Steven Marquis, Assistant Lead
So my teams and I climbed Mount Hood for Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation June 7-8, 2016. A film crew came along for a documentary of our story and the climb. Look for it some time toward the end of this year! Meanwhile, Steven Marquis, assistant expedition leader, and I made it to the summit. Below is a well-written summary told by Steven. I think you’ll like it!
Perhaps a small thing for accomplished climbers, Mt Hood was never on my bucket list due to its bad reputation for killing climbers; not particularly for its difficulty but primarily due to notoriously fast changes in weather. This trip would only add justification to that reputation. I had contacted a few friends about climbing Shasta this year in July when Jeff Sondermeyer responded suggesting I might consider joining him in June to assist him guiding a handful or two of newbies up Mt, Hood.
The cause was a good one, to raise awareness for Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation
and support the team’s trying to aid families and cure the children of some devastating conditions. One father, who had only 2 years ago lost a child
to cancer, had put together this fund and visibility raising expedition.
I immediately agreed to be Jeff’s assistant guide, knowing he had summited this peak 3 times before. We would “Climb for Kids” this time. I flew into Oregon Monday and helped the team acquire appropriate clothing at REI and rent the climbing gear. The team was smaller than we had planned for but that made our job easier, as it only takes one newbie with a problem to take out one guide.
So we started the expedition with a Cameraman, Josh Morgan, and his girlfriend and editor/audio production specialist, Cassandra McManus, Chad Barrett the organizer, Jeff Sondermeyer and myself, Steve Marquis, a veteran of a number of Western States mountains and modest rock climbing, but I considered Jeff my mountain mentor with far more experience in the most extreme conditions.
Tuesday morning, we caravanned to the Government Camp Ski area, got our permits from a self-serve station and donned those heavy packs. Even without the big ropes of glacier travel, I outfitted with a bivie bag , a major medical kit, plenty of ribbon and 50’
of glacier rope for make shift emergency. I topped out 46+ pounds. My sleeping bag is unique and can be converted to a major puffy jacket with arm holes etc to be warn as a moomoo. All this goes with me even to the summit and would each play a role in our safe success.
The sun was super bright by 10-11 when we started up the scree. We were all lathered up with sunscreen for sure. The route pretty much follows the perimeter of a ski area almost all the way to high camp, and more than once I mused to myself about just getting a lift ticket! But I also just enjoy being out hiking. My pack felt good. I was one with the mountain and amongst good souls about a good cause.
We stopped only occasionally and made pretty decent elevation gain arriving about 4pm at 9000’ at some rock bands that would be our home. There is nothing flat about this place and so an hour of digging commenced to make tent platforms – the wind kicked up too to give us a bit of evening challenge making water and supper. This all seemed to take a modest chunk of the evening. It was a
beautiful night but high lenticular clouds swirled about the peak portending the arrival of more significant weather–as predicted.
Still the window looked good for a summit bid as long as we started early. The plan was to get up at 2 and be walking by 3.
Wed Morning 2AM
From left to right: Josh Morgan, Cassandra McManus, Chad Barrett
The gentle harp music of my alarm jostled me back to reality. Wind was whipping our tent challenging my desire to leave our cocoon. That’s why God invented wind proof outer gear! I stirred and groaned a bit and shuffled and wiggled into my gear until quite insulated from the blast, stepped out into the star studded expanse. Super. The weather is still holding the clouds below us.
Jeff and I were ready pretty fast, but we watched as minutes and an hour+ rolled by as our newbie friends fiddled and fiddled with
gear. We patiently sat and talked and watched, offering a bit of encouragement, but mostly just waited…4am arrived and finally, with a word of prayer for our safety and the cause, we began the trudge. Partly due to just getting the blood moving and partly due to the layers of gear, the assent seemed taxing as the day before. For those of us with emergency gear, the pack was lighter but still had modest weight. That helps keep me from racing though–still good. We had about 2000 feet to go to the caldera, and we made 750’ feet / hour heading in a tight zig-zag up the steepening hillside.
We passed the great chasm of glacier clefts and bergschrunds, but had no crevasse dangers we could see to
contend with. Nearer to the Caldera it was steeper yet and light now so we stopped had a snack and Jeff and I taught
Ice Axe arrest. Josh and Cassandra looked pretty spent and pretty much just watch the demonstration, but Chad was pretty spry and practiced the moves. That was telling enough as to who would make the final pitch. I was pretty sure they’d all make it to the
Caldera, but that would be the high spot for me and them. Jeff and I had discussed how to handle a sick or weak climber and I volunteered to descend with any struggling climbers.
We crossed one snow bridge in the caldera zone. Cassandra was leading and despite not feeling too well from the altitude and
High camp @ 9,000′
exertion was pushing herself well and making a decent pace for the team. I was proud of how well she did going much farther and higher than she and Jeff thought; all the way to the top of the caldera looking directly to the final pitch and summit ridge–a few hundred feet farther.
Now that might seem sooo close, but that last pitch is very steep, deceptively long and icy. Strength, stamina, mental hardness, and ice axe skills and rope gear would be imperative to not only attain the summit but to return – still in the land of the living!
To our surprise, after a few minutes taking in the volcanic scene with yellows and orange and steam fumaroles belching wafts of sulfurous plumes all about, Josh drops to one knee and asks Cassandra if she will marry him. In tears she says yes. (The response must have been a known conclusion else that would be a pretty gutsy move in public.) Her expression, one of sweet joy. Cool…
Then Jeff turns to me and tells me he will take Josh and Cassandra down if I feel confident in taking Chad to the top. I was surprised and reminded Jeff that I was prepared to take them down as we discussed. He looks at me and says, “I know you want this! And I’ve done it 3 times–its nothing to me–Go.”
