Climbing Mt. Hood with Timberline Mountain Guides

Climbing Mt. Hood with Timberline Mountain Guides

Mt. Hood, Oregon

5 miles, 11,249 ft.

May 19th, 2012


Mt. Hood, as seen from Highway 26, approaching from the West

Mt. Hood or Wy’east in Multnomah Indian

Mt Hood is relatively diminutive by the standards of the other major strato volcanoes of the Cascade Range of the northwestern US, but it is the 28th most prominent mountain in the entire US (a measure of how it stands out topographically from the surrounding Hills) and is simply spectacular. It is heavily glaciated, principally due to the incredible annual snowfall, and is the only place in the lower 48 that offers 12 month skiing. From a visual perspective, Mt. Hood towers above the relatively low-lying area around it, and was and often used in the past as a visual landmark by travelers on the Columbia River. In the words of Lt. William Broughton, who named the mountain after a British Admiral in 1792, “A very high, snowy mountain now appeared rising beautifully conspicuous in the midst of an extensive tract of low or moderately elevated land…”

The actual prominence of Mt. Hood resulted in some extreme mis-estimation of its height. As late as the end of the 19th century, the height of the mountain was listed as 18,361 ft. (over estimated by 63%), and one Mr. Belden claimed to have climbed the mountain during a hunting trip and determined it to be 19,400 feet upon which “pores oozed blood, eyes bled, and blood rushed from their ears.”

The South face of Hood

Note the chairlift and explosion crater above with large post-eruption plug in the center

Without a doubt, Hood is a dormant volcano, but with large amounts of gas being emitted from the plug in the explosion crater which faces to the south and Timberline Lodge and ski area. There have been earthquake swarms within the last decade, indicating activity in the magma under the mountain, and as a result the mountain can (and does) routinely expand and contract several feet, making reliable measurements of actual height problematic.

The mountain has surely suffered severe erosion, doubtlessly hastened by the volcanic blast (of unknown time frame) leaving the classic explosion crater seen above. The Southern Climbing Route goes up through any of the ice chutes left in the northern edge of the explosion crater. This makes climbing Hood much different than most volcanoes – there is no classic summit crater – only a summit ridge.

Climbers on the Hogsback and heading up the face to the summit

The Indian name, Wy’east, is for one of the sons of the Great Spirit, Wy’east, who ends up in a love triangle and goes to war with his rival, destroying all in his path. The triangle is ultimately resolved, as they classically are, with much death and sorrow, and Hood is erected by The Great Spirit as a monument to his fallen son – probably as good an explanation as any – absent plate tectonics.

Climbing with Timberline Guides

Scouting around, I found that Timberline Mt. Guides was a first rate outfit, and that I probably didn’t want to try an unguided first climb of Hood – around 130 people have died climbing this Hill, and I did want to be number 131. I joined my guide, Geoff Lodge, at 2:15 AM, and we took off into the darkness, the climb starts just above the ski lifts, and heads directly into the explosion crater and onto the backside of the volcanic plug – locally called the Hogsback.


Geoff Lodge, of Timberline Mountain Guides, on Mt. Hood

Geoff is a native Oregonian, who got a finance degree, and ended up working for Angelo Mozilo (indirectly) at Countrywide Mortgage. Being a hearty sort, this experience took 18 months to turn his stomach, at which point he chucked corporate life and headed to the mountains – never looking back. Geoff is my kind of guide – 31 years old with a wife and twin 2 year old daughters – he has as much to lose as I do, and hates taking stupid risks. We got along famously – he can climb like crazy and tells a pretty good joke.

Geoff leading up the Chute

The top 200 feet or so of the climb is pretty sporting – going up ice chutes – and the standard route was clogged with up and down climbers, so we headed off to a chute on the right with much less traffic. We hustled up the chute, and onto the summit ridge – only about 150 yards from the actual summit. We were on the top in just over 3 hours. The views were breathtaking – the photos really don’t do them justice. It was a little cold and windy, and the crowds were coming up (almost 10,000 people climb Hood every year – and this was a sunny Saturday) so we reluctantly headed down.


