Saturday 12th August – Dan’s First Glacier

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We didn’t muck around this morning, but we didn’t rush it either. Despite our excitement to eat dinner’s left overs in burrito form for breakfast, it was warm so we opted for cereal. I only sat down for a minute before I packed a bag for our six mile round trip to the highest point on Mount Hood reachable by trail. Dan drove this time while we left the Astro to stake out camp. The camp had already become crowded before we went to bed but some late arrivals meant it was now packed. We were lucky to have such a big semi-private site to ourselves.

Sitting comfortably in Kev’s chair with Cleo at my feet, Dan drove us out of camp and onto the highway. We head a short ways east before turning off towards Cloud Cap where after a while, we started driving up the mountain on a gravel road. We had seven miles of this to look forward to and we had only made it about 4 miles when I heard thd distinct sound of air rapidly leaving the front right tyre. Bugger. Dan didn’t want to believe it but he pulled over and sure enough, the front right tyre was completely flat. Right then, I loosened the wheel nuts, Dan got the jack out of the back and got the spare down while Cleo chased some squirrels.

It only took us fifteen minutes to make the change and we were only a little disheartened, Dan had insurance on the tyre which meant it would only cost him $20 to replace it. He took it slow the rest of the way up the hill and we made it ok to the top. We were in another fee area and so we did the usual scam with the fee envelope before parking near the abandoned Cloud Cap Inn.

No mucking around here either, we already had our shoes on so all we had to do was deliberate about whether to take jackets (which we decided not to) then get going. We wandered around the boarded up Inn, wondering why it was closed up because it looked to be in great condition!

We got some great views of Mount Hood as we approached it and took a photo for a family that was on holiday before reaching the trailhead at the campground. It would be a nice cool spot to camp at this elevation and there were tents spread in most places.

We consulted the map at the trailhead then started our trek upwards after filling out a wilderness permit. Cleo lead the way, excited to be adventuring somewhere new. We walked on dark grey sand through forest, stopping briefly to sticky beak inside a storage hut then staying on trail the rest of the way. There were pretty flowers in the forest and the trees were lush despite the harsh ground we were stepping on.

The sand soon turned into volcanic rock and after crossing a couple of tiny streams, which Cleo took advantage of, we were above the treeline and climbing through a mostly barren landscape. The only excuse for life was the ground bushes, squirrels and chipmunks that Cleo was trying to be all over. We met a couple of people coming down with skiis on their backs, turns out they’d skiid off the top of the mountain so we thought maybe it was possible to get to the peak, beyond the top of Cloud Cap Spur.

After a mile or so, we turned towards the mountain to see it really looming in front of us now. We’d had pretty good views all along the trail, but now the might Mount Hood was front and centre. We were at the Cloud Cap Hut which we had an explore of. It was only small with a long piece of rubber covering the door, but it was enough to hide in during harsh weather, conditions that are probably prevalent on this side of the mountain.

Carrying on upwards, the incline increased and we could see specs that represented people way up above us. We navigated the wide switchbacks, after a dozen or so coming to the edge of the glacier channel where we got our first close look at the Elliot glacier that is nestled on side of Hood. Dan hadn’t seen a glacier before and while I had, this was still impressive. We stood there for a good while, since there were plenty of aspects of the glacier to look at, including a group of eight or so people standing on the bloody thing.

The ice was a bright blue where it wasn’t covered by snow or dirt and the channel we were standing on top of extended for hundreds of meters down the mountain, empty of ice. It was evidence of the form this glacier once took, probably not that long ago.

We met a few hikers as they came down the mountain, one of them telling us that Cleo was an absolute tank, which of course she is. The trail became vague about halfway up the spur and we alternated between walking the switchbacks and climbing the edge of the glacier channel where our views of the glacier were uninterrupted.

Still a mile from the top of the spur, we were above some snow patches and we took advantage of the first patch that was close by. Cleo was right into it, running around, eating it and laying down in it to cool her body down.

We got her properly riled up, sliding in the snow all over and even filled our water bottle with the fresh stuff, though it didn’t really melt so it wasn’t that helpful. After Cleo had her fun, we carried on climbing.

The views just kept getting better and better as we climbed, both of the mountain before us and the valley behind us, with the switchbacks tracing lines across the ground to show where we’d come from. When the going got too hard climbing along the channel, we went back to the switchbacks for a break, but before long, they disappeared and we were left to make our own path amongst the volcanic rock.

It was tough going, placing our feet so that we didn’t take two steps back for every one forward, but the people coming down off the mountain all had smiles on their faces so we had no doubt the climb would be worth it. With still about a half mile to go, we started noticing a rotten egg smell, something we hadn’t expected but made total sense. Mount Hood is an active volcano and this was evidence of that. The smell came and went but it was mostly strong and pungent all the way to the top of the spur.

