammals present on the mountain.
Over 150 bird species have been recorded as well.
Flora on Mount Hood
Vegetation in Mt. Hood include various species such as the Red Maple, the Northern Oak, the American Elm, beech, birch, Sassafras, the hemlock, ferns and the Eastern white pine.
Hiking with Kids
Despite the ascent being a technical one, 4 children are said to have successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Hood. Two 11-year olds, one 9-year old and a 7-year old. So, yes, you can attempt the climb with your kids but extreme caution is to be observed and it is highly advisable to take a guide or two along.
Alternatively, there are many hiking trails that are children-friendly in the forest and lake regions.
Things to do
Take a drive that will have scenic views of Portland, Mt. Hood National Forest and the Hood River all in one loop.
There are quite a number of hiking trails around Mt. Hood. The most spectacular and scenic routes are those along lake trails. The Trillium and Mirror Lakes would be well worth your exploration.
In 1977, this lodge became a National Historic Landmark. It is home to a wealth of history. Constructed in 1937, it has managed to preserve much of its design and decor despite the fact that it has modern amenities.
There are over 100 documented camping areas with vault toilets and picnic tables that are run by the Forest Service. With many options to select from, spend the night with the iconic mountain by camping in one of the many campgrounds.
This resort is well known for knight-skiing with half of the routes lit. It will give you a winter playground feel.
During summer, activities on the mountain become high-adrenalin ventures like zip lining, horse-back riding and mountain biking.
This is the place to be for a variety of snowboarding and skiing terrain.
A ride on this train will ensure a breathtaking view of the mountain and the Hood River.
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