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Mt Hood Ski Circumnavigation: Route
A ski circumnavigation of Mt Hood is an unbeatable way to travel through rarely seen and often-ignored terrain. Though it’s only from a few miles from Mt Hood Timberline, the West aspect of Mt Hood feels remote and wild. From the West, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, and Mt Rainier are visible across the Columbia river. Below you, moraine from now-shrinking glaciers wind their ways into the forest below.
Touring around Mt Hood is also a satisfying way to combine many alpine skills into one trip. Skin on steep snow, ski on glacier, cross beneath seracs, climb steep snow, and navigate across all aspects in a day.
The circumnavigation physically strenuous, but not impossible. With firm snow conditions and some fresh legs, the many transitions and decisions of the tour pose greater difficulties than the skiing itself.
- Season: Early January – Late May (In early and late season, crevasse hazard and avalanche hazard are greater)
- Horizontal distance: 10.8 mi
- Vertical Gain and Loss: 7178′ by map, 7oo8′ by altimeter
- Time: 6-12 hrs depending on conditions and fitness
- Skills: Ski touring, glacier travel, navigation, steep snow
Travel light: This is a big day, the less that you carry, the better. Keep warm by moving quickly and transitioning efficiently. If you take a belay parka and stove because you’re concerned about spending the night out, your pack will be so heavy that you’ll spend the night out
Start the day off right: You” climb almost half of the vertical for the day within the first 2.5 mi. Keep a good pace to illumination rock and rise to the altitude at which you’ll orbit in under 2 hrs.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast: For the rest of the day, just keep moving. Don’t get distracted and delayed at transitions. Keep moving by making your decisions smoothly and efficiently.
Weather: Good visibility is a must. Try to find your way across the Ladd Glacier in the fog, and you won’t be happy. A GPS with waypoints might suffice, but it’s unlikely, pick a sunny but cold day. And don’t go on a powder day.
Route: Timberline Lodge to Ladd Glacier
- Ascend via skins from Timberline Lodge up through the Timberline ski area. As you approach the top of the ski area, begin a rising traverse to the West, aiming for the saddle at Illumination Rock.
- At Illumination saddle, rip skins and ski/side slip down onto the Reid Glacier (crampons may be required, depending on season)
- Ski down and across the Reid Glacier, generally passing obvious crevasses on the right, eventually reaching a moat on the far right, providing passage through the terminal icefall.
- At the base of Yokum Ridge, among a few small parallel rock bands, traverse high on skis (v. exposed) or boot straight upwards to gain the ridge above a small rock mound. A short walk West reveals the Sandy glacier.
- Ski across the Sandy Glacier, aiming for a clear low-point on the Northern boundary. Hold altitude as possible and the far ridge may be reached solely using gravity. Be aware of the small serac on the left side of the Sandy Headwall, which is active.
- At the ridge, you are confronted with a small, triangular snowfield split by a small moraine. Ski to the moraine, and with skins climb up the snowfield’s northern boundary, gaining the ridge above a prominent cliff band on the ridge.
- Skin or walk a rising traverse through the Ladd/Coe glaciers. Stay above the obvious icefalls and trend towards the highest reasonable-looking notch on the horizon. It is the highest access to the far ridge which doesn’t appear to require 5th class climbing. Undertaking the traverse, move quickly past the large serac while remaining aware of widely distributed crevasses of moderate size. Moderate snow and rock gains the ridge.
- Make a slowly rising traverse on skins/on foot across a 100 yard snow field until the Eliot Glacier comes into view.
- To cross the Eliot Glacier, there are two options. The safest but more time-consuming is to ski down below the lowest icefall and then regain the far moraine by a large snow slope to the left of several ice-drips on the moraine. Less-conservative, but much more scenic is to continue a rising traverse on Snow Dome until you are able to ski down and onto the flat bench which separates the upper and lower ice falls. Traversing this field leads to a few small snowfields protected by a moat which allow you access to Cooper’s Spur via steep snow (50+ degrees, potentially icy).
- Once on Cooper’s Spur, ascend until just below the rocks which mark the left boundary of Cooper’s Spur route proper. here the slop angle steepens dramatically.
- Rip skins and make a slowly descending traverse across the Newton Clark glacier below the Newton Clark face and Wy’east Face. Passing just below any rock cleavers leads to the Eastern head of the White River glacier. Ski down onto the glacier and across holding elevation to gain the far side.
- Ski down through Mt Hood Timberline to the parking lot. Alternately, don’t leave the white river glacier and instead ski down the glacier, keeping right, enjoying the flowing half-pipe of moraine. Ascend to the auxiliary parking lot around 6000′
Route: Ladd Glacier to White River
Links are to equipment/clothing used by the author whenever possible. Otherwise linked to comparable/recommended products.