Devils Kitchen Headwall - Mt Hood

I was in the middle of what was likely the swine flu when I received Tim and Jade's email about their trip up Mt Hood. There were lots of days of good climbing and biking weather but I could hardly manage a trip to the grocery store. On Thursday December 10, 2009, I decided enough was enough. I had one more day of good weather and I was gonna test my health/fitness by hiking up Mt Hood. I didn't have plans of summitting, just go for a walk. I'd better take my crampons, an ice axe and an ice tool just in case.

Thursday night, I packed my Puffy jacket, a sit pad, emergency blanket, trekking poles, water, hammer gel, snickers bar, helmet, boots, crampons, axes, gloves, hat, iphone and my SPOT LOCATOR DEVICE. When I was falling a sleep in my bed, a group of three climbers were leaving Timberline lodge for a trip up the Reid Glacier Headwall at about 1am.

I shouldered my pack w/ my snowboard and planned on hiking for three hours or when I got to the summit, whichever came first. I sent an "everything is OK" message to Amy with the SPOT. I wanted her to know what time I was starting so she could track my general progress. It's also set up to send a message to Amy's Dad letting him know that I'm out on Hood. With the touch of a button, they can see exactly where I am on a terrain map and when. With my cold/flu, I suspected I'd turnaround near the triangle moraine. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good but I could certainly feel the weight of the snowboard.

I love climbing with friends but sometimes its nice to climb alone. Some people think its unsafe and all I can say is that I take extra care to be cautious when I'm climbing by myself. I stay well below my abilities and I don't climb up anything that I wouldn't be able down climb easily. I am what I am.

Progress went well and I found myself at the Devils Kitchen. I ran into a few climbers who were headed down. They asked what I had in mind and I mentioned that I was going to have a peek at the Devils Kitchen Headwall. "Are you gonna climb it?" they asked. I didn't know. The weather was in the low 20's, there was virtually no wind and there's wasn't a peep in the way of rock or ice fall. I responded that I wasn't sure, I was gonna have a look and see. They went through the normal questions that I'm used to answering. Am I by myself? Do I have a rope? Do I have a phone/MLU? I finally responded that I wasn't going to climb by myself, I'm taking my shadow with me. They smiled and hurried off.

I checked out the Flying Buttress (the top of the debris chute) and the snow was about a foot thick but it was hollow underneath. Every now and then I'd punch through to the mountain. There was a two foot separation between the snow and the rock underneath. It was disconcerting so I moved further left to the steeper sections of the Devil Kitchen Headwall.
There are two variations to the Headwall route. (actually more but two in Thomas' climbing guide) The first, or right most, variation looked to be nothing more than a steep snow ramp. I decided to investigate the second variation.
I took this pic just to show John and Rick what they missed out on;-) This route looked more fun and I decided I'd investigate it further. I knew it was getting late but I still had a few minutes before my turn around time. There were two steep ice steps that were probably about 75 degrees for less than ten feet. The ice was heavily featured and there was a rock wall I could stem on to. It was alot easier than it sounds because the ice was so secure. Not that brittle glacier ice we find down on the Elliot glacier. I was able to sink the pick of my axe and my ice tool to the shaft. I know that's a bit excessive but the walls were short and I knew I wouldn't fatigue. Plus, the added security felt nice. After the second step there was just a few hundred feet of cramponing till the headwall gave way to the ridge. When I gained the ridge, I sent a second SPOT message to Amy. I wanted to let her know that everything was OK and I wanted to have the coordinates of where the headwall gained the ridge. If you "investigate" a route thouroughly, you'll find yourself sitting on top. I was concerned that the snow on the E side of the ridge was going to be rhotten from being in the sun all day. I wasn't looking forward to downclimbing the route. As it turned out, the E side was boilerplate ice. A cat couldn't scratch it. It wasn't steep but it was exposed. I got back on all foors and starting traversing to the summit. Half way there, I realized that I was being foolish and I stood up and walked to the summit. I had the feeling of a cat walking on a chalk board. I scurried across the ridge knowing that I had outstayed my turn around time by 3o minutes. The snow on the old chute was perfect and I was able to flat foot 95% of the way back to the hogs back.
The route ascends the left side of the prominent notch in in the center of the photo.
I sent another SPOT to Amy so she could see I was back to the relative safety of the Hogsback. The Headwall looks steep and ominous but I knew when I was up close it would look alot easier. For an experienced climber under the conditions I found, the route is no problem but lots of fun. I would hate to see inexperienced people bumbling around up there. I also decided to send a few friends some pics from my phone, just to be a punk. I kid you not, as soon as I pressed send, I got a wicked cramp in my right hamstring. He's watching and He knows when I've been bad.
I hustled back to my snowboard and the snow/ice was terrible but once I got to the Palmer, it sure beat walking. Probably saved a half hour and lots of morale destroying monotony.
I knew that I had to be cautious and I was prepared to stay an evening out. I knew that just because I had a SPOT locator didn't mean I had the right to push any limits. I know that when I'm by myself, a turned ankle is serious business.
I don't know what happened to the group of three that found trouble on the Reid Headwall. My guess is one of them was injured and they picked the strongest remaining climber to down climb and get help. He probably left his warm stuff with the other two figuring they'd be spending the night out and he'd get back to the safety of the South Side. It likely got late on him. When I left the upper flanks of the mountain it was probably 20 degrees and dropping. Some wind also moved in with the storm. My heart breaks for those three.
That said, I can't help but think that if they had a SPOT locator, they could have sent a 911 with the EXACT location. During some of the rescue training and climbing I've done, I've had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some folks from Portland Mountain Rescue. They're big fans of the SPOT because it works everywhere but the N and S Pole and you're able to send OK messages to track progress not just a 911 message. They can see where you've been, what kind of time your making and the climber can initiate the rescue. Not just your friends / wife / husband / parents / kids calling 911 when you 20 hours overdue.
This is my appeal to all of the climb leaders to carry a SPOT or PLB. I know its extra weight but you guys appear to love extra weight and you can disperse it as team gear. You can put it in your pack and not pull it out at all if you don't want to but you can send a 911 if you need to. This doesn't give you permission to climb outside your abilities but in the "what if" scenario, you're better of with one than without one. I've heard many of you say that we've gotten along fine without one for 30 years but I could also be writing all of you a letter and drawing you pics of the route but I'm using technology that's available.
It doesn't pollute the purity of climbing any more than using Prima Loft rather than wool. I don't know that I could look at somebody's loved ones and tell them that if I'd invested $100 a year, their mother / daughter / son/ father/ husband / wife would still be here. What will I say, I did't want to carry the extra 12 oz because I wanted to bring my camera? I couldn't afford it because I didn't want to sacrifice a lift ticket and beer money?
I also don't want rescuers endangering themselves searching whole side of a mountain for me in the event that I have an accident. They'll know where I'm at. Obviously its best to stay safe and avoid an emergency at all costs. Prevention is easier, better and pure. But what if?
You can buy one at Climb Max and the rebate almost covers the purchase price, I'm sure you can get them at lots of places. You go online and in a few minutes, you're set up and if you want to stick to the basics, you'll never have to fuss with it again unless you have an emergency.
I have one, Mike N has one as well. Ask questions.
All that to say, DK headwall was fun.

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