Note: photos, as usual, courtesy of the legend himself, Anthony Ottati. Check out his website here!
It had been about a year since our last ill-fated trip to Mt. Hood, but this time, smart enough to spend 30 seconds to check the weather forecast, our trip was more successful.
Anthony, Ari and I had been looking for a weather window to climb either Hood or Casaval Ridge (sweet route up Shasta) this semester — and prospects had been bleak for months. We finally had a marginally better looking forecast at the beginning of March, but decided not to risk it, and instead hit Boreal for $15 Fridays. Though that Saturday, we changed our minds yet again and frantically assembled gear to make a quick trip to Hood. We were almost set when we realized the CHAOS (Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society) beacons had all been checked out. So the trip would have to wait yet again.
Fortunately, in mid-March, the skies opened up, and we had a perfect window to send it up Hood. We wiggled our schedules precariously around midterms, project deadlines, and work — and hightailed it away from our responsibilities Tuesday morning at 5:00am. I had quite the late night finishing up problem sets, labs, and cranking out some work for the man, but the stoke of Hood propelled me out of bed bright and early. We moved the bed frame out of my car, loaded it up with gear, and set out on our merry way for twelve hours of the open road.
Anthony and Ari are just about the best company you could have while pent up in a car. The hours flew by pleasantly and we were all stoked to see mountains come in to view, PCT crossings come and go, and vistas the whole way North. When glorious glorious Mount Hood came into view, we were hooting and hollering and amped to climb the prominent peak.
Mt. Hood coming into view
We showed up to the parking area in good time, checked out the hotel, held their famous axe that was used to shoot The Shining, filled out some backcountry permits, and sorted gear. We were all set and ready to hit the sack by 6 pm. We cleared out the back of the van to use as our spacious and comfortable quarters for the night, and debated whether the three of us should live between Anthony’s and my van next semester. We decided against it.
Just as we began to taper off to sleep, I was swept up by an incredible wind of excitement, that I found no better was to describe than “dragon energy.” I alerted Anthony and Ari of my stoke, and kept them up for another half hour. Finally, I started to get some shut eye as well. The winds whipped us through the night, and we all grew concerned that they would be too aggressive to allow us to summit.
But at 2am when we rose, they seemed manageable. We threw on our packs, crampon’ed up, and set out. The dragon energy was strong in all of us. The approach was odd, since the first hour or so is within ski resort bounds. We followed a track up to the base of the real climb where the terrain became more rugged and natural. We slogged up to the base of Hogsback Ridge where we met the only other climber of the day, Colin. He was a dope dude, and we spent the rest of the climb together. The wonderful thing about climbing early season (other than the crevasse being covered) and during the week is that the mountain is basically empty.
A quick break before heading up the Hogsback
We hopped onto the ridge where the climb really began. It steepened and steepened until it was time to peel off and approach the Pearly Gates. Fortunately, Colin had summited twice before, and made route-finding a snap. We started carefully ascending the chute, which was one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen. Blue and white icy spires tower over you on both sides making it feel as if you are ascending to the gates of heaven, hence the name…
The Pearly Gates
Emerging from the Pearly Gates, we had a brief jaunt up to the summit, which we reached at 6:47am, just before sunrise. We witnessed an incredible sunrise (best sunrise I’ve ever seen), and took a few photos up top. The wind was pretty strong up top, but not unbearable. Though it was strong enough to completely cover the steps we had kicked in up the Pearly Gates, and so we thought we had lost our way back down. We ended up settling on a chute that we thought was the same one we had ascended.
As fate would have it, we were wrong — and I led the way down a steeper, and steeper, and steeper chute. It was slow going for me to kick in steps, especially since I am squeamish with heights and exposure and so made damn sure to kick in some good steps to avoid plummeting to my death. Colin was getting chilly up top so started blazing down next to me, followed by Anthony. Only Ari seemed to appreciate my safety first mentality, and hung back, perhaps more to make sure I stayed in working order down the steeps.
Ari, Anthony and I after celebrating up top
Heading up to the true summit, windy!
Beginning our descent down the wrong chute...which ended up being steep, gnarly and fun
Colin enjoying himself on the downclimb
We finally made it back to the ridge, where we could comfortably stand once more, a much needed relief. We made short work down the ridge, where Colin and I shared a celebratory beer (Anthony and Ari politely declined, more for me). The wind whipped harder hand harder as we left the protection of the upper portion of the mountain. Though the travel was swift, and we rocketed down the mountain back to the car in an hour and a half’s time.
Ari and I, happy to be back on the ridge...finally
Colin cruising down the Hogsback
We celebrated for a short time, moved our permit to the “returned” bin, and got the car packed and ready for our departure. Anthony broke a couple door handles in this time, probably because of the pure stoke coursing through his veins from the climb — this had me in a bit of a huff for a time, but door handles come and go, but mountains, friendship and glory are forever.
The drive back was relatively smooth, though we were a little less excited for this leg of the journey. We made it back to the dystopian mass of humans called Berkeley around 11:00pm, unpacked our gear, put the bed back in the van, and called it a night. Perfect timing for some shut eye and an early morning commute to work the next day. In the words of George W. Bush, “mission accomplished.”