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OhioIcer

Mt. Hood as a First lead?

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I know the usual answer is "if you have to ask; you probably shouldn't" however, I am looking for an honest answer and some pros and cons.

 

I am thinking of making my first unguided climb Mt. Hood. A buddy of mine is coming out to train for his guided climb up Denali. We took the same 6 day class, so he knows crevasse rescue (which we intend on practicing intensely) glacier travel, and winter camping skills, but our navigation and avalanche training is.... not the best. I have a lot more experience with technical rock and ice than he does so I am leading our little trip.

 

I am confident with our physical conditioning and confident in my technical climbing knowledge and glacier travel skills, but shaky at best on my route finding, especially if the weather gets bad. I am planning on taking us up Hogsback some time in May, which seems pretty straight forward and well traveled, but why risk it. We are out to have fun and practice our technical skills not push the limits.

 

Would anyone have any advice on this? Maybe a recommendation for another climb? (He is trying to spend as much time at a higher altitude as possible to prepare for Denalia, but if that sacrifices safety its not worth it.)

 

I would appreciate any advice on the subject. Just trying to be as safe as possible.

 

Thanks!

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For a potential alternative Mt. Adams is relatively close, offers higher altitude and is less technical by the standard route. That being said, if you're a competent rock and ice climber and have taken a glacier travel course, you should be fine on Mt. Hood.

 

Obviously a good weather forecast is important but I'd also recommend a weekday climb if possible. Good weather on a May weekend can be quite crowded on any route ascending the Hogback.

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if you are going up the standard hood routes you shouldn't need to be practicing crevasse rescue exactly...there is the berg on the hogsback and unless you're going up the pearly gates, you shouldn't even need to go above the bergschrund. the route finding is quite easy, there are many, many pictures available that clearly lay out the route, and if it is nice out, there will be many people and you can follow them. If it isn't nice out, wait and see if it clears or probably top out somewhere above the lifts but shy of the top.

 

if you are fit and confident rock climber with that glacier class, you will be fine. research it and look at pictures, and be dialed in with the weather.. and like bronco said adams is higher and less technical (my wife who is scared of heights and won't wear crampons gets up that one with microspikes and a whippet)

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Route finding on Mt. Hood is pretty straight forward, on any south side route, certainly in good weather. But if the weather closes in, the most basic thing to know and remember is the MT. Hood Triangle, which you can Google, or refer to on the Mazamas website. It essentially consists of one very simple fact: In poor visibility, do NOT follow the natural fall line down from the summit. That will tend to lead you over onto the Lower Zigzag Glacier and a possible fatal fall off the top of Mississippi Head. Instead, simply set a bearing of 180 degrees due south from the base of the Hogsback, and you will almost literally wind up at the back door of Timberline Lodge. If you are on the summit, or somewhere between the summit and the Hogsback, and are paying attention to the weather, simply grab a quick visual, magnetic bearing, before you lose visibility, to get yourself back to the Hogsback. Once you're down to the Hogsback, set your 180 deg. due south and just follow it home. Piece of cake.

 

If you're on the way up, and the weather is deteriorating, it's not wise to continue to the summit in the first place. Turn around, make sure you have your 180 deg. bearing just in case the weather envelops you, whether from above or below. Remember, the mountain will still be there another day.

 

And a good rule to follow regarding the weather is to ALWAYS allow yourself at least a 72-hour weather window to climb the mountain. Yes, I know it's just a day climb, but many people have died on Hood because they took too many things for granted, such as, 1.)"We're in great shape, it's only a day climb, we can beat the weather", 2.) "Nothing is going to go wrong", 3.) "We don't need (pick any: glacier slings, rope, extra food, clothing, or water, crampons, compass or GPS, map, to register at the Climber's Register, or tell anyone where we're going, headlamp, locator beacon, 2-way radio/walkie-talkies", etc. 4.) "NOTHING is going to go wrong",5.) 5 to 8 hours is PLENTY of time, even if anything goes wrong; 6."Dude, NOTHING is going to go wrong!", and 7.) "the weather forecast is ALWAYS right" (NO, just NO.) 8.) "Mt. Hood is just a little mountain, it's not that big of a deal, you can always get down."

