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Oregon Highpoint - Mount Hood - 11239 ft

4 Jun 2007, about 7:55 am

After a 3:15 'alpine' wakeup on Fri 2 Jun in Austin, I was off to the airport and on to Portland, OR.  After picking up my rental car, finding the Motel 6 in Troutdale, and taking a short rest, I set off to check out the Columbia River Gorge, a number of the waterfalls that it contained, as well as a distant view of the mountain.  This was a really nice tour, it only took me about four hours and was well worth the trouble.

View of Hood from near the summit of Larch Mountain, a bit off the Historic Columbia River Highway.
More photos of the gorge

After this, I started packing for the climb of Mount Hood starting at 7 am the next day.  I had signed up for the three day 'Summit Overnight Program' with Timberline Mountain Guides,  The class, aimed at one of the south side routes on Hood, was to consist of, on the first day, Saturday, a hike about halfway up the mountain, after which we would set up camp, and then have a class in basic snow climbing. The next day, we would have a more advanced snow class, and on the third day, Monday, we would wake up early and make our attempt on the summit.  This wasn't the easiest option available, as TMG does offer a simpler class on Hood.  The standard class has the basic snow climbing class on the first day, near the base of the mountain, and skips the camping.  On the second day, the group would meet around 1 am, hop on a Sno-Cat, and take a ride up to the top of the Palmer ski area, about to about the altitude we would be camping at, and starts the climb from there.  I signed up for the longer, more rigorous class, both because I wanted to learn as much as possible, but also I figured that the longer class would be less likely to attract clients that weren't really serious or prepared, it would be a smaller class, and would have an extra day to work around poor weather.  Plus, I didn't want to cheat by using the Sno-Cat.  This made up for the more rigorous class being slightly more expensive.

Saturday morning, after breakfast at Shari's, one of the 24-hour restaurants near the motel in Troutdale, I drove east towards Timberline Lodge (actually, to the Wy'East Day Lodge right next door) at the base of the mountain.  When I signed up for the class, I was the third person to join, and supposedly the class could be as large as 8 clients and 2 guides, so I am expecting at least a modest crowd.  However, I find that the other two clients had cancelled, so the only people in the group were me and my guide, Matt Cline, making this effectively a private climb for me, which is great.  Matt has about 100 summits of Hood, so he certainly will know the way.

We spend a little time checking over my equipment, making sure I know how to put my crampons on, and divide up the shared equipment, the tent, stove and food.  Meanwhile, I try on some plastic mountaineering boots, which I haven't worn before.  The boots, which seem really warm, are very stiff, which is good for kicking steps in the snow and for attaching crampons, but makes them a little less comfortable than regular hiking boots.  I don't readjust my crampons for the big plastic boots, they seem to fit ok as already adjusted for my leather boots, but maybe I should have widened the heel attachment.  One item that I do take, against Matt's advice, is a second, lighter, backpack, that I plan to use on the summit day. It is kind of bulky, so I have to strap it to the outside of my larger pack.  This makes my overnight pack about 3.5 pounds heavier, but my summit pack lighter by about the same amount.  We also discuss the weather forecast, which calls for good conditions for a couple of days, but deteriorating sometime between Sunday and Monday.  Because of this, we tentatively plan on trying for the summit on Sunday instead, hoping to beat the weather, and we will do the advanced snow school after that.

We head out to the parking lot, and get ready to start up.  It is very warm, so we start taking off layers even before we start, and put on sunblock (I stupidly skipped the lip block), adjust our packs, and head to the climber's trailhead, at about 5850 feet.  The parking lot is full, as Mount Hood is a ski area, and is open for business year round.  The first part of our hike parallels the ski run, we will head up while snowboarders and skiers head down beside us.  Matt starts up the snow trail, and I follow behind.

The mountain from near Timberline Lodge, about 5000 feet below the summit.
Our camp was near the top of the dirt/rock moraine that comes in from the lower right of the photo.

As we start up the snow slopes, Matt starts the snow travel instruction, explaining how he is kicking steps into the snow, and that I should try and follow his footsteps exactly.  I have done only a little snow travel, so I can use all the advice I can get.  After a while, I realize that Matt's steps are a little big for my comfort, so I get him to take slightly smaller steps.  One nice aspect of a guided climb!  We ascend along the right edge of the ski area, mostly on snow, but occasionally traversing over dirt and rock moraines, watching the snowboarders do flips and jumps as we go.  Early on, there are some extra hazards in the snow, in the form of some spots where the snow has settled from the weight of the Sno-Cats, forming a hole underneath seemingly solid cover, sort of a micro-crevasse.  Matt points these out, and we weave around them as we go.

