Getting Off the Beaten Path on Mt. Hood

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Photo Credit Jamie Mieras
Photo Credit Jamie Mieras

By Adam Chase, Atlas Team Captain

Even though Mt. Hood is just a 90-minute drive from downtown Portland and considered PDX’s playground, the amount of snow the upper regions of the volcanic and glacial mountain receives keeps the hoards away, leaving its open wilderness and National Forest areas wide open for exploration.

You can gain serious elevation by starting from Timberline Lodge, a beautiful 1937, Depression-era Work Projects Administration structure six miles up the access road from the town of Government Camp. Climber’s Trail is an obvious option for those wanting to head directly toward the rather daunting yet alluring summit. In other words, it goes straight up the mountain. The going isn’t easy but the views earned from ascending with every step are well worth the effort. Timberline Lodge sits at 6,000 feet above sea level while the summit of Mt. Hood is at 11,245 with the terrain getting rather technical above 9,500.

We did a four-mile out-and-back on snowshoes on a mostly sunny yet breezy day with temps in the high 30s and low 40s. It took more than 90 minutes to ascend 2,500 feet and less than 30 minutes to descend on the soft snow. We saw skiers and boarders who took two lifts to get to just above our turnaround point and plenty of climbers who were headed to make a Saturday night high camp before going for an early Sunday summit and the return home.

Unless the temperature is just right, you’ll need snowshoes, skis with skins, crampons or other traction device and maybe an ice axe or poles. It is a great calf workout and for those coming from sea level the altitude is sure to get the heart and lungs pumping hard.

It was tempting to turn around to check out the view of Portland, below, as the views were spectacular. But we were less than 3,000 feet from the top of the peak that is marveled at regularly by Portlanders, the way Seattle residents are in awe of Mt. Rainier. The ridge line of the summit and its snow- and ice-encrusted crown, like a white saw against the blue sky it cut with its teeth, is so compelling.