Dog Mountain, WA
February 3, 2018:
Today is the day we summited our first mountain since moving to the PNW.
It also marks the first day of climbing toward our ambitious endeavor of summiting Mount Hood.
Okay first, let me explain.
The beautiful glorious Mt. Hood stands tall and proud at an elevation of 11,240 feet, which is about 7,000 feet above any surrounding terrain, completely dwarfing any and every surrounding mountain in the area. If you've seen it then you know what I mean - the prominence is outstanding. It's peak is home to 12 named glaciers and snowfields, and even more, it's an active volcano! And although the last time it erupted was 1866, it is considered the Oregon volcano that is most likely to erupt. It is actually part of a string of volcanos that make up the Cascade Range, creating the magical terrain that is the Pacific Northwest. The face of the mountain is comprised of over one million acres of skiable, hike-able, climbable, explorable terrain. Deeming it Portland's playground is an understatement - it is something more like Portland's most prized possession.
The summit boasts a glacially carved peak, upon which you can stand and view an expanse of hundreds of miles in every direction. About 10,000 people attempt the climb each year and while it has "convenient access," technical climbing skills and gear are necessary. Ropes, ice axes, and crampons (among other things) are recommended as the climbing route involves ice, crevasses, falling rocks, and often inclement weather. Climbing season is typically April - mid-June, and weather is obviously a key factor to consider as it will make or break the experience.
But here's the thing. Knowing this mountain is like knowing a mythical expanse, made up of major landmarks that are as magical as they are mysterious. Planning your route involves getting to know these tantalizing sculptures, such as Crater Rock, Hot Rocks, Hogsback, Bergschrund, Pearly Gates, Castle Crags, Steel Rocks, Illumination Rock, Triangle Moraine, Magic Mile, Devil's Kitchen, and of course - the summit.
At first, dreaming of reaching the peak seemed pretty insurmountable, but as I started seriously thinking about it and researching potential techniques and approach, I sort of feel like it could actually be within reach. Climbers begin at the Timberline Lodge around midnight and 5-7 hours & 5,000 feet in elevation later, you arrive at the summit. You're even able to spend an entire hour at the summit if you wish, and get all the way back down the mountain before the sun sets, making it a one day hiking extravaganza. Sure, it involves planning, training, flexibility and a whole lot of mustered strength and courage - but is seems it doable! And by golly I think we are going to try!!!
Sooo as you could imagine, lots of planning and charting going on over here (as well as dreaming / imagining / pep talks / words of encouragement). There are four other climbs in the area that are recommended as part of the training, and last weekend we climbed one of the them - Dog Mountain, located on the Washington/Oregon border. This climb takes you straight up the face of the Columbia Gorge overlooking the Columbia River, and the experience was an adventure in and of itself.
This hike was a straight climb, with almost 95% of the trail either ascending or descending. It's 7 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 2,800 feet. The day was partly cloudy with moments of sunshine, and about half way into the hike we were straight climbing through the clouds. The climbing started right away, with switchbacks up the face of the gorge, opening up to a lookout that marked a halfway point with views of the river, gorge, waterfalls, mountains, and beyond. The clouds were hovering pretty low for us, but on a clear day you can see the Cascades and a great big beautiful view of the Hood. We shed almost every layer on our way up, and then proceeded to put every layer back on once we reached the lookout - because it was windy and the wind was sooo cold!
dog mountain, wa
Once we made our way back into the forest, we were basically hiking through clouds. Everything got misty, dewy, and dark. You could literally see the clouds moving through the forest - such a cool visual and feeling! Imagine, tent girl - in a forest - and simultaneously in the clouds - with my babe and my pup - does life get better!!?
We continued climbing, breathing harder, and passing others on their way back down that were completely drenched - I'm talking red faces, dripping hair, and a sort of bewildered expression. Was it raining? Was it snowing? Was it hurricaning??? WTF were we hiking into. We came to a point where the trees started to disappear into a wide open rolling terrain. Still just as foggy and misty, and all of a sudden - INCREDIBLY WINDY AGAIN. An unrelenting, bitter, take-your-breath-away wind that had me exclaiming over and over again, "OH MY GOSH!!" The higher we climbed, the harder the wind whipped, as we were totally vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of mother nature. It was slightly unsettling... but mostly exhilarating!!!
We continued up the muddy rocky slim path and at times just had to stop and regroup, make sure we were keeping up with our bodies and weren't going to totally fly away at any given moment. I'm not exaggerating, these winds were around 50 MPH and came in varying waves of intensity. We could have freaked out and turned around, but it's all part of the training process....right?!?!?!?! =\
I will tell you - the feeling of weightlessness just standing on the edge and leaning into the wind - was priceless. And enough to keep us trekking through.
Finally we reached the top, which was kind of hard to tell except that the trail ended in a little roundabout - and there was snow! So even though Buffy was panting and moving slowly, all of a sudden she kicked it in to high gear and started doing her thing - running figure 8's around and around and around. Definitely adding to the excitement of summiting our first mountain and totally rewarding after the intensity of the day.
The way back down was quick, but the elements were growing more harsh so we were glad to know we were on our way down and out of the madness. We stopped for a snack break at the lookout and sitting with my trail mix, lost in the swirling clouds surrounding me, in awe of the expansive nature before me - Tent Girl was, again, right where she needed to be.
Hugging the side of Mt Hood is the gorge, a true gem for the region and another wildly awesome place for Portland to play. We sat there for some time, soaking up the gratitude of living amongst these places and spaces and all the opportunities of adventures to be known. The entire hike took us about 4 hrs, which included lots of picture and snack breaks, and we both felt pretty stellar by the end. Definitely woke up to some soreness and dehydration the next day (lol), but we did it.
So needless to say our summit was a success! A blustery, billowy, badass experience that was the perfect way to kick off our Mt Hood mission/expedition. The feeling of accomplishment when you are standing on top of a mountain you just climbed is pretty indescribable - and after this little taste, we are hungry for more.
Sky is the limit - right?
xoxo, Karlene (a.k.a. Tent Girl)