Mount Hood (11,239 ft.), Oregon’s highest peak, forms a prominent backdrop for Portland and most of Northern Oregon and Southern Washington. Located 50 miles east of Portland, Mt. Hood rises nearly seven thousand feet higher than any other peak within 70 miles. Due to its prominence, proximity to an urban center and the well maintained road that runs high onto its south side, Mt. Hood is a popular destination for climbers.
Mt. Hood is considered a dormant volcano by most climbers, though as anyone who has climbed the south side will tell you it is not dead. Active fumaroles continue to spew sulphur gas into the air, and the steam that rises off of areas like Hot Rocks and Devils Kitchen are tangible signs that molten magma still lies beneath the mountain. Though there are no records of observed volcanic activity, geologists believe there were ashflows, mudflows, lava, and pyroclastic flows within that last 250 years. Geologists also believe Mt. Hood will very likely erupt again, though a violent eruption like that of Mount St. Helen’s in 1980 is very unlikely. Instead, Mt. Hood will likely spew more gas and create a large lava dome, similar to that of the more recent eruption of Mount St. Helen’s that began in 2004.
Mt. Hood was first climbed on August 6, 1857 by Henry Pittock, W.L. Chittenden, James G. Dierdorff, W.L. Buckley, and L.J. Powell by way of the Old Chute Route. Mt. Hood is currently one of the most climbed glaciated peaks in the world, some even claim it is second in the world only to Mt. Fuji in Japan, though this claim is mostly speculative because climbing registration is optional and self-regulated. Current estimates put the number of climbers who attempt to summit Hood at 15,000 to 20,000 annually. It is common to see a nearly solid line of headlamps stretching from Crater Rock to the summit in the early hours of a clear spring morning.
The South Side Route, which begins at Timberline Lodge parking lot (5,924 ft.), is the shortest and by far the most popular route to the summit. Mt. Hood’s popularity and dubious distinction as an “easy non-technical hike” or as a “walk up” is a misconception that tends to increase the number of deaths on the mountain. These inexperienced climbers in conjunction with severe weather (which can move in quickly) or the ever present danger of avalanches, rock and ice fall account for most accidents. (Photo below courtesy of: http://tmber.com)
This guide is meant to be the most comprehensive resource available for a climb of the southern side of Mt. Hood. However, mountain conditions are subject to change, weather may change rapidly and safety always depends on preparation, skill and judgment of the climbers involved. Any guide, no matter how comprehensive, can give you only limited advice and information.
The below descriptions and recommendations are not guarantees of safety and we do not list every possible hazard that a climber may confront. A large part of the excitement and challenge of climbing is meeting risks that can not be predicted and are not normally present in a non-mountain environment. When you climb you assume these risks and must assume responsibility for your own safety.
Expand each subject listed below to learn more about climbing Mount Hood safely.
During the spring and summer, rock fall is the primary danger on the south side, but this can be mitigated somewhat by getting an alpine start (starting anytime from 12-2am). Starting early will help you get up and down the mountain before the sun comes out and the rock fall danger increases. Likewise, in the winter and spring, ice fall danger will increase when the sun comes out. Be sure to be prepared for this by planning to be off the summit before peak rock/ice fall danger time (9am to 1pm) and by wearing a climbing helmet on the upper slopes. All rock and ice should be considered likely to fall, the Cascades are merely rotten rock piles loosely held together by snow, ice or convenience.
While rarely discussed, Mt. Hood is a glaciated peak with active crevasses other than the Bergschrund. Be mindful of crevasses above the Palmer and climb in the spring when crevasses are more filled in.
Mt. Hood is a living volcano with two active fumarole zones, Hot Rocks and Devil’s Kitchen. These fumaroles release sulphur gas, which smells like rotten eggs. The warmth they provide can be enticing, but do not linger on or near the fumaroles, climbers who do will often experience vomiting, and occasionally die of suffocation. Rest atop the Hogsback near Crater Rock, well away from Hot Rocks and Devils Kitchen, and move steadily through these areas.
While more prevalent in the winter and early spring, the cornices have been lingering later into the climbing season due to late snowfall. Cornices can extend up to 40 feet out over the steeper north face, so it is best to stay well back from the edge. Standing on a cornice could cause it to release, sending it and you plummeting down thousands of feet!
Avalanches are a very real concern on Mt. Hood. Each and every time a climb of Mt. Hood is attempted avalanche conditions should be assessed. The NW Weather and Avalanche Center provides winter forecasts for up to 7000 ft, however, there is currently no reliable avalanche forecasting for the upper parts of Mt. Hood. For winter season climbs, avalanche conditions may always be a concern. After any new snowfall in the spring and summer (with good stability in the existing snowpack) there needs to be 3-4 days with a combination of temperatures above freezing and sun radiation during the day, followed by temperatures below freezing at night, to minimize avalanche risk of avalanches. Shorten that timeline to 36-48 hours if there has been significant rainfall all the way to the top of the mountain.
Mt. Hood is often considered an easy hike, a “walk up” by some accounts. While many inexperienced and ill equipped climbers are successful, this is not a climb for those lacking climbing experience. In addition to proper attire and emergency equipment, all climbers should have an ice axe, crampons, sturdy boots and a climbing helmet. A climbing rope, climbing harness and avalanche safety equipment is also strongly recommended depending on conditions. Please remember that it is not enough to have the equipment, you must know how to use it safely and effectively.
The South Side Route can get very crowded from about Memorial Day through July. This creates a very real risk of dealing with the consequences of unsafe climbers. Climbers may pass you quickly, stop in front of you, fall and slide into you, drop equipment or debris, etc. Whenever there are a lot of climbers together in a relatively small area there is the potential for danger. Follow good climbing etiquette:
- Move quickly, carefully and efficiently through chutes
- Yield to uphill traffic while descending
- Wait behind slower climbers, don’t pass unless they give you the OK
- Pass quickly and well to the side of other climbers/teams
- Give other climbers and teams lots of space
- Travel single file
- Be patient
- Be polite
PERMITS AND PLANNING
WILDERNESS PERMIT (MANDATORY):
Climbing to the summit means entering the Mount Hood Wilderness Area which requires a free, non-quota, self-issued wilderness permit. These are available at the Timberline day lodge “Climbers’ Cave” and all trailheads within the wilderness area. The Climbers’ Cave does not have a door and is open year round, 24/7. The Climbers’ Cave does have bathroom facilities available to climbers.