It is very warm, and soon my sweat glands are going full speed.  I am also finding this section to be hard work, and I am moving pretty slow.  I am pretty chagrined by my pace, actually.  I thought that I had prepared well getting physically prepared for this trip, running hills, hiking hills with a heavy pack, and so on.  This section is, by far, the easiest section of the mountain, and yet it is kicking my butt, and I really need the rest breaks we take on the way.  I don't feel so well prepared anymore.  I am also discover that distance on the mountain are pretty deceptive - things that look to be just a short distance away are actually quite a long way off.  It takes us about 4 hours to reach our campsite, and I am wiped out by the time we get there.  Matt explains that there are a few different spots that can be used, and as bad weather may threaten, we opt for the most protected (and lowest) site, near the top of a large moraine at about 8300 feet.  I'm relieved to stop, I have gone through every drop of the two liters of water that I carried.  We start putting the tent up, as Matt explains that this tent is a little unusual, in that the fly gets set up first, before the inner body is attached.  The set-up turns out to be extra unusual, as it happens that we don't have the right tent poles, and they do not fit.  After some head-scratching, by folding down the last section of the poles, we can sort of raise the fly, with the help of a couple of ski poles inside to hold up the roof.  It is not pretty (or roomy), but it will have to do.

After all this, we can finally get on to the snow climbing school, much later in the day than we had planned.  This part of the plan actually works out fine, Matt is a good instructor and has obviously done this many times before.  We cover kicking steps in the snow, various footwork techniques depending on steepness, from the duck walk with both feet splayed out, to the two or ten-o-clock position with one foot splayed and the other facing forward, to sidestepping.  In addition, we cover the basics of ice axe placement, how to properly coordinate footwork with axe placements, proper diagonal ascent technique, and using the axe self-belay to catch a slip.  We practice descending a little, and finally cover how to put on a harness and tie into a rope.  I have done some rock climbing before, albeit a while ago, so at least that part was familiar.  We didn't cover any crampon technique, however.  The snow here is so soft that real practice is impossible, the crampons wouldn't really bite, so it is pointless.

With the snow school completed, we can now move on to cooking dinner and melting snow for drinking water.  While we are doing this, however, we have to watch some suspicious looking weather.  A few miles to the south, some evil clouds are starting to build up.  The storm continues to intensify, and soon is clearly producing heavy rain as well as considerable lightning, off in the distance.  For the moment, we are safely away from it, but since the slopes that we are on are very exposed to lightning, it will be a real problem if this comes our way.  We have a strong wind at our back, in the direction that would push the storm away from us, and for a good while the towering clouds don't make any progress towards us, but they do continue to grow in intensity.  Matt pulls out his cell phone, to try and get some more info on the weather, coverage is spotty, but he eventually contacts some of the other TMG guides, but we can't get any definitive information.  The rain and wind is not a concern, but the lightning is, so we have to consider the possibility of a retreat from our camp.  I partially pack up my stuff while we wait to see if we can stay or have to leave.  After all the work it took to get up to this point, the idea of descending doesn't appeal to me much, if at all.  As daylight starts to fade, it briefly seems like the storm will fade away and we will be ok where we are, but then suddenly the wind at our back disappears.  This had been holding back the storm, and now it closes in very rapidly, and in minutes there is lighting flashing through the clouds overhead, not good at all.  So, retreat it is.

We take down the tent as fast as we can, and cram all our stuff into our packs as quickly as we can.  Putting on a jacket, but skipping the gaiters, I stick a lot of stuff into my second pack, strapped to the outside of my main pack, and then hurry down off the moraine and onto the snow, and start heading down, with Matt right behind me.  We hurry down as fast as we can, following the Sno-Cat tracks, and it isn't a very comfortable descent.  Since I packed so hastily, especially with the second pack on the outside, my load is very poorly placed, with almost the whole 50 pounds or so of weight hanging on one shoulder.  Finally, as darkness is falling, along with steady rain, we make it back to the parking lot at the base, around 10 pm.

