Over the weekend I climbed a route far on the West-Northwest side of Hood called the “Sandy Glacier Headwall”. It’s a remote and rarely-climbed route that I’ve wanted to climb since I learned how to. The forecast called for 5 mph winds on the summit and above-freezing overnight temperatures. It seemed like perfect conditions to do this route so my climbing partner and I set out for the Sandy Glacier on Saturday afternoon.
Getting out onto the glacier was much much more involved than we thought, and took about 7 hours, with lots of technical climbing.
We got to camp as the sun was setting and found the flattest spot we could on the glacier. We had to dig into the slope to get spot flat enough to sleep on. The tent and our packs had to be anchored into the slope to keep from sliding/blowing away. I stayed up to do some night photography, when I went to take my mountaineering boots off to get in the tent, they had frozen solid (something I’ve been warned about numerous times, but have never actually experienced). I put them in the tent with us, hoping our body heat would warm the tent up enough to thaw them, but no such luck. Our tent was blasted by wind and ice-fall all night long. We woke up at 3:30 am and were climbing by 4:30am. The city lights of Portland and a bright moon were illuminated the whole side of the mountain.
The route was brutally windy. There were continuous 40mph gusts almost the entire time, it was nearly impossible to look up at the route without getting blasted in the eyes with snow particles. Chunks of ice as big as a fist were falling off the mountain and bouncing off our helmets or bruising our shoulders, hands, and knees. We kept thinking things would get better higher on the route, they kept getting worse. It was like a war movie. We would anchor ourselves into the mountain, bow our heads so that our helmets would take most of the impacts (many resulting in a high-pitched whine and temporary loss of hearing)…as soon as it would let up we would climb as fast as we could before hunkering down again and bracing for more impacts. We discussed (we had to yell really, because of all the wind) various methods of escape from the route, but both agreed the safest way was to make the summit and come down the south side. Retreat would result in more exposure to all the objective hazards.
Eventually the route lead to a pinch-point, or “hour glass” feature. Everything that was coming down the mountain was being funneled through here. There was so much particulate matter coming through here (ice, snow, etc) that it looked like a waterfall made out of dry ice. Hunkering down was no longer an option, we had to just make a break for it. It is probably one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, there was no way to anchor into the mountain through this part.
Finally we topped out of the chute we had been climbing up and onto the ridge that lead to the summit. There was no more ice fall, but we were greeted to 60+ mph winds. We had to use our ice axes on moderate slopes to keep the wind from ruining our balance. Luckily as we neared the summit the wind died down dramatically. On the summit there was miraculously no wind.
We descended back down the safe, easy normal route and chatted with a couple dozen other climbers and skiers (we were the only people on our route to the summit). We had BBQ in Zigzag, it is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
I don’t really trust the weather forecasts that much anymore, I do not plan ever climbing this line again. I only took 3 photos on the actual route (I usually take hundreds) due to the severe ice fall danger.
Music: Nine Inch Nails - The Way is Through