CLIMBERS’ REGISTRATION FORM (RECOMMENDED)
This is a general form stating the people in your party, planned route, climbing dates and emergency contact info. However, if you don’t come back on your stated date, don’t depend on this form to initiate a search for you. For South Side Routes, this is also available in the Timberline Climbers’ Cave.
SNO-PARK PERMIT (SEASONALLY MANDATORY)
Oregon’s Department of Transportation is responsible for clearing public roads and parking lots of snow, including Timberline Lodge. To offset the cost of this effort, the State of Oregon requires all cars purchase and display a Sno-Park Permit from November 1 through April 30. Sno-Park Permits from California, Idaho and Washington are valid in Oregon. Annual, 3-day and daily Permits are available for sale at Mountain Shop and many other local businesses. For complete details on the Sno-Park Permit system, you can visit the Oregon DMV website.
BLUE BAGS (OPTIONAL):
Solid bodily wastes must be carried out and disposed of via plastic “blue bags” usually available at the Timberline Climber’s Cave. These are generally not needed on day hikes up the south side (you can try to hold it). It is not required that you use “blue bags” specifically, you may use any means of packing out you find convenient or effective. Be sure to dispose of all waste appropriately, and do not leave it on the mountain. Please, if you see trash or waste of any kind, even if it isn’t yours, pack it out if possible.
Cell Phones: Cell phones are constantly trying to find a signal for reception, in doing so they “PING” a signal of their own that is detectable by rescuers. Again, cell phones will not initiate a search unless used to call authorities, but the “PING” it sends can be triangulated to find the phone. A phone does not need reception to be detectable by rescuers or, in some cases, to call 911. The phone does, however, need to be “ON” to be detected.
Personal Locator Beacons: Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are designed to initiate a search and guide rescuers to the unit. PLBs come in two two varieties, those that work on radio frequency or those that work with GPS. Those that work on radio frequency relay off of satellites and radio towers and are more reliable than MLUs or GPS enable PLBs, but are more expensive upfront and, to our knowledge, not able to be rented locally. PLBs that work on GPS will provide rescuers with a precise (within 3 meters) location of the device. GPS, however, requires line of site to 3 satellites, which may be difficult depending on your location. GPS enabled PLBs may be rented at some stores (not ours) for a minimal fee. GPS enabled PLBs are usually less expensive initially than other PLBs, but they require a yearly service fee. After a 2-4 years all PLBs will all cost the same, and after 4 years the GPS enabled PLBs become considerably more expensive.
Mt. Hood climbs can take between 2-24 hours round trip, depending on your schedule. The average climber wants to be done in a day and, unless you are planning on setting a speed record, that means leaving in the early morning and returning in the early afternoon. Typically climbers leave the Timberline Lodge parking lot between 11pm and 2am. Someone who has prepared properly to climb can average 1000 vertical feet per hour, at that rate it will take a little over 5 hours to summit.
A start time should be established based on an estimated pace and your desired summit hour. It is strongly recommended that you summit no later than 8AM to avoid peak rock and ice fall hours. If you are in good shape and have trained to climb Mt. Hood you can estimate 4-7 hours to the summit. Other climbers should prepare for a longer climb, maybe 6-9 hours.
Descending from the summit to the parking lot will take you approximately half the time it took you to summit. If you reached the summit in 6 hours it may take you 3-4 hours to get back. Descending is a challenge in and of itself. You will be tired, and using a whole new set of muscles. But gravity is on your side, and there will be far fewer breaks (perhaps just the one to take off your crampons).
A typical schedule for a south side climb of Mt. Hood might look like this:
- 11:00 PM – Arrive at Timberline Lodge parking area.Check in, organize gear and use the restroom.
- 12:00 AM – Depart the parking area.
- 1:30 AM – Arrive at Silcox Warming Hut. Take a break, if needed, using Silcox as a windbreak.
- 4:00 AM – Arrive at Upper Palmer Lift House.Take another break, check weather and visibility. If either is poor consider waiting for better conditions, or turning around.
- 5:30 AM – Arrive at Crater Rock. This is the best spot to put on crampons, harnesses, etc. It is also as far as you should go if you are not prepared for a climb.
- 7:00 AM – Summit.Enjoy the views, a snack, a drink, take some photos, and turn around. You’ll want to be back to Crater Rock before rock/ice fall danger rises around 9AM
- 8:30 AM – Arrive back at Crater Rock. Take off your crampons, harness, etc. By now conditions are generally warm enough to not need crampons. Keep them on if you feel more comfortable.
- 12:30 PM – Arrive back at Timberline Lodge parking area. Take breaks at the Upper Palmer Lift House and/or Silcox if you’d like.
**For a full description of the route and landmarks, read the route description below.
All climbers should have a plan in place for emergency situations. This includes a plan made with a friend or loved one who is NOT climbing, and a plan for the climber(s).
Friends/Family Plan: It is important that you leave an itinerary with a friend, family member or loved one who is not climbing. This way, should something happen and you are not able to initiate a search, rescuers will be alerted and a search will commence. This plan should include:
- The specific route you will take
- An alternate route in case of emergency
- Timetable for your climb
- A time when you will check in
- A time to initiate a search
- Contact information for Search and Rescue
- Contact information for family members of each climber
With this information in place, the individual you leave it with will know when to expect a phone call, when to worry, who to call and what to tell them. We recommend you pick a time you will check in with your friend/family member that is 1-3 hours after you plan on returning to Timberline Lodge. This way you have flexibility for any delays. Your search initiation time should be 6-10 hours after you were suppose to check in. If you do use this kind of plan DO NOT FORGET TO CALL, even if you are off the mountain safely, call. If you are running late, call. If you blow off the climb and go to a bar in Government Camp, call. (Photo: Steve Rollins)
Climber(s) Plan: Within your team, or as a solo climber, you must have a plan in case of emergency. It is impossible for us to go through every scenario, but you must work through some common problems and agree on the solutions before you leave. Questions you should consider are:
- What if a storm moves in?
