Mt. Hood is the tallest mountain (and volcano) in the state of Oregon. At 11,239 feet (3426 meters) it is truly a worthy alpine... more » ascent. The volcano last erupted in 1907 and was first climbed by W.S. Buckley, W.L. Chittenden, James Deardorff, H.L. Pittock and L.J. Powell in 1857. The mountain lies 50 miles east of Portland and is considered by some to be the most likely Oregon volcano to erupt in the future although it is now dormant and there have been no recent signs of threatening activity despite having many active fumaroles.
Mt. Hood is an amazing climb. It has been estimated that over 10,000 people attempt to climb the mountain each year. This high number of climbers has also led to a high level of injuries and deaths on the mountain. Over 130 climbers have now perished while trying to reach the summit. The climb is not an extremely difficult alpine ascent but in order to safely reach the summit a good understanding of glacier travel, route finding, and use of a rope and ice axe is essential. The route described in this guide is considered the standard and most popular (easiest and fastest) route to the summit.
The route basically follows a CAT groomer path up from the Timberline Lodge past the Silcox Hut to the top of the Palmer chairlift. This first part is easy going, more of a slog than an alpine climb. Climbers should stay on the climbers path and try to avoid climbing up any ski slopes (especially during late or early ski season). Once at the same elevation as the top of the Palmer Lift you are on your own for the rest of the climb.
Continue up snowfields towards Crater Rock which looks like a castle or pyramid of rock in the middle of the summit crater. You will want to enter what is called the "devils kitchen" on the right side of Crater Rock. On your right you will see giant vertical cliffs named "Steel Cliffs" On your way up to this area be aware that on climbers left there is a pumice ridge with the White River Glacier on the other side of this. In areas this ridge is very steep and you will want to avoid straying towards it as you may find yourself sliding down towards White River Glacier below!
When you find yourself in the Devils Kitchen it would be prudent to put a climbing helmet on as rock fall from this point onward can be very dangerous, especially during hot days in the late spring and summer. From here follow the climbers path up the "Hogsback", a steep snow ridge leading up to what looks like cliffs behind Crater Rock. When climbing this route be aware that you will be approaching a large bergschrund (a crevasse that forms when moving ice, in this case the Coalman glaicer, pulls away from stagnant ice above). Usually this is skirted by staying to climbers right although the exact location of the Hogsback is known to shift, sometimes by many meters, each year. My advice is to stick to the established climbers path for that given year.
Once above the bergschrund there are generally two chutes that should get you up through the "Pearly Gates" onto the final summit slope. Sometimes this standard route can become backed up with climbers so another option would be to head to climbers left about halfway up the Hosback to climb the "Old Crater" variation. This route is very steep but it brings you up onto the summit slope just a little bit to the West of where the Pearly Gates route brings you.
Once on the summit slope it is an easy stroll to the summit. I can't express enough the need for common sense at the summit. Depending on the time of year there can be very large cornices overhanging the northeast face of the mountain. Straying too close to the edge may trigger one to collapse with you on it, which would not be a fun ending to the climb (read: you die).
Take lots of photos at the top enjoy your time at the top of Oregon as long as weather and your comfort permit. Head back down cautiously the same way you came up. Remember that going down is always scarier than going up so be careful and take your time.
If you do not have any prior alpine experience and are concerned about the difficulty of this trip I would highly recommend you contact Timberline Mountain Guides or the Mazamas which both offer guided ascents and alpine climbing instruction. Both can be easily found via a quick internet search.
If you do decide to tackle this mountain without a guide please please please go with a friend and let others know when and where you are going (what route) before you leave home. This is a day hike but understand that under the hot sun snow melts quickly and trying to walk up (or down) through almost two feet of what feels like mashed potatoes will quickly become exhausting. As my girlfriend is well aware, it is not easy to get up at 2 or 3 am to start a climb but trust me you will move much quicker if you do. It will be personal preference as to when you will want to put on your snowshoes or crampons. Often you can walk all the way up the climbers trail to the top of the Palmer lift in just your boots. A good goal for time management will be to try to reach the Crater Rock Area by dawn or slightly after.
Lastly, if you are a skier this climb gives you several options. You have the option of possibly taking the Palmer Lift up but it opens after 9am and will set you back a little bit on time. You also have the choice of skinning up the trail to Crater Rock if you have an AT or telemark setup. Trust me, going down on skis is way more fun than down-climbing through thick melting snow! I would not suggest trying to ski from the summit unless you are truly an expert skier.
I am not an alpine guide but I have climbed nearly all the Cascade Volcanoes via their standard routes over the past 4 years and have gained a lot of experience in the alpine environment by doing so. This Cascade climbing guide as well as others from me are based on my experience climbing the routes and serve only as a very rough guide to the routes I took. If you are an inexperienced climber please please hire a guide service or take an instructional alpine climbing class before attempting any of these climbs! less «