Technical climbing info
- Mountain: Mount Hood
- Elevation: 11,250ft
- Route: Devil’s Kitchen Headwall
- Length: 1,000ft
- Grade: II+, WI3 (depending on conditions, up to sketchy M3)
2021’s the charm
Bad luck or poor planning, whatever it was, Jessica and I set our eyes on this climb a couple years back but never managed to send it. Whether it was bailing in very dry conditions or forgetting our boots at home, we ended the 2019 season shot down by this “fairly straightforward” Mt Hood south side techy classic. And as 2020 came and left, we managed to keep ourselves busy with plenty of other climbs. But this spring, spotting a splitter sunny but cold weather window, we snuck out to Oregon to finally (hopefully) bang this one out together.
Our modus operandi for climbing Mount Hood since the pandemic began has been sleeping in a hotel and getting a more relaxed start. I guess we are getting too old for the 9 hour round trip from Seattle in a single day. We made the drive out right after work and crashed as soon as we got to the hotel. The 2AM alarm rang, and from there we autopiloted into the car, up the highway, and to the Hogsback.
THIN ICE IS BETTER THAN NO ICE
My rack was overbuilt. The last time I had been here, I ended up climbing 20 meters or so of runout volcanic rock until I could find a patch of ice I deemed worthy of trusting my life to bail off of. Not knowing what to expect this time but not wanting to get run out like that again, I packed 8 screws, 3 pickets, a few pins, and everything else in the kitchen sink really. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen rung in my head as I clipped everything to my gear loops.
Jess and I would belay this climb. While plenty of people solo it, we weren’t in a huge rush and I prefer to mitigate my risk of falling and dying. (And, more notably on Hood, something falling on me, then me falling and dying.) I pretty quickly realized that I placed our first belay station far too low. Note to self- next time place the first station in the gully, not below it. The climbing was fairy moderate compared to the last time I was here. As in, this time there was ice. Thin ice compared to the photos I saw online, but it was certainly better than no ice!
SHOTGUN SHOOTING GALLERY
What was not moderate was the rime debris streaming down the route. I tried to stay on the sections of the route that looked un-desecrated by the falling rime and volcanic rock debris. This had me hopping from side to side in the gully, mostly placing protection to guide Jessica up behind me through the best path.
Eventually I found myself at the “crux pitch”. It was thin but the climbing looked straightforward. The only problem was the nearly constant pour of debris shooting down. In a safe spot, I watched chunks fly down every 45 seconds or so. I opted to attempt climbing a few variations that looked safer, but I was met with a thoroughly sketchy blend of unconsolidated rime feathers and snow. Hmmm. After my third attempt, I decided I was killing too much time and that the debris fall would probably only get worse with the sun.
Time to commit. I drilled a screw in just in case I got knocked off my feet, and I waited for the next break in stream of chunks. Go!
Halfway through, I could hear another stream above my head. Not much I could really do now. I hugged against the wall, kept my head down, and kept climbing as steadily as possible. Bang bang bang bang bang bang! My helmet took a thousand little blows, nothing big enough to be dangerous though. My jacket filled with a thousand little ice pellets.
ENTERING UPPER SNOW SLOPE
Sunlight finally hit my hands as I pulled onto the upper snow slopes. No time to bask in the warmth, I set up an anchor and put Jess on. You’re on belay, climb on! I watched for falling rime above and hollered what would be raining down next. BANG! I felt a huge thud on my head. Fuck, I’m glad I wore my good helmet today! I watched the grapefruit sized chuck of ice that just hit me tumble away. I looked down at my lap and saw my GoPro got torn off. Hmmm…I wonder if that was caught on video. (It wasn’t.)
After Jess pulled in, I could tell she also took a little beating from the debris shower as well. We really had a few options up from here. Either straight up, the most straightforward and common finish (which I didn’t immediately identify). Or to the right, the most well-known variation. Or to the left around a rime pinnacle, a totally unknown variation that I saw steps veering off to. I didn’t really know what to do…
Okay, let’s try left. The route goes left, right? Wrong.
THE USELESS VARIATION
We traversed around the rime pinnacle, to be met with an additional step of ice. I pulled out a little more rope from my bag, and had Jess put me on belay. The day is not over yet, it seems! The ice was pretty terrible, and hard enough that made me feel fairly certain that we were 100% off route. Eh, screw it, I’m gunna climb this thing.
After a couple failed attempts, I slung one of my tools around my neck and unracked a picket. I climbed the final loose pitch of rime and sugar with an ice tool in one hand and a picket in the other- a technique I was schooled in by the overhanging summit cornice of Tocllaraju’s West Face a couple years back. Does the picket make it aid? Is an ice tool aid to begin with? Those are the deep questions.
Getting to the top of the step, it looked like I had to downclimb a couple meters- putting us pretty much right back on top of where we started the pitch from. I laughed out loud- that was a waste of effort. Jessica followed shortly after, and relayed that it was a pretty funny waste of effort.
CLASSIC STATUS: APPROVED
From there we walked straight up, we finally could see the full Wy’east ridge below our feet. We kept going until there was no more up to go. Mount Hood, summit number….who knows. That was a fun one, classic status approved.
We meandered down in what turned out to be a much nicer day than the forecast predicted. We dreamed up what we’d eat for dinner once we got back to the car, maybe that food truck rodeo we’d seen every time we drove through Sandy. I’d be picking volcanic rock debris from my teeth until the next morning.
A bit of ROUTE BETA
UP NEXT, How about A DKH Variation?
Last year Jessica and I had so many failed attempts at the Devils Kitchen Headwall that we ended up deeming just uttering its name to be unlucky. The fails were not climbing fails, per se… forgetting our boots at home, seriously bad ice fall conditions, etc. By the time we actually managed to give it a shot, it was in condition thin enough that I didn’t deem reasonable to climb half-way through. I bailed off an extremely sketchy screw placement in aerated ice and called it a season for the Headwall. […]
As we began to make our way up the chute, the climbing stayed drama free. It was exactly what it looked like from below, fun and cruiser. We could see a trio of climbers below us in the distance below looking up at us. Below I knew it, I could feel the sun cresting over the ridge above. A few kicks later, looking over my left shoulder I could see the Wy’east ridge to the summit soaring up above us. “Woahhhhhh, Jess, this is beautiful! When you get up here look over your left shoulder!” […]