A few days after St. Helens, the weather once again lined up for another PNW summit. I would be meeting up once again with my good friend and ski guru, Asit Rathod for a day on Mt. Hood. I was so pumped to have two summit bids in one week. I cleaned and prepped all my gear, loaded up the car and once again pointed my azimuth south. By the time I was able to make it to the mountain, Asit had already started. I quickly skinned my way up and met him just shy of the Hogsback. We exclaimed in joy, hugged, high five’d and hugged some more. The mountains will do that to you!
Unfortunately, I had been feeling pretty bad for the last week. Migraines with all the fixings. Light sensitivity, nausea, pain, etc. Needless to say, we made it just shy of the Pearly Gates before turning back. I could barely keep my eyes open and I could feel every beat of my heart in my eyes and in my head. I laid out my speedwing and clicked into my skis while Asit also clicked in to his skis and we each made our way down the mountain in our respective ways. The pain didn’t subside at lower elevations and I get really sick in the parking lot. I felt so defeated, but glad to have a true friend by my side.
Fast forward a couple weeks with lesser intensity and greater time between migraines; Asit and I were once again conspiring for a Mt. Hood summit. We received over a foot of fresh snow, low winds and clear skies. How lucky could we get!?
In the middle of planning and packing for the trip, I was contacted by Greg Sporseen with a request. Greg is the father of Kjell Sporseen; friend, fellow veteran, speedflyer and amazing ambassador for the outdoors and life. Kjell (pronounced similar to cello without the “o”) died a couple months ago in a speedflying accident on the Columbia River Gorge. He was a larger than life type of guy that always had a smile on his face. He helped fuse a community of paragliding and speed flying pilots in the Oregon/Washington area and spearheaded the idea of turning the hills of Doug’s Beach State Park into a legitimate and recognized flying site. Since his death, “Doug’s” is now affectionately known as “Kjell’s.” Fitting since on almost any given flyable day, Kjell could be found on or above the hills that overlook one of the most scenic areas in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River Gorge. Greg asked me to spread some of Kjell’s ashes at the summit of Mt. Hood as it was one of his favorite places to climb and fly. Honored does not fully convey how I felt about this request. I humbly accepted.
As the day approached, I decided to bring a two ski quiver in the event that the wind wouldn’t pack the snow too much and I would be able to poach some freshies. I had seen images of Asit getting faceshots on Tuesday and I was hopeful. By Thursday evening when I arrived, the wind had packed the snow pretty firm. My powder skis were going to have to collect a little more dust. I drowned my sorrows in pizza and amazing Oregon beer at the Ratskeller in Government Camp with Asit and his girl Charlie before turning in for the night. As luck would have it, our group was going to grow by one. Asit had recruited his good friend and outdoor industry legend, Yiorgos Makris. Yiorgos and I had met the year prior on a beautiful Mt. Hood summit day. All the added excitement kept me a little restless during my slumber.
The sun came up several hours later and we all made our way up the road to the mountain. It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, light winds and temps hovering around 40 degrees. Once we said all our good mornings, we were off to the summit.
We skinned up to just shy of crater rock where we transitioned to boots and crampons. I was feeling much better today compared to two weeks prior. Once at the Hogsback, Asit, Yiorgos and I decided to hydrate, eat a little PB & honey and have a little dance party. Smiles and laughter filled the air. After talking to climbers coming down from the summit, we decided not to take the Pearly Gates to the summit and opted for Old Chute. We would later learn that this would be the better decision as they were extremely narrow with crumbling rime. Yiorgos, Asit and I made our way up Old Chute to the summit ridge and then to the summit. The warm sun took the bite away from the cold wind. We high-fived, hugged and cheered. It’s hard to describe the moments on the summit of a mountain. Even after summiting the same peak several times, or almost 200 times in the case of Asit, the elation is still there.
Before leaving the summit, I made good on my promise. I attached my American flag to my ski pole, said a few words and released the ashes of Kjell into the wind. There wasn’t a dry eye on the summit. A short time later, we were greeted by a single raven soaring on the ridge lift. Some Native American and mountain cultures believe that ravens are the spirits of our fallen loved ones. Standing there on the summit watching the raven soar was just like watching Kjell soar under his wing. A magical moment to say the least. My own beliefs tell me that Kjell was there soaring on this amazing day. Chills run down my body even remembering these moments.
After drying our eyes, we down climbed to Old Chute, clicked into our skis and made our way to the Hogsback. From there, I spread out my wing, said a goodbye and flew down the mountain, around Crater Rock, past Illumination Rock and down to the top of Zig Zag canyon. I stopped just shy of two snow kiters, packed up my wing and skied down to the lodge to meet up with Asit and Yiorgos for some après ski drinks and watched the sunset. The post summit high usually lasts for about a week. There is no doubt that this feeling will stay with me for quite a bit longer. This is Living the High Life.