Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mount Hood Mashup: Climbing and slogging around the beast. 32:56


Matching jackets and head lamps with Matt Palilla
Half way down after a successful summit. 
I lived in Oregon from 1998-2004 while going to grad school and working on my dissertation. Most of this was in the Willamette Valley. At times, I would catch views of the Cascade Mountains and feel twinges of regret. In my late teens and early 20's I was really active in the back country. But the vagaries of life, fixing up an old house, and graduate school combined forces and I spent my downtime on my ass instead of exploring the natural world around me. When we drove up to Portland on weekends, the views of Mt. Hood would beckon and add insult to injury. I knew that someday I would get off the couch, get active and knock Mt. Hood off my bucket list.
It only took ten years.

A couple years ago I ran around St. Helens and fell in love with circumnavigations. The idea of running around a mountain seemed a little dumb to me earlier, but I loved my first experience. Seeing the crater from 360 degrees, struggling up and over huge ridges, running through the different ecosystems, and finishing where I had started were things that I had not experienced on other runs. I was hooked. Other mountains followed including an OKT (Only Known Time) high up on Kilimanjaro and my first real running injury on Manaslu.  Matt Palilla and I had a lot of fun a little over a year ago climbing Adams and then running around it.  The combination of climbing and running was super fun and we ended up with a WA Ultra Grimy Award which was pretty cool. A little later in the summer we were also able to meet up and run around Mt. Hood on the Timberline Trail, finishing in about 13 hours and having a blast. 

Matt above Illumination Rock

As the year rolled by with this past summer approaching, we made tentative plans for more climbs and runs including finally realizing a 'mash-up' on Hood, getting both a climb and a circumnavigation done.  A couple weeks after returning from the Great Himalaya Traverse last July, we met up once again in a parking lot at the base of the Timberline Ski Resort on Mt. Hood. Matt was enthusiastic about the climb but hesitant about doing the circumnavigation because he was still hurting from a fast finish at Western States less then a month prior. I was hesitant because I had done practically no running over the past 3 months. I was super acclimated and fit from the GHT, but also worried about having lost my running stride. I was also worried about the exposure on the knife ridge leading to the summit. The more I climb, the less I like heights and I had made the mistake of reading a wikipedia page detailing all of the deaths on Hood. Not smart. 


View of Mt. Jefferson from Mt. Hood - looking south.

We slept for a couple hours in the parking lot, knowing it would be safer to climb when the cold of the night made the snow harder, bonding loose rocks to the mountain and decreasing the risk of avalanches. Starting up 11:54am we following the ski slopes and the headlamps of a few other climbers. We soon passed everyone and put on our crampons - sometimes swinging our headlamps around to spot landmarks including Illumination Rock and the Hogsback. As we got higher, we started encountering vents that spewed out hot sulfur gasses, not things you want to fall into! A little further on, we roped up while clinging to the mountain. I don't think either of us expected it to be so steep! The adrenaline and exposure had one of my feet bouncing Elvis style while we sorted out the rope and gear. We simul-climbed together, I had three pickets (snow anchors) and placed these every 20-30 feet so that if one of us fell we would have some added protection. When Matt got to one, he would pull it out of the snow and we would regroup and trade gear every so often. This really slowed us down, and in retrospect I think we would have been fine and a lot faster if we each had two ice axes and free soloed. But we didn't have extra axes and it was good practice (and safety) to rope up and use pickets. The stars were high above and the only sound was axes biting into the snow. 

The knife ridge was not as bad as I expected, it only took about 10 minutes. It was a mixture of snow and loose rock, sometimes only a foot or two wide, with a 1,000+ft drop on the north side. Not my cup of tea but the darkness helped me, hiding the depths and ensuring that ignorance was bliss. With a few more minutes, we were on the summit, reaching it in 3:57 hours, just before 4am. Beautiful but cold! My toes in my running shoes were freezing and both of us had the shivers. Time to head down!  This was slow going as we belayed each other down the steepest sections. 