 

And, the best way to use that 72-hour weather window is: Watch the forecasts (both weather AND avalanche) carefully. If you're waiting for bad weather to clear before your climb, be in place, ready to go, and begin your climb from the parking lot AS the weather is beginning to moderate and to move off the mountain. If you time it right, it might still be overcast or even snowing as you set off, but by the time you reach the top of the Palmer, a bluebird day is arriving from the west. If you've read the forecasts carefully, you should now have a full 72 hours, which is not only way more than enough time to do the climb, but will also allow Portland Mountain Rescue and other authorities the lead time they'll need to get onto the mountain, locate, stabilize and treat you and either get you down, or airlifted off the mountain, in case of any incident.

 

However, a very important caveat (Warning): As noted above, DO NOT take the weather forecast for granted, ever. Forecasting is getting better, but the Pac NW, and the Mt. Hood area, is an extremely difficult and challenging locale for meteorologists. UNpredictability is the watchword, especially in the spring, until high summer and early fall bring long, stable periods of high pressure. The best local TV forecasters are the crew at KGW Channel 8, headed by Matt Zaffino, himself an avid climber and backcountry skier. They are pretty good at giving you a daily breakdown of what you can expect to see on an hourly basis, as the day progresses. Also the National Weather Service/NOAA website is very thorough; but a close reading of their day-by-day discussions will reveal and impress upon you the fluid and ever-changing nature of the flow of the weather. The fact that their discussions speak mainly in terms of percentages of probability, is fair warning to the wise.

 

One thing to be constantly aware of is that very often, the weather that is forecast has an annoying tendency to arrive sooner than originally forecast, frequently 8 to 12 hours earlier, sometimes by as much as a day or two. And there are systems which can arrive over the area, that cause the weather not to just move in from the west, where you can see it coming with ample warning, but to actually build in place right around you, before you know what's happening. This is what can cause a bluebird day to go to hell in a matter of a few minutes. And the alpine environment and altitude tend to exacerbate these tendencies. This is also why you ALWAYS want to go well prepared, in case the weather DOES pin you down.

 

Finally, do NOT take Mt. Hood for a pushover, or for granted, EVER. The three young men who died on Hood in the late fall of 2006 made that mistake, assuming many of the things listed in the third paragraph above. They had recently done a difficult route on Denali; they were competent and experienced, and in shape. But, they assumed that the North face of Hood was just a day climb (which, yes, it is;) they could beat the weather, they left some very important, even critical gear, behind for the sake of speed, and they hugely underestimated the potential power and savagery of bad weather on Mt. Hood. At the time of their climb, there were four critical elements in place, or I should say, in motion, concerning the weather. 1.) A major cold front moving in from the northwest off the Gulf of Alaska; 2.) a major Pacific system, with extremely low pressure and high winds aloft, heavily laden with moisture, on it's way from Hawaii; 3.) the yearly winter "well" of super-cooled air in place in central Oregon, causing 4.) a powerful river of freezing high winds roaring over the low divide from the central Oregon Plateau past the east side of Hood, down the Hood River Valley and into the Columbia Gorge.

 

When the three climbers left the cabin at Tilly Jane campground, they were late getting off, and the weather was well on it's way. They made the climb easily, although just below the summit, a short but crucial fall left one of them with an incapacitating shoulder injury.(Remember,"Nothing will go wrong."?) They hit the summit at the moment when these 4 weather elements converged in a raging, howling maelstrom of extreme, almost tornadic high winds and brutal cold; sheeting , suffocating blasts of heavy, wet snow; blinding, battering ice, and oncoming darkness, worthy of anything that Denali, Rainier, or any much bigger peak can dish out. They had never been to the summit of Hood before, and had no clear idea of how to find their way around the place or how to get down. Fred Beckey has said that when the right elements are in place, Mt. Hood is the equal in ferocity, fury, and deadly power, of any of the great peaks on the planet, anywhere. It is a very serious, very dangerous peak, precisely because it is so deceptively accessible; deceptively complex, while seeming to be simple; relatively small, the routes are mostly short and moderate; and the more skilled and experienced you are, and the better shape you're in, the more likely you are to underestimate it.

 

And if you're still unconvinced, just talk to some of the climbers from Portland Mountain Rescue, Timberline Mountain Guides, or the Mt. Hood Climbing Rangers who tried valiantly, persistently and doggedly over the course of what was a major 10-day storm, of Alaskan proportions and strength, to battle through winds of over 100mph, attempting to find the three lost climbers and get them down. They were forced to retreat time and time again, when the winds began to literally tear them off the mountain and hurl them bodily off into space. You won't find anyone there who thinks that Hood is sure thing.

