I’ll call it a successful trip, but it only came to fruition after we had to bail on plans A, B, and C. And plan 1A, which was “I was supposed to go to SAR first aid training on Saturday” but I was desperate for mountains and rescheduled it at 3pm Friday so I could go to said mountains. So Plan A was to do St .Helens Saturday and Hood Sunday because I forgot I was out of shape Sitting at a desk all day is really easy, physically. You never get tired! And these are both easy peaks right? Well we showed up to St. Helens at 1am Saturday, only to discover a washout that had the last 3 miles of the road closed, which prevented us from getting to the Marble Mountain Sno Park. An additional 6 miles of road walking? No freakin way. Maybe if it was the only thing we were going to do all weekend, but we had bigger ambitions. We slept at the trailhead, got back in the car when we confirmed it would be an additional 6-8 miles, and continued to Mt Hood.
At Mt. Hood, we got a lazy start. We went to the cafe in the lodge and got huge breakfast burritos, tea, and relaxed for an hour or two. Eventually we packed our bags, hopes high for the Leuthold Couloir, and as usual, we realized we forgot one of the ten essentials. Kind of two, actually. In fact more like three. We had forgotten a stove, which meant we effectively also forgot water, since the only way to get water on snow is to melt the snow. And JT had forgotten a sleeping pad. I had an extra but it was quite bulky so we figured he could just pile up the rope and his pack and sleep on various climbing gear. And water…. we’ll figure it out.
It was sunny, and warm with no wind at all, it felt more like summer than winter. We had been planning on bivvying, but with Greg planning to meet us around midnight we figured we’d be assholes if he showed up and we were in body bags in snow coffins instead of a tent. So somehow, we fit overnight gear, glacier gear, and ice climbing gear for two people into a 36L and a 50L pack. If we had remembered a stove and JT’s sleeping pad I don’t think we’d have pulled it off. We skinned up from the parking lot, and followed the groomed “climbers’ trail” to the right of the ski lifts. Tons of space for snowshoers (very doable) and skiers and hikers alike. Despite the internal battle between my stomach and the breakfast burrito (it desperately wanted to evacuate), it took us less than two hours to get to the top of the Palmer chair, where we decided to set up camp.
On the way up (I’m a chatty hiker) we ran into two teams who had just done Devil’s Kitchen. Supposedly the snow was pretty unconsolidated on the west face by the Leuthold Couloir, but Devil’s Kitchen was in fantastic shape. We figured our backup would be Devil’s Kitchen and the backup to our backup would be the standard Hogsback route. We dug out a platform for the tent and tossed our overnight stuff and continued towards Illumination Saddle, hoping to get some views. I didn’t want to burn myself out, so I opted to turn back fairly early. I also wanted to see if my skiing skills had improved (spoiler alert: no). We skiied a few hundred feet back to the tent. Honestly, my turns are definitely better, but I get exhausted way too quickly. My legs would be shaking after four turns. JT’s theory (probably accurate) is just that since I’m so new I’m using every single muscle all the time since it doesn’t come naturally yet. Well I freaking hope that’s the issue, because if that’s it then it’ll get better as I keep skiing. For the time being, I’m great at making four turns and then stopping and crying and trying to relieve my legs. Like an awkward fawn who doesn’t know how to walk. I’ll get there someday, dammit.
Back at the tent I wished I had hot chocolate. I pretty much hopped in my bag immediately and we were dozing by 7. To be fair, we hadn’t slept much on our doomed St. Helens excursion, since we had gotten to the trailhead at 1:30am and woke up at 5am only to continue driving. Greg radioed up to us to tell us he was going to sleep in his car and would meet us around sunrise. No complaints here, more tent space for me!!
