PMR’s Tips for the Mt. Hood Climbing Season

May and June are the most popular months for climbing Mt. Hood. These also are some of the most dangerous months when calls to Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) increase. Climbers can limit their risk of becoming the next PMR rescue mission by following simple safety tips:

  1. Heed the weather. Foul weather is one of the most common factors in climbing incidents in the Cascades. Always check the forecast for the mountain, not for lowland areas. Weather can change rapidly in the mountains, and it often turns nasty on the upper mountain before harsh conditions hit tree line. If a storm cycle is predicted within 24 hours of your climb, consider a different outing. Be vigilant in observing the weather as you climb and head down at the first sign of an approaching storm. Climbers should also understand that avalanche risk persists into the Spring and Summer months.
  2. Start early. Rock and ice fall are a common cause of Mt. Hood injuries. The upper crater can turn into a maelstrom of rocks and ice once the sun warms the high cliffs. Start your climb in the wee morning hours, called an “alpine start,” so you can summit and be out of the crater before the sun warms the crater walls.
  3. Avoid high traffic. On a clear weekend day in May or June, hundreds of climbers share the narrow chutes that lead to the summit. Traffic jams result in climbers spending too long in the areas where rock and ice fall is the most dangerous. Even careful climbers cannot always avoid knocking loose ice or rock that fall like missiles on climbers below. Novice climbers amplify these risks because they tend to move slowly and are less adept at preventing rock and ice fall. PMR encourages novice groups to climb on weekdays when traffic is lower and conditions can be much safer.
  4. Get training. Although folks have climbed Mt. Hood in tennis shoes in ideal conditions and more than one dog has made it to the summit, Mt. Hood is a serious and technical climb requiring solid mountaineering skills. Organizations such as the Mazamas offer robust training programs, and guide services provide enough basic training to climb Mt. Hood with the assistance of a guide. Although backpacking and hiking experience is helpful, it is no substitute for technical mountaineering skills.
  5. Climb with companions. If something goes wrong, a lone climber is just that—alone. Teammates can provide emergency assistance, call for help, go for help, or evacuate an injured companion.
  6. Carry the proper gear. The conditions on Mt. Hood require different gear than hiking in the Columbia Gorge. Appropriate clothing, ice axe, crampons and a helmet are just a few of the “must have” items. Visit pmru.org for a list of essential gear.
  7. Leave your itinerary with a trusted friend or family member. Although climbers are supposed to register at the Timberline Day Lodge and complete a form describing their route, schedule and equipment, these forms are no substitute for leaving this information with a friend. No one monitors these registration forms or checks to see if climbers have returned. We only review forms after a report is received that a climber is missing or in trouble.
  8. Carry an emergency communication device. PMR recommends that climbers carry a personal locator beacon or a commercial device such as a SPOT unit, both of which can be purchased from outdoor stores. Mountain Locator Units or MLUs can be rented from REI or the Mountain Shop for use on Mt. Hood. Availability, however, is limited and you should always check in advance to ensure units are available. Cell phones can be a lifesaver, but they often do not work high on Mt. Hood, and there is no service for most of the mountain below tree line.
  9. Know your route and how to navigate. Navigation above tree line can be easy on a sunny day, but a nightmare the moment snow or fog moves in. Backcountry travelers should carry a map and compass and know how to navigate with them. A GPS is a plus, but should not be the primary navigation tool.
  10. Carry a blue bag. An alpine start, anxiety about the climb and changes in diet are a formula for emergency bathroom breaks on the climbing route. A busy climbing season can create serious sanitation problems. Blue bags are available at the climbers registry. Please bag your poop and carry it out for proper disposal