The next couple days rolled along and we finalized our plans. I also laid out, packed and repacked my gear three times. No kidding, three times. It wasn’t going to be the normal alpine start from Timberline Lodge, summit and return. We had decided to bivy at Illumination Saddle, which just so happens to be directly under one of the most iconic monolithic images of Mt. Hood: Illumination Rock. The bivy adds to my normal pack of an extra goggle lens, water, ice axe, crampons, Clif Bars, GoPros, extra gloves, and of course, a speedwing. I would have to add all of the normal essentials of an overnight alpine trip and still stay light enough to not fall out, or look like a gypsy.
The car was packed and I began my trek south to Portland to pick up Asit, a well known and renowned skier, mountaineer, and overall awesome dude. I was as giddy as a schoolboy. The thought of being back in the mountains with such good friends was energizing in itself. It was a bluebird day with moderate temps so I enjoyed the drive with the windows down. I pulled in front of Asit’s house, with GoPro rolling as I knocked on the door. Smiles, hugs, laughs and more hugs. It’s amazing the feeling you get from being with your mates. We packed up Asit’s gear and headed East to the mountain. The conversation was that of two brothers. It ranged from the funniest, milk shooting out of your nose stories, to the deepest, heartfelt stories I think I’ve shared in a long time. It was shaping up to be a memorable trip.
We arrive at Timberline Lodge, grabbed our gear and headed to the climbers registration where another member of our party was waiting. Yiorgos is a Greek outdoor enthusiast who has been working in outdoor industry almost his entire life. We high fived, bro-hugged, laughed, smiled and laughed some more. It’s going to be a great trip.
With packs on our backs, skins on our skis and the Pacific Northwest sun on our faces, we make our way up to Illumination Saddle. It had been a while since I had a pack this large on my back in the mountains. I had grown accustomed to the 20 pound BASE rig or speedwing with just helmet and water. We shed layers as the afternoon sun intensified and the temperature continued to rise.
We reached our destination of Illumination Saddle with plenty of time to dig in (literally), set up camp and even take a few still images of our “backyard” for the night. Again, smiles, stories, laughs and more smiles were exchanged. As the sun went down, the wind picked up and the temperatures plummeted. Thankfully I had a hot and spicy, hairy Indian beast to keep me warm in our tent! Yiorgas shared some of his amazing organic chili with us and we continued to share stories and laughs well into the night. We finally said our goodnights and dreamt of the amazing day we had waiting for us only hours away.
We awoke the next morning with fresh legs, sleepy eyes and to the arriving smiles of Carlos and Norwegian John Loseth who would be joining us on our journey for the morning. And oh what a morning it was. Cool, crisp, low winds and bluebird skies to boot. With skis on our backs now and crampons on our boots, we made our way up and around Crater Rock where we picked up another great friend and Mt. Hood veteran, Jarod Cogswell. Again, high fives, bro hugs, smiles and laughs were exchanged. With the gang all here, we took a breather at Hogsback where we met up with local legend Erik “The Brominator” Broms. A 60 year old mountain enthusiast who will leave even the fittest and most ambitious mountaineers in the dust. Broms was coming down from the summit and gave us the 411 on the conditions at the summit and the routes leading up to the summit. Carlos was going to have to call it quits as the ball and chain of work was pulling him away from the mountain. Jarod and I decided to take “The Pearly Gates” while the remainder of the crew decided on their respective routes. High fives were again exchanged as we told each other that we would “see you on top.” Conditions were still good despite the quickly softening snow in the warm rising sun. Jarod led the way as his stamina and experience trumps my own. I had been this route several times before, but for some reason it looked steeper and nastier than ever. And it was. The “gates” were a steep mess of rime, snow, rock and brittle ice. Jarod methodically made his way up the “gates” with little to no problem. I began my way up with little issue or effort until I got out of sequence and got, well, stuck. I was perched with my ice axe above me and on the front points of my crampons. Above was another 30 feet of this very narrow and steep couloir, below was 900-1000 feet of a 70+ degree slope. I knew that all I needed was a secure hold for my right front points where my right knee was currently, the problem was every time I tried to create a perch with my axe or crampons, the ice just flaked away and crumbled. Down climbing was probably the worst of my three options, staying put obviously wasn’t an option either. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was scared. Like, truly scared. I gained my composure continued chipping away at the ice in front of my right knee (now only holding on to a loose rock with my free left hand) and gained what I felt was going to be the best perch I could make. I took a final slow, deep breath, thought of my wife, and with the encouragement of my good friend Jarod, put all my weight on my axe above me and my right front points and extended my right leg, standing up.
Quickly, but deliberately, I jammed the front points of my left foot into the ice. I continued this for another 20 feet until I managed to reach more secure conditions. I was gassed. For the last 15 minutes I had completely exhausted myself physically and mentally. The 11,000+ foot elevation probably didn’t help. I took a breath, looked up at Jarod, smiled and extended my thanks to him. I was alive. And I FELT alive!! Jarod and I continued the last hundred feet up to the summit where we met with the rest of the crew.
High fives, hugs, smiles, stories, smiles and more hugs. Mountain life is great. These friends are better. It’s hard to describe the bond and emotion that is shared with these individuals. It’s unlike most any relationship you can imagine. And some of these people were complete STRANGERS before today!
We said our thanks to the mountain as it was time for the next part of this adventure. It was time for us to make our respective ways down the mountain. Some of us would down climb all the way, some of us would down climb and then ski, some of us would ski straight from the summit. Then there was me. I would take a faster route. I laid out my wing, clicked into my skis, performed a line check, pointed my skis down the mountain and with the help of my friends, took flight under a 12 square meter piece of nylon. The view and experience is surreal. Nothing quite like mountain flying a speedwing. I carved my way into the west crater and past Crater Rock. I flew by our camp that was still standing only to see a 6’2” naked Indian fist pumping to Tiesto on his iPhone. If you have never had this pleasure, I completely insist that you do. It’s, uh… worth it. After carving a few more turns in the air below camp, I decide to touch down and make a few turns on the snow, wing still above me. After a nice soft halt on the soft snow, I took a deep breath of content and begin packing up my gear to make the skin back up to camp.
I meet back up with the still naked Asit, smiled, high five, laughed and yes… hugged. Shortly thereafter Yiorgas meets back up with us. He skied the infamous Leutholds Couloir. With camp packed up and the three of us looking like gypsies, we made some of the best turns down the mountain back to Timberline Lodge. To cap off the entire trip, we shared laughs at a local favorite restaurant, Wraptitude for beers and wraps. The “mountain high” will most likely last a couple weeks. However, the images and the memories of this and every other summit will last a lifetime. Thank you again Asit Rathod, Yiorgos Makris, Carlos Martinez, Jarod Cogswell, Norwegian John Loseth, and Erik “The Brominator” Broms for yet another amazing day, Living the High Life.
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