Mount Hood National Forest Mountaineering Overview

Sunset on Mount Hood National Forest
Sunset on Mount Hood National Forest (Heath Korvola/Digital Vision/Getty)

Mountaineering Mount Hood National Forest Travel Tips

  • Mount Hood is home to four ski areas, including historic Timberline Lodge. This classic mountain lodge offers North America’s longest ski season. The Mt. Hood Ski Bowl offers the country’s largest night skiing area.
  • Safety is a top mountaineering priority. In case of a whiteout or other severe weather, be prepared with a map, compass, and GPS. Also bring a cell phone and a personal locator device.
  • Mount Hood’s peak climbing season is the spring. Summer and fall are dangerous times, and winter climbing is technically difficult due to unconsolidated snow and storms.
  • Mazamas, founded in 1894 on the summit of Mount Hood, is a nonprofit mountaineering education organization located in Portland, Oregon. Mazamas offers more than 700 hikes and 350 climbs annually. A variety of classes and activities are offered for every skill and fitness level and are open to both members and non-members.

Mt. Hood was once a great volcano known to the Northwest Indians as Wy'east, a mountain god who spouted flame and hurled boulders skyward. The first recorded white men saw the mountain in 1792 and named her Hood, after an admiral of the English Royal Navy. Today Mt. Hood rests at 11,235 feet above sea level. Twelve glaciers and five ridges tempt and challenge climbers from all over the world. There is some debate as to when the summit was first reached—either in 1845 or 1857. The first women made the ascent in skirts in 1867. Since those early days, hundreds of thousands have scaled Oregon's highest peak, and today Mt. Hood is the most frequently climbed glaciated peak in North America.

The routes described are TECHNICAL CLIMBS. There is no hiking trail to the summit. All climbers and backcountry travelers going above the Palmer lift are required to complete a Wildneress Permit at the climber's register at Timberline Lodge and to carry a copy of the permit with them while in the backcountry.

We have listed the minimum of equipment necessary for a safe ascent. But even with the right equipment, you should have some expert instruction under your belt. This is particularly true in avalanche areas, where a course will inform you on proper safety and rescue techniques.

Most climbing injuries and deaths on Mt. Hood result from inexperienced and ill-equipped climbers getting hit by falling rock, ice, or snow; falling down steep slopes or into crevasses; or becoming disoriented due to poor weather conditions. Even the slightest climbing injury can result in tragedy due to the mountain's cold temperatures, high winds, and rapidly changing weather conditions.

Where to Go

Hogsback: The most climbed route. A good one for beginners. Ten to twelve hours round-trip.
Mazama: A variation of hogsback. A good second climb. Ten to twelve hours round-trip.
Wy'east: An intermediate route for experienced climbers. Twelve to fourteen hours round-trip.
Castle Crags: An advanced route for experienced climbers. January through March season. Twelve to fourteen hours round-trip.

When to Climb

Time of Year: Avalanche conditions are a function of seasonal and recent weather trends, terrain, wind direction, sun exposure, and snow pack stability. Avalanches are not a seasonal occurrence, but can and do occur at all times of the year. Many climbers go May to mid-July to lessen early avalanche danger and later rockfall hazards.

Time of Day: Depart at midnight for easy walking on firm snow, sunrise scenery, and less rockfall and avalanche danger.

What to Take

  • UIAA-approved helmet
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons and extra strap
  • 120-foot climbing rope
  • Pack for extra clothing and food
  • First aid kit
  • One quart liquid (minimum)
  • Mount Hood Locator Unit (MLU), available at local climbing shops and at the Mt. Hood Inn (off of Highway 26 in Government Camp)
  • Topographic map, compass, and the knowledge of how to use them in a white out
  • Avalanche Beacon (strongly recommended)
  • Altimeter (recommended)

What to Wear

  • Climbing boots (plastic shell or waterproof leather, depending on conditions)
  • Warm, waterproof jacket
  • Wool or fleece (but never cotton) pants
  • Wool or fleece sweater
  • Wool or fleece mittens
  • Wool or fleece (but never cotton) hat
  • Wool or fleece (but never cotton) socks (can be used as mittens in emergency)
  • Dark sunglasses
  • Sunscreen lotion

What to do in an Emergency

Check out the Portland Mountain Rescue Web site for vital information on rescue and safety.

Search and rescue activities on the South Side of Mt. Hood are conducted through the Clackamas County Sheriff's office. Dial 911 and be prepared to describe the nature of the accident, how many were involved, where on the mountain the accident occurred, where the party members currently are, and any known injuries. Send one or two members of your party to the upper terminal of the Magic Mile Chair lift, or to Timberline Lodge for help. The majority of your party should stay with the injured climber keeping him or her warm and encouraged. DO NOT MOVE THE INJURED CLIMBER unless you are in a life-threatening situation. Use standard first aid procedures to stop bleeding.

FROSTBITE: Symptoms are loss of feeling and white, dead-looking skin. Stay warm, move around, and return to the lodge and medical attention as soon as possible. Do not attempt to thaw frostbite on the mountain.

HYPOTHERMIA: The best medicine is prevention. Proper clothing, hydration, and eating is critical to preventing hypothermia. Be aware of how your body feels and if you start to get cold, take actions immediately to stay warm and dry. Also, be aware of how your climbing partners are doing. Any strange behavior or inability to walk a straight line should alert you to a person's deteriorating condition and the need for immediate action. Above all, do NOT eat snow to keep hydrated. It decreases your body's core temperature and requires heat energy to melt the snow.

Symptoms are fits of shivering, slurred speech, memory lapses, drowsiness, and lurching walk. Results from lowering of the body's inner temperature. Caused by exposure to cold, wind, wet, and overexertion. Keep the victim dry, warm, and out of the wind, giving him or her warm fluids unless internally injured. Death can result from hypothermia.

WHITE OUT: Disorientation due to ground level clouds and zero visibility. Trust your compass. Slope of the mountain leads off to the west toward Mississippi Head, not back to the lodge. From the base of Crater Rock, simply following the southern tip of your compass needle will lead you very close to the top of the Palmer chair lift.

AVALANCHE: An avalanche beacon can save a life by dramatically reducing the amount of time needed to look for the victim. Don't go for help! A buried person must be rescued within 30 minutes, so you are the best hope for survival. Mark the place where you last saw the victim and search for him or her directly downslope. If the victim is not on the surface, probe the snow with a ski pole or an ice axe.

Safety Tips

  • Rent a Mount Hood Locator Unit, which is the best way for search and rescue groups to locate lost or injured climbers.
  • Tell someone at home your destination, route, time due back, and what equipment you are taking.
  • Be in good physical condition.
  • Climb with an experienced and competent leader.
  • Carry adequate clothing, food, and equipment. KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR EQUIPMENT.
  • Know your route.
  • NEVER climb alone. A roped party of three is the minimum for safety.
  • Be aware of weather conditions; it can be sunny one moment, a white-out the next. Register before climbing and check out upon return.


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