Mount Hood, OR

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A winter climb of Mount Hood's Leuthold Couloir

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

On Sunday, Tom and I rode the Windy Two-man time trial together. A bike race, it's 30 miles against the clock. Neither of us were really in shape for it, but we rode it pretty hard anyway. About 2/3 of the way through, we were both thinking about how we were going to feel when we got off the bike. As it turns out, pretty whipped. But we still rode a respectable (for a couple of old guys) 1:13 and change. But would we still have the stuff to break the "Curse of Tom"? (This curse goes back several years- on previous outings with Tom, we had gotten weathered off both the North Sister and Mt. Adams).

We ran home, showered, hydrated, and in my case, took a nap. The we hopped the plane in Boise at 6:55pm, and Brian picked us up at the Portland airport. In a Caddie. But sadly not wearing a chauffeur's cap. sigh. It's so hard to get good service.

We drove up to Willard (opposite Hood River) and went straight to the cook house where we met our fourth, Eli. Eli is the young (23) son of Big Jeff, who some of you might remember as the inspiration for Brian's annual Celebration of Life. Having Eli on the team would add another layer to the meaning of the trip.

Our plans had us rising at 2:30 and departing Timberline around 3:30, but we weren't moving really very quickly. We finally shouldered our packs at the crack of 5am.

Eli, Brian, and Tom at Wyeast day lodge

As the old guy, and feeling yesterday's Team Time Trial, I suggested we go for about 1000' per hour. But Eli the young guy was too far ahead of me to hear, so we topped the Palmer chairlift (~8500') at 6:30, almost 2000' per hour. At least we were close to being back on schedule.

From the Palmer, it's a gradual traverse west to Illumination saddle (~9200'), the gap to the right of the rock seen on the left. There is a broad flat spot on the saddle, big enough to camp on, and that's where we put on the rope and crampons.

Nearing Illumination Saddle

As you step off the saddle, it's a steep downhill traverse to the Reed glacier. It was also our first view of Leuthold Couloir. The rock seen in the middle of the picture, right at the level of Brian's helmet, is the right-hand side of the couloir bottom. The skyline ridge is Yokum Ridge.

To put the picture into perspective, there are two more people in the picture, right below the aforementioned rock- but you will have to click on the picture to get the bigger version to even have a chance of finding them.

Brian leads off dwon to the Reed Glacier

We had barely gotten accustomed to our crampons and the snow textures (everything from powder to alpine ice) and we were already in the couloir. As expected, we were getting shelled by small ice chunks and occasionally the hummingbird-sound of flying rocks. The upper couloir is a broad expanse, overhung by rime-covered cliffs. It was too warm so the stuff was coming down rapid-fire.

Keep yer head down, boyz, and use yer helmet.

Brian, Eli, and Tom heading into Leuthold Couloir

When we got to the bottom of the hourglass's waist, the shelling seemed even more ferocious. It seemed to be like surf; it would ebb and flow. The problem was that with four on a rope, there was no way we could get up it without going through a few sets of big stuff. Brian, leading, considered what we were up against and also the possibility of getting into some alpine ice in the chute. Here he places a couple of ice screws just in case, before turning the corner and facing the firing squad.

Tom waiting his turn to climb Leuthold Couloir

The heart of the chute is quite narrow. In one place there was only 3 or 4 feet of hard snow flanked by alpine ice. Since we weren't really prepared for solid ice, those 3 feet were precious.

Oh, did I mention it gets a little steeper in the chute? Even so, Tom made easy work of it.

Tom in the hourglass of Leuthold Couloir

Looking back down the chute, it appears like a giant bobsled run. This picture doesn't do it justice; it's even twistier than it looks. And sorry, I didn't stop in the middle of the fusillade to take pictures of the alpine ice.

Looking down the hourglass of Leuthold Couloir
Above the chute, it's a broad funnel of flying ice chunks coming from all directions. But at least the aim is a little less direct. Nonetheless, we were getting hammered a bit, if you'll pardon the expression. After all, we were getting close to 11,000'. Above Leuthold Couloir
Here's what it looked like from the sharp end of the rope. Photo courtesy of the Mahonster. Looking down from the top of Leuthold Couloir
Suddenly (well, not really), we were on the summit ridge. It's was initially a bit daunting, but turned out to be pretty easy. The view off the north side was exhilarating. Mt. Hood's summit ridge
And then we were on top. These winter conditions are hard to take; we had to put sunscreen on Yokum. Tom Platt, Eli, Brian Mahon, and John Platt on summit of Mt. Hood

Tom had a special tribute to the passing of his friend Jason Broome. In addition, Yokum evoked Jeff's spirit.

After a big group hug, we had a bite to eat and prepared to head down; the snow was getting soft.

Tom holds memorial to Jason Broome
Going through the pearly gates, the snow was indeed getting soft. There was almost no wind, so we were all sweating in our gear. One effect of the sun and low wind was the waterfall sound of ice falling all around us. Looking down the Pearly Gates on Mt. Hood
But we were quickly through that and down on the hogsback. It was nice to get the rope off and strip down to enjoy the sun. We watched as some skiers lugged their boards up for a summit run. Taking a break on the Hog's back of Mt. Hood
Then a long slog, interspersed with some slightly chunky and slightly-too-firm butt-glissading, brought us back to the lodge at 2pm. We changed, hung out, and headed for quesadillas and beer at Full Sail in Hood River before catching our plane and arriving back at Boise at 8:45pm; a true whirlwind of 26 hours!

Mr. Natural Home | 2005 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski