Technical climbing info
- Mountain: Mount Hood
- Elevation: 11,250ft
- Route: Reid Headwall, left (main) variation
- Length: 2,000ft
- Grade: III, AI3
Just once more
Jessica and I had been chasing behind the Devil’s Kitchen Headwall for the past few weeks. I say “chasing behind” due to the fleeting ice conditions on the mountain. For better or worse, Summer ‘19 was arriving early. We failed to climb the Devil’s Kitchen Headwall, not once, but twice. The first time on the main route, unable to find a solid belay station on the mixed terrain. The second time on the Flying Buttress variation, unwilling to climb under a VW Bug shaped chunk of poorly bonded overhanging ice. The south side was pretty clearly burnt, and to be honest, so were we.
As folks started to post their successes in the rest of the Cascade range, we knew that before we could move on we have one little itch left to scratch on Mount Hood- a tick of the Reid Headwall. We agreed that this would be our last climb on the peak for the season, regardless of our success.
In proper style
The last time I had climbed it was in 2016 and was part of an advanced alpine techniques course. Although informative, the structured style the course wasn’t really the style of climbing that I felt like this route deserved.
This Andean-esq rhyme clad committing route deserves to be climbed alpine style. We planned to simul-climb the entirety of the 2,000’ face, armed with a rack of screws, pickets, and a couple tiblocks for running protection. We knew that with the long warm days there would be falling ice. We would have to beat the sun before allowing it to bake the upper south west face so an early start and climbing speed would be a big factor. We talk about logistical optimizations, even micro ones to save a minute here and there.
We packed our bags and hit the hay for our 2am start.
It’s been a little warm recently
Punching our way down into the Reid Glacier, we could see plenty of evidence of the warm weather. Scattered rock and ice fall littered the slopes, while the bergschrunds showed their characters. A stark difference in scenery from when we were here a few months ago.
Having been here recently, we quickly picked our line up the face. Knowing that routedinding is the crux of most, Jess and I spent the past couple days studying images, maps, and route descriptions. I also had a copy of the Mt. Hood Climber’s Guide by Bill Mullee map handy in my jacket pocket for quick reference, all of which ended up being an invaluable help.
Even getting to here had been quick and easy, about 100 meters into the route I was feeling downright bad. I couldn’t tell if it was the a of proper sleep or a lack of food, but seeing the golf balls of ice already starting to hock over our heads, I knew this was no time to be “feeling off”. I tore into my energy snack reserve and gulped down a few packets of caffeine and ginseng infused Honey Stinger gels. I was back in action and ready to dodge the bullets of ice buzzing overhead. We continued.
When in doubt, go left
Following the route instructions of “when in doubt, go left”, we continued up and up, left and more left, moving through the spectacular pinnacles is rhyme ice. More ice came buzzing overhead, and our yells of “ice” became so common that Jess and I agreed to only yell out for chunks larger than the size of a baseball. We relied on our tiny reference map and intuition to keep us on the right trajectory (or “left trajectory”? …pun, shoot me), and we were only misled once!
We managed to simulclimb the significant majority of the face, with no real pitching. We belayed a few bits, mostly just to break up the climb and allow us to have a few rests to refuel and reconvene with our tiny map. I placed only 1 screw the whole day, mostly just for good measure because I spent the day with 6 racked onto my harness.
Drip, drip, drip
As we worked our way higher and higher up, we finally arrived to the last obstacle. Originally looking fairly timid on the map, we know that we needed to skirt around the final massive pinnacle to break onto the upper slopes to the summit ridge. I pounded in a picket and pulled Jessica in figuring we would take one last break before our final push to the top. As I began to traverse around the pinnacle, I could see that rather than being mostly rock, it was actually mostly rhyme. The worse kind of rhyme. Loosely bonded sunbaked rhyme, about the size of a short bus, to be exact. To make it worse, it somehow unbonded from the bottom, leaving it floating about 1m above the ground.
Drip, drip, drip. I could see the rhyme melting from within. Part of my mind started to wonder “how the hell did this thing form?”, but it wasn’t at all the moment for my curiosity. If that thing collapsed with one of us under it, it would be the equivalent of being run over by a short bus…with spikes for an undercarriage. I yelled back to Jessica to not pause for anything.
Drip, drip, drip. With every drip I could feel the thud of my heart.
Next year, good friend
Finally making our way around the death pinnacle, we broke onto the upper slopes. Moving consistently over the steep snow, we punched our way onto a little saddle high up on the west crater rim. Below us we could see the tiny climbers crawling up the Hogsback, and even a group lingering on the Wy’East ridge on the total opposite side of the south face. By 12pm we pulled our way onto the summit ridge and gingerly made our way over to the summit.
This fantastic route was the perfect end to our Hood season. We’ll see you next year, good friend.
Up next, how about the North Face!
“The North Face has been especially appealing to me. The face is really defined by two significant gullies running almost completely from bottom to top, reminiscent of some sort of double barreled musket. It’s the sort of feature one would should really only climb when conditions are solid, otherwise it would be a game of bullet dodging.” [read full, Mt. Hood via The North Face]