Sounds like a fantastic way to climb Mount Hood — and for a great cause. (Big City Mountaineers)
It sounds like the setup for some kind of a joke, but it really was just the climbing hodgepodge we threw together on short notice for an early September run at the summit of one of the Cascade’s grandest peaks, Mount Adams. I’d gotten the invite from my friend, Tim, the photographer, while on my way to Mount Hood’s Cooper Spur with the kids, which itself has a stunning view of Adams to the north.
While I consider myself an enthusiastic climber these days, I’m not the avid one I used to be for all kinds of grown-up reasons. Still, I love getting out into the big hills around here and, if at all possible, climbing to the top of at least one of them every year. Mount Hood, St. Helens, Adams, maybe throw in an occasional South or Middle Sister here and there. Something.
But by the first of September, with the school year just around the corner from Labor Day and with an annual summit attempt nowhere behind or in front of me, I’d pretty much come to grips that 2012 would likely go down without me having made it all the way up anything of real alpine worth. Sigh.
Tim’s call changed that, however, and just two days after returning from Cooper Spur, we were on our way up Adams’ classic South Spur.
Because it was mid-week of the first week of school, we essentially had the mountain to ourselves. Because it was early September in the Northwest, the weather was fantastic. And because Christian, one of the brewers, has some close ties to Hopworks Urban Brewery, we had some ideal refreshments — naturally chilled — for camp at the Lunch Counter.
The next morning, bright and early, climbing conditions couldn’t have been sweeter. Cool enough to refresh at sunrise and keep the snowfield solid for crampons, bright, sunny, calm, and warm enough to make it feel like the height-of-summer day it was. A perfect time to be in the mountains.
I’ve been in these summit shots on the 12,276-foot Mount Adams six times now, four after climbing the South Spur, two from the Mazama Glacier. The earlier images remind me of the initial thrill and bite of climbing; others capture trips where we watched paragliders soaring off the false summit or listened to a guitar and mandolin duo strumming from their campsite up top. This most recent one makes me glad that I got my head in the right place, that I worked late at night to make up for the lost time, and that we all got a real summit in for the year.
It’s Mother’s Day, and every year on Mother’s Day, I not only remember to call and send my love to my mom in Ohio, but I also think about a particular Cascade mountain. Not Mount Hood, but St. Helens, which lies about 60 miles northwest of Hood.
There’s an incredible tradition that happens every year on Mount St. Helens on Mother’s Day. Amy and I have been part of it twice during our time in the Northwest, and I have to say, it’s one of the most unique ways to express appreciation for the mother in your life that I’ve ever come across.
In honor of Mother’s Day 2012, here’s a column I wrote about that tradition back on May 18, 2002, when I was honing my chops as a reporter and photographer for the Canby Herald newspaper.
Enjoy, and Happy Mother’s Day.
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and in honor of my wonderful mother, I sent a card, made the ritual phone call, and donned a blue and green tie-dyed dress for a climb to the top of Mount St. Helens.
Indeed, it was not your average Mother’s Day tribute.
But like all of those faithful sons and daughters who either bought Mom a bouquet or made her breakfast in bed on Sunday, I was not alone in my gesture of appreciation.
For one, my fiancée, Amy, was with me on the mountain. She, too, paid homage to her wonderful mother — my soon-to-be mother-in-law — by wearing a dress for the long slog up the Pacific Northwest’s most infamous volcano. (By the way, St. Helens, also known as Loowit, blew its top exactly 22 years ago today.) I reluctantly concede that Amy’s dress, with its purple, blue and pink floral patterns, was much more flattering on her than mine was on me.
And then there were the literally hundreds of other climbers who made their way up and down the mountain on Sunday. The majority of them were bedecked in dresses, skirts and gowns similar to those no doubt on display at Mother’s Day brunches — or weddings, proms, square dances or Scottish caber tosses — across the country.
On our way up and down, we saw polka dots and stripes, flowers and paisleys. There were miniskirts, bridesmaid dresses, kilts, and old schoolmarm frocks. We also noticed costume pearls, a hot-pink feather boa, and at least one blonde wig.
Lest the reader be mislead, these garments were worn, in most cases, over the standard climbing ensemble. Under the sunshine and blue skies of last Sunday, that included stiff boots, synthetic pants and shirts, backpacks, sunglasses, and the most essential of accessories, the ice axe.
There were, of course, those fellow climbers who were unaware of the fashion protocol of the day. One bewildered alpinist heaved up to us just below the summit, a perplexed look on his face.
“Can you explain something to me?” he asked. “What’s with all the dresses?”
We smiled between gulps of water and wished him a happy Mother’s Day.
Rumors abound as to the origin of the Mount Saint Helens Mother’s Day tradition. Perhaps it began with the Bergfreunde Ski Club, a Portland-based ski club formed in 1966 to promote skiing and other recreational activities. I called these “mountain friends,” but they weren’t sure if their club had formally come up with the dress idea or not.
