This time I don’t mean that everyone farted a lot while climbing or that someone got a horrendous fart right in the face, I actually mean the mountain itself smells like farts. Mount Hood, being a volcano, has these crazy fumaroles, which emit all sorts of gasses, and all those gasses smell like farts. So enter, Mount Hood, the mountain of farts, into our lives.
Kyle and I have been itching to climb a mountain. It is hard though because I work weekends, so combine that with a higher snow year than last year and a seriously increased chance of avalanch, which we don’t know how to deal with, and climbing has pretty much taken the back burner. But last weekend our friends and climbing partners, Sarah and Carl, had the weekend off from Boealps and so we decided to bite the bullet and take the weekend off as well. Our objective: that stinky pointy mountain all the way down in Oregon, Mount Hood.
Mount Hood is kind of a contradiction of a mountain. There are legends of a woman summiting in high heels, and yet it might be the mountain with the highest fatality rate in the country (it’s likely that those two facts are not unrelated in terms of causation and outcomes). Sometimes it is a walk up, sometimes it gets so icy and steep at the top that ice screws are required. It is glaciated but ropes are not a necessity, unless you rope in for a running belay to the summit. We went not knowing what to expect.
Kyle and I arrived at the Timberline Lodge parking lot (yes, where The Shining was filmed) around 10pm at night. We were planning on getting up at 3am to start climbing so we tried to get ready for bed as quickly as possible, but probably didn’t get to sleep until 11pm because I made Kyle move the car two or three times, insisting that I would never fall asleep on a slope. When we finally found some place relatively flat nerves made it hard to pass out. And of course the minute REM was achieved the snow plows started up. Turns out between 11pm and 3am is the perfect time to plow that parking lot for snow. Suddenly our car was surrounded by huge loud snow plows, whizzing by us in every direction and shining their huge dumb lights directly into our car. This all culminated in a snow plow operator asking us to move to a new spot around 2am. We did so with a grumble and lay there, awake, wondering if we should just get up and climb.
Alarms went off at 3am and we were up (we were actually already up). Readying one’s self before a climb at the ass crack of dawn is always a fun process. It was freezing cold and windy. The parking lot was an ice rink thanks to the snow plows and, in retrospect, the only place on our climb where crampons might have actually been useful. After hunting down all of our socks and gloves and sucking down some chia seed pouches (my new favorite snack) we were finally all ready to go.
When I am climbing a mountain I never think of it the same way I think of going for a hike. I think of it as a slog. The motion I am doing with my legs is no longer walking, it is trudging. My entire mentality changes, everything slows down, and it is just me and my breathing, my one small pool of headlamp light and my feet, until sunrise. Never have I seen a more spectacular sunrise. Suddenly the horizon off to the right was a brush stroke of the burning-est red. This small strip between the land and the low-lying clouds was on fire. It was disorienting. The light crept along the blanket of clouds, lighting up their mounds with a dusty pink, crimson, sherbet orange. The clouds always soften the colors of the sun. Suddenly the mountain was touched with pastel pinks and blues and lavenders. And then the sun shot across the mountain, sending the peaks shadow to cast out over the hills and valleys to the west. The shadow looked like a giant dark sharks fin and we all shouted and pointed at it in glee and surprise.
With the sun coming up we could see Mount Jefferson to the south and the Three Sisters beyond that and other snow-covered peaks we didn’t recognize because Oregon isn’t our state. We twirled around and around, taking everything in. Including the clouds. The low-lying clouds that we all made a mental note to keep an eye on. Weather wasn’t supposed to deteriorate until 4pm that day but weather on a mountain is a rebellious teen, it never does what it’s supposed too.
All of this took place around the top of the ski lift. Carl was just heading off to pee somewhere when a pair of climbers came into view and we welcomed them. Upon inquiring about their climb they admitted to being a guide/client pair and told us that they had turned around next to Crater Rock because of some not-so-great avalanche conditions. Carl, being our avalanche aficionado, came sprinting back from his search for a bathroom and he and the guide commenced to having a very technical conversation about pits, and shovel tip tests, and elbow taps and hand taps and fracturing at 13 and 30 inches. It was like being at the doctor, I didn’t know what any of it meant, but it didn’t sound good. We decided to keep climbing anyway, to at least get up to the pit and check it out for ourselves.
Up, up, up we went until we reached 9,300ft where things shifted quite suddenly. Kyle had been complaining of a mild headache and I was stopping to get a good look at him. I turned back around to see how far ahead Carl and Sarah where and in doing so I looked up at the mountain, something I hadn’t done for a while because I pretty much just look at my feet when I am climbing. The clouds were coming. They had already socked in the summit and we could no longer see where the Pearly Gates were. The where coming down the mountain. I told Kyle to tell me when he headache got so bad he wanted to turn around and we trudged on, if only for the exercise. Probably another 200ft higher the clouds waved hello as they continued down the mountain and sharp snowflakes pelted me in the eyes. Kyle was looking green and nauseous. I ran up to Carl and Sarah to tell them we were going to turn around. I am not a risk taker in the best of times, and with the PCT looming on the horizon I felt like three good reasons to turn around (bad avalanche forecast, bad weather, and Kyle looking like he was going to puke) was reason enough to head back. We told Sarah and Carl to keep going and we headed down the mountain.
I know for some people turning around can be the hardest decision to make. Kyle was frustrated the whole way down, claiming the climb a failure. But I honestly didn’t see it that way. We had seen a beautiful sunrise, made it up to 9,500ft, gotten a great work out, and had a fun time. We had been on a mountain again, and yes, I had wanted to stand on the summit, but I had also wanted to see Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, and the landscape for miles and miles, and with the white out all we would have seen was the inside of a cloud. When we reached the top of the ski lift we saw Sarah and Carl and every other person heading down the mountain above us. Sometimes you choose not to keep climbing and that is okay too. And sometimes you leave your blue bag by the Silcox Climbers hut to grab on the way down and discover when you get there that ravens really will eat just about anything. The end.