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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mt Hood Climb

Climbing season officially opened for me last Wednesday night with a summit of Mt Hood at 8 am Thursday morning. I had climbed Mt Hood twice before in 2005 and 2006 but this was a different experience since the terrain had shifted. The Hogsback, a snow ridge had previously led right to the Pearly Gates which was a relatively easy snow chute to ascend. The Pearly Gates is in the middle of the 2 cliffs on the right side of this picture. However, snow conditions changed and the Hogsback has been steadily shifting to the left (west). The current route is in the middle of the picture where you can see people ascending (although they look like ants in the picture).

We climbed to the left of the climb parties closer to the West Crater Rim route. It was to the left of the cliffs in the picture below.
It was one of the tougher climbs that I have ever done as the the warm weather had melted a lot of snow making the walls quite steep. We had about 50 feet up and down of almost vertical climbing, digging our ice axes and crampons into the snow. For safety, the 10 of us had roped up and used pickets (a 2 foot metal post that is spiked into the snow. The rope is clipped into the picket) for protection.

Mt Hood is always tough for me since you climb it at night during the spring (The snow is too unstable during the day for climbing). My body won't accept any food other than simple sugars and chocolate since it's not used to eating at night and all blood flow is directed towards my limbs for full sympathetic nervous system reaction. After every Hood climb, I always vow that will be my last one. Many people ask why that is even a question but being on the mountain is a great feeling. There's nothing like the close view of the unique mountain geography, that first view from 10,000 feet when the sun comes up, and the chess game of thinking ahead and figuring out the right moves on your route. The feeling of getting to the summit is only rivaled by that feeling when you get back to camp and can take your boots off. Here's a summit view of Mt Jefferson and the Three Sisters in Central Oregon.

When I tell folks about Hood climbs, some immediately ask if I bring a Mountain Locater Unit (MLU). These are similar to devices that are used to track wolves. If someone knows to look for you, they can find your signal. During the December 2006 search for the 3 missing climbers, the idea of these got very popular and some began to consider MLU's as the epitome of safety. Climbers got very defensive about the public philosophy and we tended not to do a good job of expressing our opinions about these devices but I am going to try.
  1. Having an MLU does not mean that you will be safe. Checking the weather, having the right equipment, training, first aid training, and ability to get yourself off the mountain during an accident is what makes you safe. An MLU is kind of like closing the door after the horse has left the barn. I try to explain to people that I am better off taking climbing classes, studying routes, having necessary safety equipment, and being physically prepared but that doesn't seem to impress people as much as the idea that someone could find my exact location with a tracking device.
  2. An MLU only works if someone knows to look for you. It doesn't send a bat signal or automatically get picked up by a satellite. Someone has to know to activate the tracking devices. Just like all who waunder are not lost, all who have MLU's won't necessarily be found.
  3. Even if someone can pinpoint your location, that doesn't mean that they can reach you. If there is a blizzard or other nasty weather conditions, a rescue team won't be able to do anything.
We did have an MLU with us but what made me feel safe was the skill of our climb leader with setting pickets for protection and finding the route, my rope team leader who followed the route, and my other team members who gave warnings when ice was falling from the cliffs. The pain of the climb has faded and I already can feel the fortitude of my vow that this is my last Hood climb fading away.

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