I next tried the Mazamas, one of the larger and more well- known mountaineering groups in the Northwest. Their club, the name of which is Nahuatl for mountain goat, has been associated with the local mountaineering scene since July 19, 1894. It was on that date that prospective members of the club first convened on the summit of Mount Hood.
“It may have just been one of those spontaneous things that caught on,” one club member said of the Mother’s Day tradition. “Who really started it, I don’t know.”
There’s also the Ptarmigans, another climbing club that has been exploring the Cascades since the mid 1960s. Mike Dianich, a member and longtime mountaineer who has climbed Saint Helens 22 times as of Sunday, said other than the local climbing clubs, he didn’t know who may have slipped into the first Mother’s Day dress on Mount Saint Helens.
But if the origin of the tradition remains a mystery, the reasoning behind it is a bit more definitive. Simply put, those who climb the 8,300-foot volcano in a dress on Mother’s Day are honoring their moms, thanking them for all they have done over the years.
It is also a gesture of obeisance from those sons and daughters who live far away from their mothers; from those who, like me, cannot express their gratitude in person every year on Mother’s Day.
So this year, as Amy and I plodded more than 5,000 feet up the flanks of St. Helens in our dresses, I thought of my mother and how she has helped me become who I am; how she has shared her kindness with me and given so much of herself — all so that I can enjoy the life that I do.
And when we got to the top of the mountain, with Spirit Lake down below and Mount Rainier and Mount Hood floating in the distance, I looked east toward Ohio, and waved to my mom.
Last year, when I signed up for the annual Lake Run 5K, I kind of positioned it as part of some training to get myself in shape for a possible climb of Mount Hood. It was just before the release of On Mount Hood, so a climb up the namesake mountain seemed in order.
But I never ended up getting around to it. No valid excuses, really. Sure, the weather last year was lame, I was busy with the family, the book, life. But if you want to climb Mount Hood, or any mountain, really, it’s usually more a matter of making it a priority, focusing on it, making it happen. I’ve climbed Mount Hood four times before, but I never made it happen last year.
This year’s not looking great, either. We have been doing some hiking, I’ve been running, and I again signed up to run the Lake Run. But climbing Hood, for me anyway, takes some more dedication, some stout training hikes like Dog Mountain and, the real test, Mount Defiance. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to focus like that this season, as much as I want to.
But it’s still early. The snow’s still deep up high on the mountain. There’s still a chance. There’s always still a chance.
As I’ve mentioned before, everyone around here seems to have their own connection to or story about Mount Hood.
I got to talking with Kim Cooper Findling, an Oregon writer and author of Chance of Sun: An Oregon Memoir and Day Trips from Portland, Oregon, the other day at a local book and author fair, and she shared one of hers with me. In a way, though, it wasn’t entirely hers, but that of Marion May, her grandmother, who climbed Mount Hood in 1938.
(All photos in this post courtesy of Kim Cooper Findling)
Kim said her grandmother, who was born and raised in Portland and lived most of her adult life in Forest Grove, was 28 when she made the haul to the summit of Mount Hood in a group led by her pastor. It was a time of old-school alpenstocks, wool clothing, fedoras, and fixed ropes running up Cooper Spur.
It was also back when a lookout cabin still crowned the summit of Hood. (That’s Marion at the far right, in profile.)
Kim said she’s not climbed the mountain herself. But she’s written about it a bit in her books, and she’s snowshoed high enough on it to be inspired to go the rest of the way someday:
I myself haven’t climbed. The closest was when my husband and I stayed at Timberline years ago. I, being not much of a skier, hauled a pair of snowshoes out to the flanks of the mountain and climbed straight up for a good long while before I got tired and it started to get dark. Even that small experience gave me a sense of the stillness, beauty, steepness, and peace of the mountain. I loved being alone in that stillness. I’ll have to work through my fear of exposure, but climbing Hood is definitely on my list.
Many thanks, Kim, for sharing both your grandmother’s photos and your stories of Mount Hood.
There’s nothing like it.
Standing on top of or even just high up on a mountain as grand and as beautiful as Mount Hood can be a truly amazing experience.
Climbing Oregon’s tallest peak, which an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people attempt to do every year, can also be exhausting, unnerving, dangerous, and even deadly.
Two of my favorite chapters in On Mount Hood explore the world of climbing on Mount Hood. It’s a subject that has fascinated me since the day I first saw the mountain back in 1997.
Tonight, (March 29, 2012),Oregon Public Broadcasting’s show Oregon Field Guide takes its own look at climbing the mountain in an episode called “Mount Hood: Climbing Oregon’s Highest Peak.” It airs at 8:30 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 1. It will also be online in the not-too-distant future. Judging by these short videos here, it should be a great show for any and all fans of the mountain.