Accustomed to 3:00 a.m. departures for ski tours, Adam Clark, Jason Eichhorst and I enjoyed a rare leisurely morning before catching the 7:30 a.m. chairlift to the base of Mount Hood’s summit pinnacle on July 11, 2012. Oregon’s tallest peak, Hood looks out over the rest of the state from its 11,250-foot summit. And while most skiers and snowboarders enjoy its glorious view whilst chasing their brakeless, runaway skis after yardsaling off one of Palmer Snowfield’s seemingly endless jumps, we were headed to terrain beyond the lift’s access.
After some futile skinning, we clipped our Surface Walk Frees to our backpacks, strapped on our crampons and started the hike over rock fields, dirt patches, snow and ice.
Our route choice was ironic, climbing a ridge that looked down upon all of the summer camps that I once thought made Hood all it is during the summer. From an anchored stance on steep snow, we watched Banks Gilberti hit what he would later call the “biggest jump of my life.” The public park seemed miles away, though we could ski to it from where we stood. Timberline’s lodge sat nearly 6,000 vertical feet below.
As the headwall steepened and our axes were of increasing necessity, we reached a trio of right-leaning couloirs that led to the final snowfield below the summit. Adam and Jay went ahead, moving into what we deemed the safest of the couloirs. As I watched them, the only other mountaineer on the mountain struggled to descend what appeared to be vertical ice in an adjacent couloir. Later, we would find ourselves lowering him down the mountain with our rescue gear.
Even with two slowtographers in tow, we summited less than three hours after hopping off the lift. As pictures were taken beside the American flag that had found its way to the summit during some July 4th shenanigans, we laughed and enjoyed a bluebird day that would provide us with thousands of feet of skiing from a summit, on a volcano, in July.
Skiing atop an exposed, 12-inch-wide ridge that is barely covered in any snow and drops steeply on either side is “fun” for only a small segment of skiers. And although not everyone can relate to that definition of a good time, any skier understands how comforting it feels to be grounded in our natural environment, where we most belong, in the middle of summer: on skis.