Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A couple of climbs of Mt. Hood. . .

My return from that little island in the Pacific called "Taiwan" coincided nicely with the start of the snow part of my Advanced Snow and Ice class that I signed up for through the local mountaineering group, the Mazamas. The class consisted of lectures and playing in the snow, learning, and practicing, practicing, practicing placing anchors, belaying people, steep ascents and descents, and crevasse rescue. The class broke up into two groups one weekend (night of May 5th and early morning of May 6th) and climbed different routes up Mt. Hood. Our group went up what is called the East Crater Headwall, nicely shown here:

and here:
(this 2nd picture taken from "the Hogsback" on the south side of Mt. Hood, and looking east to where we'd gone up several hours, earlier.) The pictures for this climb are all compliments of one of the guys (Chris) in my class, who was on the other rope. We had 3 people to a rope, and 2 ropes in our group, and 5 people on one rope for the other group that went up a different route. The assistant for our Advanced Snow class was our group's climb leader, and he's the one who put in our "protection" - pickets buried in the snow, while climbing up the steepest part of the East Crater Headwall route. Since I was the last on the 2nd rope team, I "cleaned" the route, that is, I took out all of the pickets. You'll see them hanging off of me in another picture near the summit, later.

Here is a shot looking up the headwall route, with our illustrious leader putting in some protection for us:
Looks really cool, doesn't it?
And here, Chris is at the top of the headwall, looking down, taking a picture of the central person on my rope, and me:
Also pretty cool, eh? However, that wasn't, in my opinion, any big deal. The big deal, again, in my opinion, had yet to happen, and consisted of climbing around the gendarme (the peak-looking thing) that is pictured, here:
Doesn't look like such a big deal, does it?

Also in the above picture is the other group that took a different route up Mt. Hood. They took a much longer route, but walked faster than we, and so we met in the place where the two routes meet, which is getting ready for going around the gendarme. And here is the leader of our class, David, heading up, followed by another of that rope team:
His job (besides just climbing) is to put in protection for both of our teams, which now consisted of 3 rope teams. Again, I was last, and so the "cleaner" of the route, not wanting to leave any of our gear on the mountain. Now, this innocent looking little peak is very near the summit of the mountain. This means that it's high. On the back side of it, it drops down thousands of feet. When there, it looks like straight down, for those of us who haven't yet climbed vertical waterfalls (that's left to the Advanced Ice part of the class). . . I was sure that I would fall. I was hoping that my rope mates were paying attention, and that protection above me was firmly in place. Every time I put my foot down on some snowy ice crystals, I wondered if it would hold until I got my next foot placement. It was also at this time that I realized that I didn't exactly know how to use the "2nd tool" that I'd been given as part of this class. It's a shorter ice-axe looking piece of equipment. I whacked at the ice and rock, and when it stuck, I used it as leverage to pull or push myself up and around what appeared to me to be a rock face. Going around it, I saw a carabiner hooked into what looked like a bolt for sport rock climbing. In my altitude-induced wonderment, I was surprised that someone had "bolted" the route (it's a wilderness area - there are not supposed to be any bolts, here), and, furthermore, that David had actually found the bolt. I unhooked the carabiner, sling, and other carabiner that were attached to it, thinking that this was the best protection that I'd seen, yet, on the climb, and so sad to say goodbye to it, since that meant less protection, should I now fall. I looked down. I decided that that was a mistake, and decided to pay more attention to continuing the route around and up. The next part of the climb is pictured here:
where my rope mates are already on the other side of the gendarme, making their way to a ridge of snow, where they then sat and belayed me as I climbed up. In the next picture, you can see them in almost the same position, but you can see more clearly the snow ridge to which they were headed, and the nice drop off to the south side of the mountain from that snowy ridge. It's so hard to tell that the land that you can see in the distance behind them and downward is really, really, really far: Notice the rope between the two of my rope mates. They are some 60ft apart from each other, and I am another 60 ft behind the 2nd guy. When we got to the snowy ridge, the guys suggested that I lead the rest of the way to the summit, which was now a rather gentle slope up. Chris, on the summit, already, took a snap of me and my rope team!:
The amazing thing about this photo is that my rope team was apparently completely in line with me, and even though they are stretched out some 120ft behind me, are almost completely eclipsed by me. You can just see some orange of the middle guy between my legs, some 60ft behind me. In this picture, you can see the pickets hanging off of me. (They sound like cow bells when walking as they clang against each other.) In my right hand is the 2nd tool, and in my left, my normal ice axe. We spent just a little time on the summit, shifting gear, mostly from me to the others, and then waited in line to go down the south side of the mountain to the Hogsback, where the 2nd picture, at the start of this tale, was taken. This next picture is taken from the Hogsback, looking back up the South Side route. I could be one of those dots on the mountain coming down - not sure. You can just see the Bergschrund (crevasse) opening up just a little on both sides of the route:

While we were all on the Hogsback, taking off the rope, harnesses, crampons, giving each other our respective gear, the leader came by and asked me for his ice screw. Ice screw? What ice screw? OH NO!!!!!! You mean that "bolt" that I saw on the back side of the gendarme was actually an ice screw!?!?!? Everyone within earshot turned around and looked at me - "you mean you left the most expensive piece of equipment there on the mountain!?!?!?!" (They are in the area of $45-$55 dollars, each.) I was horrified! I turned around to David and assured him "David, I owe you a screw!" Of course, all those same people within earshot, now started giggling, and Chris suggested that now would be a good time to head down. I couldn't figure out why - he was so mad at me that I'd left that screw there? And then I realized that they were interpreting "screw," differently. . . I realized that even when speaking just plain English (as opposed to my previous gaffs in Chinese and Spanish), I manage to get myself into trouble. . .