- What if we get lost?
- What if we are behind schedule?
- What if the route conditions are questionable?
- What if someone is fatigued?
- What if someone is injured?
It is vital that every member of your group agree on an answer to these questions. During a climb, ego and adrenaline are high and decisions can be rash. Discuss possible scenarios before you leave and come to a consensus. These are problems best solved in the parking lot, or better yet the drive up. Of course, there are a million things that can happen in a million different ways. You must be able to asses the situation and make good judgements, often on the fly.
Climbing is a physically demanding activity, requiring proper conditioning and training. In addition to the strenuous activity of walking uphill with weight on your back, you will be breathing less oxygen because of the elevation. With less oxygen your muscles will be working at a diminished capacity.
Before climbing Mt. Hood, you should go on several training hikes. These hikes should consist of elevation gains of 3,000-5,000 feet and distances of 2-4 miles to simulate the slope of Mt. Hood. Locally these are climbs such as Table Mountain, Dog Mountain, Hamilton Mountain and Mount Defiance to name a few. During these hikes, if possible, carry the equipment you will climb with. If you do not own all the equipment you will need, put other items in to simulate weight. A pack of 20-30 pounds is average for a Mt. Hood climb.
A person who exercises regularly and is in good physical health should plan on doing 5-10 of these sorts of hikes before a climb. Those who do not get regular exercise or have other health problems should consult their doctor for an exercise routine appropriate for them, and slowly add in hikes with elevation and a weighted pack.
Every climber should also be trained and practiced in self arrest and crampon techniques. These are skills you will need for the climb. It is also important that each climber is familiar with other skills that conditions may require, for example: belays, rope-team travel, crevasse rescue, avalanche condition assessment, avalanche transceiver use, first aid, navigation and rappelling. Remember that the safety of every climber on the mountain is at risk whenever a single climber is unprepared.
SOUTH SIDE ROUTES
From Timberline Lodge (5,924 ft.), head north across the parking lot, climb the snow bank and make your way to climber’s right of the ski boundary. There are often stakes with surveyor’s tap marking the boundary, otherwise there is a well-worn path that will be easy to find. This path will be your highway until you reach the top of the Timberline Ski Area (Palmer Lift House). If visibility is poor climb under the Magic Mile Ski Lift, located 100 yards west of the Timberline Lodge.
Silcox Warming Hut (7,016 ft.) is approximately 1000 ft. above Timberline and a nice place to take your first break. The interior of Silcox won’t be available during your climb, but the building itself offers a good windbreak. The same is true of all the lift houses; they merely provide a landmark and a bit of protection, don’t depend on any of these for shelter. If you’re on the main climbing trail the hut will be about 100 yards to climber’s left, if you’re under the lifts you’ll run into the Magic Mile Lift House, Silcox is a 100 feet to climber’s right. From Silcox continue to climb either on the main climber’s trail, or following the lift if visibility is still poor.
The next stop is usually the top of the Palmer Snow Field (8,540 ft.), like Silcox the building makes a great wind break. If weather is poor, visibility is low and you’re unfamiliar with the terrain you should go no higher than the Palmer. If you are able to follow the ski lifts you can make it to this point with relative safety, however, above the Palmer you will be relying on navigation and be dealing with increased danger of crevasses, rock/ice fall or avalanches.
Climber’s continuing on should move to climber’s left so that you are continuing from directly above the Palmer Lift House. This provides some degree of security of crevasses that creep over from the top of White River Canyon later in the season. Head north toward Crater Rock from the lift house.
As you approach Crater Rock you’ll want to gain the Hogsback by traversing the eastern (climber’s right) base of Crater Rock. Some sources suggest the western side of Crater Rock as a variation on this route, however over the last few seasons this has been a popular path for large landslides and avalanches. The eastern side is more protected and fairly reliable. As you come around Crater Rock the Hogsback is the obvious ridge of snow that links Crater Rock to the summit rim. Where the Hogsback begins is the perfect spot to put on crampons (if you haven’t done so yet) and take a brief break. When you stop make sure you’re out from the base of Crater Rock, by now the sun will be rising and rock fall is common.
Most conditioned climbers can reach Crater Rock safely in good weather, regardless of experience or ability. Beyond Crater Rock is the “crux” of the climb. Here all members of a team should be familiar with the use of crampons and ice axes, know how to self-arrest, be comfortable with crevasse rescue techniques and know how to travel on a rope team. Experience, assessment of the condtions/terrain and good judgment will tell you if traveling on a rope team is necessary. If you don’t have these skills you have no business going further without a guide or experienced team with you!
From the Hogsback there are two main variations of the traditional south side climb of Mt. Hood: Old Chute and the Pearly Gates. Each has been referred to as the primary route by one source or another, with the other listed as a variation. Conditions dictate which route is best. Some years we’ve seen the Pearly Gates fill in with snow/ice, creating a 20 foot vertical wall that most casual climbers are unprepared for. Other years the Hogsback moves over and creates a low angle ramp directly through the Pearly Gates. It just depends.
THE PEARLY GATES
The most direct route to the summit from Crater Rock is the Pearly Gates. Follow the Hogsback toward the summit rim. Don’t go too far up the Hogsback as the buttress between Pearly Gates and Old Chute is one of the first to shed rock in the morning. Once you’ve passed Devil’s Kitchen (the fumaroles on climber’s right) move to climber’s right and skirt between the Bergschrund and Devil’s Kitchen Headwall. Depending on conditions there may be other crevasses to be cautious of, but you’ll definitely have to contend with the Bergschrund on your left and the headwall on your right (which is prone to rock fall).
In years when the Hogsback has shifted east the Bergschrund can come very close to Devil’s Kitchen Headwall in the later season when the Bergschrund is open. In these conditions climbers should move to their left off the Hogsback and around the Bergschrund.The Pearly Gates proper is a Y-shaped chute with a buttress in the middle. This is the steepest (30 to 40 degrees) section of the entire climb, and has the most danger of rock and ice fall. Move quickly and carefully, stay spaced out so as not to endanger other climbers. Following the largest of the two chutes will put you a few hundred feet from the summit. Approach the summit carefully as there is frequently a large cornice that builds up on the north side of the summit rim, particularly in early spring.