The regular TMG class will be meeting right here in the parking lot, in about three hours, for the ride on the Sno-Cat up to about where we camped.  So, joining them is a theoretical possibility, but we don't know if there is space, and anyways we would be exhausted without any real rest, so we don't try for this.  Instead, Matt knows of a ski cabin in Government Camp, six miles down the road.  This is the Reed College ski cabin, and since Matt used to be the caretaker, we can get in and stay the night there.  After following Matt's car down the road to the cabin, we find one person there, Jesse, who is happily playing guitar.  We tell him our story, and then bring in our equipment so we can spread it out to dry, and prepare for a second attempt the next morning.  I take a bed in the communal room upstairs, and fall asleep.  So much for day one.  Although we did cover the basic snow climbing class, pretty much everything else has been a fiasco so far.

The next morning, after a short delay when I lock myself out of the cabin, and have to wake up Jesse to get back in, I start re-packing my stuff.  This time around, I decide to cut all the weight that I can, so I decide to skip the full first aid kit, repair kit, and my second pack.  I can cut some food as well, and as Jesse is hunting for breakfast, I trade him a bag of trail mix for a can of beer, which will come in handy later.  Matt and I head to a little place in Government Camp for some coffee, and then back to the lodge at the base of Hood.  While I switch out my boots (I really want half a size larger, plus they got wet in our hasty descent), Matt grabs the correct set of tent poles, and we return to the trailhead, and start up the mountain once more.

The weather is beautiful this morning.  It is a little disappointing that we didn't get to take advantage of it for our summit attempt, but the second slog up the lower mountain goes much smoother than before.  I feel a lot stronger than the day before, some combination of a day of acclimatization, a somewhat lighter pack, and better footwork makes the distance go by much easier.  Moving efficiently is really important on snow, I am finding out.  We consider a higher campsite, but with poor weather still threatening, we aim again for the more protected lower spot, and return to the exact same campsite, taking an hour less than the day before to get there.  The tent goes up very quickly this time, and soon we get to the second day of snow class.  Much smoother than the first day!

We now cover the 'advanced' snow school class, which mostly concerns anchors.  After a little discussion about ice screws, we talk about pickets, first pounding them vertically into the snow (which works best in hard snow), then setting them as a deadman anchor in a trench (which works best in soft snow).  We then go over how to connect multiple anchors, first with a V-shaped runner, using the 'magic X' to assure redundancy, then with an overhand loop tie-off to connect them, which limits the length of fall that would result from an anchor failure, which in turn limits the force on the remaining anchors.  After practicing digging a deadman trench, I then spend a little time practicing self-arrest.  After the class, we cook dinner, and discuss some of the situations that would stop our summit the next morning, particularly storms, poor visibility on the upper technical section, or moving too slowly.  The weather doesn't threaten us this evening, so we head into the tent around 8 pm, set our alarms for 1 am, and try and get some sleep, or at least some good rest, and hope the weather is ok when the alarms go off.

Our camp, at around 8300 feet elevation.

The upper mountain from our camp.  The route continues up the remainder of the Palmer Ski area at the lower left, continues up towards the ridgeline,
then contours right around Crater Rock and to the Hogsback, a well defined snow ridge.  After ascending the Hogsback,
we would head right around the bergshrund (barely visible), then up an icy chute to lower angle snow which slopes up to the summit.

Our alarms wake us up at 1 am on Monday.  The night has been very warm, and although I didn't sleep much if at all, I did get some good rest.  I start putting on my layers, and soon Matt fires up the stove to melt some more snow.  (Our tent has an enormous vestibule, with plenty of room for the stove as well as our packs.)  We stuff down some breakfast and wriggle out of the tent a little before 2 am.  The weather is ok, just partly cloudy, and the upper mountain is not socked-in, better than expected.  We gather up our trekking poles and ice axes, and are ready to move at 2:15.  At this point, I remember my GPS, stowed in the top of my pack, and turned off.  Since I don't want to delay our start (the GPS takes a couple of minutes to start up), I ignore it.  In fact, I never turned it on at all, which was kind of foolish.  Having the track of our route stored could have been useful in an emergency, and it also would have been nice to have the next time I come to Mount Hood.  Ah well.  We now hike off the moraine onto the snow, and start some steadily sidehill climbing towards the crater rim.

