Ski Mountaineering Mt. Hood South Side
Standing at 11,239 feet tall, Mt. Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon. Mt. Hood is a majestic sight from Portland and the surrounding area – it’s prominence makes it a formidable peak in the Oregon Cascades. With an estimated 15,000-20,000 climbers annually (climbers attempting to summit), Mt. Hood is also the second most climbed peak in the world (second to Mt. Fuji in Japan). However, that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the mountain itself and the accomplishment of reaching the summit.
Mt. Hood is considered a dormant volcano, but there are still active fumaroles and sulphur chambers on the mountain. Climbing the South Side is by far the most popular and shortest route to reach the summit. It’s largely non-technical until reaching Crater Rock and the Hogsback area where the main dangers are present – rockfall, icefall, crevasses (the Bergschrund) and sulphur chambers (Hot Rocks and Devil’s Kitchen).
Trip: Mt. Hood South Side, Pearly Gates
Time: 5 ½ hours to summit, 7 ½ hours round trip (with a partial ski descent)
Elevation gain/loss: 10,630 feet
Tools: Crampons, ice ax, backcountry ski gear
I’ve climbed Mt. Hood before (it was my first real “mountaineering” climb), but not the Pearly Gates route. The Pearly Gates is the typical South Side climbers route. However, having an ice step the past few years has made it less accessible and therefore, the Old Chute has been the more popular route (the Old Chute was the first route climbed in 1857 and is arguably the “standard” route). Our goal for this objective was to have a successful ski mountaineering trip.
We left Timberline Lodge around 3:00 a.m. in pitch black (parking there the night prior and sleeping in the back of our Subaru). Timberline grooms a climbers trail just right of the Palmer Snowfield, this groomed path takes you to the top of the Palmer Lift. It is a long, uninteresting snow slog.
Once at the top of Palmer Snowfield, we put our crampons and helmets on, preparing to climb up Triangle Moraine. Since I didn’t have ski crampons (highly recommended for this route if you’re skinning), I had to bootpack from here and the rest of my party (my husband, Brian, and friend, Sara) was able to skin up to Hogsback with their ski crampons.
It started to get light as we approached Crater Rock. By the time we reached the Hogsback, parties were already starting to descend from the summit. Sara and I left our skis at the Hogsback planning to ski the remainder of the way back. My husband, Brian, packed his skis to the summit, planning to ski the Old Chute down.
The Hogsback was a fairly mellow staircase up to the Pearly Gates. With the Bergschrund completely filled in, this lowers the risk of this route significantly (typically, the Bergschrund is a large crevasse in the middle of the Hogsback). Once reaching the Pearly Gates, Sara and I decided to go left side (the more common route that day) and Brian went right side.
There was some loose ice fall climbing through the Pearly Gates, but nothing significant. Once topping out of the Pearly Gates, we continued the mellow hike to the summit. Down climbing the Pearly Gates and the Hogsback, we put our skis on and skied the rest of the way down (except my husband, who skied from the summit). Snow conditions were fairly icy around Crater Rock and on Triangle Moraine, but softened up the lower we skied.
If you go…
Best times to climb:
Winter to early summer – depending on snow and route conditions (earlier in the winter presents avalanche danger, but ice or rock fall later in the spring can be dangerous)
Wilderness permits are required for climbing to the summit and are self-issued in the “Climbers Cave” at Timberline Lodge. Climber registration forms are also accessible here and recommended.
Sno-park permits are required for parking at the Timberline Lodge November 1-April 30.
Check out Mountain Shop’s comprehensive guide for climbing Mt. Hood for more information.