Monday, June 6, 2016

Highpoint: Oregon. Mt. Hood -- 11,245 feet. May 25, 2016

Alex's account of this climb can be found here.

Our first technical peak!

This was very, very different from what we are used to.

I have been hiking weekly with the girls for eight years.  For each and every one of our previous hikes, we have had the luxury of picking and choosing our days; if the forecast called for storms, no worries, we could wait and hike as soon as the skies cleared.  Also, I have been in charge of the girls (though, as the girls have gotten older, they have been more and more in charge of themselves).  We have never before needed or used a guide, we have never before had to rely on anyone but ourselves for the thousand+ peaks all over the country each of the girls have ascended.

It was therefore quite a change for me to completely hand over the reins to someone else.  To put the lives of my children in the hands/rope of a total stranger...well, that doesn't come naturally to a mother, especially one who has repeatedly led her children through the wilderness since 2008.  It was necessary, however, because there is no way I personally could have gotten my children to the summit of Mt. Hood and back.  I don't yet have the mountaineering skills required for this kind of peak.  It would have been suicidal for me to NOT have handed over the control to someone else.  I know this, of course.  YET it was a strange feeling to step back and simply follow.  Necessary -- absolutely, and I am glad Timberline Mountain Guides were willing to have someone take Alex, Sage, and me to the summit.  Our guide knew Hood like the back of his hand, and the most important factor of the hike was getting up and down safely -- so in that respect, it was a total win.  The weather was perfect for our summit day and I am so, so grateful for that too!  Knowing you can't just wait out a storm and go up a different day was so difficult for us -- we are so used to having flexibility with hiking days and spending so much money and traveling so far and NOT having many summit day options in case of bad weather is very, very nerve wracking.  I am so happy the weather was so wonderful for our climb!

Let me back up, however, to our arrival at Timberline Lodge.  The Lodge is right at the base of Hood, and Timberline Mountain Guides occupies an office at the Wy'East Building, which is on the other side of the parking lot from the lodge.  Staying at the lodge is expensive, but we considered this trip a vacation so I didn't mind booking a room.

The exterior of Timberline Lodge was used to represent The Overlook
in Kubrick's film version of Stephen King's The Shining.

Here's the link to the Lodge if you want more information on the building/rooms/reservation process.

Inside the building, on the second floor, these words adorn the giant chimney --

We arrived at the lodge a full day before our training session, so we had an entire morning and afternoon to acclimate.  Hood is only 11,245 feet, but still...we live at 1200 feet...I therefore had us board the ski lift and hang out at the top so we could spend as many hours as possible as high as possible (which was, for us at the top of the ski lift, 7500 feet).

The girls at 7500 feet, the summit of Hood in the background.
The drill is not ours.

Making snowpeople while acclimating.

The next day was Training Day.  This meant meeting our guide for the first time, going through a gear-check, and hitting the nearby slopes for some foot and rope work.

We took a ten-minute walk to a slope nearby the Pacific Crest Trail.  You can see part of the trail in the photo below.

Training consisted of learning various steep-slope walking techniques, with and without ice axes and with and without ropes (but always with crampons).  The weather was less than ideal...we experienced cold, driving rain most of the day.  No worries though, since we New Hampshire White Mountain hikers are used to everything the weather can throw our way.

We also practiced self-arrest techniques.

Around 1 or 2pm, our guide dismissed us for the day and told us to meet him at 2:30am at a specific place to catch the snow cat up to 8500 feet.  Timberline has access to the snowcat, which is nice...unguided climbers have to walk from Timberline Lodge to the 8500 ft mark, which adds 2500 feet of elevation gain and about 2 miles to their day.  The snowcat perk alone could be considered worth the price of having a guide, lol.

Back at the Lodge after training, before removing our gear.
The girls and I never allowed ourselves to get used to the time change from EST.  We had gone to bed at 7pm the previous couple of nights and woken at 5am the following mornings.  Therefore, getting to bed at 6pm the night before summit day felt more or less natural.  We woke at 1:45 am to get the alpine start, but we had gotten almost 8 hours of sleep, so we didn't feel all that tired.

We readied ourselves as quietly as we could in our room at Timberline Lodge (the walls are very thin, so I hope we did not wake our neighbors) and headed out to Wy'East.

Sage getting on her harness while waiting for our guide and the snow cat.

We shared the snow-cat with another group and rode to 8500 feet.  We passed several other climbers who were walking steadfastly with their thumbs sticking out hitch-hiker style.  :)

Once out of the snow cat, we donned crampons and headlamps.  We were already above the clouds, and the stars -- and Mars! -- were out and shining brightly.  Mars was a red pinprick in the sky.  It was all incredibly gorgeous, and both Alex and I tried to take photos but of course they didn't turn out very well.  I am not good with nighttime photography.

We started up the first part of our climb, our guide telling us to stay directly behind him, in a straight line, and to step where he stepped.  Instead of heading straight up the steep slope, which is how our trails are in NH, our guide created switchbacks.  The pace was extremely slow and steady - far, far slower than we are used to, even in high altitude.  The sun came out not long after we finished the first, moderate portion of the climb, and we continued on our way.  Our guide did not want to take many breaks, which was fine with us since we don't take any breaks when hiking in NH and his pace was soooo verrryyy slooowwww, lol.  I should note though that even though our pace was far slower than any other high altitude hike we have ever done, we still finished our entire hike on the early side of what we had planned, so it all worked out. 

Once the sun was out, we were able to take photos here and there.  Sometimes we'd take photos of what was ahead of us, and sometimes we'd turn and take photos of what we'd just climbed.

