Climbed with Mikey Ferrara
4/15/2016. 12 hours on the mountain.
Route: South Side from Timberline lodge up Palmer, across the Hogsback and up through the Pearly Gates. Returned via the same route.
Weather: We started during the tail end of a pretty big spring storm. It was snowing hard as we drove up to Timberline from Government Camp. The road had several inches of fresh snow and I wasn’t sure my car would even make it to the parking lot. From 3:00am, when we began climbing until aroun 10:00am, it was below freezing, snowing, and very windy. I climbed until the Hogsback in a heavy belay parka bacause the wind chill was brutal. After 10:00am, however, the weather changed and everyting was calm and sunny. We had a beautiful, calm, 30 minutes on the summit.
Snow Conditions: With heavy snow for a few days before our climb we were postholling the whole way up. There was no bootpack. In some places we were sinking in to our knees. The snow made travel difficult and definitely doubled our time to the summit.
Mikey flew into town for a weekend of climbing. We had plans to climb Mt Hood and then head straight to Smith Rock for a day of climbing before returning home. The exact route on Hood was uncertain. We were really interested in doing the Steel Cliffs or Wy’east and the weather and conditions on the mountain leading up to our April 15th climb seemed to be cooperating with those plans.
Thursday afternoon I drove to the airport and picked up Mikey. We made a few last minute gear stops at REI and the Mountain Shop before grabbing lunch and heading out to my new place in Hillsboro.
One of the things I appreciate most about Mikey as a climbing partner is his attention to detail. My military background and slightly OCD tendencies when it comes to packing and prepping for an objective doesn’t bother him at all. Before all of our climbs we dump our gear and do a pre-climb inventory/inspection. I appreciate knowing my friends and I are all prepared for the worst and that we can find the essentials quickly if we find ourselves in an emergency situation.
One of my goals for this trip was to lighten my load. It seems like the last few adventures I have been on my pack has been getting heavier and heavier. This time I wanted to break that trend and strip things down to the essentials. I started with my Cobra 60 backpack, taking off the hip belt, the brain, and the internal frame. It was hard, but I settled on only bringing my camera and ONE lens. No extra anything. Then the unnecessary layers, food, and gear was all put back in the closet. In the end, my pack was by no means light, but it was lighter. I was ready.
After a short two hours of sleep, we woke, had a little breakfast, and jumped in the car around midnight. The weather showed that the storm that had been pounding Mt Hood would stop around 3am and things would be calm and beautiful on the mountain for the next few days after that. It began snowing on us as we approached Government Camp. The road up to Timberline Lodge was covered in several inches on fresh, unplowed snow and the storm intensity grew as we gained elevation.
We registered to climb at Timberline, helped push a fellow climber’s van back onto the road after getting stuck, and took a few minutes to gear up before actually hitting the trail at 3am. My spirits were low as we were hammered by 40mph wind and blowing snow while climbing up the lower ski slopes. The water in my hydration bladder was completely frozen over within the first 30 minutes on the mountain and I was having a hard time staying warm despite how hard I was working to keep up with Mikey.
At the top of ski lifts we sat down to take a quick break and reassess our plans. My core temperature dropped and I struggled to pull on my hardshell pants over the top of the softshell climbing pants I had been wearing. Then I pulled out the L6 belay parka and hunkered down out of the wind for a few minutes to thaw some water.
Because we had been moving much slower than expected due of the poor weather and deep snow, we decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to continue up the longer and more technical Steel Cliffs route. Once warm(ish) again we continued up the mountain.
It wasn’t long before we were approaching the Devil’s Kitchen and the sun was starting to shine on us from the East. A strong sense of relief flooded over with the morning light and calming winds. My lungs and quads burned with each step. We took turns breaking trail through the knee deep snow on the upper slopes.
We dropped our packs and took another break at the Hogsback, watching two other climbers navigate their way up to the Pearly Gates. I was shocked by how different this part of the mountain looked from last time I was up here. A good winter had completely buried the bergschrund and made the Pearly Gates a fairly easy and direct route to the summit.
At the top of the Hogs back Mikey and I both pulled out our second ice axe for a little extra protection on the steep ice near the summit. I ascended the Pearly Gates first then anchored myself and took a few photos of Mikey as he followed. Once through the gates, the weather calmed and we were in heaven. The summit was almost warm enough for t-shirts. It felt like we were sitting on top of the world, looking down on the clouds in all directions. We relaxed on top for 30 minutes by ourselves before packing up and descending the way we came.
We were down in the brewery eating a late lunch at 3pm, a long but extremely rewarding 12 hours after starting up the mountain. And that evening we pitched out tent in Smith Rock. Not a bad start to the weekend!