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[TR] Mt. Hood - Hogsback to Pre-Season Pearly Gates 12/12/2011

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Trip: Mt. Hood - Solo Hogsback to Pre-Season Pearly Gates


Date: 12/12/2011


Trip Report:

For you Grand Masters of Alpine, this TR will probably not be very interesting. I wasn't even going to write one, especially considering I didn't summit, but because of some personal firsts, and the unexpected conditions of the route, I decided somebody might find it worthwhile.


This climb was a couple of firsts for me- my first winter ascent of a glaciated peak, and my first solo attempt of a glaciated peak. A finish at the top would have been cool, obviously, but overall, despite turning around a mere 50' from the summit, I really think this was probably my most enjoyable climb yet.


I originally wanted to climb Devil's Kitchen Headwall (DKH), and tried for about a week to get a partner. Monday looked to be the best weather day, and I prefer to climb on weekdays anyway, but that obviously limits partners, who frequently work. By Saturday, I still had no partner, and started posting in the partner's section of the boards. By Sunday night, still no partner... so I figured it was time for a solo.


I didn't know what route I'd take, once I got up there, but I knew it would be a South Side route. I wanted the security of an easy bail, in case of surprise weather, for my first solo foray. But I hoped I might run into another soloist, or even a team, who'd be willing to give DKH a try with me... so I packed my harness, a length of 60m twin, and a light ice rack.


Arriving at T-Line at 22:00 (I don't use 24-hour time to be pretentious, I've just decided that it makes a lot more sense, for mountaineering, when normal sleep and daylight patterns tend to raise the question), I found conditions less than ideal. The wind was blowing me all over the road, it was snowing sideways, and visibility was maybe 100m. I trusted the forecast, however, which called for clearing in the wee hours, and set my watch alarm for 2:00. When I woke at 1:55, I noticed the wind had died down significantly, and by 2:00, was almost completely dead... how bout that??


Though I felt bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, it took some time to get my shit together. Plus, I really wanted HOT gatorade... and the hot gatorade I'd brought up was now COLD gatorade, so I let the truck run for well over an hour to try to heat it back up. I finally swung my ruck on at about 3:30, and was up the Climber's Trail by 4:00.


'Bout ready..



Winter hiking through the resort is frakkin awesome... no dirt climbing, and snowcat tracks that take you right up to Palmer. Was above 8,500' in no time at all. It was very cold, but I was moving fast, feeling very strong... no need to stop and get chilled. No partners to stop and wait for every 500'. I kept luke-warmish gatorade in my tube, and forced myself to take a sip about every 5 minutes to prevent freezing. Wind was very light, actually pleasant, all the way up the slope toward the crater.


A pair of Adidas "Cross Trainers" my buddy Dan and I found on a boulder at about 9,000' back in October. They'd looked like somebody had just cashed them for the trip back down, so we didn't fuck with them... but a month and a half later, frozen in time!



The eastern horizon started to light up about 6:45, just as I was starting up the spur toward Crater Rock from the top of Triangle Moraine. The wind started to pick up about this time... expecting 20mph wind at the summit, I wasn't too surprised, but was definitely disappointed. I considered finding a place to sit down, out of the wind, somewhere in the crater, and wait for the sun to come up. But I just kept climbing, and I never did find a place out of the wind... next thing I knew, I was at the lip of the bergschrund, ripping my sweat-frozen soft shell off my fleece to put my down on.


By this point, it seemed the Pearlys was probably the best course of action. I didn't want to try DKH alone, I was obviously the only guy in the crater, if not on the mountain (I later saw another guy descending from the Wy'East side), I'd done the Old Chute already, and it really just looked like a pretty straight shot up.


So I dropped some gear I knew I wouldn't need... pickets, trekking poles, a stuff sack full of more layers... pulled a basic ice ax off of, and re-shouldered my pack. A couple steps across a small snow bridge, and I was above the schrund and heading up again.


Snow bridge over the right edge of the 'schrund.. taken on descent



I was surprised by the condition of the "Gates." It wasn't the easy 45* snow the route is known for... it was a fairly bare, very icy, deep couloir network without an exactly obvious path up. Everything looked technical, and after about 50 or so feet up, not even in the main couloir yet, I had a second tool out, and was sticking mostly ice, with some snow. There were several steep sections, approaching probably 55*, but nothing exactly scary... in fact, it was a hell of a lot of fun- my tools and points stuck very well, and, best of all- NO WIND once inside.


