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AndyPeckham

[TR] Mount Hood - North Face Scouting & Part of Sunshine Route 3/15/2014

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Trip: Mount Hood - North Face Scouting & Part of Sunshine Route

 

Date: 3/15/2014

 

Trip Report:

This is a trip report from one week ago, March 8. I thought some people may be interested in what the North Face gullies were looking like at that time. We didn’t end up climbing them due to the lack of ice formed and also recent avalanche activity and wanting to avoid being in a wind-loaded gulley. We'll see if I can figure out how to get pictures uploaded and into this.

 

My friend from back in Montana wanted to climb the North Face of Hood with me sometime, so we had picked a weekend that worked with our schedules. Before he flew out to Portland I warned him that the weather had not been the best lately and the avalanche danger was estimated to be high. So before we left we were ready to turn around, try a different route, or just go skiing at a resort instead if the avalanche conditions appeared to be high or we had bad weather.

 

We left Portland soon after 11pm on Friday, and started skinning up the trail to the Tilly Jane cabin by 1:30 am on Saturday. Friday had been clear weather after quite a bit of recent precipitation and warm weather. The weather forecast indicated there may be a window of good weather until Saturday evening when another system was supposed to move in, but be gone by Sun morning. We had totally clear skis as we skinned up to the Elliot Glacier. We got to the stone hut at the base of the Cooper Spur at 5am. There was a good icy crust on top of the snow on the Cooper Spur so we took our skis off and travel was easier compared to in the trees below. We dropped down on to the Elliot Glacier probably a lot lower elevation than ideal, because the snow was soft on the glacier, requiring skis again so we weren’t post-holing. We had a gorgeous sunrise and calm skies, and were feeling optimistic. We stopped to take a break at a good looking ice formation in one of the cliff bands on climbers left. I was starting to move a little slower by this point, realizing my legs were not in as good of shape as I would have liked. The wind started picking up and our blue skies turned to dark clouds. At the base of the North Face just above the glacier we saw a large crown line and relatively recent avalanche debris. The crown line extended from about the base of the Cooper Spur over to the right, below the bergschrund at the base of the gullies, until almost even with the right border of the bergschrund. I had been worried that the NE face of the mountain would have some significant wind slab formation with the recent precipitation and strong winds.

 

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In addition to the recent slab avalanche, there was no visible ice at the first cliff band above the bergschrund or the top cliff band in the right gulley that we had wanted to climb. There was some ice formed in the first cliff band above the bergschrund of the left gulley, but it didn’t appear to extend all the way up the rock. Higher up in the left gulley there was quite a bit of exposed rock, though the upper section of the left gulley looked climbable. With the evidence of recent unstable wind slab formation on that aspect and the increasing wind, we didn’t want to be climbing up a gulley that would have funneled even a small avalanche into us, even if we hadn’t triggered one.

 

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We decided to cross over a flat section of the Elliot glacier and get on the Sunshine route. This appeared to be windswept, as opposed to the Cooper Spur which appeared to be wind-loaded. We had good climbing conditions climbing up what I assume is the Snow Dome, a low angle section climbers right of the Elliot glacier. Though the snow had a firm icy crust, the wind kept getting stronger, with more frequent gusts that required planting an ice tool and staying on all fours to maintain balance. Sometime around 11-11:30 we got to the top of the Snow Dome where it leveled out before a long bergschrund extending from the Elliot Headwall to the west, approximately 9,600 feet. We took a break to eat and rest and re-evaluate. We were both feeling pretty tired by that point. I had only been able to manage a 20 minute nap the day before. My wife was planning to meet us with another car at Timberline that afternoon, so we had hoped we could quickly descend the standard route on our skis. To the right of the Elliot headwall where we wanted to climb up and join the summit ridge it looked climbable, with the bergschrund not being opened up very wide, but it did look pretty wind-loaded with concern for possible slab formation. It started snowing/sleeting/raining with very strong winds, which was quite painful and coated us in a thin layer of ice. The wind also became much more constant, and we could no longer see more than 10 feet in front of us.

 

We decided at that point to turn around and ski back down. It was very challenging ski conditions! We had a complete whiteout until almost to the level we crossed the glacier, and it was very disorienting. In fact, we both got motion sickness and felt really horrible for the next hour or more. We both ended up vomiting, which helped a little. You couldn’t tell if you were going backwards or forwards, and even when you fell down you couldn’t tell if you had stopped yet, because there was an inch or so of fresh snow that was sluffing off and still moving around you. We stayed on the west side of the glacier until it’s toe and then crossed over and climbed back onto the base of the Cooper Spur route. It was pouring rain at this point, but thankfully the ski back to the car was quick. We turned around at about noon, and we were back at the car at Tilly Jane trailhead just before 3pm. I was able to text my wife who met us in Hood River. We managed to stay awake long enough to eat some dinner in Hood River and then spent the night there. It was a tiring but very memorable trip, and it only makes me want to climb the North Face even more!

 

 

 

Gear Notes:

Gear:

Two 70 meter half ropes (next time I may just bring a 50 m single to save weight)

Two ice tools

8 ice screws

4 pickets

Skis

 

Approach Notes:

Tilly Jane Trailhead

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Nice sunrise pic, I was driving up the 5 and saw Hood light up, hoping someone would post something! Amazing the ice isn't in up there yet, but it sure looks fat on the elliot...nice work skiing in the white room too, sounds miserable.

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