Mount Hood, which conveniently splits the drive from Washington to the Sierra, gave me one last opportunity to don boots and real crampons. The ski area doesn’t mind car-camping in their parking lot, nor do they apparently mind tailgating, so I had a restless night. What they do mind, though, is people in boots walking on their precious groomed snow. Luckily, I had made it most of the way up the ski slope before they caught me, so I only had to deal with a short stretch of slushy, uncompacted snow. The groomers do a heroic job scraping the bits of available snow into a sort of comb-over, so that even though the mountain is more than half bare rock, it’s still possible to ski almost to the base.
Hood is supposedly one of the most-climbed peaks in the world, but I only saw one party ahead as I made my way up to the volcanic plug. The standard route follows the Palmer glacier to the east of the plug, then ascends a 40-degree chute to the ridge. The air in the crater is sulfurous, though not overwhelming, and there are several steam vents in the rock. The pair ahead of me was moving slowly up the chute; when I caught them near the top, I learned that one was having trouble with his crampons.
Reaching the top, I nearly stumbled over the other side of the ridge. The side I climbed was formed when the crater collapsed, but since then, the other side has been eaten away by a glacier, leaving a surprisingly sharp rim. The summit benchmark, if there is one, was covered by a snowdrift, but one of the surrounding markers was clear, epoxied to a rock that was, in turn, held to the mountain by a system of steel cables.
The other group reached the summit 10 minutes or so later, and we talked for awhile while they waited for the snow to soften. While the upper chute never became skiable, they were able to ski from the plug down, while I walked the whole way — not on the precious groomed snow — and beat them down by a bit.