Lessons Learned: Devil's Kitchen Headwall
Happy Birthday to me! After our very educational/humbling/frustrating attempt a couple days prior, we set out to make the most of the surprisingly-extended weather-window on my 28th birthday. I’m not a fan of alpine-starts anymore… I enjoy the sunrise, the peace, the ability to move at a casual pace, but, I’m definitely more of a fan of sleeping in and climbing routes with expediency. After the surprising heat during our failed attempt, however, we elected to hit the base of the route by 9am in order to be climbing when the ice/snow was solid.
It was also kind of fun to skin up the Palmer without haste, enjoying the views and the quiet. I was shocked at how few people we saw coming up Hood that morning. On our previous DKH attempt, the mountain had been absolutely CRAWLING with climbers and skimountaineers and I had expected much of the same on my birthday.
We skinned to a point about 30 feet below the entrance to the chute, ditched our skis, and racked up our harnesses. Andy would lead the first pitch since he was familiar with it and I would lead the second, and so on and so forth. The first pitch went relatively smoothly; Andy led nearly the entire length of our 40m and I started up, excited to warm up my tingling toes and fingers.
The first ice step was straightforward but as soon as I rounded the first corner, I began getting PELTED with ice and small rocks and huge chunks of crusty, rimey snow. It was all I could do to keep climbing by the time I made it to the anchor Andy had built. I was climbing in intervals, timing my movements for the end of the ice flows and moving as quickly as safety allowed until the pelting began anew. It was a new kind of hell. When I reached Andy, he put me on belay, I grabbed the extra pickets from him and, since I couldn’t get a good view of the third step without getting sprayed with rime, asked which side looked better.
Leading AI blind wasn’t in my original plan but the ice was solid and was taking screws well. I kicked and picked my way through the step, pulled off to the side (away from the runnel the ice was coming down), and belayed Andy up to me.
We were out of the worst of it- a few hundred more feet of climbing on rimey, crusty snow and we would be at the summit.
For the first time in my brief climbing career, we had the summit of Hood to ourselves. The icing on the cake was that we had views for miles- 360° of mountains and blue skies. We smiled, finished the water we had on us, and down-climbed the left variation of the Pearly Gates (which, by the way, are essentially a staircase this year). A soft, post-holing traverse from the hogsback had us back to our skis and after a few minutes of rest, we skied back to Timberline, enjoying 90% good skiing on tired legs.