Jule Gilfillan explores the history, challenges and rewards of climbing the highest peak. in Oregon.
Mount Hood is Oregon's highest point and a prominent landmark visible up to 100 miles away. It has convenient access and a minimum of technical climbing challenges. About 10,000 people attempt to climb Mount Hood each year. There are no trails to the summit. Even the easier South side climbing route is a technical climb with crevasses, falling rocks, and often inclement weather. Ropes, ice axes, crampons and other technical mountaineering gear are necessary. Peak climbing season is generally from April to mid-June.
There are six main routes to approach the mountain with about 30 total variations for summiting. The climbs range in difficulty from class 2 to class 5.9+ (for Arachnophobia). The most popular route, dubbed the south route, begins at Timberline Lodge and proceeds up Palmer Glacier to Crater Rock, the large prominence at the head of the glacier. The route goes east around Crater Rock and crosses Coalman Glacier on the Hogs-back, a ridge spanning from Crater Rock to the approach to the summit. The Hogs-back terminates at a bergschrund where Coalman Glacier separates from the summit rock headwall, and then to Pearly Gates, a gap in the summit rock formation, then right onto the summit plateau and the summit proper.
Technical ice axes, fall protection, and experience are now recommended in order to attempt the left chute variation or Pearly Gates ice chute. The Forest Service is recommending several other route options due to these changes in conditions (e.g. Old Chute, West Crater Rim, etc.).
Timberline Lodge is a National Historic Landmark located on the southern flank of Mount Hood just below Palmer Glacier, at approximately 6,000 feet (1,800 m) of elevation.
The mountain has six ski areas: Timberline, Mount Hood Meadows, Ski Bowl, Cooper Spur, Snow Bunny, and Summit. They total over 4,600 acres (7.2 sq mi) of ski-able terrain; Timberline offers the only year-round lift-served skiing in North America.
Mount Hood is host to 12 named glaciers, the most visited of which is Palmer Glacier, partially within the Timberline Lodge ski area and on the most popular climbing route. The glaciers are almost exclusively above the 6,000-foot level, which also is about the average tree line elevation on Mount Hood. More than 80 percent of the glacial surface area is above 7,000 feet.