Thursday, June 14, 2012

Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain That is pouring like an avalanche, coming down the mountain

A different kind of report folks! Here is the story of my no summit of Mt Hood, the highest point of OR. We planned this trip a few years ago when the High Pointers  were having their annual convention. We had never been to a convention and figured we'd be able to hook up with other people wanting to climb. One member, Dave, took charge of organizing people who wanted to climb and evaluating fitness and skills and pairing people up. He deemed us both fit and since Loren has experience climbing mountains like this, pretty good to go. I opted to take a deep snow class since climbing on glaciers is new to me.
We arrived in Portland on Tues. and spent a few days relaxing and seeing old friends. The weather in Portland was awesome. On Thurs. morning, the day we headed to the mountain, it started raining. It was snowing at Hood. We got their very early for my 8AM snow class. The lodge was full of kids there for ski camp and climbers who had just come down looking weary. It was wet and cold and the wind was blowing.
Just before 8, Dave found me and introduced himself. Our plan was initially going to be take class, ride ski lift to the top, camp, go for summit in the wee hours of Friday morning.  With the weather conditions, that got scratched. Dave managed to get a 3AM sno-cat for Sunday morning. We were game. Since no one really got to climb all week, seats on the cat were at a premium. This was going to be the first real break in the weather. Of course it was also right after the convention dinner but none of us really cared about that.
At 8, I met John, the guide who would be teaching my snow class. The class is usually about 4 hours long. Since no one was climbing that night, he kept us out for 6 hours. 6 hours in the snow, rain, wind, cold. It was pretty awesome. We worked on footwork, lots of footwork. Believe it or not, there are specific ways to walk in the snow, esp. when you're wearing big mountaineering boots. Then we worked on using crampons, ice axes, harnesses, roping up, going up roped, coming down roped, how to fall and stop yourself with your ax, how to do that upside down, backwards, left handed, right handed, all kinds of things.
Since we had to change our climbing plans, we had to change a lot of plans. We now had a few days to spend at the mountain. Oh and no place to stay the night we were to camp. We got a couple of bunks in the Mazama Lodge and spent a lot of time lingering at the host hotel, swapping stories, looking at the weather, and planning. We spent one free afternoon driving out to Bagby Hotsprings (BYOweed/guitar). We went to the club happy hour and hung out with Mark and Melissa, Mark would be our rope leader on the climb. We went to a BBQ Mazamas hosted for the club. Well, the BBQ actually got snowed out so it was more like dinner with everyone packed into the lodge, swapping stories. Then Saturday evening we went to the banquet at the Timberline Lodge. We knew we wouldn't be staying for the whole thing as we had a 1:45AM wake up call.
There were about 75 people who came hoping to climb that week. By the time of the banquet, 5 had summited. Hood is not known to be a hard mountain, as far as this kind of climbing goes, but there are somethings you can't do anything about and weather is one of them. The guy sitting in front of me got 150 FEET from the summit and had to turn around.
During the banquet, one of the speakers spoke about how many people came to climb and how few had success on this trip. He commented about watching everyone huddle together to plan, change plans, watch the weather, talk about options. He said this is what makes people mountaineers, these details. That stuck with me. With marathoning, there's always (for me) obsessive weather watching. Same for this, though the difference is with running, 99% of the time I'm still going to go out and run no matter what the weather says. That doesn't hold true for climbing. It's just not possible. I've been asked several times if that's disappointing. It's not really. There might be a small pang but the danger level is just too high. Most of those days, for my skill level, it's just not even a possibility and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that.
Dave then stood up and announced there were 24 people attempting that night. A huge cheer went up across the room. These people get it. Most of them have gone up that mountain. There was a very high number of people who have completed 48/49/50 states.  Around 8:45PM, Loren and I snuck out to get some sleep. As we tip toed out of the room, whispers of "good luck!" came our way.
We had spent the afternoon getting all our gear sorted so we could go right to bed and get up all ready to go. Alarms were set for 1:45, we would pick up gave and his nephew and head up to the mountain for our 3AM start.
When we got to the mountain, it was cold and the wind was blowing pretty hard. We all geared up, signed in, and headed toward the Cat. A group had just come down who had gone up around midnight, they said conditions were bad even pretty low, around 9000'. We were going up anyway. We knew there was a good chance of no summit but if nothing else, this would be good experience.
Our group of 12 climbed into the Cat and rode up the hill. It was pitch black and very windy. I was a bit nervous not knowing what to expect. After about 30 minutes, the cat stopped. We all poured out. The wind was howling and it was cold and dark. Everyone made last minutes adjustments and off we went. All I could see was the foot steps directly in front of me, and barely. The wind was doing a good job of blowing snow over them quickly. There were no hints of the 40 or so people who had gone up before us.
After about an hour and a half, the sky started getting light from the sunrise. This was the first time all week we had seen Mt. Hood, and we were climbing up it. It was beautiful. Moments when the wind stopped were peaceful and quiet. Then it would howl and again and I would just hunker down, leaning on my trekking poles and brace myself until it stopped.
We started meeting groups who were coming down. No one summited. At a steep section higher up, the snow was unstable and ripe for an avalanche, people were turning around. We kept going up, knowing we were most likely going to turn around.
At about 10200' we stopped to discuss options. No one we had met that day had summited. Some groups went about 400' or so feet higher before turning around. This is the point in the climb where crampons go on and rope is used. Some people stayed for the experience, most of us turned around. I don't regret turning around (I might be singing a different tune if people hit the summit). I had a great morning, it was a lovely day, and I gained some good experience. The walk down the mountain was nice.
We passed one more big group going up and passed on information we had to them. I think they went a little higher than I did and then also turned around.
Once back at the Lodge, we went inside to watch people climbing. 2 very experienced guys did summit, but they were in a serious different league.
All in all, I had a really good time and look forward to doing it again. Hood has a very short climbing season so it won't be until next year. Right now Loren and I are formulating our plans to climb Rainier in August. Stay tuned!

EDIT: I want to add this link. A solo climber fell 1000' and died on Hood early this morning. He was very close to where we turned around. It is very sobering. I knew it was the right decision to turn around when we did. I hate reading stories like this. It does, however, drive home the point that this is not to be taken lightly.


BarbBQ said...

I'm so impressed that you are attempting this - serious stuff. But even though you didn't meet your ultimate goal, you did get some great experience for the next time as well as some awesome photos (I love the one with the shadow of Mt. Hood.) The mountain will welcome you back with open arms when she's ready.

Girl In Motion said...

An utterly fascinating blog entry. Wow, just frickin' Wow. That guy having to turn back 150' from the summit just illustrates how out of your hands it all is. I am so incredibly impressed with you guys and very proud to know two charming, adventurous lunatics such as yourselves. Makes running sound as challenging as brushing your teeth. More Wow...

L.A. Runner said...

I love, love, love this post. I would have been terrified! What's neat is that the group of hikers seem so much like a group of runners. Isn't that what we do? Sit around and share stories? Eat? Socialize? (Well, minus that part about marijuana and guitars.)

I'm also glad that you and Loren are so level-headed about the weather and conditions during the hike. No need to try to be a hero. I know you guys are serious about the High Points goal, but your friends and family can rest easy knowing you guys will make wise decisions.

Ps. I have a friend that is trying to hike the majority of the AT right now- ALONE! We're all very worried about her, and she isn't the best about checking in when she gets to a campsite or lodge with internet... :(