THE OLD CHUTE
If the Pearly Gates are in poor condition, the Old Chute may be your best bet. From December until late April or mid May, when this area is more prone to avalanches, follow the Hogsback toward the summit rim until you near the Bergschrund. Before you reach the Bergschrund, drop off the Hogsback to climber’s left. Continue carefully up and to your left, probing for the end of the Bergschrund until you pass it. Continue up and to the left of the prominent rock buttress and through the Old Chute. By staying higher on the route and hugging the buttress above the Bergschrund you avoid spending time in a potential slide path, and in early season the buttress is less likely to shed rock or ice on to you.
Later in the season, when avalanche danger is low and your biggest threat is rock and ice fall, leave the Hogsback as soon as you can, passing over the area known as Hot Rocks (climbers left of Hogsback). Hot Rocks is directly north of Crater Rock and consists of two active fumaroles, the area between them is often covered with snow, but even if it is not you can cross with little danger. The fumaroles offer a bit of warmth and it’s a tempting spot to put on crampons, warm up, camp or establish an emergency shelter. DO NOT LINGER ON OR NEAR THE FUMAROLES, sulphur gas released from the vents can deplete the oxygen in the area. Moving steadily ensures no danger of suffocation. Once you’ve negotiated Hot Rocks, move up and through the Old Chute. In low snow years, or late in the season a second Bergschrund has been known to appear, so be careful of crevasses.
As you top out on the Old Chute be careful, the north face is a few feet in front of you. It’s best to begin following the summit ridge to the right as soon as you are able to, in order to avoid falling off the north side. Follow the ridge to climbers right, sometimes a bulge of snow and ice forms between the top of the Old Chute and the summit. This is usually located a few dozen feet from the top of the chute. This often is no more than a larger than normal step down, but sometimes it necessitates a bit of down climbing. Once this is behind you continue up towards the summit. You will have to drop 30-50 feet down into a small saddle where the west chute of the Pearly Gates tops out, and then continue to the summit! Be careful, especially in early season, of the large cornice that builds up and over the north side, some years it looms as far out as 40 feet.
We strongly recommend descending whichever route you ascended, this way you are familiar with the conditions, obstacles, landmarks and route. If this is not possible due to weather, route conditions, other climbers or some other danger, try to descend the other South Side Route. If your are not equipped or prepared for a descent ask for help from other climbers. If weather or route conditions make it unsafe to descend, build an emergency shelter and call for help. If you are unable to call for help, hunker down and wait, a friend or family member should initiate your emergency plan.
Once safely back at Crater Rock your challenge isn’t always done. The descent of Mt. Hood in low visibility (or if you aren’t paying attention) can be deadly. If visibility is poor the tendency of a climber is to follow the fall line, which will lead to either White River Canyon or Mississippi Headwall. In either case the result is a fall of several hundred feet off a cliff. If you are unable to see a fixed landmark such as the Palmer Lift House, Silcox, or Timberline Lodge use a compass to take a magnetic south bearing, this will lead you toward the ski area and eventually Timberline Lodge. It’s best to use the compass as soon as visibility lessens and you loose sight of your destination.
Mt. Hood can be climbed any time of year, depending on your chosen route. However, climbers using the South Side Routes should consider climbing from mid-April to mid-July, depending on route conditions. Earlier and there is an increased risk of avalanches; any later and there is an increased risk of landslides, rock fall, ice fall and open crevasses. Weather and mountain conditions should be the ultimate indicator of when to climb.
Mt. Hood is located within a wilderness area, and guiding permits are restricted to a handful of approved guiding operations. We have a great relationship with the folks at Timberline Mountain Guides. We climb with many of the guides personally, and a few of them work for us when they aren’t guiding. We also like the folks at Portland Parks and Recreation, who also offer guided climbs on most weekends from May-July.
Climbers often stay in Portland and leave the city late at night for a climb. Portland offers easy access to hotels, the airport, rental cars and other accommodations. The drive to Timberline takes less than two hours (one hour if you’re a speed demon), so many climbers leave in the evening, arriving in time to organize and depart.
Others prefer to stay in Hood River, which is closer to the mountain but a smaller city without a major airport. Hood River is a beautiful town with a strong outdoor-lifestyle vibe. If it works with your travel plans, Hood River is a great place to stay!
Still others will stay at Timberline Lodge, while more expensive it holds a lot of history and is undoubtedly the most convenient lodging. A less expensive alternative, almost as close, is the Mazama Lodge owned and operated by a Portland climbing organization.
Most climbers choose to drive from one of the nearby towns or cities, but if you’d prefer to camp a bit closer there are terrific options in the Mt. Hood National Forest. If you’re traveling in an RV you have several camping options, including parking your rig in the Timberline Lodge parking lot.
If you’d like a longer stay on Mt. Hood, you may also camp on the mountainside. If you choose to camp above timberline, be sure you are out of the ski area, be cautions of rock and ice fall, and know the avalanche conditions. Perhaps the safest (though not necessarily safe) place to camp is Illumination Saddle, about a 3-4 hour climb from Timberline Lodge. This small ridge between Castle Crags and Illumination Rock will deflect most falls to one side or the other, and the ridge itself isn’t likely to let loose.
Starting from Illumination saddle drop below Crater Rock and rejoin the main South Side Route, it should take 2-3 hours from the saddle to the summit. Follow all the other guidelines for a south side climb, but adapt your timetable accordingly. We also recommend packing up camp and stashing your camp gear on the Hogsback to be collected on the way back down. We think this is better than reaching the summit and returning to the (out of the way) Illumination Saddle to pack and collect your gear, at that point you’ll be tired and want to get to the car. Why not pack up and haul your gear while your legs are fresh and your adrenaline is pumping?
