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Monday, January 19, 2009

Our Fair City's Guardian: Mt Hood

You can see Mt Hood, an 11,235 foot peak, from a surprising number of spots around Portland. Mt St Helens also makes an appearance with it's distinct flat dome that's slowly rebuilding the top that was blown off in 1980. Those 2 peaks as well as Mt Adams make up the Guardian Peaks. The story that ties those peaks together is a Native American legend that has a few versions but essentially involves a love triangle with Mt Adams and Mt Hood competing for the affections of Mt St Helens. It did not end well for the lovers were smitten in place for eternity. The symbol of a smoldering, lava-spewing volcano is a very appropriate for a star crossed lover.

I took this photo above which shows the east side of Mt Hood. The south side to the left is the most popular climbing route. The 3 climbers who received national media attention in December 2006 climbed up the steeper north route. With respect to the climbers, Mt Hood does have many faces, not just the inhospitable one.

We made it out to the Mt Hood area for the first time this season which is what got me thinking about the peak. We snow shoed around a popular area called Trillium Lake which has enough open areas to give a perfect view of the south side of Mt Hood with all of its features. I also see Mt Hood on most clear days when I leave the western suburb where I work. It looms behind one of the downtown towers and than shows up again when I cross the bridge on the way home. It's a comforting reminder that in the city, the mountains are never far away.

I consider myself to be a mountineer because it makes me sound tough and every guy wants some ability to claim that they haven't grown completely soft. The mountains nearby made mountineering really appealing so I don't have to start doing mixed martial arts or practice survival skills. The mountineering also gives me some training goals to always shoot for. For my Mt Baker climb, I used a work stair master while wearing a backpack with a 45 pound weight. It took my co-workers a month to muster the courage to ask me about this unusual exercise routine.

The picture to the right is both really spectacular and shows the south side climbing route that I've done twice. It reminds me of my 3 favorite experience with Mt Hood which were:
  1. First Ascent: On my 31st birthday, a crew that I played Ultimate Frisbee and I headed out for most of our 1st climb. We knew just enough to be dangerous as only one of us had climbed it before. Our team was dubbed "88 million" after the typical sperm count that makes up one serving at a sperm bank (which is another story all together :). Two climbers who had done all 3 Guardian Peaks within 48 hours stormed past us on the way up. We almost got turned back by the fog but just as we had given up, we hiked through it and saw a clear sky which gave us the 2nd wind. It was my first ascent of Hood and you never forget your first.
  2. Snow Climbing: Three years later, I had gotten more serious and took a climbing class with the Mazamas, a volunteer outdoor group. We had found a 20 foot wall of snow that had melted out where we practiced climbing, rappelling, using our ice axes, and setting anchors. One our teammate fell through the soft snow, blew out 3 anchors, and slammed into a rock wall on the bottom which ended the playful mood and made us realize that we had to be serious. He was all right and we resumed snow climbing up some pretty vertical walls. It made me realize that I had gotten pretty serious about climbing as I spent a Saturday simulating climbing. It was also a lot of fun, kind of an adult play ground.
  3. Teaching how to fall: The lower part of the south side is often used by Mazamas for early trainings on how to travel in the snow which includes self-arrest for a rope team that falls. Luckily, the most spectacular falls that I have seen were only during this training. One involved a rope team of 4 Intro to climbing students. As the team hiked on the edge of a cornice close to a steep snow wall, a co-leader grabbed the rope and took a running leap off the cornice and dropped at least 10 feet to the snow below. It was an incredible self-sacrific for an authentic falling experience. Everyone dug their ice axes into the ice in time. The 2nd incredible fall was one that I created. We were hiking up a canyon below a parking lot (training areas weren't really great view but effective for the conditions) when a leader instructed me to fall. I took a running leap and flipped the person ahead of me onto his back. He caught himself with his ice axe but that was one of the few times this individual was speechless.

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