After probably a bit more than an hour, we reach a moraine where we take our first rest break.  I am feeling a little bit lightheaded, but not tired, and hope I can keep up the pace for the next 6 hours.  While we rest, Matt finds some good cell reception, and calls his girlfriend to discuss his diabetic dog.  We then grab our packs and continue upwards, on snow that continues to offer good footing.  Soon, we approach the base of Crater Rock, as the first bit of light enters the sky.  Here we take another short break, and start to break out the technical equipment, as we put on our helmets and I switch one trekking pole out for my ice axe, while we remove our headlamps.  After a brief review of axe technique (replace the axe when your uphill side foot is in front, in balance) we contour up and around the edge of Crater Rock.  Down the snow slope to the right of us is a volcanic fumarole, the "Devil's Kitchen", which would be a bad place to slide into, with toxic fumes, hence the use of the axe self-belay.  The footing on this section is very good, and soon we reach the saddle at the base of the Hogsback, a snow ridge that heads up the peak.

The sky is now completely light, and I don't see a cloud anywhere.  We break out the rest of the technical equipment, putting on our harnesses and tying into the rope, and putting on the crampons.  We stash our trekking poles here, we will use only the ice axes from here on.  Another group of climbers from below catches up to us here, we want to stay at the front of the pack, but they are fortunately headed up the alternate 'Old Chute' route. 

A note on the route choices from this point:  We will ascend the 'Pearly Gates' route, which, at least until this year, has been the standard and easiest route.  This involves ascending the Hogsback, crossing the bergshrund, then heading right and then up a steeper chute.  My copy of the Winger book mentions an alternate route called 'Old Crater', with directions of also ascending the Hogsback, heading left at the bergshrund and left up the steep crater walls to the summit ridge, then right along the ridge to the summit.  Matt, however, knows the alternate name as 'Old Chute', and also had different directions than Winger.  Instead of climbing the Hogsback at all, the alternate descends a bit on the other side of the saddle at the base of the Hogsback, then ascends alternating moraines and snowfields, then up a steady steep slope to the summit ridge, then right along the ridge to the top.  There were some footsteps following the Winger directions, but there were more the other way.  

Matt works the rope into a shortrope coil.  This involves coiling most of the 150 foot rope over his shoulder, tying an overhand loop near the end of the rope, with the next 8 or so feet heading down to me.  With this setup, Matt will climb ahead of me, with his hand in the loop, while I ascend below, keeping the rope just barely slack.  This way, if I slip, I will come onto the rope immediately, limiting the force, and Matt can easily hold me through his stance and axe placement, even though we have placed no explicit anchors.  The terrain here is moderate enough that this belay seems very secure.

I watch my feet carefully as we ascend the Hogsback, especially since I have hardly worn crampons before, following right in Matt's footsteps as usual.  I'm not looking anywhere but at my feet, and I find a good rhythm climbing this section, so this part seems to go very quickly, and soon I see the bergshrund just in front of us.  The bergshrund is the large crevasse that forms at the top of the glacier, as it pulls away from the ice and snow above.  The crevasse doesn't look as big as I expected, somehow, but it is probably at least 100 feet deep, although I never look directly down into it.  We traverse to the right, to the edge of the chasm, with me a few feet below Matt, no longer following his steps.  This short spell where I kick my own steps reminds me again how much labor Matt is saving me on the rest of the climb, and how important moving efficiency is...  We pass around the right side of the crevasse, and then continue up and to the right, over fairly steep snow, towards the 'Pearly Gates'.  About this time, Matt notices that the weather is starting to deteriorate, and urges me to keep moving quickly, we won't be able to have any more rest breaks until the summit.

As we reach the steepest part of the climb, I stop and secure myself with my axe, while Matt climbs ahead.  He passes out of sight quickly, but in a bit I can hear him pounding pickets into the snow to create a secure anchor above.  Once he has the anchor set up, he calls for me to continue, now with a solid belay from above.  I follow his path up the steep snow, which soon enters a steep chute.  As I enter the chute, my technique suddenly no longer works!  Until now, I had been kicking my feet into the snow (mostly into Matt's steps), and plunging the shaft of the axe into the snow for an upper body placement.  But the chute is not filled with snow, rather with ice, and neither of these is working anymore.  I have never climbed ice before, so it takes me a while to figure out how to proceed.

