For route information/beta, check out the Mt Hood Circumnavigation Route Page.
The day dawned clear and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. Ethan Linck and I planned to circumnavigate Mt Hood on skis, and by 7:30 we were skinning from the parking lot with stomachs full of Joe’s applesauce donuts. They’re not approved by the American Heart Association, nor any sports nutritionist, but these little dough circles have got The Power.
1 hour and 35 minutes of boring skinning brought us to Illumination Saddle. From here we pulled skins off and skied down and across the Reid Glacier. I’ve walked across the top of the Reid before, but never have I skied it. It was a brilliant start to the day to find our way down through slots in the icefall, skiing unroped and using reasoning and luck to find safe passages. A quick bit of steep snow brought us onto the foot of Yokum Ridge, and the Sandy Glacier stretched out in front of us.
One curiosity of traveling clockwise around the mountain while the sun arced through the southern sky was the perpetual sunrise. For five hours, the sun was barely beyond the last ridge, almost catching us but not quite.
After a quick navigational consult, the skins came off and we zipped across the glacier, letting gravity do the work. On the far side, in a triangular field which splits Cathedral Ridge, we again donned skins and climbed to the Southern lateral moraine of the Ladd Glacier.
Again, a navigational consult was had (Ethan had forgotten the map, so decisions were being made onsight with limited remembered beta). We’d go high, above the obvious icefalls. Our path led us past an amazing array of falling ice and headwalls split by rotten rock cleavers. Never had I imagined that such amazing terrain was hidden on Mt Hood. What a well kept-secret, which will likely remain so due to its relative remoteness.
Another quick booter at the far end of the Ladd brought us finally into the sun on Snow-Dome, the Western edge of the Eliot Glacier. Strange wind-stripped rime formations on the ridge forced us to gain a few hundred vertical feet by walking rather than skinning. This quick rise brought us to just above a bench which divides the upper and lower icefalls of the Eliot Glacier. After pointing him in the right direction, I sent to crevasse poodle ahead, down onto the glacier.
At the far side of the Eliot Glacier, a small strip of snow guarded by a moat looked to be our best bet for again reaching the sunshine up on Cooper’s spur. I climbed the moat’s edge and peered in. Like a breaking wave, the snow above reached down to a fine point, barely obscuring the depths of the moat. Below the snow, the glacier’s edge tangoed downwards with rough volcanic rock wall into darkness. Choosing a likely point and mustering some gonads, I plunged by axe as high as I could reach and cowboyed up onto the snow, riding the wave of snow.
It held. From there, it was 150′ of very steep snow to the ridge. The snow was stiff, requiring as many as five kicks to comfortably seat a foot. Foot-foot-axe-whippet, repeat, forever. Twenty feet from the top, I looked up to see tiny crystals of snow bouncing along in the sunlight I’d yet to reach. Though dehydrated, tired, and very exposed, I relished that small moment.
Climbing into the sunrise, I sat exhausted and wait to see if Ethan would likewise emerge unscathed.
Sitting in the sunshine, nursing fingers screaming full of fresh blood, I watched Ethan slowly come over the horizon. From here, a short but hateful climb took us the base of the spur. Finally changing, for the last time, to skis, we skated out onto the Newton Clark glacier.
Holding an edge for miles across the Southeast flank burned the quads. But above us, I watched first the Black Spider, then the Newton Clark Headwall and the Wy’east face slide by. Less intimidating up close I’ve got to say. And more beautiful.
And skis; what a way to get around. The last three miles of coasting would have been frustratingly time consuming on foot, but on skis I watched the mountain slide by, enjoying the sunshine. After a few turns down and across the White River glacier, we skied back into Timberline. At the Magic Mile lift midstation, I looked at my watch: 07:57:50. I had 2:10 to get to the lodge if I wanted to be under eight hours. How spontaneously that goal came to hold weight!
I tucked down through the resort on my 80 mm skis and boots with no tongues. Carving past reasonable guests… who knew what the thought of the guy with the skinny skis and ice axe? Whipping around the corner of the lodge with burning legs, I stopped my watch.
That’ll do. Here’s to local adventure!
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