My leaving the ice screw on the mountain was then the butt of many, many, many jokes for the rest of that weekend and following weekend. The ice screw, alas, was not found by anyone we know, and either was melted out, and went down the mountain, or was a nice score for some other climb group. . .

Last weekend, I was hoping that I could get someone to go with me up another route on Mt. Hood, but everyone was busy doing something else (the nerve!), so I decided to just go up the south side, after all, you saw the picture looking up from the Hogsback - just a walk up. . . Except. . . In between the May 6th weekend and this May 20th weekend were 2 weeks of record high temperatures in the Portland area. This left the Bergschrund quite exposed. It was HUGE. I looked at it. It stretched far to the left, and far to the right. Some guys from southern California came by and we assessed it. They didn't have a rope. Was there another way around? Hmmmmm. I decided that I wouldn't actually finish the climb this time and turned around to go. But, wait - there were a couple of guys going up unroped. I watched them. Then I watched another group go up, roped, and with protection. I walked around a little bit and realized that the snow was really, really nice. The likelihood of slipping was close to 0. It was nice and solid. And the fluffy stuff that was blowing around right then wasn't effecting the solid stuff. I decided to go up. I set off to go to the right of the crevasse. It was a bit steep. Hmmm, maybe not. . . Oh, for Pete's sake - if I'm not going to go up this, then why the heck did I spend all of that time the last month taking classes? I decided, once and for all, to go for it. There were nice huge "steps" that all of the people who went before me had made in the snow going up, and I just made sure that I planted my ice axe firmly to the hilt on every step, just in case one of the steps blew out, or I slipped or something else happened. I wasn't keen on being another statistic. On the way up, another group was going up, and one of the guys stopped and took this picture, which I absolutely love:

On the summit, I was sitting there drinking, eating, rearranging stuff. There was no view - visibility was poor due to the snow and clouds. It was a popular time on the summit, with some 4 or so little groups, there. At least 2 of them were guided. I discovered that the 2 guys that I thought went up unroped were, in fact, roped - I just couldn't see the rope between them, as it nicely disappeared in the snow. I started to worry about the trip down. Someone in one of the groups told me that they were the group that I'd passed in the middle of the night. I had been walking up, and post holed up to my hip, and then couldn't get my leg out! There was a group camped out on the rocks and I called over to them, asking them if they were wearing snowshoes, as I was concerned that the rest of the way would be like this, but they said no, and wondered if I'd had similar problems, earlier, which I assured them I hadn't. I had to take off my backpack, get my ice axe, and dig out my leg. Upon success, I walked by their little camp, and they asked me if I were going solo, and then offered me coffee, which I declined. So on the summit, this guy was telling me that they were that group, and then said, "yeah - we were talking about you all night!" One of the guys came over, asked me my name, took my picture, and then walked away, mumbling something about having to get me the picture, somehow, by email or something, but since he was walking away, I figured that that was that. I changed my glasses into goggles, as the wind was whipping up a bit, and then ran down to join one of the guided groups because I wanted to follow his route down. They had a nice route down, going down through what REALLY is "the Pearly Gates", and then swung around and down the left side of the crevasse. It was a nice descent, but my back was killing me from bending over so very much, since I wanted to be really sure that my ice axe was always firmly planted. . . Down on the Hogsback, the picture takers made it down while I was "refueling," and yelled out an email address that after a couple of spellings, I finally got right, so I was able to get the above picture, and this summit picture:
from the guy who took it and went away. . .

I asked my picture benefactor if he also had any of the crevasse so that you all could see how enormous it was, but with the snow fall and cloud that we were in, he just couldn't capture the sense of depth, and told me that it just looked like a pile of snow. . . Maybe I'll go up there, again, soon, and be able to take a picture of it in all its gaping glory. . .

I post holed one more time on the way down, and, again, had to dig my leg out. I'll swear it was around the very same spot as on the way up. . . Going down was more interesting than ever before, since this was the first time I went down while it was snowing and visibility was so poor. I followed someone else's footsteps all the way until I noticed a drop-off. A little check with the compass confirmed that I was heading toooooo far east, and just had to course correct and go south. I soon reached the ski slopes, from which it is a piece of cake to find the way down, even if it is a long slog, as they say. . .

The next day, when I was calling my Mom for her birthday, telling her that I'd survived yet another climb, I realized that that solo climb was 6 years to the day of my very first climb of Mt. Hood, when I didn't even know that there was a crevasse to worry about, and one of my team mates fell, pulverizing her ankle, causing us to stay an extra 8 or so hours on the mountain in order for the volunteer Portland Mountain Rescue folks to come and litter her out, setting her on her course of recovery which took over 2 years before she could start walking (she has climbed a mountain, since then). My mountaineering friends all yelled at me to take mountaineering classes after I admitted to being on the climb. . . I did, and, counting it up, this was my 22nd successful climb, and 7th successful climb of Mt. Hood. Not toooo shabby, considering I've been in PRC or Taiwan for a good part of the last 4 years. . . I hope that I can have many, many more successful climbs in the future, though!

Sorry this was so long, but I really, really wanted to share these climbs with everyone!!!! (This weekend - rafting!!!! Or, rather, inflatable kayaking, for me!)