| Aren't You a Little Big to Still Be Spewing Sulfur?
Group: Ben (MountainDewey), Chris
Ascent Route: South Side, Old Chute
Start: Timberline Lodge
Elevation Gain (total): ~5,400 ft.
Climbing Mount Hood is a little like spending a night with Megan Fox. It will give you some of the most impressive views of your life, it'll be physically strenuous for all the right reasons, you can brag to your friends about it afterwards, but then again the feat is diminished by how many people have hit it before you. And while I tend to treat anything popular with disdain, I even eventually saw Avatar just to see what all the fuss was about. Whatever faith in humanity I lost after Avatar, I pleasantly regained on Mount Hood.
My brother and I planned to start at the Timberline Lodge parking lot and camp below 9,000 feet for the night before our summit day. After consulting the faithful mantra "What Would Steve House Do?" we decided that plan was for sissies and people with adequate sleeping bags. So we spent the night at 5,800 feet in the parking lot and started our ascent at 8/9/10 11:12 pm. For funzies.
The first couple thousand feet presented by far the hardest route finding on Mount Hood. I had heard that you had to stay east of the ski area, but it was really unclear where exactly the ski area boundary was. There was no moon, and we had arrived to the parking lot after dark so I had never even really seen the mountain up close in any light. At one point we climbed a small hill feature only to find ourselves on the top of a ski jump. It was really sad to see what privatization had done to the otherwise magnificent alpine environment. When you register to climb they give you a blue bag to carry your poop off the mountain in. On the ski slopes we saw more trash and debris than a college dorm. If I had any poop to carry down, I think I would have just carried it as far as the ski area and dumped it.
Once we got past the Timberline Lodge-owned part of the south face, the climb really got started. Every once in a while we stopped and turned off our headlamps. As soon as your eyes adjusted you could see the milky way above you and clouds covering the earth six thousand feet below. To my surprise and delight, there was only one other set of headlamps above us! I had expected crowds and lines on the world's second most climbed peak, but I think we were a bit late in the season for that. Illumination Rock was quite impressive even in the near darkness, and we arrived at Crater Rock just as became light enough to see without headlamps. That's when the sulfur started.
When I read that Mount Hood was an active volcano, I thought "Yeah okay, just like Paul Prudeholm is active." But no, once you enter Devils Kitchen the sulfur is thick in the air. Fumurols spouting steam and toxic gasses are everywhere. You try to walk around them an in between them, but eventually you'll have to nut up and climb over a couple of steaming discolored mounds of sulfur and ash. We didn't stop for any breaks until we reached the Hog's Back.
As I had suspected, the bergschrund was far too wide to cross this late in the season. Since the Pearly Gates were then unreachable, we took the Old Chute to the summit ridge. This is where we paid the price for our early start. The summer snow was rock hard. It was impossible to kick in past our front points. This also exacerbated the steepness of the slope. By this time we had almost caught up with the other team ahead of us, and we could see that they had roped up. Pshhh. Ropes are for sissies and people who can afford them.
Half way up the Old Chute the calves were on fire and the wind chill made it bitter cold, but there's nothing like a little summit fever to deal with the pain. Once we got to the summit ridge it was 8:00 and we were pretty beat. My brother's water bottle had frozen inside his pack, and my water bladder tube was frozen solid. None of that mattered once we made the quick walk to the summit. Fluffy clouds surrounded us 9,000 feet below, and several other stratovolcanoes poked up through them. Most impressive of all was the solitude: most unexpected and enjoyed. I would have taken my usual shirtless summit picture, but I like my nipples nice and unfrostbitten. I'm not kidding, it was colder than Tom Tancredo's heart up there.
When we descended back into Devil's Kitchen fog had rolled in. It was quite eerie walking through the sulfurous crater in forty feet of visibility. The fog deadens any sound but the bubbling and hissing of the vents. With a little bit of nervous laughter I reminded myself that the last time Hood erupted was before Lewis and Clark came along. I imagine there were hikers on Mount Saint Helens that told themselves the same thing the day it erupted.
Back down at the ski area we enjoyed the high fives of skiers and momentarily forgave them for existing. After all, it's a spectacular mountain. I'm headed back to the Promised Land (or as the natives call it "Colorado") tomorrow, but I found something I hadn't experienced in the Rockies. As Ice Cube says "gotta love the mutha--ckin hood."
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):