From I-84 East:
Take Exit 16 for Wood Village. Turn right from the off-ramp onto 238th DR. After winding your way through Gresham take a left onto NE East Burnside RD, which becomes US-26 East. Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning north at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
From I-205 North:
Take Exit 12 for OR-212 East toward Estacada and Mt. Hood. Turn right from the off-ramp onto OR-212 and follow 11.5 miles. Take a slight right onto US-26 East following signs for Sandy and Mt. Hood. Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning north at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
From I-205 South:
Take Exit 22 to I-84 East. From I-84 East, take Exit 16 for Wood Village. Turn right from the off-ramp onto 238th DR. After winding your way through Gresham take a left onto NE East Burnside RD, which becomes US-26 East. Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning left at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
From I-5 North:
Take Exit 300 to I-84 East. From I-84 East, take Exit 16 for Wood Village. Turn right from the off-ramp onto 238th DR. After winding your way through Gresham take a left onto NE East Burnside RD, which becomes US-26 East. Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning left at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
From I-5 South:
Take Exit 301 to I-84 East. From I-84 East, take Exit 16 for Wood Village. Turn right from the off-ramp onto 238th DR. After winding your way through Gresham take a left onto NE East Burnside RD, which becomes US-26 East. Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning left at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
FROM HOOD RIVER
From US-30 East (Oak St.):
Follow to where it merges with E State St. Continue on US-30 for half a mile, then take a slight right turn on to OR-35 South. Follow OR-35 South for 38 miles, then merge right onto US-26 West. Then turning right at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile before Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
From I-84 West:
Take Exit 64 and turn left onto US-30 West. In half a mile this will become US-35 South. Follow OR-35 South for 38 miles, then merge right onto US-26 West. Then turning right at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile before Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge.
* – Indicates items that may be rented from the Mountain Shop.
If it is determined that there is a risk of an avalanche, each member of your group should carry a transceiver, know how to use it, be practiced using it, and carry a probe and shovel as well. A transceiver is useless if you are climbing alone. It doesn’t matter what transceiver you use, all that matters is that you and your climbing partners know how to use it and have practiced, a lot!
Everyone should consider carry an avalanche probe, regardless of conditions. If avalanches are a concern, then you will want it to probe debris piles, but probes can also be useful in testing a weak snow bridge or finding hidden crevasses. Again, practice is the most important thing. There are several materials and sizes of probes to consider. Although shorter probes may save weight, debris piles are often 5-10 feet deep (or more) and may require a longer probe. Also, if you’re involved in a long search effort, a longer pole will require less bending over, and save some energy. You also have the option between aluminum and carbon fiber probes. Carbon fiber probes will be lighter, but more brittle. If you are in a cold climate, are rough on your gear, or the snow is hard and icy, consider using aluminum instead.
A shovel is also necessary when traveling through avalanche prone terrain, it can also double as an expedient way to construct a snow cave in case of an emergency bivy. Again, every member of the group should carry a shovel, though (unless you really can’t figure it out) practice here is less important. Everyone should, however, be familiar with the shovel they bring and how it separates for packing and goes back together again when it’s needed. Metal shovels can bend, but they are far more durable and reliable than plastic shovels. Metal shovels also cut through hard snow with much greater efficiency. If weight is your primary concern, there are plenty of shovels available with shortened shafts and smaller blades. A larger blade will move more snow, and a longer length will minimize how far you bend over.
Tent* / Shelter
If weather moves in and you get trapped high on the mountain, a shelter can keep you dry and warm. Most climbers will choose to bring a bivy sack on such a relatively short climb. Bivys come in a number of configurations and materials, but if this is for emergency use only, just get a light overbag-style. These look like a traditional sleeping bag without the insulation, just a waterproof shell, they weight 8-20 ounces and pack up smaller than a Nalgene bottle. When using a bivy sack, put on all of your clothing layers, hat, gloves and extra socks to add warmth. You can also bring a lightweight sleeping bag for additional warmth in colder temperatures.
Tents are equally as effective, but much heavier. If you know you will be sleeping on the mountain, a tent will likely be your best choice for shelter. When selecting a tent for high altitude camping/climbing, be sure it has little to no mesh. Mesh allows for good air flow, but will be very chilly when temperatures drop. Mesh also allows snow spindrift to fill your tent. Your tent should also have strong poles, and a pole structure that allows it to withstand high winds and heavy loads of snow. See rental prices.
Another piece of emergency equipment, a sleeping bag can provide vital warmth during an unexpected stay on the mountain. A number of factors go into choosing the right temperature sleeping bag, consider the following questions we ask our customers and our explanations of them. See rental prices.
What is the average low temperature at night where you’re going? This helps set a baseline for conditions. If you are from the Pacific Northwest and you only go out in the summer months, you don’t need a warm bag. But if you go climb in Alaska in the winter, you’ll need the warmest bag we can get you.
Do you sleep warm or cold? As a general rule men sleep warmer than women, but not always. Think about what you use at home in the winter or summer months and compare that to a partner or friend. If you sleep warmer you may be able to get a bag with a higher temperature rating, if you sleep colder you may want a bag with a lower rating.
Are you going to be in a shelter or exposed? Shelters can be tents, bivy sacks, snow caves, taps, cabins, etc. Shelters help block wind, which can whip a thermal layer of air away from you bag, drastically dropping the effectiveness of your bag. They can also provide a degree of insulation. If you want to sleep under the stars you’ll need a warmer bag than if you use some type of shelter, even in the same climate.
Are you going to wear clothing layers inside the bag or not? If the bag is for emergency use only or if you want a fast and light system, then you are likely going to layer up before climbing in. If this is the case, you might find the weight savings of a higher temperature rated sleeping bag appealing. Most people prefer to strip down a little and would prefer a warmer bag.
Generally speaking a bag rating of -10 to 10 degrees would be sufficient for most winter climbs of Mt. Hood, while in summer conditions a 20-45 degree bag would be preferable. For a discussion of the pros and cons of down and synthetic insulation read the section below on Insulated Clothing.
Another important factor of sleeping bags is fit, a sleeping bag must fit the user well. If there is too much room inside the sleeping bag, the body will not be able to heat all of the excess air sufficiently, and will get cold trying. If the bag is too tight, particularly in a down bag, insulation is compressed and the bag is less efficient. When sizing sleeping bags, make sure there is little excess length and girth, and that you are not compressing the insulation (particularly a problem around the chest and shoulders). Insulation will compress under the bag so use a sleeping pad.
