Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mt. Hood North Face Right Gully Attempt

The NF right gully goes up the gully in the center of the face. Cooper Spur is the broad snow slope to the left and Sunshine is on the right hand edge of the photo.

It's crunch time for me now. Between all the other commitments I have had over this month and a half long break, climbing has been hard to fit in. I met with Anastasia this weekend to try the Right Gully on the North Face (actually NE Face) of Mt. Hood. We met at Timberline Lodge, an old WPA building at treeline on the south side of Mt. Hood so that we could leave the car there and do a summit carryover. A carryover is highly recommended for the route because the two other realistic descent options, Cooper Spur and Sunshine are suboptimal for sure. Cooper Spur regularly kills people with its steep, sometimes slushy snow and a fall line over cliffs, 2000 feet below. Sunshine is long and requires negotiating a large bergschrund and several other snow moats. We arrived at the trailhead soon thereafter and set out up the Tilly Jane trail towards the cabin.

The car in the parking lot right before we left.

The sun set quickly and the temperature dropped quickly. A crescent moon rose above the mountain and there was no wind, a good sign for tomorrow.

Crescent moon over Mt. Hood. Tilly Jane Trail.

We reached the cabin after two hour's walk, averaging about 1000 feet per hour. A moderate, easy pace. The cabin was, surprisingly, open, so we stopped for food and water there where we could sit easily.

Tilly Jane A-Frame

Leaving the cabin we walked up along the steep drainage to the open snow slopes above timberline. In places the snow had blown off to solid sun crust. Anastasia used snowshoes the whole way while I opted to walk without crampons or snowshoes.

The entrance to the CS Shelter and the tent of the people who came looking for us the next day.
Inside the shelter, preparing dinner and sorting gear.

Arriving at the Cooper Spur Shelter, we promptly entered and cooked dinner. Freeze dried food, tea, and cliff bars. The shelter was nicely shoveled out and plenty roomy for two people. Melting enough water took nearly two hours.

Warm and comfortable for the night.

We set the alarm for 2AM and I went to sleep. I was glad I brought the 0 down bag because it was very warm and comfortable. Anastasia, sleeping in only clothes was cold much of the night. We woke at 1:45AM, made breakfast, and headed out by 2:45. 

Progress up the glacier was methodical and slow, more a function of the pace than out of necessity. We needed crampons getting off the moraine onto the glacier, but once there we decided to use snow shoes. This was certainly a good decision. some of the walk was hard and slippery, some powder, but most of it was a breakable crust. The wind began to blow at around 7500' and steadily increased. By 8500' it was considerable (20-25 mph). We hunkered down in some holes dug with a snowshoe to wait for the sunrise, and shivered in the dark. I tried to light the stove, but with the wind and a cold lighter, I could not. In doing so, a lot of spindrift entered my gloves. There was not much room for error in this weather.

Spin drift in the flash just before sunrise. The dim rock to the upper left of Anastasia is right of the base of the route.
Plumes of snow off Cooper Spur as morning arrives.

Packing up, I encouraged Anastasia to at least look at the bergshrund because I thought the wind behind the cleaver might be less. We arrived there and changed into crampons, geared up, and roped up. Here I discovered she did not have goggles with her, but we thought it might be a possibility to climb it if the wind decreased. All the while above us, huge sprays of spin drift were bouncing off the gully walls.

The bergschrund and the base of the route. Notice to spin drift above.
Below the 'schrund.

Anastasia led out first, up to the bergshrund and immediately found a snow bridge. She disappeared around the corner with a muffled comment on how "it looks pretty sketchy...". A minute later she reappeared on the top of the 'schrund and soon the rope came tight. If this was how it would go, things were looking good.

Anastasia leading out through the bergschrund. Notice a cloud cap has started to form.
150' above the 'schrund. The first ice choke is visible above. We stopped at the hook shaped rock up right of Anastasia.

She kicked up a hundred feet or so further, but the wind was just as strong. Forty mile per hour gusts knocked us around. With a pack I weight 205-210 pounds and I was nearly being lifted off my feet at times. It must have been worse for her. She stopped and waited for me to come up, to decide what to do. We opted to go for the rock to the upper right of Anastasia in the photo above and discuss. I led and soon found myself at the rock. Showers of spin drift hammered down from above, sometimes three or four inches thick. Looking up I could see it pour off the ice chute above, plunge to the moderate slope below, and fan out, rushing down the fan.

Me below, loving the weather.

After briefly waiting to see if the winds would calm, we headed down. Since Anastasia only had glasses, every ten steps she had to clear them. Soon down on the glacier propper we walked slowly through the deep, loose snow. She spied some water ice over on the cliffs by the Cooper Spur route, so we left to investigate. If we couldn't get some real climbing on the NF, why not do some where we could. I led what was intended to be the first pitch, but even here the wind was nearly knocking me off my tools. It made WI2+ much more interesting. I finished out the half pitch and belayed Anastasia up. Thirty feet over my head I could hear and see the wind screaming through the gap. Our original plan had been to traverse over Cooper Spur to the lee side and then come down that way, but I was worried that Anastasia wouldn't be able to walk in the wind. Once she arrived, we opted to go down.

Leading the short ice climb in the wind.
Anastasia rappelling the route after reaching the belay. The wind through the notch above was very strong (55-60mph).

Trudging back through the snow, we made it down to the final crevassed area. I was surprised to see two people quickly approaching from below. I met them and discovered that they had seen us waiting around up above for the conditions to improve, but then lost us again where the could not see us. Not wanting someone hurt while they were on the mountain, they had come to make sure we were alright. We walked back to the shelter together, everyone except me wearing crampons. Not wanting to slow people down, I declined to put crampons on for the final climb back to the top of the moraine. Bad idea. Midway through the traverse the snow hardened into ice. Standing on my toes, a half inch or less of my boots in the snow, I gingerly reached for and axe, still clipped to my harness. As I unclipped it, a 10cm screw fell off and went to the bottom of the slope. It was not worth retrieving. With some help, I made it back to the flatter ground. Next time put on crampons.

We were unsuccessful because of the wind, and could not have climbed the ice pitches that day. However, there were several lessons. On winter trips, especially NF climbs make sure you bring enough clothes. I was comfortable most of the time, but had not reserve had conditions gotten worse. Anastasia should have remembered goggles and made the assumption that weather would be bad enough to require them. Finally, I should have put on crampons. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, the right equipment makes the overall climb faster.

Conditions were excellent except for the approach on the glacier. The route was well consolidated and the ice steps apparently in good condition. If only not for that wind.

The equipment I took (including gear from Anastasia) is as follows.

  1. Snowshoes
  2. 2 Tools (vipers) and spinner leash
  3. 4 16cm screws
  4. 1 13cm screw
  5. 1 10cm screw
  6. 3 assorted nuts (unecessary)
  7. harness
  8. 2 yates pickets
  9. assorted slings and alpine draws
  10. 60m 8.9mm rope
  11. v-thread hooker
  12. ski poles
  13. cyborg crampons
  14. 55L pack (wish it was smaller)
  15. 0 degree down bag
  16. thermals
  17. fleece
  18. down vest
  19. down sweater with hood
  20. synthetic insulated pants
  21. hard shell pants
  22. hard shell top
  23. face mask
  24. helmet and headlamp
  25. heavy gloves
  26. la sportiva nepal evo boots
  27. goggles
  28. stove and food
  29. 1L water
  30. socks etc.

1 comment:

  1. There is radness in the badness.