There is a small waterfall flowing down the right side of the chute, over some ledges in the ice.  I'm reluctant to put my feet into the water, so at first I try and ascend the left side.  I try and remember what I had read about ice climbing axe and foot placement, and do a thoroughly poor job of following those instructions.  After falling onto the rope for a moment, I switch to the right side, and using the ledges I soon start making progress again, and in a few feet I get back to more snow-like terrain.  This ice makes this route harder than usual, in previous years it has been just steep snow.

After passing the short ice section, perhaps 15 feet, my usual techniques start working again, and I soon climb up to Matt and the anchor.  There is still a little bit of a fairly steep section remaining, so again I anchor myself with my axe (this time backed up by the anchor), while Matt climbs up a short distance more, and sets another anchor.  Then I follow, clumsily retrieving the pickets, and climb up to him again.  The terrain is less steep now, so we can return to the shortrope belay.  I want to take a break for few seconds to catch my breath, but Matt will hear none of it, with the deteriorating conditions, we need to keep moving.  The final slope to the summit is just above us now.  We climb the hard snow slope, flat-footing with the crampons, switching from sidesteps to ten-o-clock to the duck walk as the slope gradually eases, and then we are at the top.

The summit area is kind of wavy, it isn't that obvious what the absolutely highest point is, and in addition, the north side of the ridge is corniced, meaning the snow near the edge could be over nothing but the void, instead of solid rock.  So, I take one step onto what seems the highest point, but I don't bother to exhaustively step everywhere.  I take a few pictures, there are still a few breaks in the clouds for the moment.  Matt didn't realize that I had a camera, as I hadn't been using it that much, he could have taken some pictures of me in the crux section, which would have been cool, but that opportunity was missed.  Another climber is just about to the top, he is coming up the Old Chute route, which is how we will descend.  We stay for around 10 minutes, during which clouds envelop us, and the views are gone.  From now on, until we return to camp, we will be in a whiteout.  Now we have to get down! 

On the summit!  A third, solo, climber, coming up the Old Chute route, is just about to the top.

Looking south, back the way we came.

Matt Cline, my guide.  This was about his 100th Hood summit.

In minutes, clouds came in and blocked all visibility.  The descent, until our camp, was almost all in a whiteout.

After about a 10 minute stay on the top, we started down, by the Old Chute route rather than our ascent route.

We decide not to descend the way we came up, but rather by the Old Chute route, that the third climber came up.  After a short down and up we reach a very narrow section of the summit ridge.  To the left, I can see very steep snow slopes below me, and I can't even see anything but air (and clouds) to the right.  Carefully placing our ice axes and footsteps, we cross this section.  After this, the descent route heads down the crater walls.  I have hardly done any descending on snow, besides the little bit in our snow class, and I am a little tentative getting into the descent.  With the deteriorating weather, Matt has no patience for any delay, so after about half a minute of me waffling, he gets to digging a trench for a picket deadman anchor, and then starts lowering me from this.  With a little wind, it gets hard to communicate back and forth, so we descend two short pitches of this, with Matt walking down between the two.  (He doesn't have any problem walking down the slope.)  During the second pitch, I am passing to the side of a couple of rope teams of other climbers, they ask how far they are from the summit, while Matt reminds me to pay attention to our descent.  After about 150 feet or so of this, the slope eases enough so that I don't have any problem facing out and plunge stepping down, especially with Matt above with the shortrope belay.  The snow is a little tricky, with kind of a hard crust over softer stuff, so it is easy for my feet to break through deeply.  I am worrying more about moving quickly than perfect technique, I am pretty sure I am not leaning out far enough, and I do slip a couple of times, coming onto the rope, but speed is what we need for now, so this is fine.

After a bit, we reach a moraine, and then our descent alternates between moraines and snowfields for a while.  A short climb then brings us back to the saddle at the base of the Hogsback.  Finally, we can spare 30 seconds for a rest break.  While we catch our breath, we remember that we stashed our poles here, so we retrieve them and then continue down.  For a moment, it seems like the clouds are clearing away, but soon they change their mind and we are back in a whiteout.   We continue along the edge of Crater Rock, and soon return to the point where we took out the ice axes on the way up.  We reverse this now, storing the axes and continuing with just the trekking poles, but keeping our crampons on for now.  The terrain now is easier, but we can hear a few thunderclaps from somewhere in the clouds, so we still keep up the pace. 