 

Now, I'm NOT recommending against going up Hood, not at all. Go, but take your time and take care in planning and getting your gear right; if your navigation is "shaky at best", as you say, well,sorry,guys, but that's NOT good enough. You need to fix that, and fix it good. If you don't know map and compass,altimeter, AND GPS, and know how to use them in combination to the best advantage, you need to make a major effort to get that under control, down pat. Avalanche training the same. And practice, practice, practice, and then some more practice. Read and study up, take a course or two, make absolutely as sure of your navigation, your avalanche training and response, as you would of the quality and condition of your gear. Not a stitch or seam or strap out of place on your clothing or gloves or pack, or about how to do a self-arrest or place a picket or ice screw, or do a belay, and not so much as a single shadow of a doubt in your mind about how to find your way, or how to avoid a dangerous avalanche zone, or how to respond in case you are caught in one.

 

That said, I see some of the other posts are suggesting Adams, and that's not a bad idea. But did you know that Adams in higher than Hood, and actually MORE complex than Hood,(depending on the route.) much more remote, and what many people don't know is that Adams is actually a bigger mountain, by sheer mass, than Mt. Rainier. And Adams can also be a big weather peak. So, also most definitely, not a pushover. Hell, for that matter, you can even get into trouble on St. Helens, if you don't know what you're doing, or if you think you can get cute or flippant with the weather. They are ALL worthy of caution and respect. But going up to Hood and staying low, going to St.Helens, or Adams' south side route to practice your navigation or avalanche beacon search and probe technique, is all valuable and worth your time, in a comparatively safe and relatively easily escapable environment. The most important thing is to take it one step at a time, not getting ahead of yourself. Quite literally, you have no business on the summit of anything, if you don't know how to find your way down it, or how to handle trouble and weather if it comes. That's the ONLY way to truly stay safe. You do everything you can, to know as much as you can, and to mitigate risk.

 

Hood is a great school and training ground; treat it with the respect, effort, preparation and honesty it demands of you, and you'll do fine, and have a great time. If you can find it, make every effort to read "On Snow and Rock", by the very great French guide Gaston Rebuffat. While some of the gear and technique is dated, the chapters on training and preparation are timeless and essential, as true and accurate now as when they were first written; the language and photos are beautiful, poetic and inspiring, and the spirit and wisdom are clear, strong, deep and profound.

 

Rebuffat was a very great climber, guide and alpinist, and a very great man; study and learn the things he has to teach, and they will take you to the far corners of the earth, and the summits of the greatest peaks. And you will also become worthy of the title of climber and alpinist.

 

 

Edited by Mtguide

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In poor visibility, do NOT follow the natural fall line down from the summit. That will tend to lead you over onto the Lower Zigzag glacier and a possible fatal fall off the top of Mississippi Head.

This is true, but here's a navigation tip if you make this error...

If the visibility is even ten feet (it can be zero) you can actually use this feature as a navigation aid. In actuality if you follow the fall line you will likely encounter Big or Little Zig Zag Canyon, instead of Mississippi Head, which is several hundred yards to the north. Where people usually get in trouble is they drop down into one of those canyons, then continue west down into the trees and eventually get cliffed out. Instead, when you reach the corniced edge of either canyon, go south (skiers left) perpendicular to the fall line. If you are on skis just stay on as shallow a line as possible and you will hit the lift station at the bottom of the Magic Mile ski run.

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Thanks Mtguide! I intend to practice my navigation skills as much as possible before attempting this. I have actually signed up for a navigation class (can't wait) and read several books, but I can be book taught all I want but it won't matter if I have no experience.

 

I have several fall back plans as my friend is coming in from New Orleans and of course the weather can be fickle. I don't want to take any chances! I appreciate the advice.

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That's not a bad idea, pcg; very practical and simple solution, if, as you say, someone does make that error. And actually visibility of ten feet is certainly workable. And you're probably correct as well about getting into Big or Little Zig Zag Canyon, since in poor or zero visibility, people who are moving with no sense of direction or without following a compass bearing (or even if they DO think their sense of direction is good) will tend to curve to skier's right over the distance, rather than drop straight over Mississippi Head. But that has happened a few times though, and I was just trying to get people to stay away from the whole area in the first place. But, a good thing to keep in mind in a pinch.

Edited by Mtguide

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