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I love the feeling of going to the mountains. The static of life in the city fades away. The challenge of moving through rugged landscapes brings me out of my head and into my body. I love long days on the trail where time slows down and the Experience lives in my memory for years. I created the alpenflo project to share my passion for seeking an authentic life through outdoor Experience.

mini-guide: mount hood ski circumnav

Ryan sending it onto the Ladd Glacier

Ryan sending it onto the Ladd Glacier

There’s something magical about dropping over Illumination Saddle. The crossing separates Mt Hood’s south side from its west and places the wall of the crater between you and the hordes ascending the mountain’s standard route. The bright sun rising in the eastern sky is blocked by the mountain, and you’re confronted with the steep and icy upper reaches of the Reid Glacier. I love dropping over that saddle, onto that dark side and into an area where you usually don’t see more than another party or two.

If you’re circumnavigating Mount Hood, crossing Illumination Saddle is the entry point to a side of the mountain that feels much bigger and more remote. It’s the start of a long day of movement and a whole lot of transitions. This is a tour that draws on a variety of mountain skills, requiring you to move efficiently and quickly switch between skinning, skiing, and climbing. The big terrain of the north side makes you feel like you’re on a completely different mountain, and being able to evaluate and navigate glaciated terrain is a critical skill. Be prepared to take care of yourself in the event of an emergency, the back side of the mounain isn’t easily accessible in the winter and emergency response times are likely to be long. All that to say - be careful and tour at your own risk!

In this mini-guide I’ll describe a ski around the mountain and lay out some tips to help you plan your trip. This is the first guide I’ve written for the website, and I’m experimenting with the layout and presentation of information, so bear with me as I work out the kinks.

All right already! With that out of the way let’s get on with the trip.

trip summary

Note that the following will vary substantially based on route taken, conditions, and fitness

  • trip date: May 5, 2019

  • distance: 10.5 miles

  • vertical gain: 7k feet

  • time: 9 hours moving at a steady, slow pace

  • difficulty: moderate-advanced

  • start/end: Timberline Lodge

  • permits: free self-issue wilderness permit, OR Sno-Park permit Nov-May

gear

Ski mountaineering and glacier travel equipment including:

  • glacier rescue kit and harness

  • whippet and second ice tool

  • ski and boot crampons

resources

  • ‘Mt Hood Climbers Guide’ by Bill Mullee, 2014, Sharp End Publishing - excellent resource for the route

outing

Cruxes for the route will vary depending on time of year and snowpack, and you’ll need to evaluate conditions as you go. The following map shows the locations of weaknesses we used to climb and descend ridges. In general, we opted for a lower line to allow for more skiing and skinning and more mellow climbing. Choose your own route according to conditions and your goals for the day.

Reid Glacier

Other than crevasse risk, this was the most dangerous part of the route. Since the trip takes most of the day, it’s impossible to time ideal snow conditions for the whole route. If you opt for a clockwise circumnavigation as we did, you’ll drop into the Reid and the steepest skiing of the route long before the snow’s had a chance to soften. You can get some idea of the condition of the crevasses on the Reid Glacier by looking down on it from illumination saddle, but because of the steepness of the glacier it’s impossible to completely understand what’s ahead until you quest out onto it. We opted to ski the center of the Reid, trending right as we descended and continuously evaluating our line.

Several crossings of Yokum ridge are possible from the lower Reid Glacier. We opted to ski down the glacier to a point where we could gain the ridge on skis and transition at a flat section. Those looking for a shorter line can find it with some steeper climbing.

dark side of the moon - Ryan descends the Reid Glacier from Illumination Saddle

dark side of the moon - Ryan descends the Reid Glacier from Illumination Saddle

lower Reid Glacier - be mindful of crevasses and choose to traverse to Yokum Ridge where it looks good

lower Reid Glacier - be mindful of crevasses and choose to traverse to Yokum Ridge where it looks good

looking back at the Reid Glacier from Yokum Ridge, line show approximate descent of lower glacier

looking back at the Reid Glacier from Yokum Ridge, line show approximate descent of lower glacier

Ryan preparing to cross the Sandy Glacier

Ryan preparing to cross the Sandy Glacier

Sandy-Ladd Glacier

We skinned the Sandy Glacier and gained Cathedral Ridge at 7300’

Ryan looking back at the Sandy Glacier

Ryan looking back at the Sandy Glacier

We booted exposed rock and skinned when possible, climbing to 7700’ to get some good skiing onto the the Ladd Glacier.

Ryan skis onto the Ladd Glacier

Ryan skis onto the Ladd Glacier

From our low point at 7500 we transitioned to skins and climbed above Barrett Spur. We could see crevasses on the Coe Glacier and roped up for a climbing traverse of it, aiming for an obvious snow ramp, which we booted to gain the ridge at 8300 feet.

Ryan climbing a snow-ramp from the Coe Glacier

Ryan climbing a snow-ramp from the Coe Glacier

From the ridge, we skinned toward the Elliot Glacier, climbing towards Snow Dome. We climbed to 9,000 feet to enable us to ski across the Elliot Glacier rather than skin it.

Elliot glacier from Snow Dome, with ascent route to Cooper Spur

Elliot glacier from Snow Dome, with ascent route to Cooper Spur

detail view

detail view

We climbed Cooper Spur and continued ascending the ridge to 9400 feet and the Newton-Clark Glacier. Climbing to here allowed us to ski the entire rest of the way to Timberline Lodge, with a couple of small boot sections across rock ridges.

Ryan reentering Timberline ski resort

Ryan reentering Timberline ski resort

The ski-circumnavigation of Mount Hood offers some unique rewards for a tour so close to Portland. You get the challenge of working your way through varied terrain that requires a variety of skills, a big mountain feel, and a fairly long ski traverse. For Ryan and I, it was a fun opportunity to practice working and problem solving together, and spend a full day taking in our home mountain.