Climb to the summit of Mount Hood

In early June, Jon Goodwin climbed Mount Hood with a team from Portland Mountain Rescue, enjoying plenty of views from the top of Oregon’s tallest peak.

MOUNT HOOD, Ore. – Let’s Get Out of This Week is the conclusion to our three-week series that takes us to the top of Mount Hood. Whether you aspire to climb it one day or just love finding a quiet trail in your neighborhood, we hope you’ll be inspired to find an outdoor escape. A Portland Mountain Rescue team let Jon Goodwin participate in a summit attempt, and he wanted to share the experience.

An early morning alpine start from the Timberline Lodge parking lot is where the day begins for our attempt to summit Mount Hood, or by its Native American name, Wy’east. I met four members of Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR), all with impressive resumes. Teresa Dalsager is a former corporate vice president, Jenna Wiley is an emergency physician, Hayley Dukatz is a firefighter/paramedic, and Paige Baugher, a PMR rescue manager, is a professor of biology and holds a PhD in molecular biology.

After about an hour of “mock sleep”, the butterflies in my stomach made the adrenaline rush through my veins. For climbers, it’s important to start early so you can descend the mountain before the sun begins to melt the snow and ice.

“The plan is to get to the top of Mount Hood,” Baugher said as we gathered for an exercise she called SARGAR, which stands for Search and Rescue, Green Amber Red. “We discuss each category and for each we’re either green which is good or orange which is hesitant but we try to mitigate those risks and then red which is a hard stop.”

It was June 7 and about 5-10 inches of snow had just fallen on the high mountain. This posed no serious threat to the safety of the climb, but the team insisted on remaining alert to the conditions.

We then did a quick check of our avalanche beacons. If you’re entering an alpine setting, PMR says it’s essential to have the right equipment in case you get buried in an avalanche.

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With gear packed and a straight mind, we hit the snow and started the slog to the top of the Palmer chairlift (elevation 8,500′). Big machines called snow cats groomed a trail from Timberline’s climbing terrain. This is the beginning of the road on the south side. This is the most common and considered the easiest route to the top. As dusk approaches, the impressive features of the summit ridge appear against a backlit sky. The band graciously made frequent stops so I could film, and let’s be honest, because I was the slowest!

At sunrise, the stunning sight of the shadow of the mountain stretching across the landscape is something I won’t soon forget. After snacks and a vibration check, we strapped crampons to our boots in preparation for the rest of the climb. Above Palmer the mountain gets steep and you will need all the traction you can get.

“Mount Hood isn’t just an accessible mountain,” Wiley said. “It’s not a hike, it’s not a backpack and it requires ease with the use of crampons and ice axes. It requires reading the hazards and mitigating the risks and the ability to trust your own skills, but also to be with people you trust.

I had the luxury of not only being with trusted people, but also with real search and rescue experts. We soon arrived at the Hogsback as the sun peeked into the crater. The Hogsback is a sharp snow ridge with volcanic vents on either side called fumaroles. They give off a strong sulfuric aroma, and while it’s a good place to take a break, it’s good to keep moving so you don’t get too affected by the toxic gases. You also don’t want to slip through the vents. PMR has made numerous rescues in and around the Devil’s Kitchen and Hot Rocks fumaroles.

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“If you fall into it, you can watch like a 50-foot vertical drop onto a rock below you, and then you’re trapped in this cylinder of snow and toxic gas,” Baugher said. “And it’s like the only place…in North America where search and rescue teams have to get people out of the volcano’s active fumaroles.”

The ascent from the Hogsback to the Pearly Gates is where the climb starts to get technical. The steep incline is 40 degrees in some places. A slip can mean a fall of hundreds of feet or more depending on the fall line.

Dukatz and Baugher set up stake anchors and attached my harness to a belay system, and we continued on to the Pearly Gates. The section had a great shoe bag and I was roped in so climbing here was comfortable, but don’t let your guard down and lose focus here. The narrow “gates” were covered in windblown frost – beautiful to look at but dangerous if the sun thaws it, knocking it down on you.

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“Mountaineering is a very specific activity, and it takes something special,” Dalsager said. “It takes all the courage, focus, determination, focus, faith and hope and all the things that life throws at you.”

Once through the Pearly Gates, Dukatz removed me from the belay where the team could just walk to the top. It was a good final push which I wasn’t expecting, but around 11:15, 9 hours after the start, we reached the top. The views are incredible. You can see all the great Cascade Volcanoes back in Portland, even the I-205 bridge over the Columbia River. It was an achievement that brought supreme satisfaction and a reminder of how small we are. This climb was not about me, but I took renewed pride in it for these incredible women (and the entire PMR team) who volunteer to educate climbers and save lives on this mountain.

The views are incredible. You can see all the great Cascade Volcanoes back in Portland, even the I-205 bridge over the Columbia River. It was an achievement that brought supreme satisfaction and a reminder of how small we are. This climb was not about me, but I took renewed pride in it for these incredible women (and the entire PMR team) who volunteer to educate climbers and save lives on this mountain.

“Historically, mountain rescue didn’t involve a lot of women,” Baugher said. This is something that PMR has worked to change over the past few years. “I’m incredibly proud of this training class, and we have some incredibly strong women. I mean, the three you rode with today, incredibly strong women.

“We’re all volunteers, we show up because we want to give to this team, and that’s a pretty powerful statement I think,” Wiley added.

“These women mean to me that you can be strong, you can be confident, you can be tough, you can be kind and compassionate, all at the same time,” Dalsager said. “And that will be appreciated and recognized.

Wy’east means different things to different people, and now I have a new respect for what it is. You can climb it, but you will never defeat it. Thanks to these pros, I returned home safe and sound and many lives were saved thanks to PMR and other mountain search and rescue groups.

Let’s Get Out there airs once a week on KGW’s 4pm newscast and Good things, airing Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m. We include viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.

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