After nearly three hours of hiking, we neared the first peak of the spur. “Wows” were exclaimed as we reached the point where we could see the other side of the mountain and the perfect layer of snow that covered its whole side. This was probably our closest view of the glacier so far too and it was glorious. It still wasn’t too cold despite the elevation since there wasn’t a whole lot of wind. I was surprised to see a waft of cloud floating by us, taking away the view for just a few seconds before it got sucked up towards the top of the mountain and revealed the mountain slopes once again.

We could see a few snowboarder’s lines in the snow, but the white stuff was mostly untouched except for the trails left by rolling rocks.

We carried on climbing up the last piece of the spur, walking along a narrow ridge formed by rocks spewed out of the top of the mountain. There were huge boulders in out path, most of them cracked and broken, just waiting to be split into dozens of pieces. This was bloody cool.

The sky was so blue above us and the peak was mostly in clear view when tufts of cloud weren’t covering her tip. It was an impressive mountain, looking fierce and about to blow any minute.

I left Dan and Cleo behind a little bit as we approached the very peak of the spur, taking the last few steps at a bit of a jog since I was so excited to be at the end of the climb. It turned out to be closer to four miles and it had been a steep climb, I was happy to be done and standing as close to the peak of Mount Hood as I could without wielding an ice axe.

We had the top of the spur to ourselves so we took it all in. We could still see the people down on the glacier, they hadn’t moved from where we’d originally seen them so we assumed they were a group of scientists or something because it sure didn’t look like a touristy event. Elliot glacier was just spectacular. It was covered in crevasses and you could see where massive gorges in the ice had been carved in a single event.

Just as I was crouching down to set my phone up for a photo, we both heard something coming from the top of the mountain. We both looked up in time to watch some rocks fall down the mountain side accompanied by puffs of white snow. Just that tiny event made us feel nervous, we couldn’t imagine this whole mountain blowing its top.

Since our water was empty, I scrambled down some loose rock to get to a tiny stream formed by the snow melt. In hindsight, it may have been a stupid idea considering the drop that existed just below where we were standing, but we gulped some ice cold glacier water as a reward. We thought about the sulphur we could smell and whether that could be harmful to our health if ingested through water, but concluded we didn’t mind too much.

After a good half hour at the top, the wind suddenly picked up something fierce and we took that as our cue to start heading down. We met people coming up just near the summit so our timing was perfect. We stopped to empty all the fine dirt out of our shoes, but ended up with just as much in them five minutes later as we lumbered down the trail.

When we reached the first patch of snow by the trail, I lead Cleo to it and she happily did her cool down procedure and watching her slide around got me thinking. I could see the snow met up with the trail further down so I was keen for a shortcut. I tried sliding down the snow on my feet and Dan immediately followed with much better technique getting low to the ground. Eventually, he went on his arse and slid all the way down the snow. Enthused, I followed in his arse tracks and found that it was a brilliant way to travel, except for the brutal cold on my arse cheeks. The incline was just perfect that we could slide on our bums, no hands and no feet. On top of that, it was hilariously fun!

Back on the trail like normal people, we switchbacked until we were back at the glacier channel where we spoke briefly to a couple sitting there enjoying the view. They’d booked a touristy glacier walk for tomorrow that had been cancelled thanks to the weather forecast of thunderstorms and rain and so were making the most of their trip by hiking the spur.

It didn’t take many more switchbacks for us to find another patch of snow that was slide worthy. This one wasn’t as fast, but halfway down we both got a good run which ended when our arses hurt too much. If we’d had something to slide on we’d have made it most of the way down the hike without effort!

Back on trail with wet arses, we plodded along, taking big drunken steps to get ourselves off the mountain. Cleo was off like a shot chasing shit but she predictably was never successful, only a pain in the arse when she was so involved in the hunt that she didn’t care to listen to our calls.

The hike down went quickly enough, which we were happy about because we really hadn’t brought enough food and water to sustain us since we assumed this would be a 2-3 hour affair, not a 5 hour one. We were happy to see the forest and cross the little creek and after an hour and a half, we were back at the trailhead thinking only about food.

We took our shoes off and got straight into the car to drive down the mountain. We were leaving a very busy campground behind us at the peak and were both silently hoping the Cabana would make it down the hill without busting another tyre. When we got to the spot where’d we’d got the flat, we had a close look but couldn’t see anything suspect on the ground that caused the puncture. Just unlucky.

The drive back to camp felt long so I was relieved to finally see our site with the Astro parked front and centre. Dan was on cooking duty, but after donning a jumper, I got in the kitchen first and made a cheese quesadilla as an appetiser so we could drink some beer. It went down well and afterwards, the left over burritos Dan made did the same. Still hungry sitting by the fire, we decided to go for round three, Dan frying up some potatoes with chicken and cheese and putting that into a tortilla. Finally, we were full. I had a hot chocolate for dessert and not long after, we retired to the Cabana with the laptop. We tried out “Orange is the New Black” but neither of us liked it much so we gave it away after about twenty minutes.

Another successful day in Mount Hood, we went to sleep to the sound of rain.

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