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willstrickland

Extreeem Gaper!

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Be A Gaper Like Me: West Gully of North Face – Mt Hood

 

It all started auspiciously enough, a Portland Pub Club, with good beer and climber camaraderie. Crashing in my van, I was awakened by the constant traffic of big trucks and the rumbling of freight trains in the inner-southeast industrial zone I was calling home for the night. At 8:00am when the alarm sounded, I was still beat, feeling the need for about 6 more hours of sleep. A quick breakfast of eggs and spuds and we’re off to the mountain. No hurry today, we’ve got all day to approach.

 

A short stop in Hood River for supplies and we’re at the Cooper Spur Ski area in good time. After some extended time packing…where’s my helmet?….we start hoofing it up the trail, elevation 3700, around 1:45pm. Carrying our boots and wearing approach shoes, we make good time through the snow covered trail to the Tilley Jane Ski Cabin. Switching to boots and leaving our shoes in the cabin, we continue on, grinding our way up the lower spur on what is essentially the eastern moraine of the Elliot glacier. We pass one soloist coming down but otherwise we’re completely alone on this side of the mountain. A couple of memorial plaques on the boulders make for an interesting distraction, and scoping the route in front of me takes my mind off the drudgery of the approach. The route looks fun, primarily moderate angle snow with a couple of steps of 60-70 degree ice. We’ve planned to get as high as possible (something I tried the night before as well) to bivy and at the last reasonably flat spot on the lower spur pitch our camp. TG does the labor work of chopping out a ledge while I wonder how the hell I’ve forgotten to bring my helmet on a Hood climb…Gaper mistake No.1.

 

By 7:00pm, camp is set, the sun is creeping below the north face cleaver and it’s getting COLD. The profile of the mountain is casting a really cool shadow on the stratosphere, and stars are beginning to twinkle. We’re in a fairly exposed spot, right on the crest of the spur, but the wind is mellow and the views are great. Blonde jokes are flying as we wind down. About the time TG fires up the stove to cook his super-gourmet $2.00 per pack Ramen, I notice my platypus bladder is leaking…shit, Gaper mistake No. 2. Oh well, I’ve got a Nalgene and the route actually looks pretty short with the technical difficulties only making up around 1200ft of the route. I chow down my gourmet (yeah right) Oscar Meyer Lunchables…cheese, crackers, and processed meat and my eyes are ready to close. With all the crap inside my bag…liner boots, water bottles, breakfast, gloves, I feel like I’m inside my pack or something. Sleep comes easily, although in fits, because whichever side I am laying on cuts the circulation from that arm. In a few hours I suddenly awake. “Huh? What?” TG is telling me it’s time. Arggghh, just one more hour mom?! Please?! Ok, I’m up. It’s 3:15 am and time to get moving.

 

Boots on, hydrate, a breakfast of halva and a bagel, and we’re out of the tent. It is cold, but fairly calm with an amazing display of stars overhead. At 4:00, we set off, making a descending traverse onto the Elliot. Our packs are loaded with a pair of tools each, GU, a couple liters of water, belay jackets, disposable camera, four screws, two pickets, a couple of cams, and a 140’ section of 8.4mm. We’re moving under the LED light of our headlamps, but the horizon is just starting to lighten. After 30 minutes of being UNROPED ON A GLACIER, the impending sunrise has turned the horizon a blazing red/orange and the Hood River, normally undetectable in the low light is glowing with the reflected sunrise making a snaking strip of orange on the otherwise black landscape. We’re moving fairly well, skirting the left edge of the glacier on low angle 20 – 30 degree snow. We cross the shrund easily on the left and move into the real business of the route. It’s fully light now and the fact that I’ve left my sunglasses in the tent occurs to me…Gaper mistake No 3. Goddammit! Sheeeetttfire! Whudafuk?!! I look up contemplating gaper mistake no. 1 and all the rock above me on this route. “Hope I don’t take one in the melon” I think as we climb into the hard 50 degree neve. No step kicking here, the slope is either rock hard or ice below a crust of questionable slab. We’re mixing front pointing with frenching and low dagger with cane. The hard snow makes for quick progress, but the consistency is all over the board and TG voices some concerns about slab dangers, the perfect slide angle of the slope, and the sun. TG is the alpinist in this team, I’m a gaper alpininst and passable rock climber…if he’s slightly concerned, I’m WAY concerned. Loose rock, no helmet, camp on the spur, descending the spur, slabs?, no sunglasses, hose on borrowed bladder frozen solid, what is my problem?!!