Mouth of the couloirs



a couple hundred feet up, I was confronted with a couple of options up... the one to the left ran into a very steep, 20' or so high ice step. The ice was good, but I was free-soloing... so I barely even stopped to consider it. But I feared I might find exactly the same in the couloir to the right... a few dozen more feet, my fear was confirmed.




Doesn't look like much, I know... and to you Grand Masters of the Alpine, it probably wouldn't have been. But to me, a technical noob to begin with, and on my first ever solo attempt, without a belay.... 15' of 75ish degree ice was probably not gonna happen. Checking my altitude at 11,175', my first thought was just "oh, lame.. this is gonna be scary," and I started up. My tool strikes were clean, and I was sticking very well. But after about 5 or 6 moves, a tool stick shattered on me, giving me a slight start, and I looked down to see a short fall to 50 degree hard ice, dropping away 1,000 feet to the bottom of the crater.... my concern wasn't so much that I couldn't ascend, but mostly that I would never be able to descend it safely. I thought to myself "well, this is why you brought that 22cm screw, remember?" and then also remembered that I'd forgotten to pack my v-thread tool... and so I very sketchily down-climbed the 5 or so feet I'd climbed. Anchored in to rest for a bit, staring at that damn wall, I eventually surrendered to the fact that I would not be summitting.


Yea, Walmart Remington. So what?



Just a shot back down the main coulior



Down-climbing back down to the schrund, I regrouped, and reconsidered my options. The Old Chute was still there, obviously, and I still had some energy left. I munched a Powerbar, gulped the last of my Gatorade, and tried to estimate my time... by this time, it was around 9:00... I figured, factoring my inevitable rapid strength declination, probably halfway up the snow field, it would be another 2:30 to 3 hours till I'd be back to the schrund, with still another 2 hours to descend. Looking back down the slope, I observed a semi-startling sight- a HUGE blanket of clouds was cooking in from the east. I couldn't quite tell the elevation, but it looked to be between 5,500 and 7,000'... possibly complicating my descent. Once again, soloing for my first time, I decided I should probably just go ahead and pack it up.


I began descending pretty quick. Despite warm sun, the snow was staying firm, and heel-plunges were out of the question... 'pons stayed on, and I got the quad workout of the season. Once below Crater Rock, I observed the cloud blanket was still "rolling," but had stopped forward progress... Odd. I'd estimated it would absorb the mountain in 45 minutes, but after an hour, it was still stalled out about a mile from the base of the 'tain. My guess is that I was observing a weak cold front running into the shield wall of a high-pressure zone... like a brick wall. Whatever the case, the remainder of my now lazy descent was in the sun. Got some good glissades in, too- something I'd never had much luck with on the mild South Side slopes.


The clouds that never did come in



All in all, it was an awesome climb. Soloing, I waited for no-one... moved at my own pace, and moved up the mountain faster than I would have guessed possible. The "lame" hike to the top I was expecting turned into a pretty neat little ice climbing 101, and even though I surrendered maybe 50' from the summit, I think this was my most enjoyable Hood climb yet. I see more solo attempts in the future.


And this is what I came home to... and that's all he was wearing. Rock on, young Otto.



Gear Notes:

A belay would have got me up. Remembering I had a "bail screw" in my pack might have, too... but I really can't say, from the safety and comfort of my desk, if I would have had the balls...


Approach Notes:

It's the south side... just go up!

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My first summit of Hood was a Dec 1993 solo. These kinds of trips are full-value, nothing n00b about them, good job!


My first summit was via the dogs head route on Mt St Helens in Nov '79 solo. My brother was supposed to climb with me but the two 16oz Buds he drank on the drive out after I picked him up at the end of his swing shift in Portland left him sleepy, so I just did it. My Kodak 110 instamatic captured the 360 deg scene including a really broken up crater rim and the awesome spirit lake. I really enjoy those pics when I dig them out.


Right on about the full value of trips like this and good decision to head back down after a good day in the mountains. I have had many like it over the years. The summits will be there, after the experience and confidence is gained.


Never, ever feel bad about good decisions made in the mountains and thanks for posting the TR.



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Last friday me a couple friends went up Hood Southside, got a great view of the lunar eclipse and all. My friends went up the Old Chute but as soon as I heard from a fellow climber that the Gates were chalked full of ice and it was "Dangerous" I knew where I was going. Armed with a pair tools, I also went up the pearly Gates to find the exact conditions you were describing, 55 moving into 70/75 degree ice. I was feeling the fire and though it was my first time climbing alpine ice, or any ice for that matter, I soloed the whole thing. It was a very lightening experience. The ice was super solid, giving great placements. However, there were these 2-3 foot high steps along the way that made you really work for postion to get up and over them. Definetly some zen moments trying to work out the technique, all in all great experience though.