Sleeping pads insulate under the sleeping bag, where the bag’s insulation is compressed by body weight and the cold ground pulls heat from the warmer human body. Sleeping pads also cushion and provide some level of comfort when sleeping on the ground. Pads can be as simple as a rectangular piece of closed-cell foam or as modern as a self-inflating closed-cell/open-cell hybrid. Closed-cell foam is durable and light, but does not insulate, cushion, or compress as well as open-cell options. Open-cell pads use air to insulate and are very efficient and comfortable. They also compress well making them ideal options. The only drawbacks to open-cell pads are that they are heavier and, because they are filled with air, are prone to punctures that render them useless. Climbers go back and forth, and pads are largely considered creature comforts, but pads are nice to have when stuck in a snow cave. Closed-cell pads, particularly the ones that roll well, make a nice splint as well.
A stove, fuel and a pot are important survival tools. Stoves are common for campers, and longer climbs, but few climbers carry them for Mt. Hood. This is a mistake. Portland Mountain Rescue believes many climbers may still be alive if they had a stove. If you have a stove than you have the tool to survive two common causes of death for Mt. Hood climbers: dehydration and hypothermia. A stove not only produces heat, it can melt snow for use as drinking water or cooking a meal. When you are fed and hydrated your body is less susceptible to hypothermia.
As we mentioned, the use of rope depends on conditions and your team’s proficiency and skill. If your team is unfamiliar with traveling on a rope team, self arrest, crevasse rescue, setting anchors or rappelling than a rope won’t do you any good. In the early season when crevasses are filled in, the rope will be used primarily to rappel down sketchy sections of a route, or belaying a climber up or across part of a route. When crevasses begin to open in later season, some climbers travel on a rope team to protect a fall or expedite a rescue. Ropes for glacier travel and alpine climbing range in length from 30-60 meters, in diameter from 7.7-10.2 millimeters, and run the gamut in ratings from single to twin to half, it all depends on what your intended end use is. However, whatever rope you buy should have a dry coated sheath at least, ideally it would also have a dry coated core. Remember, not all rope is created equally, be sure to purchase dynamic rope from a climbing manufacture, this ensures you will have a tested and certified rope.
For most climbers traveling the South Side Route a 40-50 meter long, 7.7-8.2 millimeter diameter, half or twin rope is an ideal way to reduce bulk and weight. This length allows for a Canadian drop loop rescue technique (a 6:1 ratio), which may be needed for a two person rope team in a rescue scenario. Falls on steep snow don’t create the shock load or sharp edge protection needed on rock routes, so these smaller diameters are used regularly on snow and glacier routes as singles. If concerned about doing longer rappels, you can switch to a longer 60 meter rope. The best setup for climbers or skiers traveling unroped is for the party to carry two 30 meter or longer ropes, this allows for a rescue scenario when the person carrying the rope falls in. When using a smaller diameter rope test your belay device to make sure it will create enough friction as some belay devices may not be rated for smaller diameter ropes and those that are may not provide enough friction when using gloves. A DMM Bugette or a munter hitch are good belay options for thinner ropes.
If you bring a rope, you’ll have to have a harness, and vice versa. One without the other is useless. We recommend drop-seat harnesses with adjustable leg loops. The adjustable leg loops allow for variation in your clothing layers without negatively impacting the fit of your harness. The combination of a drop-seat and adjustable leg loops make it incredibly easy to put on your harness quickly and safely while wearing crampons. If use of a harness is a strong possibility, you can even put it on in the parking lot. Most mountaineering harnesses, like those we recommend, are quite comfortable to approach in.
A minimum of 1 locking pear-shaped carabiner for belaying, and 2 non-locking carabiners for clipping anchors are recommended. For non-locking carabiners, we believe wire gates to be the best option because they are less prone to freezing.
Pickets are used as a rope anchor and can be driven down into the snow, or buried as a dead man. They provide a solid point from which you can rappel, belay, or set up a crevasse rescue system. We recommend pickets with a pointed end, which make them easier to drive into the snow. Both “I” and “V” shaped pickets work well, the “I” shape is a little stronger and the “V” shape takes up less space when carrying multiple pickets. We also recommend that each member of a two-person team carry 2 pickets, while in larger parties each member should carry at least 1 picket. Girth hitch each picket with a sling and attache a non-locking carabiner, there you have your anchor system ready to go when you need it.
Mostly associated for use on winter climbs as protection or anchors, ice screws are essential for crevasse rescue (either for self rescue or to clip into to help take weight off the rope in setting up a rescue hauling system). The faster you can set them the better, so look for designs that allow for quick placement. Bring 2-4 ice screws, at least 1 22cm screw for making a v-thread anchor, and 13-19cm lengths for the rest. Remember in warmer conditions screws will start to melt out, so for any anchors that may be used for a long time go with longer length. You should also plan on carrying a quickdraw, or enough carabiners and slings, for every ice screw placed.
Crevasse Rescue Kit
Everyone should be familiar with and practiced in crevasse rescue, and so you may have a system in place. We recommend every climber carry have 3 prusiks or ascenders (in case you lose one or the lip is undercut). Extra slings and carabiners may be needed for equalizing anchors or creating an autoblock system (1 locking carabiner, 1 non-locking carabiner and 2 8ft slings in addition to their personal gear).
Map, compass and an altimeter should all be used when climbing Mt. Hood. A GPS with fresh batteries (cold weather will zap your batteries very quickly) may be a suitable substitute for a map/compass/altimeter, but we recommend bringing the latter as a back up. Remember: navigation tools are only helpful if you know how to use them, practice with them regularly, and familiarize yourself with the terrain and its hazards.
Snow reflects light from all directions and acts like tin-foil around a baked potato. If you don’t want to be the potato, wear sun glasses as soon as the sun rises and liberally apply sunscreen every hour.
You’ll be starting in the dark, and you’ll want your hands free. Use a headlamp with fresh batteries from the start and store it when the sun rises.
First Aid Kit
It is important that every individual carry a small kit because you don’t know who will get injured. The guy with the only first-aid kit could go sliding uncontrollably by you and into a crevasse, then what?
