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| | |-+  April 26, 2005, Mt. Hood south side
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Author Topic: April 26, 2005, Mt. Hood south side  (Read 25929 times)

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April 26, 2005, Mt. Hood south side
« on: 05/10/05, 12:59 PM »

Chris Brannigan  May 6, 2005

Climb—April 26,2005

So let me just tell you this one part of my climb.  Or maybe lots of parts.
     We got a good start and the ride there was actually rather quick.  Fortunately for us, with the aid of some good planning, the weather was fantastic.  There was barely a cloud in the sky, at Timberline Lodge the air temp was cool but comfortable, and the moon was a waning gibbous, just past full.  It was 2 AM, but the mountain was lit up.
     The climb really was for a lot of it, like James described, “a long uphill walk.”  But with my board strapped on my back, my back muscles began to pain quickly.  Without words, we decided to take a pit stop at about 9500 feet, to stash the boards and put on a few more layers.  The air started to chill, and the wind picked up.  I’d say we were at about the freezing level.  Funny though, how once we got going, our bodies came into a perfect equilibrium with the outside temperature.  I reminisced about the time earlier in the Fall, my dog Bean and I struggled to get up to 8500 feet.  James and I were well past that point now.
     The sun slowly started to rise, but so did the rock and snow wall on our eastside, so morning crept up on us.  At the time we reached Hogs Back, we had fallen into an incredible rhythm.  The rest-step is an incredibly important technique.  Yes, it’s slow, but like James says, “Speed kills.”  Especially at these elevations.
     Despite the sunrise, visibility had decreased.  It seemed as if we had hiked into a cloud cap sitting on top of the mountain.  Further, the slope had become considerably steeper, and fell downward on both sides, hence the Hogs Back.  So our steps became much more focused and more certified.  Placement was not only important for a solid grip, but following the footsteps or stairs was both an energy-saver and a guide.  As a third leg, the ice axe was plunged into the snow for every other step now.
     Fusing with the benevolent clouds were plumes of sulfur gas being emitted from exposed rock.  Man, it stunk.  It was like a million matches being lit all around you.  I guess it reminded me that oh yeah, this is an active volcano.
     Anyway, Hogs Back was supposed to lead straight up to the Pearly Gates, as was this path we were on.  But James kept commenting that the snow formations weren’t how he remembered them.  We got to the point where we caught up with a two, maybe threesome, a good twenty feet ahead of us.  Since the grade was fairly steep now, we were standing and resting against a snow wall.  We decided to let them get through this section before we made a go of it.  Strangely, they didn’t seem to be moving, perhaps they were stuck.  We waited.  This is where things got a little hairy.
     I was situated directly beneath them and all of a sudden, snow chunks, small ones about the size of a dinner plate, just thicker, were falling down towards me.  One whizzed by my face, that was a bit scary.  I need a helmet for this kind of thing.  Eventually, they moved, scampering to the right, or maybe straight up, we couldn’t tell.
     So we headed up about ten more feet, and it was there that we arrived at the bergschrund.  A bergschrund, the way I understand it, is a large crevasse formed at the head of a glacier.  They’re formed as ice and snow moves down and away from a rock wall.  Oftentimes, there are snow bridges that cross the bergschrund as was the case here.  James kept on commenting that he’d never seen it this big.  He’s climbed this mountain four times!  We spread out our weight, and made a couple of quick steps, and moved on.  It was only until after we crossed that I learned this was the site of the disaster in 2001 where two teams, roped in together fell in and a helicopter crashed in an attempted rescue.  Sheesh……
     Our obstacles were not yet through.  We soon learned why the group ahead of us had gotten stuck.  We didn’t see the steps veer to the right, we saw the steps go straight ahead.  The terrain quickly got very vertical and very rocky.  James, ahead of me, had no place to sink his axe.  He had to somehow climb down and out.  He was in a tough place.  I offered to help, but I was in no shape to be giving it.  I was now officially in over my head, beyond my skill level, and I said to James, “I don’t think I should be going up that.”  With careful consideration, we climbed down and found the path that veered to the right.  The hard part was over.
     Even though I was on the verge of saying enough was enough, the terrain became much less technical, so I carried on.  On to one of my favorite parts, the Pearly Gates.  It was steep through there, but the snow was thick and there was enough of it to get decent footing.  On either side, not more than five feet away, there rose two snow towers, it was really quite an entryway.  I quickened my pace because I knew we were near.
     Soon James said, “Well that’s it, straight ahead.”  And it certainly wasn’t obvious to me.  Visibility was poor.  The peak was more like a rim.  “Don’t go too far, it drops away pretty steeply.”  I got there, and I really wasn’t that fatigued.  But as I dropped down on my knees, I caught a glimpse of the sun though the clouds and that was all I needed.  I rested there, staring at the snow, feeling kind of giddy.  I then decided it would be appropriate to give a shout-out to Leslie, and one to Bean, and all my brothers, and Mom and Dad and the whole Brannigan family including Sean, Waverly, and III, and of course, the Turners.  Even Mrs. Bougor.  I thought it’d be special to think of all of you at this time and this point in space, from where no one had sent you good wishes before.  I laughed.
     And then there was that darn fly!  A bug, at 11,000 feet, sitting in the snow, with no other bugs around.  I said, “How do you do it, man?  How do you survive up here?”  No response, but I realized I needed not to step on this fly as I climbed down.  But here’s the dilemma—it’s right in my step!  So I tried to scoot around it, but I knocked some snow on it and buried it.  “No!”  I can’t kill this fly.  So I dug him out and tried to step around him again.  Same thing happened.  I’ve got to get down somehow.  And finally I did it, but man!  Risking my own steps for the life of a fly.  I think the altitude had gotten to me.  Or maybe it’s the sulfur.
     So James and I hiked down, or glissaded some of the way.  I had a massive wedge just as the clouds broke up and the great state of Oregon lay there beneath us.  What a sight.  Those snowboard turns were easily some of my most favorite of the season.
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