 

After starting across the schrund with one tool and one pole each, we soon stop on a small rock outcrop to switch to two tools. We both agree that if someone feels uncomfortable we’ll belay, but on these 50 something degree slopes, we’re both fine and keep moving. Before long, the impending doom thoughts enter my head. Too many mistakes I think…not as fit as I’d like, forgetting things, sun beating on the route and rockfall is certain, no helmet, no glasses, frozen water tube. My biggest concern is the descent down the spur. I’m a Georgia boy, I don’t know shit about snow beyond the basics and all the basics tell me that the spur ain’t gonna be a fun decent with a completely clear sky and blazing sun all day…with my alpinist partner with 20 times the experience I have voicing concerns over possible slabs. By now we can tell that the route is no where near as steep or long as it looks from the approach. What to do? Go fast and get down before it deteriorates? Traverse? Climb the rock rib instead of the gully?

 

“I don’t feel good about it…” And that’s all I needed to say. We start traversing slightly upward and left to the Cooper at about 10k. Snow is again all over the board and we mix a few sugar snow plunges and kicked steps with a whole lotta front pointing and low dagger. All the while we’re cutting loose tiny little slabs, clearly a result of the 15 inches of snow after a many days of sunny weather last week. At one point, on a wide open 40 degree slope I wait as TG traverses ahead as a precaution…no sense in us both getting caught in a slab if it cuts. He exits to a safer zone and I boogie across to join him. I look back for the views and have never seen the sky this clear around Hood. St Helens, Ranier, Adams, Jefferson, and Sisters are all crystal clear. We downclimb facing in for a hundred feet or so and then turn out and walk down the Cooper. Back at the tent by 8:00am. We take our sweet time packing up, with my pack looking like the jalopy from the Beverly Hillbillies…shit flowing over the sides and strapped on everywhere…how the hell does that happen? We didn’t even take much gear. The wind is blowing pretty good and it’s freakin cold. My hands feel like I’m ice climbing, freeze thaw ad infinitum. Soon enough we’re moving on down the spur watching spontaneous rockfall down the western moraine slope of the Elliot and staring straight into the sun.

 

The walk out is uneventful, and our biggest concern is avoiding blisters from our soaked socks. Around noon we hit the vehicles and since the ski area is deserted for the season, I strew gear all over the parking lot. A couple of drags off a bottle of Port, pack the gear and we’re on our separate ways…TG on the long and winding road to Enterprise, and me back to PDX where I caught a two hour nap and headed straight for the Lompoc pub, but not before an apology for being the Uli Gaper on this trip. So many mistakes in so little time…time to lay off the bong I think. All in all a great time, and two gorgeous days in the mountains whatever the final result. After the Lompoc I slept for a good 12 hours, and probably could have slept for another 6 if the van hadn’t turned into a solar oven. In retrospect, I think another plan for doing this route is to wait until the road to Cloud Cap is open, approach from there with no bivy gear, carry over and shuttle around, although conditions might be sketchy on the route itself (with respect to rockfall) by the time the road opens. Cheers!

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Thats how we all learn "Georgia boy".

 

Nice job pickin' a savy partner.

 

Better luck next time.

 

Bong at 10,000'? That bright light is all in your "head"

 

Smoker

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