You’ll burn a lot of calories while climbing (for a south side climb approximately 1000-2000). Eat before you go so you have some fuel in the tank. Load up on fats and proteins before you leave, these metabolize more slowly and will give you energy for a longer period. While climbing bring lots of high carbohydrate snacks, these metabolize faster and give you quick bursts of energy. Then go grab a burger or have a sandwich waiting in the car, something high in fats which help muscles recovery from lots of exercise. Remember your metabolism keeps going for an hour or two after you stop, so that’s the time to binge a little.
Some people recommend 1 liter of water for every hour of high energy activity. For a south side climb that could mean 8 to 12 liters (or 2 to 3 gallons)! That’s a lot to lug around. Instead, try drinking 2 to 4 liters several hours before you start your climb, that way the water has a chance to make it into your muscles. Then bring 2 to 4 liters with you for the climb. We like to use a water bladder because it’s easy to use without stopping. Be sure to blow the water back into bladder so the hose doesn’t freeze. We also carry a 1 liter bottle in our pack so we have an emergency supply that won’t freeze. Finally, have a gallon of water in the car for when you get back.
Acquiring and carrying an ice axe is easy, but knowing how to use it requires skill, familiarity and practice in the art of self arrest. The South Side Route is not a technical snow/ice route, and so we recommend a straight (or slightly curved) handled axe. You can use lightweight aluminum or heavier steel, but a steel pick will give you better penetration on harder snow than the lighter aluminum. When choosing the length of an axe, stand up straight and hold the axe by your side gasping its head between your fingers. The spike (bottom) of the axe should rest by your ankle, a longer axe might be nice as Mt. Hood’s south side is relatively low angle (30 to 45 degrees). A shorter axe will require you to bend over to place it, a tiring endeavor. Also, a shorter axe may seem lighter but the difference is usually only an ounce or two. If using a shorter axe or ice tool look into a trekking pole or a Black Diamond Whippet for the other hand (drop poles when performing self arrest). See rental prices.
Properly fitting climbing boots are strongly recommended. While softer hiking boots may work well, a stiffer soled boot will absorb much of your body weight and transfer it into the ground. When softer boots flex your muscles have to work harder to keep your body stable. Stiff boots are also more efficient for crampon techniques. Whatever your choice for boots it’s vital that they fit well, are waterproof and that they are warm enough. Remember your going to be on snow for most of a day!
Your crampons should suit the boots you’re wearing and should be sized to them before your climb begins. Aluminum or steel crampons may be used, steel crampons may get better penetration on ice or hard snow, but aluminum is lighter and equally efficient on most snow types. We recommend a stiffer boot with stiffer crampons, this system lowers the strain on the stabilizing muscles in your legs and makes climbing easier. See rental prices.
A climbing helmet should be considered necessary on Mt. Hood because of the significant ice and rock fall danger higher on the climb. Your helmet should meet climbing certifications, meaning that it is rated for impact from above. Biking and ski helmets are NOT suitable substitutes as they are only rated for side impacts. See rental prices.
Layering is the most effective way of maintaining the crucial balance between being too warm or too cold, and also the best way of staying dry. A layering system is versatile and adaptable to a variety of situations. We recommend a 4-layer system for Mt. Hood climbs:
Baselayer: Baselayers are the layer closest to your body. Tops and bottoms are a must, whether you use long sleeve or short, pants or briefs, it’s up to you and the weather. Synthetic baselayers (capilene, polypropylene, etc.) move (wick) sweat outward, and absorb very little moister so they dry quickly. The only real drawback is that they smell horrible with continued use, even after you wash them the smell will come back with a little body heat. Merino wool has gained popularity as a baselayer recently, and for good reason. Wool can hold 50% off its own weight in water, and will still insulate. It also has a miraculous natural anti-microbial quality that prevents odors. Modern merino wool is so fine that only the most sensitive skin will feel itchy. The drawback to wool is that it is slow to dry without a heat source. If you’re an excessive sweater and it’s a cold day, your baselayer will stay wet for the duration of your climb. Some have had the unwanted result of their sleeves freezing on particularly cold climbs. Whatever material you choose the old hiking adage holds true, COTTON KILLS.
We recommend tops and bottoms made of either synthetic for those who perspire heavily, or wool for everyone else.
Midlayer: Midlayers are used to gain a little warmth and maintain high breathability. Your midlayer should consist of a top and a bottom. The bottom is probably going to be your primary layer unless it rains. Most people think of fleece as a midlayer. Fleece consists of a loosely woven synthetic material that creates loft which traps air that your body heats and uses to insulate you. Fleece is great for climbers who get cold easily, it insulates well, but won’t always protect against the wind. You can get wind proof fleece layers, but this drastically reduces the ability of the midlayer to breathe (i.e. let your sweat and excess heat escape), and takes forever to dry. Only the coldest climbers or conditions should necessitate a windproof midlayer. You should never wear fleece bottoms! They will certainly get wet, won’t dry, and won’t keep you warm. More recently softshells have taken the place of fleece. Softshells are tightly woven synthetic fabrics that block wind and reflect body heat. Stretch-woven softshells are preferable because they maintain high breathability, however they won’t insulate and should be used by climbers with high heat-producing metabolisms. Doubling up on stretch-woven softshells adds wind protection and warmth. By itself a stretch-woven softshell is 95% windproof, two layered together are 100% windproof. There are also bonded softshells, which bond stretch-woven sythetics to fleece interiors, sometimes with a windproof lining in between. Bonded softshells are often windproof, and are always less breathable than stretch-wovens, they should be used by colder climbers in colder conditions. Midlayer bottoms should be softshells as they absorb little moister and are highly wind/water proof.
We recommend tops of either fleece for cold climbers or softshells for everyone else. Bottoms should be softshells for all climbers.
