Leader: Keith Sullivan Co-Leader: Bill Burke
We headed to the Cascades the last week of June 2003. We planned to climb MT Adams first, via the Mazama Glacier, followed by a quick trip up MT Hood via the hog’s back route. The team consisted of Keith, Bill, Leon Tokatlian and four new members of Summit Sensations. Scott and Angie Maxner had moved to New Hampshire two years earlier. They were avid outdoors enthusiasts who had hiked and backpacked out west prior to living in NH. They had taken an AMC Winter backpacking workshop taught by Keith the winter prior, as well as a Glacier Travel workshop that Keith and Bill had taught in April. Dave Bailey was an active AMC hiker who had also taken the Glacier Travel workshop. The final member, Helen Gingras, was a well known AMC 4 season hiker and NH Chapter leader who had climbed MT Rainier several years earlier. Helen was joining the team only for the MT Adams climb.
Probably out of habit, we flew in and out of Seattle even though Portland would have been closer. The next day we had an enjoyable drive entering the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the North, traveling just south of the national forest boundary to the Trout Lake Ranger Station to register our climbing party and meet up with Helen who had travelled out separately. We then drove to Cold Springs trailhead, filled our fuel bottles and headed out on what would be a long arduous day. The shortest and quickest way to Sunrise Camp (base camp for a Mazama Glacier climb) was through the Yakima Indian Reservation to Bird Creek Meadow. Customarily, the Yakima Nation opens the gate to the dirt road leading to Bird Creek in the summer. However, in 2003, the gate stayed locked much longer; spring snow had been heavy and there had been some sort of squabble between the Yakima Nation and the Forest Service over the loan of a piece of heavy equipment.
We were required to complete a six mile backpack through soft snow pack, up and down ridge after meadow after ridge carrying 65 pound packs. There is suppose to be a trail, however there was 10+ feet of snow pack and there had been no foot traffic recently; on the hike in we saw no signs of a hiking trail. Instead we followed a bearing that would allow us to intersect the Bird Creek Trail south of the glacier. Throughout the day we slogged on, carefully following the compass bearing, staying as close to the elevation of 6800ft as the terrain would allow, and frequently huddling over the map to stay associated with the terrain. By the early evening we made it onto a snowfield just below the Mazama Glacier; in sight, but still more than an hour of hiking short of Sunrise Camp. We set up a camp for the night and moved up to Sunrise (7800″) the following morning where we established our home for the next two nights. Later that day, Bill roped up with Leon and Angie and climbed the first 1500 ft of elevation to place wands up to and through the first serious group of crevasses, while the rest of us set up camp and prepared dinner.
We started moving by 2:30 AM the next morning and followed the wands placed by Bill the previous afternoon. Just prior to reaching the point on the Mazama Glacier where the terrain steepens considerably, Keith who was in the lead, punched through the snow surface over a large crevasse but was able to stop himself before his upper body slid through. After getting out and backing out he tried another path further to the right only to punch through again with one leg. (We later learned that we should have been several hundred yards to the right, but this was not apparent by looking at the snow surface). Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to turn towards the southeast and traverse, descending slightly, to a spot on the moraine where we could cross over to the standard “South Climb” non-technical route, where we joined the throngs of climbers heading up the permanent snowfield. This placed us on the South Climb, after 7 or 8 hours of climbing, 1000 vertical feet above the Lunch Counter. A distance we could have covered in about an hour leaving from the normal camping sites on the Lunch Counter. When we made it up to Piker’s Peak it was after noon. One team member was suffering from mountain sickness, and could go no further. Several other were pretty tired, but probably capable of making the summit. At least two, were still strong and could have easily climbed the moderate 800 vertical feet to the summit. We ended up all going back down. Keith really wanted the two strongest team members to make a quick dash to the summit while the rest of us started down with the suffering team member. He figured that they could probably do it without delaying the team descent all that much. However, one of the strongest climbers immediately insisted on staying with the group, and a more exhausted team member requested to go to the summit. The minor dispute was quickly settled when the majority of the team expressed the opinion that we should go straight down. Crossing back over the moraine to the Mazama Glacier was a bit dicey. The area was experiencing record high temperatures and in just a few hours the snow surface on the glacier has become like mashed potatoes. We had a moat and many crevasses to cross on rapidly melting snow bridges during the traverse across the Mazama Glacier. We all made it down without incident and enjoyed a warm sunlit evening, a good meal and great companionship.
During the hike out, as we descended to lower elevation, we realized how hot it really was. At one break, we managed to get all seven of us in the shade of a lone small 6 ft high pine tree. By the time we had gotten in our vehicles and had driven to Hood River, the temperature was a scorching 103 degrees; virtually unheard of heat for the Columbia River valley. The heat took a toll on our energy levels and our temperaments. Our MT Hood climb was scheduled to start at 3 AM with a ride on the snow cat to the top of the Palmer Ski Lift. We had made plans to camp that night well below the starting point of the MT Hood climb. But the thought of setting up tents and sleeping in 90 degree heat until only 1 AM convinced us to try to get rooms at 5600 ft elevation Timberline Lodge. Fortunately, rooms were available. We organized our gear before bedding down and got to sleep in until 2 AM.
At 3 AM we were on our way up in the snow cat at 3:00 AM and 30 minute later off loaded at the top of the ski lift. We completed the straight forward hike to the Hog’s Back and stopped just short to rope up. There are various schools of thought on the safest way to climb up the Hogs Back and through the narrow gulley between the Pearly Gates to the summit; however none of these methods mitigate the potential danger of having 60 climbers, some roped, some un-roped, some descending and some ascending, all on the same very narrow route. That, along with rock fall, was the situation when we reached the Hog’s Back. The rope team of Keith, Scott and Dave decided not to attempt the climb to the summit. Leon, Angie and Bill in the lead, roped up and continued up across the fairly prominent bergshrund and towards the summit. We had brought snow pickets, so Bill used them and also wisely swung the ascent route to the right, on steep terrain everyone else was avoiding, but away from the rockfall and the likely path of a falling uphill climber or rope team. (This was the site of the 2002 disaster on MT Hood where one fallen two-person rope team swept two other larger teams off the mountain and into a crevasse killing and injuring a record number of climbers) The 3 person team made it to the summit, descended to the ski lift where Angie charmed the lift attendant into allowing them to ride the chairlift down the last part of the mountain. By 1:30 in the afternoon we were all relaxing in the sun by the Timberline Lodge pool.
This was an excellent learning experience and enjoyable trip that brought 4 great new members to the club: Angie Maxner, Scott Maxner, Dave Bailey and Helen Gingras. We were the only climbing party traveling to or climbing the Mazama Glacier. The solitude and independence was a memorable part of the climb. And Bill Burke, Leon Tokatlian and Angie Maxner displayed technical know-how and good judgment in the way they mitigated objective hazards and summitted MT Hood on the only day available to do so.