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This is a free edition of “Out of Office with Mike Hattrup,” a series written by legendary skier and AMGA-Certified ski guide Mike Hattrup about his current day job of traveling the American West and creating the next generation of ski equipment. Want to read his dispatches from the road? Join Outside+ to check out where he has been all summer long.
It was summer 2013. As was customary during the annual July K2 ski tests at Mt. Hood, we tuned in to the Tour de France. On one particularly hot day, Tim Petrick, the VP of Sales and Marketing for K2 at the time, observed after “30-degrees Celsius” flashed on the screen and said, “Man, it’s 90 degrees there today.”
“Actually,” I countered, “it’s closer to 85 or 86-degrees Fahrenheit.”
“No, you double the Celsius and add 30 to get Fahrenheit,” Tim replied confidently.
All avalanche study uses Celsius. And, having spent a considerable amount of time in Europe where I improved my comprehension of the temperature scale, I’d switched all my thermometers to Celsius over the years and had a pretty good feel for the conversion.
“That works in the lower temps,” I explained. “For instance, doubling 10-degrees Celsius and adding 30 is exactly 50-degrees Fahrenheit, but it starts to drift as temps get higher,”
Unconvinced, Tim stood firm. “No, you double it and add 30.”
We went back and forth a few times until I ended the debate with the classic question, “Wanna bet?”
Since we were planning to climb to the summit of Hood the following day after testing, I proposed that the loser would carry the winner’s skis to the top of Hood. To my delight, Tim remained resolute and agreed.
A quick Google search revealed the actual conversion: 30-degrees Celsius is equal to 86-degrees Fahrenheit. If Tim wasn’t so fit, I would have felt guilty as I waltzed up Mt. Hood with a pair of ski poles and not much else while my boss was sweating his ass off with two pairs of heavy alpine skis strapped to his pack.
That was eight years ago, but it feels like yesterday as I returned to Mt. Hood in late June of this year with a crew of Fischer athletes and testers. Our main goal for being at Hood was to finalize the testing of the future Ranger 102. We had tested the previous day and, since the conditions hadn’t changed and we had a clear test winner, we opted to switch things up and climb that morning.
As we were leaving the parking lot, Petrick’s name flashed on my iPhone. Having relayed my favorite bet story to the Fischer crew, I had to answer.
“Hatt, are you at Hood?” Petrick’s voice crackled through the phone. My big, black, Fischer-branded Sprinter was impossible to miss in the Timberline parking lot.
“Yeah, we’re just leaving to climb the mountain,” I replied.
“Me too,” Petrick explained. “I’m testing boots tomorrow so I came down a day early to climb solo.” I immediately invited him to tag along with the Fischer crew.
Tim was joining an impressive roster of testers. Debbie Armstrong, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist in the GS and new Fischer athlete, was with us. Having grown up racing in Seattle, she’d trained or coached on Hood for more than 25 years.
Next was Foreste Peterson, a recently retired US Alpine Team racer who first came to train at Hood at 11 years old and has been training or coaching ever since. Then there was Tyler Theis, Fischer Race Manager and former collegiate racer who first came to Hood at 13. He’s trained or managed the Fischer Mt. Hood race center for over 15 years
Also along for the trip was Kyle Smaine, the 2015 World Half Pipe Champion who had coached on the glacier for years.
The only two that hadn’t spent much time at Hood were the team from Ski Essentials in Stowe, Vt. Jeff Neagle had come out several years previously for testing, and this would be Marcus Shauken’s first visit. Both have exceptional ski feel and test over 100 pairs of skis yearly, so we were interested in their feedback on these new skis.
Despite the groups’ decades of cumulative years training at Hood, none of our crew had ever climbed to the summit. So when I proposed it several weeks earlier, everyone was stoked.
For an 11,240’ peak, Mt. Hood is a relatively easy climb, especially if you take Timberline Mt. Hood’s Palmer lift to its upper terminus. From there it’s only 3,000’ to the summit. Although the route is not overly technical, Mt. Hood is a serious mountain. It’s home to 11 glaciers and plenty of objective hazards: long sliding falls, rock and icefall, and crevasse falls are the highest risks in the summer.