Shell: People spend hundreds of dollars on hardshells made using the best construction, breathability and waterproofnesss. We won’t get very specific about the ratings for waterproofness/breathability, or even about jacket construction. Chances are you have a shell already. You should know that shells are meant to keep weather out. Your shell should be 100% waterproof, and have some degree of breathability. By construction a shell that is waterproof will also be windproof. Likely the only reason you’ll put on your shell is if it rains or if it’s windy and you’re getting cold. Some features that we find useful in our jackets are double zippers, which may be zipped up from the bottom and out of the way of a climbing harness while belaying. We also like big chest pockets capable of holding climbing skins for backcountry skiing, these pockets ideally have mesh interiors to allow for some venting. Pitzips are nice, but many are too small to allow airflow when your arms are by your side. If you want more breathability look for jackets with the kind of pockets described above, or very long pitzips. When choosing a shell pant look for one with full side zips, this makes getting your pants on much easier, particularly if you’re wearing crampons. Like a shell jacket, the pants make a great windproof layer as well, and can trap additional body heat when it gets cold. Pants are also necessary if you want to glissade down, but if you’re going to glissade consider using the cheapest pair of pants you can find. Or cut a couple of holes in the bottom of several trash bags nested together, put your legs through the holes and wear the trash bags like a diaper to protect your clothing. This is an amazingly waterproof, cheap, and disposable glissading option.
We recommend a waterproof/breathable jacket with a hood and full side-zip pants.
Insulation: Perhaps everyone’s favorite layer because it gives us that warm/dry comforting feeling. Insulation layers do just that, insulate. They trap air that your body can heat. They are usually highly breathable and very warm. You’ll need a jacket, and you’ll want to put it on the moment you stop for a rest break during the climb. As you move you generate a lot of heat, but once you stop your internal furnace stops too. By putting on an insulation layer as soon as you stop you trap the last bit of heat output before it stops, and this last bit of heat is trapped and utilized by the jacket. Pants are important for climbs in colder weather in case you get stranded for a long period of time or need to bivy, a warmer alternative is to bring a sleeping bag (see notes on sleeping bags).
Now the eternal question: down or synthetic insulation? Down is your warmest, lightest and most compressible option for the weight. However, most lightweight down garments don’t have enough loft to insulate properly and, most notoriously, won’t insulate when wet. We find that popular lightweight down jackets don’t have enough loft to actually insulate during a climb, we recommend a down jacket with 3-4 inches of loft to actually do the trick. Most lightweight down jackets won’t do a lick of good if it’s wet, unless you drop some major cash on a waterproof down jacket, but most of these are too heavy and warm to be useful anywhere other than Denali, Everest, or in the middle of winter. If it’s nice weather and you have a down jacket with good loft, go for it, it’s a great choice. If you want more versatility, dependability and value let’s talk synthetics. Synthetic materials don’t need to have as much loft as down because they depend on density to trap air, this makes them heavier and less compressible than down. However, because they don’t lose their loft when wet, and the fibers don’t hold as much water as down, they are more efficient insulators for wet conditions. Often body heat is enough to dry a synthetic layer if it does get wet. For Mt. Hood climbs, you can wear relatively thin synthetic insulation in conjunction with your other layers. Our temperatures rarely dip below 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, and most spring climbers enjoy summit temperatures of 30 to 50 degrees. Winds do not die down in the summer however, making wind chill a serious consideration. Fatigue, dehydration and malnutrition also lower the body’s core temperature to near hypothermic levels. Consider all of these factors when choosing an insulation layer.
We recommend a light synthetic, or a high-loft down jacket with a hood.
Gloves/Mittens: An often overlooked, or rarely discussed, necessity for any climb, gloves and/or mittens keep your hands warm and dry. Whether your doing rope work, putting on crampons or unzipping a jacket or pack, having dexterity is important while climbing. For this reason many people choose gloves over mittens. If dexterity is your concern, a thin pair will serve you better than a thick insulated ski glove. One drawback to gloves is that they increase the surface area of your hands and fingers, which speeds heat loss. Climbers with colder hands tend to prefer mittens because they keep your fingers together, minimizing surface area and consolidating the heat in the fingers. The trade off is dexterity. One potential solution is a thin liner glove, or softshell glove, with a waterproof shell mitten over it. When dexterity is needed the mitten is removed and your fingers are free to manipulate zipers, straps, etc. If the weather is colder or there is precipitation or wind, the mitten will help retain heat and keep the elements out.
Hat: The majority of heat loss occurs through the top of your head. The best way to retain heat is to cover the top of your head with a hat or jacket hood. Hats come in all kinds of styles. Some of our friends climb in baseball or trucker-style hats, which offer minimal heat retention and maximum style. Beanie style hats can be made from thin lycra, fleece, wool, windproof fleece, or they can be insulated. Choose a hat based on the warmth you need, and then on the style.
Gaiters: Gaiters cover the upper portion of your boots and the lower portion of your pants. They can be short or tall, waterproof or not. For a climb of Mt. Hood you’ll be standing in snow for most of the climb, so a waterproof gaiter is important. Short gaiters are nice, but tall gaiters are more practical, especially when the snow softens during your descent and sinking up to your knees is common.
Balaclavas: Not the Greek desert (baklava), a balaclava is like a ski mask that a bank robber would wear in the movies. Most balaclavas have one large hole for the entire face, but some have individual eye, nose, and mouth holes. Like hats, balaclavas come in all kinds of materials: lycra, fleece, wool and windproof fleece. Choose an option that suits the conditions. If you use a balaclava and have hooded shell and insulated jackets, you can leave the hat at home. The real appeal of a balaclava over a hat is its coverage of the neck and chin in addition to the top of the head and ears.
Socks: Socks are part of your boot system. Whatever works is acceptable, but absolutely no cotton socks! Use synthetic or wool materials only, these will keep your foot warmer and dryer than cotton. Traditional sock layering is still commonplace among climbers, using a thin, tightly fitting wicking sock underneath a thicker wool hiking sock. This system can work well, particularly in boots that have a lot of room in them. The problem is this is a bulky system. A better alternative (again if it works with the boots you’re using) is a single wool sock of light to medium weight, anatomically fitted, and knitted with a smaller gauged needle. Many idyllic hiking socks have a generic fit and use big wool loops (turn the sock inside out to see these), and while this is initially comfortable they stretch out and become very thin in a relatively short amount of time. Socks from companies like FITS or Smartwool’s PhD collection fit closer to the foot and don’t pack out as quickly. By staying close to the foot the sock minimizes wrinkles which lead to blisters. The thinner socks also reduce warmth (sweat is a common cause of blistering), and if you use them to size your boots you won’t get boots that are too big (the other common cause of blistering).