I got to Timberline around 5PM (I had yet to replace a burned out headlamp and wanted to drive while it was still light), walked around the lodge, found a quiet dark parking space, ate a dinner of leftover potatoes and chilli, and settled into my sleeping bag in the back of the car. I set my alarm for 3AM but apparently I was a little too comfy and awoke at 5:30! I threw on my clothes, jumped out of the car, laced my boots and grabbed my pack. I was hiking by 5:45, and hiking fast due to my frustration. I even forgot to put on my headlamp and went half a mile in the dark before letting myself stop to get it out.
The wind was blowing fairly hard and carrying bits of ice shrapnel with it, but once I drew level with the Steel Cliffs it cut out. By this time the sun was peeking over the horizon and bathing the east facing slopes in a red glow. I could see the Headwall by now and it looked like ice would be sparse. I berated myself for sleeping in... perhaps with more time I could have dropped down to investigate Reid Glacier Headwall or another line. With limited options I hiked around the Devil's Kitchen, exposed geothermal vents reeking of sulfur, to the base of the Headwall and evaluated the various gullies.
Mountain Project page and is marked as route "1c" on the topo in Jeff Thomas' "Oregon High" guide book. This gully is the longest and most direct on the headwall. The lesser "right variation," or route "1d," seemed to have enough snow and ice in it for climbing but wasn't what I wanted. Unfortunately the left variation looked very sparse and at first glance I thought it would be impossible. I climbed to the bottom of the first step to investigate anyway and once I was close I could see some snice chunks on the right side and a thin smear of verglas on the left. I checked the right and found it was poorly bonded and I couldn't get a solid pick. The footing on the left looked easier despite the thin ice so I moved over to check. I climbed and down climbed the first couple moves twice, considered retreating, and then committed to the mandatory mixed moves. Maybe I have been reading too much Colin Haley and Steve House or maybe I was just too amped up to back down, but either way, once up it would have been very difficult to reverse and the ice for a v-thread was non-existent. In short I was now committed to continuing.
|Looking up the first step. The left side looks totally bare but actually had enough verglas for a pick. The right side was worthless snice.|
|Looking back down the first step, now committed. I came up the lookers right. Sorry for the poor quality photos, I was not in a secure enough position to get out the camera while on route so I used the cell phone in my jacket pocket.|
|Looking up the second or third step and sheltering beneath the ice blobs from the ice falling down the gully.|
|Looking back down the gully from beneath the gendarme, finally some good neve. You can see a party of two on the Hogsback snow ridge in the shade.|
|Looking up the last step.|
|L-R Mt. St. Helens, Rainier, Adams from the summit of Hood... it was a beautiful day to be outside.|
|Looking west along the summit ridge from the highest point.|
In retrospect, I think that the experience may feel bigger in my mind than it was in reality. After all, it's just a dinky little AI3 route. The ice was thin, sure, but it's relatively low angle and was mainly an exercise in having really solid footwork. That said I can see how this would be an easier and more enjoyable route if the ice was in thick enough to take screws, and I don't really intend to get on it again unless that's the case. When the "uninitiated" ask me about soloing, usually with the assumption that it's suicide, I often tell them that I think driving to a climbing area is more dangerous than the soloing I do there. I honestly believe this, but after the drive home under sunny blue skies I feel like this may be the first solo where I could argue that climbing was the more dangerous activity. Regardless, I definitely don't regret it.
|Mandatory selfie on the summit. Adams is just right of my head.|
|Looking down the North Face... maybe a future solo?|