It all begun on a twelve hour drive to Portland from Hyalite Canyon (Montana). Anastasia was talking about some un-climbed ice lines as I tried to navigate our little car through a snow storm. Although I was interested, the idea of climbing a worthy new ice line on Mt. Hood seemed as likely as getting a raise at work.
Just a few month later a rock wheezes by my right ear on a snow traverse bellow Eliot Headwall. We increase our pace. As we simul climb above the bergshrund towards the Cathedral Spire the objective becomes clearer with every step. As we get to the base my body is gripped with excitement. Beautiful water ice above seems thinner then body width in spots, but appears doable, I rack the screws, and concentrate on the climb.
As an regular Mt. Hood climber, Anastasia was rewarded with information about a few "named, but unclimbed" ice lines on the steep walls of North Cleaver. Just a week from my planned trip to 'climb some peaks in PNW,' Anastasia went to climb Eliot Headwall and spotted one of these lines as 'in.' After some discussion we decided to try our acquired skills on unknown terrain. Filled with excitement I drove from the Bay Area to Portland in a push(!) and crashed on Anastasia's couch by 3am. We woke up earlier than I wanted to, ate, and drove to the trailhead. By noon we left from the trail-head and started the hike towards the summit- our base camp!
Since I never been to Mt. Hood we decided to camp on the summit to experience beautiful alpine glow, and to possibly climb the North Face route as well. Although we decided to abort the North Face climb due to very high temperatures and unfavorable avalanche forecast, we had a lot of fun camping in the beautiful setting and climbing a line that possibly never been climbed.
On the hike in I was a bit sad getting passed by a bulldozer, so I stuffed my mouth with a glazed doughnut- like any modern aspiring alpinist would. After passing the ski lift we came across awesome views towards Illumination Rock. Past it we came up to the final stretch of our trek towards ‘base camp.’ Anastasia noted “the regular route is blooming”- there were kicked steps all the way to the summit ridge.
Familiar smell of sulfur and rime ice reminded me of Mt. Shasta. As we hit the summit ridge the drop down North Side came as a surprise- both of the Cascade Volcanoes (Rainier and Shasta) I have previously climbed have large summit plateaus. On the other hand, Mt. Hood has steep snow/ice slopes divided by loose rock buttresses dropping down to a glacier a thousand feet bellow, this is called Eliot Headwall.
Instead of stepping on the high point less than a minute of walking away, I head left after spotting a flat spot to make camp. We fight the winds, build a wall to protect our tent, make food, and warm up. Spectacular views toward Cathedral Spire and Yocum ridge are present right from our tent. Both of us were excited to get some good rest (as good as it gets, going from flatlands to eleven thousand feet in a day).
Getting up in the morning was rough, but soon after, we were descending, and traversing above the shrund. Finally I noticed the ice drip to the right of Cathedral Spire. It is hard to notice from other angles, one has to face it directly to see it.
With Eliot Headwall above, rock and ice fall kept us on our toes. This place re-educated me on the meaning of ‘loose rock.’ In case one of us got hit, we protected the traverse with pickets (we brought 3) on our simul-climb. After getting to the base, Anastasia built a solid anchor and we picked apart the sections that will most likely present a challenge. As we faced our line it did not look terribly hard even for punters like us.
Thin spots appeared to have nice rock ledges for feet. Gripped with excitement I started up into unknown. As I made progress up the ice I was amazed by it’s quality. Although brittle, it was thick and took protection well. It started out with fun WI2 ice and transitions into another flow that starts out with an awkward bulge (crux). As I climbed to a pillar thinner than my body, I realized this climb will not be as straight forward as I thought.
I had to turn a corner and get over a slightly overhanging ice bulge. With brittle ice, poor feet, icicles hanging in the corner, and awkward bulge pressing me down, I was challenged by this section.
However after protecting (rest stance required some flexibility!) and committing, I pulled the bulge. Past it, was more fun and easy climbing on perfect ice, till it joined the snow couloir above. In the end I had just enough screws (7) and cams (#1 Red Camalot, and #3 Orange Metolius) to protect this 55-meter pitch.
Belaying from two equalized snow pickets in the couloir I looked at the incredible view towards bergshrund and Eliot Headwall. In my mind, I associated our location with photos I saw in Cordillera Blanca guidebook.
Anastasia came up and quickly led up to the top of the couloir.
After that we took a few photos, and decided to save the lunch for the summit- which we earned! We joined the gullies of the North Face and topped out via the direct variation through the summit cornice, which wasn't huge this year.
At the summit we joined a big group of people who were happy to summit via regular route.
A big thank to Anastasia for picking me as her partner, and sharing a great time in the mountains! Does not even matter if this route was ever climbed before us- we had a great time out there.