Ski Touring on Mount Hood, South Route
If you love ski-touring and you haven't made a trip up to the PNW, it's time to pack your bags..
Mount Hood Oregon is an amazing mountain for ski touring. When I lived in Portland, that was the spot I was able to reach early in the morning and still make it to work by 11, although not without a substantial amount of commuting. It rises abruptly from the low lands of eastern Oregon and dominates the horizon from a hundred miles away, with its snow capped peak sometimes indistinguishable from the clouds floating hanging low in the ski.
This is one of the great places to be introduced to the sport of ski touring. A massive vertical relief, year round snow, and an escape from the dreary low hanging cloud ceiling that dominates the eastern half of the state the majority of the year, all make this a mandatory stop for anyone touring the Northwest. The dozen of summit routes and endless surrounding treed ridges ensure that you will never get board. The maritime snowpack is also a crucial feature of the mountain that make even solo ski touring doable with a bit of caution and familiarity with the terrain.
Mount hood is not without its hardships though. Cascades cement is aptly named and will ruin a day of expected powder. One of my best days of powder skiing came on Hood as two feet of freshness blanketed the hill with endless refills as the snow continued dumping. Waking up the next morning to another two feet reported I rushed to the slopes to find that just a few degrees of rising temperature had made the 4 feet of new snow an utter waste. Above tree line can be inhospitable even in the middle of the summer and the summit in the winter can be as harrowing as any place in the country. I was repelled a half a dozen times before standing on a winter summit.
When ski touring up Mount Hood, checking out Timberline Lodge is a must. It is one of the most beautiful buildings you can ever begin a day of backcountry skiing from. Above Timberline is 2500 feet of hybrid backcountry and resort skiing. There is a wanded uphill route that is always climber friendly and you can stay in site of the lift towers even on a poor visibility day. I have seen the upper lift house buried up to the cables in snow where a building once stood as the mountain can receive up to 600 inches of snow a year.
After leaving the last vestiges of the resort the summit still towers over 3000 feet above you. It remains gradual and relatively safe and although holds year round snow is not classified as a glacier, but rather it is known as the Palmer snowfield do to its lack of movement. In the spring time crevasses can be seen but closer to the massive gullies that boarder the snowfield. Keep your skis pointed at Crater Rock and the going stays gradual until reaching the hog's back and the uphill side. The Hog's Back is a massive fin of snow generated by the wind whipping around the crater and tends to shift positions from year to year. Above the Hog's Back is the bergschrund, a cavernous crevasse that protects the final shoots to the summit.
The final summit push is typically accessed by the Pearly Gates, aptly named for the white hoarfrost the blankets the rock sometimes feet thick. This couloir is truly steep and should be attempted with crampons and iceaxe present, although at times I managed to leave them in the pack all the way to the summit. From the summit a 360 degree view of the Cascade Volcanoes is enjoyed, with amazing views of Mount Rainier, Adams and the fractured top of Mt. Saint Helens to the North and the Three Sisters off to the distant south.
The most straightforward decent is skiers back along the ridge and entering the mazamas route to skier’s right. This shoot typically goes at 45 degrees for a few hundred feet until mellowing out as you traverse across the Hogback. From there a 5000 foot ski descent is enjoyed back the Timberline Lodge. On nice winter days I would even descend to Government Camp.
- Doug Stenclik