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May 2005, Week 5


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Denis Bogan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Vermont Skiing Discussion and Snow Reports <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 29 May 2005 08:38:32 -0700
text/plain (205 lines)
It was my 4th trip to the Silcox Hut, a backcountry hut at the 7000 ft.
level on Mt. Hood.  It has become a tradition, organized by Ron and
Jeanette, stay in the hut, climb, ski, hang out, whatever.  This
reputation of being laid back & doing your own thing is genuine but seems
at odds with the roots of the folks who go there.  As we went around the
room on Sun. evening, each person stating their background and summit
motivation level, I was humbled, if not intimidated.  All the others were
credentialed with the Seattle Mountaineers, an icon of American
mountaineering.  More than half of all the Americans ever to set foot on
the summit of Everest, starting with Jim Whittaker, the first, have been
trained in whole or in part by the Mountaineers.  It seemed that everyone
had taken The Mountaineers basic course, advanced course, glacier travel,
crevasse rescue, etc.  Several, like Robie, teach ski mountaineering with
the Mountaineers, although he claimed he was, "just a skier who owns an
ice axe."  It was all the more impressive because among backcountry mates
you understate your skills and background, knowing that to do otherwise is
folly, because sooner or later everyone is humbled by the backcountry.

I am drawn to the northwest volcanoes like a moth to a flame.  They are
behemoths, so different from the forested knolls of the northeast; even
the Rockies are pipsqueaks by comparison.  Hood rises from a 2000 ft.
coastal plain to a summit of 11,200, 9000 feet of vertical relief.  The
mountain is encircled at the 6000 ft. level (roughly the timberline) by
the Timberline trail.  It is 25 miles around.  Rainier and Shasta are even
more massive with vertical relief of 12,000 feet.  Here is a picture of
Hood that I took from the town of Hood River 25 miles away in Oct. 2004.

I arrived late on Sat. and stayed in the Timberline Lodge.  Rather than
explain it here I'll just give a link,

The Silcox Hut, where we stayed, is in the same tradition,

The snowcat ride to the lodge was scheduled for 3 PM so earlier a bunch of
us bought lift tickets and skied.  The lower lifts begin at about 5000 ft.
and the highest, the Palmer snowfield lift, goes up to 8500.  It is rarely
open this early in the year, but was open on this day and we enjoyed it.

Ron & Jeanette;


After unloading gear it was time for assignment to a rope team for the
morning's climb, and snow school.  The latter was outdoors and consisted
mostly of refreshing one's skill at arresting a fall with an ice axe, thus
convincing the others on your assigned rope team that you could arrest
yourself and stop their fall if need be.  A decent pitch was needed to do
this so we walked a little way from the hut to a good slope.  A light
mixture of rain, hail, and graupel began to fall.  Suddenly a flash and
the  instantaneous boom of a close lightning strike.  We skedaddled to the
hut and waited out the strong leading edge of the storm and then resumed
practice, falling headfirst downslope on our backs and rolling over to the
pick side of the ice axe, digging it in and arresting the slide, until
everyone was satisfied.  Then we retired to the hut for dinner, libations,
and stories,


Summit day, May 2, 3:30 AM.  An "alpine start"; get to the summit before
it warms up because midday sun softens snow and ice, leading to a daily
bombardment of rock and ice fall.  We enjoyed a delicious breakfast
prepared by hutmaster Steve, boarded the snowcat and disembarked at 8500
ft. at 5:00 in the dark and fog.  That't right, fog.  On the only "big"
mountain with which I am familiar, Mt. Washington, NH, heading up into fog
would be inviting disaster, the weather can worsen so fast up there.
However, those who call the Cascades their home mountains were sure it
would burn off.  I put my trust in them, donned climbing skins and headed
up.  They proved to be right.

The long slow climb;

The background of this picture is the Steel Cliff.  Unseen, between the
skiers and the cliff is the entrance to White River Canyon.

Above the Clouds;

Mt. Hood is a sleeping volcano gashed with huge canyons.  The cornice in
this picture is the edge of White River Canyon.  From this point you can
ski a 7000 vertical foot descent to the highway and hitch back to the
mountain.  Better not try it without a reliable partner, knowledge of the
route and avalanche gear.