The typical route—and the only one I’ve climbed—involves a mellow skin up to Crater Rock, at which point it gets too steep to skin efficiently. Skis get strapped to the pack and climbers boot the Hogsback, a prominent wind ridge on the White River Glacier just above Crater Rock. Towards the top of the Hogsback, you veer climber’s right above the gaping bergschrund to the Pearly Gates.
A fall above the bergschrund will result in a thrilling slide before you’re unceremoniously dumped into the crevasse.
Prior to climbing, I checked the web for route conditions and discovered that the Pearly Gates route had been out of favor the last few years. A dramatic shift in the Hogsback increased the steepness of the route above the bergschrund, and there are particularly steep steps of snow and ice in the Pearly Gates. The Old Chute route to the climber’s left is considered to be both easier and safer.
Mt. Hood gets climbed about 10,000 times a year—mostly in the summer—so there’s usually a good boot pack. I’ve never had an axe or crampons in the dozen or so times I’ve climbed it. But on a couple occasions, they definitely would have reduced stress levels significantly. Although our entire crew was made up of extremely talented athletes, Smaine was the only one who had experience with an ice axe and crampons, so we did a short lesson to get everyone comfortable with the new-to-them gear.
The Old Chute was straightforward and presented no problems for our group, which zigzagged up the 35-40 degree pitch until we reached the summit ridge. Here, the terrain grabbed our attention as the narrow ridge is flanked by steep slopes with a way-too-good view down into the steep, rocky, and heavily crevassed north face.
Once safely across the ridge, you could allow your gaze to lift and discover that the three hulking volcanoes to the north—Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams—have been patiently waiting to reveal themselves. Impressive from any angle, they’re especially majestic when viewed from a similar elevation.
High fives exchanged and summit photos taken, we started our descent, which began with a short but steep, narrow chute that had been side-slipped by previous parties leaving a seven-foot-wide trench. Determined to make turns where previous parties had side-slipped, our guide—yup, that would be me—got his tip hung up in the trench while trying to turn, and took a tumble in the chute. Not exactly a confidence-inspiring move, but everyone else navigated the chute without incident and we skied the heavy-but-skiable slush over towards Illumination Rock.
This next pitch was the highlight of the West Crater Rim descent. It’s only a couple hundred vertical, but it tips up towards 45 degrees. The thick corn peeled away in sheets and coalesced into heavy sluffs that could easily knock you off your feet—fortunately, they were slow-moving and easy to avoid. The run-out was strewn with baseball-to-basketball-sized rocks shed from Castle Crags, which created an entertaining obstacle course and reminded you to keep moving through the bowling alley.
As we descended, the incline of the Zigzag Glacier backed off, and the suction created from corn well past its prime increased. Careful not to pressure the shovels too hard, we arced trenches back to the Palmer snowfield and down to the historic Timberline Lodge.
Mission accomplished. Everyone made it up, and more importantly, down. I suspect this crew of both experienced and new summiteers will look at Mt. Hood a little more fondly from now on.
Volcanic Fun: How to Ski Mt. Hood in the Summer
Mike Hattrup’s Other Tales From a Summer on the Road
After Developing the First Freeride Ski 30 Years Ago, Mike Hattrup is Still Working Towards Perfection
In 1991, Mike Hattrup tested the original K2 Extreme at Squaw Valley. Now, Hattrup returns to California to develop the next Fischer Ranger ski. Check out how the testing went.
How the Best Ski Shops Test New Boots Before Selling Them to You
Before making the decision to carry a new backcountry boot, four ski shop employees take on California’s Lassen Peak with Hattrup to see if it’s legit or just snake oil. Read about the climb, descent, and verdict.
What It’s Like to Ski the Grand Teton Two Days After Receiving the Covid Vaccine (In Bad Weather)
Despite the poor weather forecast and getting his second jab a day prior, Mike Hattrup still took on the Grand Teton. The results were varied.
How Double Backflips and Human Waste Affect a Ski Expedition
Sophia Schwartz is a former US Freestyle Ski Team member who is on her way to attempt to ski the tallest peak in North America. Read Hattrup’s interview with Schwartz, and how his attempt in the 1990s made him vow never to return to North America’s highest mountain without skis.