Mt. Hood (Leutholds Couloir)

May 20, 2000

This was one of two climbs of Mt. Hood scheduled for May 20. The other climb, led by Deb Carver, was to ascend the South-side Route. We all met together at the parking lot of Timberline Lodge, gathered at the Climbers’ Hut in the Wy’East Lodge, and prepared for departure. Our group got off about 12:40 a.m. The sky was slightly overcast, but stars were showing. The moon, near full, made the use of headlamps mostly unnecessary. The route to Leutholds Couloir is also known as “The Hourglass” because of the way the steep chute narrows in a rock band near the middle. It starts at the top of the Reed Glacier. To reach it we headed to Illumination Saddle on the western horizon. I was worried about the snow stability because the week before there had been 28 inches of new snow and avalanche warnings. But a snow pit dug at the saddle revealed few problems and we all agreed to go for it. You could see evidence of older avalanches. A large one off the West Crater route went all the way to the saddle. It was light when we dropped over the saddle, negotiated a few crevasses, and arrived at the bottom of the couloir. There were some rocks and pieces of ice coming down, but we decided it didn’t look too bad and headed up. I thought rock and icefall would diminish as we climbed towards the neck of the Hourglass, but it kept getting worse. By then the safest thing to do was to go up. It would have been more dangerous to go down. We protected our upward progress with a running belay of snow pickets. When I tired of kicking in steps below the neck, Don took over and led the way through the Hourglass to the ridge. He did a terrific job picking the side of the chute safest from rock fall. The problem, we surmised, was that it had rained the day before, and the ice, frozen on the cliff faces, would literally explode when the sun hit the rocks. It was touch and go dodging debris for a while, but we finally gained the “Queen’s Chair” and safety from rock fall. From here, we climbed to the summit along a delightfully exposed ridge of corniced snow. At times the ridge drops off in both directions. On the summit we heard from other climbers there had been an accident on the southside route. Two people had fallen and the rescue was still in progress. The descent for Leutholds Couloir is the south-side route, so we carefully made our way down through softening snow in the Pearly Gates to the Hogsback. We were relieved to learn that the Obsidian group were not victims. In fact, they had been the first on the scene and had given up their summit bid to give aid to the fallen climbers until Portland Mountain Rescue arrived to evacuate the couple. She had broken her ankles, he had back problems, but both would survive. An exciting finish to an already exciting climb! Climbers were Don McLaughlin (a former Obsidian just returned from a climbing vacation on Mt. Hunter in Alaska), Chris Miller, Mark Slipp, Assistant leader Doug Nelson and leader John Pegg.


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