We reached an area that is known, I think, as the Devil's Kitchen and took a very short break.  We were close to a volcanic vent which continuously let out steam and emitted a lovely sulfur smell.  Our guide explained how we would go around this vent, to the right, even though everyone else was going to the left (he felt his way had the minimal avalanche danger).  Once up a short but sleep stope, we would be on a flat section next to what is known as Crater Rock.

Looking down from what I believe is Devil's Kitchen

Blurry volcanic vent (sorry for the unclear photo)

"Cheese" photo on Devil's Kitchen

Hood's shadow

Heading up after taking another very short rest near Crater Rock

After Crater Rock, we ascended via the Old Chute.  We roped together for this section, using a "short rope."  Once to the top of the chute, we ascended up a very short, but very steep section that required us to climb with our ice ax and become quadrupeds for a bit.  Once at the top of that section, we could see the summit straight ahead.

Note the cornice!  
Sage's crampon was coming off and I told her to stop and fix it.  She made a quick and short adjustment (the guide wanted to keep going to the summit), then onward we went...


Views!  That clear mountain in the distance is called Mt. Adams.  Mt. Rainier is to the left of it, fainter and with more snow up top.

After perhaps 20 minutes of lounging (it was warm up top!!  Upper 20s or so...downright balmy compared to what we are used to), Sage solidly fixed her crampon and we headed back down the mountain.

Another group on their way up.

That other group had come up from the east side, which is a more technical route
Once back at the upper part of the chute, we waited for another guide (with a different group of people) to secure a rope.  Instead of just climbing down this part, our guide decided to belay us for extra safety, which we appreciated!  Down we went...we kind of had to go right past and over a team of two women who were coming up -- I apologized to them since it felt like we were crowding them for a few seconds, and then we were past them and at the bottom of the steepest section (the fifty feet or so we had earlier climbed with our ice axes), Alex clipped us in to an anchor and we waited while our guide descended. 

Waiting while the rope is secured.
Walking down the rest of Old Chute was the most difficult part of the day for me.  It wasn't physically difficult, but it was mentally challenging.  We were on a short rope, and our guide had us walking straight down the mountain.  He had us if one of us slipped...and sometimes, one of us would indeed slip...but psychologically, having to walk straight down an extremely steep slope with a deadly cliff at the bottom was unnerving.  I got used to it, though.  I went from going too slowly to going too quickly...our guide went from telling me to hurry up to telling me to slow down.  Eventually, we all got down to the Crater Rock area and relaxed.

Taking a break on the descent.

Looking back to Old Chute

The next part of our descent

Still hanging out by Crater Rock

A clear picture of the volcano doing its thing

Sage took this photo of Mt. Jefferson
Heading down from Crater Rock felt fairly trivial.  I quickly got used to the straight-down-the-steep-slope technique and we walked, unroped, back to where the snow cat had dropped us off earlier.

A delayering break.  Sage is telling us some facts about stars and planets.

We walked past the place where we had been dropped off and continued the one or two easy miles back to the lodge.

It had been a successful summit...none of us felt like it had been strenuous.  Thanks to the snow cat, our elevation gain had been under 3000 feet, which is like hiking an easy-to-moderate 4K in the Whites.  Mileage was only about 5 (?) miles roundtrip..?  The terrain had been new to us, though -- that is where the challenge had been, in learning how to maneuver in that particular terrain.  It was because of that challenge that I am glad we hired a guide.  He kept us safe and got us up and down fairly quickly (in spite of the initial part of the ascent that felt very slow).

We returned our gear, then went back to the lodge to bask in a sumptious post-hike meal.

The next morning, we had a great view of Hood from our window...

...and here's a shot from just outside the lodge.

We got so lucky with weather on this trip!  All week long, right before our summit day, there had been storms storms storms.  Then, on our summit day -- absolutely perfect weather and crystal-blue skies.  I am so grateful for that!

This makes 46 highpoints for us.  We don't yet know if we will continue...we have to discuss some things and see what we feel like doing.  Highpointing has been great fun and we are so grateful for the time we've had doing it.  Not knowing how to navigate the terrain on your own takes some of the joy out of it, though.  It feels like cheating -- you're just following someone -- is it truly highpointing or mountaineering if you haven't planned the hike/climb yourself, learned the skills solidly yourself, etc?  Other people are guided up technical summits all the time and it doesn't bother them, so maybe it SHOULDN'T bother us...or maybe a different guiding experience will leave me feeling differently. 

So this may or may not be the end of our highpointing...time will tell.  I am grateful we had such perfect weather for our summit day, and I am grateful to Timberline Mountain Guides for making sure we got to the summit and back safely.


Marcy said...

I loved reading your detailed account of this new adventure, and I found it interesting, too, to hear your thoughts on being led by guides versus being on your own. Congratulations!

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Thanks, Marcy! It was definitely a new kind of adventure for us!

Justin Raphaelson said...

Patricia, if you ever want to pick my brain about rainier, let me know. I did it three summers ago with basic crevasse rescue unguided and it was a very pleasant experience. (Good weather assuming)

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Hi Justin, thank you! We may be in touch -- I appreciate it!

Carl Franklin #beentherehikedthat said...

So awesome! I'm glad I stumbled across these reports. As a new highpointer (I started with Whitney September 2015) I am aways researching the highpoints and trails. Your detailed description makes my job easier lol. I'll be heading to Arizona at the end of September to grab my 25th highpoint. Thanks again for sharing your family's experience. I enjoyed reading thru your trips Today