Gear packed, camera charged, Subaru gassed up... go time!
Nothing gets you amped to scale a mountain like driving to the parking lot the night before, rolling out your sleeping bag next the car, and sleeping in the cold fresh air. It's basically like acclimatizing for Everest just on a much smaller scale. Sadly though, when you get to the parking lot at 11:00pm and your alarm begins to go off at 2:30am, you don't quite get the best nights sleep. Nothing a double chocolate chip Costco muffin can't fix though!
Once finally geared up the climb began, and seeing as our end game was to only reach Illumination Rock and not the full summit of Mt Hood, we could see the constant glow of climbers' lights in a straight line of those slowly making their way higher and higher along the face of Oregon's most famous peak.
As we slowly hiked through the darkness of the night, the first true realization that summer was almost here became clear when instead of our crampons making solid contact with freshly hardened snow and ice, they fell through the many layers of warmed slush. The climb instantly turned into a game of two steps forward, one step back until we could gain enough elevation to reach a more hardened path. And so we continued, making small talk to stay awake as we slowly step by step trudged on towards our goal.
Having finally crossed the bottom of Palmer Glacier and reaching ground our crampons could work properly on, we were granted with perhaps the most colorful and surreal sunrise I have seen all year. What began with simple tones of blue and purple, quickly transitioned into warmer hues of yellow and orange as the sun crested above the distant hills and slowly shone upon us. With just a sprinkling of clouds amongst the sky it quickly turned into en explosion of colorful, with me clicking the shutter button of my camera as quickly as my fingers would let me. As with any sunrise though, the magnificence of it's beauty dissipated just as quickly as it arrived and within minutes the show was over. Time to get back to work and farther up the mountain!
It was at this point where the mountain decided to change things up a bit and produce a slowly increasing gust of constant wind, and although we were thankful for the natural air conditioning to help keep our bodies cooled on the grueling climb, our exposed faces and hands had other opinions in mind as with each gust they got more and more chapped.
The final push to Illumination Rock, and by the steepest of our trek, began just past the top of the Palmer Glacier. Luckily with so many climbers having pushed for the summit in the past few days the steep glacier standing in our path was cut with footsteps in the ice from such use and proved to be as simple as running up the stairs in your house. Step by step, the rock face we had targeted before our ascent grew in size until we were finally standing before it in whole, taking a moment to shout a victorious WOOP into the air for all to hear.
By this time, not only had those making a summit attempt reached their final destination, they were already headed back down... and many of them in style. With skis strapped to their feet, there was no mistaking the joy of the climbers as they hooted and hollered racing by those still finishing the climb. With a camera in hand they voluntarily changed course to cross in front of Illumination Rock, many of them trying to pose and throw their hands up in the air as I continued to track and shoot their movements.
Once we had our fill it was our time as well to make the descent back towards the parking lot. Without the help of skis to fasten our pace we resorted to the old school method of larger steps in the quickly slushing snow, which helped carry our weight down the hill in a time much faster than it took us to reach the top. Reaching the car at a mere 12:00pm, there was still plenty of time to eat lunch and head out to the next adventure! Or maybe we could wait till tomorrow ;)