Picture of the summit at 11,200 feet.  I am standing about 1000 ft. lower
and it is 7:20 AM.  This is as high as I would go.
The crater is surrounded by high walls that wrap about 270 degrees around.
 The south wall, where I am standing has been blown out by some past
eruption.  Here are a couple of pictures of the "Devil's Kitchen" the hot
steaming ground in the crater.  The sulfurous fumes were strong.

Now it was time to ski.  From here it was a 4000 vertical foot descent to
Timberline Lodge, where we could catch a lift ride back up to the Silcox
Hut.  The thunderstorm that passed over the previous evening left just a
dusting of snow down at the hut at the 7000 ft. level.  The depth had
increased steadily as we climbed and here there was a good 6" of new
powder.  The half dozen of us who decided to forego summiting and ski got
first tracks.  The summiteers later reported that it was getting wet and
heavy when they skied it.

We took our time skiing down and arrived about 9.  My tank was empty and I
took a nap in the hut, followed by a little lift skiing, a little hot
tubbing, and had a long leisurely lunch with reebs in the company of
others.  Life was good.

Summit day being over, everyone was relaxed and jovial at dinner and plans
were made - - - to spend the second day with no plan.  We would all do
whatever the spirit moved us to do.

Most decided to ride the lifts and I was going to do that too but it was
such a beautiful day that I began to think about climbing again.  Mark,
Mark, and Daniel had decided to climb to Illumination Saddle and wait for
it to corn up.  I followed behind them.  After a very slow start I made
surprisingly good time.  Perhaps altitude adjustment had kicked in.  I
skinned alone but knowing that the others were ahead, and it was clear and
cloudless.  Yesterday afternoon's wet corn had turned to hard frozen
porcelain overnight.  There were climbers ahead as well and at one point I
noticed one sliding at high speed straight at me.  Holy [log in to unmask]  It looked
like he wouldn't stop until he reached the town of Government Camp down in
the valley.  As he pulled alongside he slowed and stopped by leaning on
the spike of his ice axe.  He had just been practicing his glissading
technique.  I continued up to the saddle between Crater Rock and
Illumination Rock.

A few white puffy clouds began to appear to the west, but the sun was
strong and I knew the surface would turn to perfect corn snow if I just
had a little patience.

Self portrait;

The few clouds came closer, but still looked benign.  They moved very
slowly and I would wait until they passed to ski down.  The corn wasn't
cooked yet.  The other guys had radioed a few minutes before.  They were
headed down since one had to be at work in Seattle in the afternoon.  This
was going to be perfect.  I had no concern at all about staying there

The goal;
Note that the sky is now almost completely gray.  Within seconds of taking
this picture I was in a white out.
I had taken off the climbing skins and had been sitting on the snow,
testing it for readiness every few minutes with my hand.  I thought it was
almost ready.  Now, the plan had to change.  Waiting a few minutes more
just led to an even stronger disorientation.  I stood up to ski and had
trouble keeping my bearings.  If you haven't been in one of these things
it is impossible to really understand.  I could see my feet and skis
clearly, even the graininess of the snow at my feet, but looking downslope
was futile; everything merged seeamlessly into gray/white nothingness.  No
definition, no depth perception, and only a vague idea of up and down.  I
was directly above Zig Zag Canyon with its huge cornice above a steep
entry interspersed with big cliffs, not a good idea to ski blindly over
the edge in a whiteout.  I pushed off and fell after one turn and attempt
to stop.  I stopped but the mountain kept moving.  In truth it was the
opposite of course but this is what it feels like.  I was in trouble.  I
got up and got headed left, back where I had come from and began a long
careful traverse.  There were no tracks because it had been frozen hard
when I skinned up.  Further left I found our group's tracks from the
previous day.  Aha!  I'd crossed these tracks an hour before and knew
where they came from and where they were going.  Like magic, keeping the
tracks in my vision, skiing among them, the vertigo disappeared.  If I
ventured out of their midst it returned.  It was just as good as a tree
line, or a group of skiers leapfrogging one another.  Soon I was safely
back to the top of the Palmer snowfield lift at 8500 ft.  This too was
socked in and I skied close to the lift towers for the next 2500 ft. down
to Timberline lodge.

Here is my last view of the mountain from highway 35;

The 2005 Silcox Hut Crew;

Thanks to all, especially organizers Ron and Jeanette.  My spot is already
reserved for 2006, which is booked up.

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