We are basically following the existing tracks of footsteps as we sidehill down the slope (a descent straight down the slope leads to cliffs and not safety!), when suddenly one of my crampons falls off.  We don't really need them anymore, so I stop to take them off, and realize that the heel attachment has broken, and this is why it came off.  This is pretty annoying really, this is the first trip I have used these crampons on, and they didn't make it through without failure.  This is not a concern for now, so after packing the crampons away, we continue on down.  Soon, we are at the top of the Palmer ski area, and then to the moraine where we are camped.

Right about as we get down to our camp, the sky clears up, at least down at our altitude.  After a short rest, we pack everything up (more carefully than the day before), and start down.  It is bright and sunny now, and soon I am baking in the heat.  I don't feel like stopping to take of any layers, rather I'd keep moving.  Meanwhile, my lower lip, which I have hardly used sunblock on so far, is in the final stages of being badly fried by uv radiation.  This straightforward descent goes quickly, and soon we are back at the parking lot, thoroughly worn out.

After a stop at the TMG office to drop off their equipment, (my feet were very happy to switch out the Koflach mountaineering boots for normal shoes), Matt and I split up.  After a stop by the gift shop to get some postcards (cheap at 25 cents each, plus they gave me an Oregon state quarter as change), I get in the car and drive down to Government Camp.  After a stop for an extra large caffeinated soda, I start back to Portland.  Instead of taking US 26, the short, direct way that I had come, I drive east for a very short distance, to 35 which descends north towards Hood River.  Soon, this road offers a very impressive view of Hood in front, nice to contemplate after having just been on top of it, and the road then continues to descend through forest to Hood River, on the banks of the Columbia River.  Hood River seems to be a nice little town, but kind of touristy and expensive.  I get a reasonably priced and very tasty calzone at Andrew's Pizza in town, worth a stop.  From there, I get on I-84, and took the interstate west to Portland.  This section is a nice drive as well, with good views of the Columbia River Gorge.  Soon I pass underneath Vista House, on the bluffs far above to my left, and then arrive in Troutdale, nice and tired.

20 Nov 2004 sightseeing.
Back to 2004 Oregon Trip

The day after watching the soccer team play Portland, I went to check out Mount Hood, the highpoint of the state of Oregon.  Somehow, I didn't expect there to be much snow, but the slopes were completely snow-covered, and open for ski business.  I hiked up the first mile, and 1000 feet uphill, from Timberline Lodge to the Palmer ski-lift building, near the Silcox hut.  This is the first part of the standard route, which continues parallel to the remainder of the ski-lift, and then on up.  I am glad I brought my Crocodiles, they certainly came in handy in the foot-deep snow.  Snowboarders were skiing down past me as I hiked upwards, while clouds (and blowing snow) came and went as I walked up and back.

View of Mount Hood from near Timberline Lodge.  The Palmer ski-lift building that I hiked to is between the trees.

View from the ski-lift building at 7000 feet.

Mount Jefferson from the lower slopes of Mount Hood.


Although my books say that the usual climbing season for Hood is May through June, Matt said that TMG leads plenty of climbs well into July.  The earlier months are supposedly safer, as the colder conditions with more snow keep rocks held in place better, so there is less rockfall hazard.  However, the weather is more likely to be poor earlier in the year, so July attempts are more likely to be successful.

Portland Mountain Rescue has a short document with the coordinates of some points on the peak, which could be useful in descending in poor visibility, they are:
Timberline Lodge E 0,601,049 N 5,020,302
Silcox Hut E 0,601,226 N 5,021,810
Palmer Upper Terminus E 0,601,490 N 5,023,300
Illumination Saddle E 0,601,240 N 5,024,440
Generally, once out of the crater, is is important not to descend directly down the slopes, as this heads towards the Mississippi Head cliffs.  Rather, you make a sideways descent, approximately magnetic south in bearing.  (The bearing to Timberline Lodge from Crater Rock is 173 degrees magnetic, 194 degrees true, according to the Winger book.) - SummitPost page for Mount Hood - A forum with discussion about Pacific Northwest climbing and mountaineering - 2007 South Side route conditions