Mount Hood, located about 50 miles east of Portland, Oregon, is one of the most climbed glaciated peaks in North America (#2 in the world behind Japan's Fuji-san, according to some). While it last erupted in 1907 and still has active fumaroles, it is now considered a dormant volcano. Its relatively low altitude (compared to Rainier and Shasta), easy approach, and short hiking/climbing distance (see South Side Route below) makes it much more popular among less experienced climbers. These climbers, lacking experience, and severe weather, which can move in quickly, account for most accidents. Skiers can descend directly from the summit. Dogs are permitted and frequently make the summit.
The South Side Route, which begins at the 5,800' Timberline Lodge parking area, is the shortest (< 3 miles) and most popular route to the summit. Above the the Palmer ski lift there are 3 variations of this route, the most popular of which is the Hogsback / Pearly Gates route. The Hogsback / Old Crater variation is used when the Pearly Gates are congested while climbers looking for more of a challenge can use the West Crater Rim variation.
SOUTH SIDE (AKA TIMBERLINE LODGE) APPROACH -- Take US Highway 26 (US-26) towards Government Camp, turning north at the well-signed Timberline Lodge access road about a half-mile east of Government Camp. Follow this well paved road north 5 miles to the Timberline Lodge where year-round skiing and snowboarding (and restaurants) are available. In Portland, you can connect with US-26 East towards Government Camp on I-5 or I-205.
This route is also known by the name "Hogsback".
Start at the Timberline Lodge (5800 ft) and walk up on the right (east) side of the ski trails (there should be a special trail for climbers). Climb two miles to the top of the ski lift (8,600 ft), passing the Silcox Hut (7000 ft). At the top of the lift, head up the ridge toward Crater Rock. Go into the crater and pass Crater Rock on the right (east) side, staying to the left side of Devils Kitchen and Steel Cliff. Once past Crater Rock, take the snow ridge (known as Hogback, at 10,600 ft) up to the bergshrund. If you can't cross the bergshrund on a snowbridge, head around either side. From here, head up the snow chutes to the summit, taking the gully between the rock towers (Pearly Gates). The largest rockfall danger here is on the right (east) side of bergshrund (which is the route most people take) and before the Pearly Gates. You can get caught behind slow parties in the Pearly Gates, so as an alternative, you can head to the west side of the mountain after climbing the hogback, and eventually get to a snowfield you can hike up. Soon you will hit the summit ridge that you head east on until you reach the summit. This variation is longer, but might involve less waiting and is considered safer from rockfall.
Descend via the climbing route. It is essential that climbers know how to descend the mountain in poor weather. A frequent mistake is to follow the fall line which will lead the climber to the cliffs of Zigzag canyon. If caught in poor weather descend from the summit along the Hogsback to the left of Crater Rock, and then follow the magnetic south bearing which should take the climber near the top of the Palmer lift.
Since this route is on snow it sees changes from year-to-year. Some years the snow if more plentiful that others and the bergshrund can become less of an obstacle. Other years can allow ice to form in the Pearly Gates and cause that section of the route to become more exposed and might even require ice tools to ascend.
- While Mount Hood has reportedly been summited by a woman in high heels, this does not discount the need for climbing experience on this mountain. An ice axe and crampons should be considered mandatory for most climbers, with climbing helmets being a popular addition, especially higher up.
- On warm days it is recommended you get an early start (which is closer to midnight than sunrise), to be out of rockfall areas by 10am.
- Due to the loose rock, climbers are urged to tread lightly, staying on the snow and ice while climbing and not dislodging any rock.
- Check and be wary of the summit cornice, especially during the winter and early spring.
- Do not linger around the fumaroles which create oxygen voids that have asphyxiated (suffocated) unsuspecting climbers.
WILDERNESS PERMIT (MANDATORY): Climbing the summit means entering the Mount Hood Wilderness Area which requires a free, non-quota, self-issued wilderness permit. These are available at the Timberline day lodge "Climbers' Cave" and all trailheads. The Climbers' Cave does not have a door and is thus open year round, 24 x 7.
CLIMBERS' REGISTRATION FORM (OPTIONAL): This is a general form stating the people in your party, planned route, climbing dates and emergency contact info. However, if you don't come back on your stated date, don't depend on this form to initiate a search for you. For South Side routes, this is also available in the Timberline Climbers' Cave.
BLUE BAG(S) (OPTIONAL): Solid bodily wastes are supposed to be disposed of via plastic "blue bags" available at the Timberline Climber's Cave. These are generally not needed on day hikes up the South Side (hold it option ;-). The Climbers' Cave has a 24 x 7 restroom.
EMERGENCY LOCATOR TRANSMITTERS (OPTIONAL): There is a $500 fine if a rescue effort is launched for someone without a cell phone or Mountain Locator Unit (MLU). A MLU allows the county sheriff or rescue groups to pinpoint a climber's exact location which can drastically reduce rescue time and resources. Two things are required for a MLU to work: (1) the lost climber must have it and activate it; (2) the county sheriff must be notified of the lost climber (call 911) to activate their receiving equipmen
SOUTH SIDE ROUTES: There are three popular places to camp: (1) on the Palmer Glacier above the ski lift generally next to the exposed rocks above the lift but below Crater Rock, (2) in the Timberline Lodge ski area parking lot where tents are not allowed but sleeping in your car is, and (3) in the National Forest below the lodge by taking the first left after turning on to the Timberline access road from US-26. Camping on the summit is also allowed but not all that popular. There are no fees or registration required for any of the options above.