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An overnight base camp high on Mount Hood in May, 2010

Overnight high camp on Mt. Hood in May: “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun"
By Larry Beck
The wet, snowy and unpredictable weather during the spring of 2010 made early season Mt. Hood climbs iffy at best. Our official Mazama climbs in early May had all scrubbed. Fortunately, some members of our
group had found good weather windows for Hood summits on Mother’s Day and the week after. But we had several recent BCEP grads from Team 5 and non-Mazama friends eager for their first summit attempts and
targeted the Memorial Day weekend for a possible climb. Heavy snow leading up to the weekend made avalanche danger up high a reality, but a two day weather window loomed for Saturday and Sunday. We
decided to play it by ear, monitor snow and weather conditions and make a final decision for the climb, and ultimately for a summit push, when we got to the Hogsback.

For a twist, we decided to make a high camp on our first day, rest and enjoy the solitude of camping on Triangle Moraine for the night, then get up early the next morning refreshed and knock out the last 2,000 feet to the summit. I had done this same trip last June and enjoyed the change of pace.

Amy Mendenhall, the most experienced member of our group, was the organizer and climb leader. Mike Maguire and I assisted. 2010 Team 5 BCEP grads Angie Freyer, Michelle Van Kleeck, Regis Krug and Rick
Reddaway from Portland, and Bruce Ludwig from Hood River, joined in, as did Mike’s son, Guy, and his friend Evan Barnett, both early 20-somethings from Olympia. Amy’s friends, Daniel Sherman and Andrew
Wimer from Lebanon, rounded out the team. This would be the first Hood attempt for 9 of our 12 member party.

We planned to leave Saturday morning, arrive in camp by mid-afternoon and then run the newbies through rope skills and snow skills the afternoon prior to the climb. The weather had other ideas. We arrived at
Timberline at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday to light rain and limited visibility. The forecast called for clearing by late morning so we were hopeful. We decided to wait it out. Making good use of our time at the day lodge, we
practiced tying prussics to climbing ropes, travelling on a fixed line with prussics, and rope travel and passing through protection. The BCEP grads had the opportunity to teach their newly acquired skills to the other
climbers. We got good practice in and entertained the skiers and boarders at the lodge as we rope up and climbed the steps and railings. We fueled up on chili, pizza, fries and burgers at the lodge for lunch (more
on that later). Then, as forecast, the skies cleared, the rain stopped, and the summit appeared brilliant white against the now blue sky. How do the forecasters know what they know?

We geared up in the parking lot, smiling at our good fortune. We left the climber’s registry about 2 p.m. The winds were calm, the snow conditions good, and the sun was shining. We made slow, but steady progress
on the climber’s trail past Silcox Hut and up the cat track to about 8,000 ft. Then some physical challenges arose. Regis, one of the strongest hikers in the group—who routinely peals off 20+ mile hikes on consecutive weekend days—was having trouble catching his breath at elevation, and decided to turn around. Mike, a vegan, was feeling the effects of his greasy garden burger lunch which was probably cooked in hamburger grease. My chili fueled HAF (“high altitude flatulence”) was making life difficult for Andrew climbing behind me. The rest of the team felt strong.

The clouds still lay thick around Timberline, but above it was blue sky and high wispy clouds. We climbed on, past the top of Palmer. With the recent snow, none of the rock shelters that I had camped in the year
before along the moraine ridge were visible. At 9,135 ft. we decided to dig in. With our four shovels and ice axes we dug into the 20 degree slope, packing down the excess snow to build a ledge on the downhill side.
Our goal was to increase the width of the platform to accommodate our five tents and one bivy sack. (Note: next time bring one shovel per tent!) It was a surprising amount of work and took much longer than we had

The low level clouds below Timberline had started to dissipate. Mt. Jefferson and the Sisters, whose peaks had barely been visible above the clouds two hours ago, were now in full view. The valley floor began to clear. The sun was getting low and the temperature began to drop. Several team members were getting cold, so we added layers and cranked up the stoves to prepare dinner and melt snow to fill our water bottles. My MSR Whisperlite performed like a champ and held up well against the Jet- Boils. Hot food and drink warmed up the cold feet and hands and re-energized the team.

The early evening views from our camp were incredible: the very reason why we had wanted to camp on the mountain in the first place. Having seen the mountain shadow in the morning on other climbs, we now got
to see the evening mountain shadow to the east. The Steel Cliffs were bathed in a warm, amber light. Crater Rock, the Hogsback and the Old Chute route to the summit seemed so close. The lights of Portland twinkled to the west. We had the mountain to ourselves for the night. If the weather held as planned, we would summit and be back to camp within 12 hours. We took photos, prepared our summit packs for the morning, took a last look around and then turned in to prepare for a 3 a.m. wake up call.

