Mount Hood South Climb

Mount Hood South Climb

Elev. Gain: 
5,400 ft.
High: 
11,250 ft.
Where:
Government Camp, OR
Distance: 
7.00 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: 
Expert
Rating: 
5
Spectacular views and serious climbing on this popular summit route
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Features

Overview

Mount Hood is not only the most popular glaciated climb in North America, it's also the most popular summer skiing destination in the country, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oregon. It would be an understatement to say that Mount Hood attracts quite a crowd, and yet we completely understand why: the picturesque volcano sits just an hour outside of Portland at the end of a paved road that climbs to more than half the mountain's height, and once arrived, offers a spectacular view up a groomed glacier that features a chairlift rising to 8,500' and a summit that seems just steps beyond.

So yes, Mount Hood is a bit of a circus, but if you set your expectations accordingly, it's an enjoyable climb that will test both your physical fitness and technical skills on a route that constantly changes conditions, and offers a 360-degree summit view that's worth every step.

The route begins at the north edge of the parking lot just east of Timberline Lodge (5,850'). From the clearly marked trailhead, begin your ascent up the Palmer Glacier following the ski lift up towards Crater Rock. Although the ski area has a designated climbers trail about a quarter-mile to the east of the lifts, many climbers stay close to the lifts and head directly up to Silcox Hut at 7,000' and then the top of the chairlift at 8,600'. (You must use the climbers trail if skiers are present).

From the top of the chairlift, enter the Mount Hood Wilderness Area and continue up towards and through some exposed rock islands of Triangle Moraine to the east side of Crater Rock, where a small crater plateau at 10,100' serves as an ideal location to prepare for the technical section of the climb that awaits. Ice axe, crampons, and helmet are essential. Many teams choose to rope up at this point as well. (In the video, you'll notice Daniel wearing a harness from this point to the summit – we decided against using the rope, but brought it in case conditions required it further up the mountain or on the descent).

The final 1,000' from the crater to the summit is steep and requires technical climbing skills. From the plateau, climb 500' to the Coalman Galcier and a sharp snow ridge known as the Hogsback. From here the main route splits into two approaches: the Pearly Gates (east) and the Old Chute (west). Both are viable options depending on conditions.

For the Pearly Gates (seen in the video), continue up the spine of the Hogsback until you reach the bergschrund, where the Coalman Glacier separates from the summit headwall. Navigate around the bergschrund and then up towards a steep gap in the summit rock formation known as the Pearly Gates. Use extreme caution through this steep chute as conditions can vary between ice and soft snow. From the top of the Pearly Gates, take a slight right and head up another 150' to the summit proper. (See route image in our photos section.)

The Old Chute route heads west (perpendicular) across the Hogsback and beyond a major fumarole (sometimes called the Hot Rocks) before turning north once again and climbing to a steep gap in the rock formation known as the Old Chute. Use extreme caution through this steep chute as conditions can vary between ice and soft snow. From the top of the Old Chute, head across a narrow, exposed, knife-edge ridge to the summit proper. (See route image in our photos section.)

Once on the summit, enjoy unobstructed views in every direction. To the south is Mount Jefferson and The Sisters; to the north is Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier. And of course there is everything in between. Soak it up and head down when you are ready. Descend via the climbing route using extreme caution as conditions may have changed since your approach. Oh, and embrace that circus on the lower mountain. It's all you can do.

Permits & Tips

Self-issued climbing permits are required year-round (free and available at Wy'East Day Lodge). Toilet is also available in Wy'East Day Lodge (open 24 hours), use blue bags on upper mountain. Water is available in bathroom sink (we recommend bringing your own).

95% of climbers attempt the mountain between May and July each year, which means weekends are very crowded in that window, so plan accordingly. Most people leave the parking lot between midnight and 3am, as such, overnight camping in your car is allowed in the parking lot for free, but not tents. The parking lot is a festive place and can be loud at night. This is typically a day climb, but camping can also be accomplished in the wilderness area of the mountain, either at the rock islands of Triangle Moraine between the top of the chairlift and crater, or on the crater plateau.

The Park Service recommends climbing in groups of at least three, and requires that all climbers possess both technical gear and route-finding skills. Helmets, ice axe, and crampons are essential, and a rope system is highly recommended if conditions on the upper mountain require it. Bring navigation. Many climbers choose to ski/splitboard to and from the crater plateau if conditions permit. Some climbers opt to get a snowcat ride to the top of the lift, but that's cheating. Dogs are allowed, but not recommended as there is no rescue system.

Potential hazards to consider: rockfall from Devil's Kitchen headwall as temperatures warm, noxious gases from fumaroles, summit cornices, constantly changing snow conditions, and, of course, inclement weather. Also to note, Timberline Lodge is not on the fall line from Crater Rock; use magnetic south on your compass in whiteout. Check current conditions here. And, as always, make good choices and keep safety first. 

>>Google Directions

How to get there

From Gresham, just east of Portland, take US-26/Mt. Hood Highway for 39 miles to a clearly-marked turnoff for Timberline Highway (Timberline Lodge). Turn north here and follow signs for 5.5 miles to Timberline Lodge and parking lot.