I think the best part of the climb, was catching the summit shadow on the sun rise.  I didn't know about summit shadows until maybe 5 or 6 years ago when someone pointed one out and I was blown away. The one we saw on Hood, particularly with it stretching across the landscape and against the sunrise, was amazing. By this time we were also pumped because the technical descent was behind us, no more fears of falling into a thermal vent and ending up like a lobster.


We eventually made it back down to the parking lot where Megan and Julie were all geared up for a run. It was great to see them. After way too much fiddling with changing into running gear, we set out clockwise. What a perfect day! The sun was out, birds singing, friends, and huge mountain valleys to run up and down. We said goodbye to Megan and Matt at the Zig Zag river. This might have been 4 miles into the 30 mile circumnavigation. 



Wahoo! Above the Zig Zag river with Julie, Megan, and Matt

All was well for a couple more miles and then I suddenly started to get extremely sleepy. Julie encouraged me to take a 'magic nap' but I was stubborn and kept thinking it would pass. Before long, I wasn't really running anymore. Just hiking. A couple times I had to step aside when trail runners came through, making me feel a bit like an imposter. 



Julie kicking out the last 8 miles
Around 7pm we came to a ridge near Cloud Cap. The trail here was blocked off, a huge slide in the valley below had destroyed it. When Matt and I ran around Hood in 2013, we also had a problem finding the alternative trail and finally succeeded only because a hiker pointed out the junction which was somewhat obscured by a big bush. Even though Matt reminded me of this section before we parted ways, I was confused and thought we were on a different ridge. Julie and I spent about 45 minutes going up and down it, looking for the turn before I finally remembered and spotted it. Things didn't get easier though, following some ropes down the steep scree, we struggled to find the trail across the river, up the other bank and the junction back with the 'normal trail'. In all, I think we spent almost 3 hours just crossing this section - it was pitch dark by the time we finally found the junction. 

Maybe because of the adrenaline - I was now wide awake and ready to run. Julie was beat though, now in her 14th hour of moving. We had about 4 miles of high country to cross before dropping down below 6,000ft.  We agreed to push through this and then to find a place to nap. And that is what we did, we crossed huge snow fields in the dark and very desolate stretches of the blast zone on the mountain, regretting all the views we were missing. At midnight we found a spot under some trees and pulled out our emergency bivy sacks which are made out of the same reflective foil you see handed out at marathons. I've always carried one of these and always dreaded having to use one. Let's just say it was not a comfortable nap lying on the cold ground in that bag but the planned 1hr nap morphing into 4hrs so that we could finish in the daylight. I think we had 8 miles from there and we both felt a lot better after sleeping and with the sky light again. 



Any excuse to stop!

One last selfie with Julie and the mountain 
Made it! Eating cheese and drinking beer in the parking lot on the second morning

That's it. Huge thanks to Julie for staying with me and spending a whole day and night coaxing me along instead of a nice long run in the daylight. There may need to be a redemption mashup someday but I'm now on a plane heading to Kathmandu and getting ready to spend 9 days running around Annapurna with some other crazy runners who are joining me in this S2 Mountaineering adventure. If you want to follow along: www.annapurnatrailrace.org  It is not actually a trail race (that will likely come in 2015) but really an exploratory 'fast pack' to check out the trails in prep for 2015. 

Below are the splits from the Mt. Hood Mashup. The GPS tracks are from a Delorme Transponder which recorded a waypoint every 10 minutes. The notes on elevations below are a little wonky because of the variance in altitude measurements by GPS. I don't know if anyone has ever done a mashup like this on Hood. I'm not super proud of how long it took. The circumnavigation took 25 hours, 12 hours longer then last year! Hardly a run, but fun nonetheless. Maybe next year. 

7/25/2014: start 11:54pm  5,852ft
7/26/2014: arrived at Knife Ridge 3:34am, 11184 ft
  • Summit at 3:51am, 11,243ft  
  • Back at Parking Lot, 7:49am, 5,877ft
  • Out of Parking Lot, 8:36,  5,823ft
7/27 Bivy-Nap at 12:28am, 6,490ft
  • Moving again. 4:26am, 6,086ft
  • Done! 8:50am, 5,968ft 

Climb: 7:55 
Run/Slog including time in Parking Lot: 25:01
Total: 32:56

Delorme Sat/GPS Tracks