Wes on the Summit of Hood

Climbers on the Summit of Hood

Hood’s sunrise shadow from the top of the ice chutes


Mt. Adams from the summit of Hood

North crater rim of Hood from the summit

Mt. Jefferson from Mt. Hood

The down climb was fast and we had skis parked at the top of the Palmer lift, for a quick exit. Skiing after a climb like that was more of a challenge than I’d anticipated, but the excellent breakfast buffet and a bed (I’d been about 48 hours with very little sleep at this point) at the Timberline Lodge beckoned.

The Timberline Lodge

I had wanted to stay at the Timberline Lodge principally for convenience – it is right at the base of Hood. I knew it to be an old WPA project from the ‘30’s, and a National historic landmark – but nothing else. I asked for the cheapest room that they had, and they said it was a 6 bed chalet for 125 per night. When I told them that I did not have 5 additional people with me to cover the rest of the $750, they said that it was OK – I could have it for $125, additional people were $35 each if I happened to find any. The only downside – you had to share a bath with another 6 bed chalet – that’s 12 to a toilet – a challenging ratio – but I figured that the best defense is a good offense, and if I needed the toilet, I’d just go early. Devil take the hindmost!

The Timberline Lodge, and the Grotto/chalet wing

It turned out that the chalets were just rooms on the ground floor of the hotel, and chalet must be a synonym for grotto in Oregon, the windows in the rooms were totally blocked by snow – even in late May. Most of the neighbors were pretty quiet – and I was very tired – and the accommodations were fine. When I awoke after a 5 hour nap, I started to explore this truly amazing place.

Greetings from the front door of Timberline Lodge

The Timberline Lodge was completed in 1937 as part of a WPA (Work projects Administration) undertaking that employed hundreds of men and women, and was built almost entirely of local raw materials and scrap, as there was no money for materials – and just subsistence wages for the employed parties. The average age of the workers was 56 – sound familiar? These people were talented, but swallowed up by the collapsing economy. They built Timberline in 18 months – and treated it as a work of art – every joint, timber, hinge and lock forged by hand. The blankets and rugs were woven and hooked by an army of women, and every piece of timber and iron hewn and forged by an army of men.

The art and artisanal influence was enforced by a 70+ year old German man, who had been found living in in piano crate in a Portland shanty-town prior to employment at Timberline. He had started his career working painting faux masterpieces, which he sold outside the great museums of Europe, escaping to America when someone represented one of his works as authentic – imagine that.

Celebration of labor – with a tie to the past

A carved post on the main stairway

A big cat preparing to leave

Hand forged locks and bang-plates in the grotto

The project was completed in 18 months, and opened by FDR himself. It was closed during the War, and reopened under lax supervision thereafter. By 1955 it had deteriorated into a mountainside casino and brothel, and was shut down, only to be reopened by Richard Kohnstamm, whose family still operates it today. The rooms are idiosyncratic, the food OK, but the structure and the functional art that it contains remain a tribute to the skill and determination of the men and women who built it – it is a must see American Icon.


Adios from Mt. Hood & Timberline Lodge

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

5 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    May 21, 2012

    Looked too be a fabulous day of climbing, Wes. Very nice!


  2. Avatar
    May 21, 2012


    FANTASTIC………. great experience, great blogging. I am just hoping that if you did find any roommates for your chalet or the one next door they had not had mexican food for dinner!



  3. Avatar
    May 22, 2012

    Great post and terrific photos of this wonderful mountain, especially “sunrise shadow”—just spectacular. Husband Steve and I got as far as the lodge on a trip west two years ago. I agree about the food, but the structure is a marvel. Thanks for sharing.

    ~ Meg


  4. Avatar
    May 22, 2012

    Great blog.
    I remember the lodge being built. It was written up in Nation Geographic among other places.
    NG didn’t refer to the WPA as We Piddle Around.


  5. Avatar
    May 25, 2012

    Another great read with even better pics. Was wondering when we were going to read and see more. Is there any place you WON’T climb?