Reid Headwall Trip Report and Reflection- November 30th 2015
One day after Oleg and Alex’s Reid climb, and one day before I heard about the ice avy they narrowly escaped, the death on Mt Jefferson and the death of my good friend Adam in the Washington Cascades, my wife and I climbed the Reid Headwall, left side.
Follow the rope. This is one thought that was repeated again and again as the weather worsened and we continued to climb higher through the rime towers that make up the left side variation of the Reid Glacier Headwall. The only way down was to go up. My climbing partner, my best friend and my wife was following on the other end of the fully stretched, 60m life line. I did my best to keep two decent pieces of pro in between us the entire time. This was her first winter alpine ice climb and she trusted me fully.
We had been planning the trip for a few days or so, hoping the weather would hold for us on November 30th. The preceding weekend was beautiful and cold. The forecast for Monday November 30th was a little touch and go but it looked like good cold climbing weather might hold for the duration of the day.
We left Timberline parking lot at 3:55am which seemed like an early start for the cold winter conditions, but the days are short this time of year and we wanted to beat the weather and nightfall. Without our normal winter splitboard mountaineering gear, travel was different than our typical winter approach. We were perhaps a little slower in some parts, but due to the cold and icy conditions, we were able to move quickly and actually passed a few uphill skiers. We arrived at I-Rock about 7am. Between sorting out gear, layers and trying to make a quick cup of hot tea with my MSR Reactor stove (I played soccer with the stove when the fuel canister nearly went up in flames) we burned nearly an hour of time. We didn’t head out from the saddle and start down toward the Reid glacier until 8:30am. The slope from the I-Rock saddle down to the glacier was a little steep and icy. I put my partner on belay and she started down across the slope towards the base of the route. After a few easy pitches across the hazards of the Reid glacier that included snow covered crevasses and ice fall from the headwall above, I was stoked to have finally made it to the base of the route. We had made the decision to simu-climb the route as it seemed the most logical solution that lay between full, pitched out belaying and soloing the route with no pro. The climbing is fairly easy and rated about WI2-3, but the alpine environment is harsh and unforgiving.
The first hour or so went by quickly and the climbing was fun. Beautiful, cold weather and low wind on the route. There was only a small amount of ice fall we had to dodge and we quickly gained the second gully system on the left side of route. The conditions were variable and included soft powder, ice in the gullys and some soft snow covered by a hard rain crust that was unstable and insecure to climb on.
About 20 minutes later, I ran out of pro and belayed my partner up. I collected the screws and pickets back from my loved one and I started heading up again, I looked west to access the incoming weather. I saw low clouds pushing east from the the coastal range and I made a mental note that it seemed the weather was acting as predicted; a few clouds with a small chance of snow after 2pm. It looked like the weather was going to cooperate with our plans. Twenty minutes later, it felt like we were instantly inside a cloud, another twenty minutes later visibility worsened. I could barely see 20 feet around me. I climbed faster and placed less pro. I had somehow forgot that Hood has it’s own weather and the weather often comes from the South, which was out of view from our point on the route.
The climbing was still fun and it didn’t seem like we were making bad time. Soon the wind died completely and it started to snow. The falling snow was peaceful and created a winter wonderland of sorts.
Soon though, I encountered deep and seemingly bottomless sugar snow. I was swimming uphill and barely making progress at times. A lot of effort and progress was slow. Pitch after pitch, things seemed to take longer and longer and I realized we would not be off the mountain before dark. I reset my expectations and hoped that perhaps we would approaching the Palmer lift house by dark, or at least we would make it back to devil’s kitchen before dark.
As we continued up with our slow progress I reset my expectation again. Now I just wanted to find the old chute for our down climb descent before dark set in.
As we finally approached the summit ridge, high winds and very, very low visibility set in. The conditions made for some hard alpine times. Everything is harder when you can barely feel your fingers and see around you. I had my partner place a picket and put me on belay, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to easily find the old chute and our route down. After climbing over a few rime towers and accessing what I could see with my headlamp in white out conditions, I found the old chute. I felt a huge amount of relief and we down climbed and (barely) navigated our way to the hogs back at 10,500ft. We slowly made our way down from the crater rim and navigated our back to ski area in a white out using my altimeter and instinct. I did not want to end up on the White Water glacier or in the Zig Zag canyon. We eventually made it back down to Timberline at 10pm.
The climb almost qualified as epic. I wish we had more photos to share. My phone had a major hardware failure and had to be replaced a few days later. The condition of the climb was very different than it was last March when I climbed it. Lots of soft and deep sugar snow made slow going when combined with very bad visibility made for slow climbing.
Upon returning to Timberline Lodge, my partner Carmen went straight for the historic and giant fireplace to warm up. While I walked to the car to drop off our gear and change into some comfier shoes, I was met by the Clackamas county sheriff who was beginning to organize a SAR effort. Our phones were not working high on the mountain so we could not connect with our emergency contacts and let them know our situation and that we were ok but running behind. The sheriff informed me the media had been informed that we were missing and wanted to know if the sheriff could release our names and if I would do an interview with our local news. I respectfully declined.
Sorry for the terrible picture, but we had no camera functioning while on route. The pictures were taken a few minutes after returning to the Timberline lodge.