When it’s a beautiful day, and Mt. Hood is silhouetted against a royal blue sky, I’ll hear people say, “Wouldn’t it be fun to climb to the top of that mountain?” Let me answer that question from my own experience. ARE YOU CRAZY??
It is not fun. I know, because my brother, the salesman, talked me into attempting the climb. He paid $25 dollars at an auction for the services of two guides to take a group to the summit of Mt. Hood. He invited thirty people to his home, served lots of wine, and then let the guides convince us that it would be “fun” to be part of their expedition.
Both these guides were tanned, taut, and toned. They ENJOYED rock climbing and snow camping. I had absolutely and positively nothing in common with them. They said our climb date would be in May because there’s LESS CHANCE of avalanche (how encouraging). We’d need to rent boots, crampons, and ice axes, and we’d be roped together for the last leg of the climb. Everyone got all excited when they started in with this technical jargon, but I heard the word Crampon which made me think of something bloody awful, and Ice Axes, which made me think of axe murderers, which did not bode well.
I had no desire to climb Mt. Hood. Anybody in their right mind would know that this wouldn’t be fun. Our guides said that we could get in shape by finding a bunch of stairs and running up and down them. Does that sound like fun to you? Also, our group had to be roped together like a string of sausages. Why roped together? In theory, if one person falls the rest would catch him. I wasn’t afraid I’d fall, I was terrified that one of the big sausages would slip and drag us to our deaths in some bottomless precipice. But group mentality and peer pressure overcame our better senses, and all of us signed up to go.
The guides were well worth the $25 investment. They took us on two hikes in the Columbia Gorge, and they took everyone else to the top of Mt. St. Helens. I wasn’t invited to that one, probably because I complained so much during the hikes in the Gorge. For crying out loud, they forced us to practically jog up steep trails in the winter, with snow on the ground. My response was to repeat, “I’m tired. Can’t we slow down? It’s freezing!” I was freezing because I guess I didn’t read the instructions that said not to wear cotton next to my skin (it gets wet from the exertion then makes you cold or some other scientific mumbo jumbo) so one guide had to give me his polypropolenesuperthinbutsuperwarmthermal shirt. That, and the fact that I’m not one to keep my complaints bottled up were probably the reason the guides must have waited until I was in the bathroom to tell the others about the Mt. St. Helens hike. Or it might have been on the instruction sheet that I neglected to read.
Whatever, in early May we were to meet at the appointed time, which was 2:00 a.m. (another reason I did NOT want to do this climb), at Timberline Lodge – so named because it’s so freaking cold at 6,000 ft. even the hardiest mountain trees cannot survive any higher. Our guides told us to go to bed early in the afternoon and get plenty of sleep. You can climb in a bed anytime you want, but if your thinking about being a sausage-on-a- string in an avalanche, sleep will not come to drown your fears.
I met the guides at midnight to hitch a ride almost two-hours to the mountain. I asked as many dumb questions as crossed my mind, mostly about what to do if someone was pulling me into a crevice (pronounced like your snooty aunt would say “vase” as in “crevaass.” They were patient at first but finally told me that if I knew what was good for me I’d lie down and get some sleep.
When we got there, the parking lot was full of climbers. What a bunch of idiots. Our group was doing this because we’d paid a guide, albeit only about two cents an hour by the time you factored in all the training hikes, but these nincompoops were doing it because they wanted to. Crazy. We all signed in so they’d be able to notify the families when we didn’t come back, another reassurance that this was not a good idea. Then we put on our heavy boots and stuck our food, water, crampons, extra clothes, garbage bags, and our trusty ice axes into our backpacks and hoisted them on. I didn’t weigh in, but it seemed like I was 200 lbs heavier than in my birthday suit, maybe 300.
I took the first step and almost buckled under the weight. Those boots weighed a ton, and even though I’d walked in them for a couple of days to condition myself, it was just too much with the backpack. I felt I couldn’t go on. Everyone chided me into continuing, which I did against my better judgment. You are probably wondering why I kept listening to these people. Me too. I guess I just didn’t want to be the only sissy in the group. Perhaps I felt that if I did enough complaining they’d kick me out and I wouldn’t have to feel like a pansy. You’d think they would have said, “It’s obvious you don’t want to do this, maybe you should not go.” But no one ever said that, au contraire! They did the exact opposite – the more I complained, the more they encouraged. Since I couldn’t give up, I just had to try harder to get booted out.
Want to know what mountain climbing is like? I couldn’t tell you. But getting to the top of Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge, except for about twenty feet, is like this: Remember that movie, “Ace Ventura, When Nature Calls?” There’s a scene in which Ace climbs to the top of an infinite stairway leading to a Tibetan monastery. He puts a Slinky on the top step and gives it a little push. It starts going down the steps, one by one as the camera zooms out like the scene is being filmed from an airplane so that it can get all nine million stairs in. When the Slinky FINALLY gets almost to the bottom, it stops at the next to the last step. Ace raises his hands in frustration because now he’ll have to climb all the way back to the top and start over. THAT’s what climbing Mt. Hood is like. Each time you lift your leg, you are raising it like you are going up another stair. There is never even one step where you just walk. You are climbing the stairway to Heaven, or just shy of it. Plus you’re on snow and ice. Thank goodness for the crampons which keep you from slipping and sliding like you’re walking on a grease slick, though it’s not much consolation.
At about Silcox hut, not too far from Timberline, I sat down in the snow with my head in my hands and said I couldn’t go any further. “You can’t give up now,” the guides said. “It’s a beautiful day; you’ll never get a better opportunity; just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” I know they soon regretted prodding me along – wailing gets on people’s nerves.
The guides told us to drink plenty of water because it helps prevent leg cramps. My legs hurt so much I wouldn’t have even KNOWN if I had a cramp, but I drank water constantly. It was an excuse to stop and rest. By the time I was two-thirds of the way up, I rewarded myself with a drink after every ten steps. Did I mention the air is thinner and you get more out of breath with every step as you go up? That’s about the same time my pleas to go back turned into wails and near tears.
Tomorrow I’ll tell about the rest of the adventure.