The wind picked up during the night to 20 knots or better. The flapping of our tent fly in the breeze drowned out Mike’s snoring. Amy peaked out of her bivy sack after midnight and it was still clear. At 3 a.m. it was a
different story. The stars and summit had disappeared. A fine mist became sleet and then freezing rain. Visibility was near zero. The soft snow was now coated with a layer of ice. Rick, up for an early morning pee
break, slipped on the ice and skidded about 30 ft. down the slope before he came to a stop, almost losing a boot in the process. (Note to self: tie your boots even if you are just getting up to go to the bathroom.) At 4
a.m. there was still no change. Amy, Mike and I huddled in our tent at 5 a.m. for a meeting, but with no change in the conditions, we knew the climb was over. Time for a new plan. (Note: one day weather windows
may close a day early.) We decided to wait for the sun to come up, break camp and head down the mountain. Mike passed the word to the rest of the team.

What a change awaited us when we got out of the tents. The windward (north) sides of our tents were covered with a ½ inch of ice. Our three season tents held up alright, but were stressed by the wind and ice
accumulation. (Note: next time bring fourth season of three-season tents.) Our ice axes, trekking poles, wands, and anything else left out in the open, were encased in clear ice an inch thick. Visibility was limited
down the mountain and there was no sign of the summit which had glowed so brightly only a few hours before. As we packed up, a group of climbers on their way up arrived at our camp and took a rest break. We
compared notes. They descended soon after we did. Another group also passed by our camp and continued up. Why they did in those conditions we were not sure—perhaps hoping that the weather forecast would
be right and it would soon be clear and sunny.

We started down about 7:45 a.m. with compasses out, ready to follow the 180 degree magnetic course back to the Palmer snow field. I led us down, plunge stepping through the thin ice crust with my plastic boots to
the softer snow below. Amy was close behind constantly checking and rechecking our course. The rest of the team followed. Mike was sweeper. We could see each other, but nothing else. Then Daniel had a
problem: the heel had fallen off one of his boots recently purchased at the used gear sale, and traction was difficult. How does a heel fall off? He put on crampons which helped and we continued.

As we descended, I thought I heard the “beep beep beep” of a snow cat somewhere below, but could not be sure. Fog plays tricks with sound. Then I caught a quick glimpse of the upper-most tower of the Palmer
chairlift before it disappeared again. Taking a bearing, we altered our course and headed for the chairlift. The Palmer chair would not be running in this weather, so we decided to follow the chairlift down to Silcox and then traverse east to the climbers trail and home. While our trip down from camp to the top of the Palmer chair may have been only ¾ of a mile, if that, we were relieved to know exactly where we were and then follow the lift cables down. We could now relax a bit. As we approached Silcox, the fog lifted and the Magic Mile and Timberline Lodge appeared. We called Regis, who had spent the night in this car at Timberline, to let him know we would be there soon and headed down.

We celebrated with beer and donuts in the parking lot. This being a private non-Mazama climb these things are allowed, plus with Evan, a Canadian along, it was fitting. From the lot we could look up to just past Silcox, but nothing beyond that. The summit never reappeared that day. We drove to Government Camp for hot coffee and breakfast at the Huckleberry Inn.

While it is always disappointing to be denied the summit attempt, I don’t think anyone on our team felt cheated. We enjoyed being among the highest elevation campers in Oregon for one night, adapted to changing
weather conditions, and then we made wise and safe choices when we knew it was not meant to be. We made new friends, got to know old friends better, got some exercise, and then talked it out over beer and
coffee. Not bad for 24 hours on the mountain.

That night back at home in Portland, safe, warm and dry inside while outside the rain came down in torrents, I felt fortunate for the experience with my climbing friends and thankful to be inside. When I awoke the next morning just before 7 a.m. on Memorial Day, exactly 24 hours after we arose from our ice camp to head down, with the rain still pouring down outside, the memories of the days prior warmed me. My only down
climbing for this day would be a flight of stairs to the kitchen to brew my morning coffee.
Copyright© 2010 by Larry Beck. All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from the author and the Mazamas from the September 2010 Mazama Bulletin





Photos Copyright© 2010 by Climb Members. All Rights Reserved.


Webmeister's Note: I really liked this story of controlled Risk and adventure with great companions. I called Lee Davis at Mazama headquarters in Portland. He gave me the phone numbers of Larry Beck and of Publications Chair Diana Schweitzer. Their permission to reprint the story was cordial and quick. I would trade a summit for this adventure in a heart beat because "it is not the summit or the route that I remember, it is the shared companionship of the climb". --Robert Speik



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