Trip: Mt. Hood - Yocum Ridge Solo Trip Date: 03/21/2020 Trip Report:
"It's not my imagination, I've got a gun at my back!"
-Revenge, Black Flag
Yocum Ridge is the first route I ever thought about climbing. I remember looking at the striking line from the bus stop in my elementary school. Even though I knew nothing about climbing at the time, the sheer beauty of the route captivated me. As I have accumulated some knowledge about climbing, I learned the route wouldn't go down so easy. Something about the jagged ridgeline dulled by rime gives Yocum a special sense of beauty. Today I set out to realize a childhood fantasy of mine.
3:00 and I'm starting the slog up the mountain. My morale is already low because I forgot my headphones. This damn climb is going to make me absorb the sounds of nature! Two hours or so of walking takes me up to Illumination Saddle. Here I lay eyes on the silhouette of Yocum ridge by headlamp. Nerves turn to excitement as the clock strikes 5:00. The glacier crossing was easier than I expected thanks to all the action the route has seen over the past few weeks. The footprints take me to a headwall a little to the right of where the guidebook says to go. The squeaking and ringing of my ice tools puts me into a trance. After about 150 feet of steep-ish climbing, I gain the ridge. Yocum starts off with a tease. An easy and welcoming rime stepped staircase obscures the rest of the ridge from view. I'll play your game.
When the first gendarme comes into view, I have to fight thoughts of doubt coming into my head. At first sight, the rime covered sentinel looks steep and unforgiving at every point. The closer I get however, the clearer the line becomes. My cold helmet feels like a gun against the back of my head. I know it's time. I start to the right of a cave and quickly cut left. The ice feels solid and I flow through a steeper gully. 30 meters or so in, I arrive at the crux. Solid snow and ice turn to dead vertical swiss cheese. Through delicate movement and prayer, I fire through the crux. Each stick felt like a weak handshake. The section required commitment to tools placed in an unknown mixture of snow/ice with dubious feet. Finally, I reach the top of the first gendarme. My blood pressure drops slightly as I soak in the beauty of the bladed ridge that lies in front. Here I am extremely grateful for the groups before me who did the heavy rime clearing and bollard building.
From the bollard at the end of the gendarme, I downclimb while on rappel to traverse across an exposed section to a big ledge. This beta worked well for me and seemed to alleviate problems some other groups were having. As I started the traverse pitch to the second gendarme, I felt something fall out of my pocket. I turn my head just in time to see my phone fly down the snow slopes and disappear into the glacier below. Perhaps my phone was the sacrifice the route required. Better phone than blood. Then, like clockwork, a raven swoops by me and perches itself on the tip of the first gendarme. We stare at each other for a minute and I thank him for allowing me to experience this route today. I know that I'm just a guest in the mountains. From here on I felt as if I had permission to continue my journey, hopefully my dues were already paid.
The ridge widened the further I traversed down it. Passing the second gendarme was the most secure I felt since getting on route. More slogging took me to another bollard (this time with tat!) off of the third gendarme. I chose to rap north to avoid more thin ridge fuckery. Walking along the steep snow slopes took more energy than I thought. My calves burned and cursed me for bringing two single ropes to rap with. More training I guess. Even though some exposure was still present, I began to meditate with the route. Every swing, foot placement, and movement just felt right. As crawled back over to west side, the sun reared its ugly face, and I began to sweat my ass off. I followed more good tracks around to the right of the final buttress. The last buttress is like a fortress full of impassible walls and sneaky gullies. The first gully I started up took me about 150 feet and ended with impassible rime towers. I downclimbed and again, moved right. Here I could see tracks going to Leuthold from Yocum Ridge. Now I knew I was no longer under the gun. One of the rightmost gullies brought success. I tormented my calves up a few hundred more feet until I topped out the buttress at around 12:30. From the top of the buttress, one final ridge traverse took me to the Queen's Chair. 6 year old Landon would be proud. Looking down the ridge I could see all the minute details that made this route special. Negotiating the route was digging into the alpine bag of tricks and executing.
I chose not to tag the summit because I wanted to search the base of the route for my phone (spoiler alert: the phone disappeared into a different dimension). Hiking down Leuthold gave me time to absorb the mountain more. Striking blue accents on rime towers, weird ice formations on the glacier, and the forest just miles away all presented themselves.
Days like this make me question the future. I'm sure one day I'll find something that will bring me peace. I often think about Mark Twight saying that climbing can be "too much but never enough." Yocum Ridge was one of, if not the best alpine routes I have experienced. Although it wasn't technically difficult, the sheer volume of spectacular movement truly makes this one of a kind.
On the way down I wept. For some reason this route had a different impact on me. Maybe it was the feeling of complete peace and isolation, maybe it was the sheer beauty of it all. Maybe I'm just emotional. I stumbled into the Timberline at around 4:00 and unlocked my car. With the clicking of the lock, my reality had become just a memory.
Gear Notes: Basically a sport climb Approach Notes: Attack the ridge at about 8800ft