Mount Hood: North to South
Andy and I have been talking about heading up Cooper Spur for months now. With the weird weather we’ve had in the PNW this year, getting up on a new route on a distant mountain proved challenging so we started looking for new, more limit-pushing route on one of the giants in our backyard. Cooper Spur seemed like it fit the mold and we reached out to friends and did a bunch of reading online to get beta on the “killer” route.
We were actually on the verge of trying it a couple of months ago but we were presented with the tiniest of weather windows and bailed the night before, electing to wait for more ideal conditions.
Friday night, we readied our gear and went to sleep at 7pm. Alarms set for 11:40pm, we were looking at only a few hours of sleep but we wanted cold, early morning temps in order to feel that we could complete the route safely since avy risk and slipping on the slushy, late afternoon snow were our primary hazards. Our proposed descent would be down another North side route, the Sunshine Route, and since there was a chance that we would be facing a pretty gnarly bergschrund, we brought harnesses and a rope, just in case. Our packs were heavier than we wanted but we sucked it up and considered it “training weight” for some of our upcoming, overnight objectives.
Tilly Jane TH was nearly empty when we pulled into the parking lot. We grabbed our packs and started hiking up the trail, getting to the Tilly Jane shelter in just over an hour- we were blazing. The wind was howling pretty hard down low but we had decent enough protection in the trees so we trudged on- hoping to find skinnable snow sooner rather than later since the skis and boots on our backs were beginning to feel pretty dang heavy. By the time we reached the Cooper Spur shelter, we were in a sea of suncupped snow. Optimistic, we switched to skis and skins and began making our way up toward the ridge. It was getting brutally chilly at that point and I bundled up in my puffy and hat, shivering and moving to keep the screamers at bay (since they’ve been known to make me burst out crying with little to no notice).
The snow was NOT skinnable. We were merely walking with skis on our feet, skins gripping the snow with hardly anymore security than our crampon-less boots had been during the first part of the approach. Once we gained the ridge, we ditched our skis and switched over to crampons. Looking up at the route, it didn’t look that bad- the sky was clearing and the wind had become more of a mild annoyance than anything.
The climbing up the first section was relatively low-angled- our biggest objective hazard was rockfall and after the first man-killer came screaming down the chute in front of us, we decided to climb in shifts: one person leading out at a time and the other person with eyes-up, looking for tumbling rocks that we would (hopefully) be able to avoid with careful maneuvering.
Our shift-climbing worked and, despite the quickly-warming (and, in places, very rotten) snow, we were eventually able to head up toward a ridge that would get us from the line of fire. Andy went up right before I did and took the quickest path up-ending up on some pretty slick snow (both of his tools lost their grip during one particularly spicy instance).
Deciding to avoid the snow/choss, I took and alternative route and ended up on the steepest section of climbing I’ve ever been on (that wasn’t made from rock). It wasn’t until after I pulled myself up over the lip and onto the ridge that I realized what I’d been climbing. It was STEEP! And rad. Like, really, really cool. However, I was feeling pretty worked and needed some serious fuel. The rotten snow required more throws with my tools than I had anticipated and my shoulders and arms were shaking. We quickly ate food while leaning against a tiny platform we dug out.
At this point, clouds started rolling in. We had maybe a hundred feet of good visibility in all directions which obscured some of the steep drop off on climber’s right. We took a few moments after we finished eating to check out the North Face route which got our stoke up. Then, we started up. Less steep climbing from here to the summit was on mostly good snow with a few thin snow layers masking solid ice (which wasn’t super fun to climb). We eventually gained sight of the summit and scrambled to the top.
Andy topped out ahead of me and got some sweet photos of me coming up the last section of climbing. The summit cornice was not in place at all so pulling up and over the edge was cake. We drank it in. First North side route on Hood CHECK!
With visibility getting worse and worse, we decided to bail on our planned descent- the sunshine route. Instead, we down-climbed the Pearly Gates and found ourselves face to face with a budding bergschrund that was beginning to block direct traffic to the gates and which was also stretching its way across the old chute. Good luck, late season Hood climbers….
Together, we skied down from the kitchen and had 4,000′ of perfect, prime, amazing corn. Both of us were pretty worked at this point but we managed to enjoy some sweet turns.
We managed to snag a ride back to the Cooper Spur turn off on hwy 35 and another back up to our car.
(BIG thanks to the wonderful people who helped us back on this one)
It was another long but wonderful day in the alpine :)