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I was there on the 13th/14th with a friend and it was freezing! Wind was horrible until the 14th. It was icy too. Good job on your climb and we missed you by a day. The sulfer vents were really kicking too.


Yea, it was pretty gnarly wind/cold wise. I figured the wind-chill in the crater to be around -15... And, in fact, I didn't mention this in the TR, but I actually had a brush with frostbite on this trip.


When I got to the bergschrund, some of my fingers were getting pretty cold, starting to go numb at the tips. I'd been wearing a pair of OR Verglas mitt shells over some "butterglove" liners, a combination that's served me really well through fall climbing so far... But, of course, 5 degrees with a 20mph wind is a different matter entirely. I figured I'd switch to the OR Baker Mod Mitts in my pack when I put on my down jacket. I stripped my pack, got my glove bag to the top and open, located the warmer mitts... took off my mitt shells, took off my soft shell, put on my down, took off my right glove liner and tried to jam the hand down into the new mitt's glove liner... my fingers went numb amazingly fast. I couldn't get the hand into the mitt, partially because it was frosting over (the previous liner was sweat soaked), and partially because I pretty much immediately lost all hand function and sensation. I couldn't tell if my fingers were going into finger holes or which ones, if they were. My other hand, shell-less but still wet-liner gloved, also started to go almost immediate numb. I fumbled, trying to get my hand into the stupid glove, and finally, once I really absorbed that my hand was literally freezing before my eyes, just tore my base top out of my pants and rammed my hands under my armpits. It was several minutes before I began to regain sensation, and my right index finger was last to come back. When it did, the pain was excruciating... burned like I'd stuck it straight into hot embers.


My fingers all came back after about 7-10 minutes, but continued to feel strange for the rest of the morning. Once I got my warmer liners/mitts on, I had no problems.. but exposing my wet, already numbing fingers to that windy frozen air was a learning experience. Winter climbing is a different beast, for sure.

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These kinds of trips are full-value, nothing n00b about them, good job!


Ditto: coming down that kind of stuff when you are tired from walking in snow with no one to break trail, at altitude when you are sucking O's and all alone, can be a total bitch. I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, but it seems that the times I second guess myself and call myself an idiot even years later are not when I've headed down but when I have gone for it. Even successful. You made the right choice.


Nice. :tup:

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Thanks for the trip report, and good job, decision-making, and all, including using your armpits to warm up your hands. Good move. Until I got to the end, I thought that you were going to say that the wind blew away your warm mitts, which can be a game changer. Chasing clothing all over the mountains can warm you up, but is definitely not recommended, especially when you're alone.


I did a turn around on a solo ascent, once, when there was no one anywhere on the mountain. I'd gone up through horrific conditions, met a couple of guys coming down who'd told me that they'd waited at the top of Palmer for an hour for the weather to change, and when I arrived at the top of Palmer, with an inch of rime ice attached to my left side, I thought that I was likely done. Since I *had* solo'd the thing, before, I decided to continue up a little while, since the only thing bad was the weather. About 500' later, I popped out of the clouds and weather to beautiful sunny skies. At the hogsback, I had to decide to continue up, even though the sun would set, soon, and I would miss the evening meeting I'd said that I would attend, or go down. I chose to go down, even though I knew that I had the skill to go up. Something about the fact that there was *no* one anywhere around gave me pause. And it's not like I mind being the only one around, but that time, I just chose to go down, but eegads, it was beautiful!



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  • 2 weeks later...
Nice TR and photos.

Good decision to bail.


Question - Why did you have a picket if you were soloing?


I brought gear in the off chance I'd run into other climber(s) willing to try DKH with me. Alpine rack, harness, and 60m rope- ready for war. Actually carried all the same all the way to the summit, 5 days later.. once again soloing, and once again not using any of it.

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A picket can be useful for solo climbs on hard steep snow where it is not possible to sink the shaft of an ice axe very far. I carry a picket and an ice screw in those conditions for building a simple "comfort" anchor. If I have to stop on steep snow to remove or put on skis, remove a jacket, etc., it is nice to be able to hammer in a picket first and clip in.

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How is the south side route in Febuary generally? I did it in early June last year, but wanted to do a winter climb this time around. I don't have ice tools, but had planned on a couple of pickets and a screw for belay if necessary. What should if be looking out for, etc to ensure a safe climb?

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