Leuthold was out, we’d have needed a much earlier start and weren’t confident in the snow conditions. Devil’s Kitchen, well… word on the street (okay, on summitpost) is that the wind in Devil’s Kitchen is 15-30mph higher than whatever’s on the hogsback. We lay in the tent listening to the walls flapping while it howled outside. JT wasn’t even sure Hogsback would be okay. I wasn’t about to lead ice pitches in that wind, and I don’t think he was either. Shit. JT mentioned something about potentially turning around. “It doesn’t seem that windy, the tent always makes it sound worse than it is…” I murmured, followed immediately by “buuuuut I guess I forgot to consider that it is January.” We should have just done it Saturday but I was so worried about tiring myself out. We sat there grumpy about our missed opportunity until we had our things packed for the Hogsback. We’re here, might as well go the rest of the way even if the rest of the way isn’t a sweet ice route.
The masses of skiiers were on the way up. I decided to boot it, Greg didn’t have snowshoes or skis and I knew with this wind I had no chance of skiing comfortably even if I did manage to string more than four turns together. JT, being akin to suffering, decided he’d boot it too and carry his skis. Ha!
Oh how wrong I was. We’re like 5ft up the Hogsback and the first gust of wind strikes us. Holy. Shit. I’ve never been so close to being knocked over by wind before. I stopped moving, concerned that if I took another step I’d lose my balance.
Well, I couldn’t feel my fingers, so I had two options. 1) keep moving 2) borrow JT’s gloves 3) wait for them to go numb and then they’ll be okay. I took all three of those to heart, though #1 was slighlty delayed as we executed #2, and #3 is a brutal stage to get to but a relief once you’re there. Why were my fingers so cold? Well besides the 45mph wind and the fact it was January and the pathetic state my ripped gloves were in, I was quite dehydrated. Why was I dehydrated? Because I’m an idiot, and brought my camelback, even though I know it’ll freeze. Sorry, I couldn’t find my water bottle fast enough so I just took it and figured I’d deal, but it turns out it’s hard to drink from the bladder without spilling half of the water all over yourself. I am a child.
We eventually reached the top of the Hogsback. JT stashed his skis while I stood beneath ice fall laughing at what an idiot I was for standing beneath potential ice fall (yes, I moved). And we fought our way up the gates through pillars of rime ice and possibly the most wind I’ve ever felt in my life, only to break out onto the sunny mellow summit with views of St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams laid out in front of us.
We snapped a few pics and turned around fairly quickly due to the wind. I wanted to make hot water back at the tent and not be exposed to the wind for a hot minute. Was that too much to ask? We dropped back to the Hogsback where I snapped a few photos of people downclimbing and put the camera away for the rest of the trip (mistake).
The closest I was to falling was at the bottom of the Pearly Gates. The wind was funneled up the chute, so we were fighting it to go downhill, meaning I’d lean into it to fight and as soon as it lessened I’d have to readjust balance immediately. So I stood there streaming curses in my head (breathing would fog up my ski goggles) waiting for the wind to be less shitty. At the bottom of the Hogsback, we took a quick break (“Okay, whose water can I drink!?” and JT skiied back to the tent while I made two full glissades(!) from there to the top of the Palmer chair. How the hell did no one glissade before me?! We could have had two incredible slides instead my ass breaking glissade trail. Step it up people!!
Greg continued on the way down while we got warm and packed up the tent. Frozen cheezits, some slushy half frozen water. I finally worked up the guts to click into my skis. My skiing down went about as well as you could expect. I am happy to report that the pack didn’t make a huge difference, but I was still incapable of stringing together more than 4 turns, though I did get more and more confident as we went down. Unfortunately, I was ready to vomit from the strain in my legs a few hundred vertical feet from the parking lot, and I gave up. Even the groomed run was too icy for me to relax. I hobbled over to the climber’s path, tail between my legs, pride swallowed, and clicked out of my skis. And so, in classic Eve fashion, I ended up carrying my skis downhill through a ski resort.
A few hundred feet later I decided I was being a wimp and put the skis back on, but it still wasn’t great. And the last bit to the parking lot was scary so I still had to take them off once more. But the descent still went faster than the way up, and it’s not really a trip if I never carry my skis. And it isn’t a climb without some postholing, right? Gotta build character somehow!