A woman climber with 2 dogs in tow passed down near us, and to our astonishment one of the hounds had only 3 legs! This only added encouragement. I assured Jeff that I could do it, and so we separated to make the summit bid. I don’t recall asking if she got to the top or not and if so with or without the dogs, but as we worked our way up the steepening caldera wall, I was increasingly wondering what route that could have possibly been. We picked the most likely, most traveled snow chute but the farther up we worked the steeper it got. Compounding the challenge, the steeper it got, the icier it became. The twisting chute only slowly revealed its troubles such that its final difficulties were not exposed to view until one was quite committed and rather exposed.
Down climbing without harnesses and rope seemed a poor option. Finishing this harrowing ice chute only slightly better, but
About to scale the ice wall
thinking there must be a better alternate path I told Chad to keep on–he was doing great. We were front-pointing, kicking steppes into the ice stairs for best purchase–chasing chip ice off the treds and aggressively burying the pick into the slope directly in our face–and then pull and step praying each step that the feet and pick will hold against the stiff draw upwards to the summit. At last we spilled out to the narrow cap the makes up the volcanoes knife edge and breathed hard a sigh of mental and physical relief.
Relief, however, is a bit of an exaggeration as the wind was so strong 50-70 mph, we guessed, that one dare not get too
near any edge. Standing tall was out of the question and too cold pressed a sense of intense urgency.
The view was spectacular and crystal clear to the horizon. I never saw all the mountain peaks like that–the Sisters, Jefferson, Adams, Helens, Rainier seemed to surround this sentinel on each side–I had a feeling of awe and strangely… calm. The sheer harshness demanded urgency but I felt no fear nor dread-only an intense gratitude to My Father in Heaven for preserving us and calming our hearts in the midst of a great storm. I thought how this was true and could be true in any of the storms my life has had and would yet endure. I cherish that I’ve been blessed to be part of Gods ‘rope team’ low these many years since as a late teen I came to know of his goodness and ever care. I thought of the many who perished from cancer for which we climbed today who will always live large in the hearts of their loved ones. I thought of the only real solace in such tragedies being a knowledge of our Lord and Savior and the great work of restoration that in a small way I had been a part of. I serenaded Chad with my traditional hymn about the last days and the restoration of all things-oddly completely off key as the wind and face mask seemed to seriously distort my best effort.
Steve and Chad on the summit!
High on a mountain top,
a banner is unfurled,
Ye nations now look up,
it waves to all the world.
In deseret, sweet peaceful land,
on Zions mount behold it stands.
My Son Jordon and I started that tradition many years back when we 1st tackled Mt Buckner from the horseshoe Canyon. It’s a bit quirky but quirky suits me. I then had to find the best way off. A few fellow climbers took our pictures and pointed out the path they had taken but when we looked it over after they had left I was struck with wonder and astonishment as to how they had done it; 3 feet wide snow covered ridge/swale, perhaps a hundred feet long with sheer drop offs of hundreds and thousands of feet the whole way. Add to that insanity was the gusting wind that must have been 50-70 mph making it ferociously difficult to even stand let alone
negotiate such a death trap; yet that is just what they did, preferring that snowy ridge to the icy chute we had come up!
Wow, there was no easy or particularly safe path off this rock; we would have to improvise for our secure retreat. It was so harsh and such a burden weighing on me I should have been anxious, but I felt nothing of the sort but only an urgency to accomplish the skills before my hands turned too numb. From my bag of goodies, I pulled out ribbon and a 50’ section of 6mm. We would have to make a short roped belay to protect each other on the way down the icy chute.
After tying our ice axes and rope and harnesses together, I explained over the wind how we would slinky or leap from each other’s full hilt into the snow belay–thus only one person would move at a time. This time I would be on top and Chad below; the typical place for a newbie, but honestly, he was such a natural sure footed goat with his head solidly in
Left is Jeff Sondermeyer, Expedition Lead and Founder of BroMan Expeditions.
the game, he could have taken either spot. Painstakingly we worked our way down–on the steepest iciest section, one of my brand new crampons worked its way loose and so, standing like a one legged stork and hanging off my belay, bracing and wobbling with the gusts, I managed to replaced it only to find it work itself off again. This time I foreshortened it and this time it held.
At last we left the ice chute for just steep firm snow and descended pretty quickly from there back to the volcano’s inner domes. We wanted to step out to where the steam vents were, but then we could feel the soil becoming soft–that’s not a good sign and so prudence dictated a hasty retreat to the well-trod path. Then as we moved down to the Hogsback, the wind showed its force in a spectacular way. Cloud decks from below now gathered height and streamed just above us like a razor sharp blanket being dragged
across the sky at high speed–or perhaps like a river, it poured just overhead and then slammed into the volcanic rim now behind us, rolling up and billowing chaotic contrast to the preceding river like smoothness–and then it suddenly descended to eye level and threatened to cut off all visibility to our goal. I studied the terrain in certain anticipation of impending total blindness. The mountain did not disappoint and in seconds we could see nothing–no features of significance anywhere.
My GPS enabled iPhone refused to cooperate for more than a few moments before the cold’s grip killed the battery and shut its little brain down. But we did have a vector and a firm understanding of the general slope, but soon enough all looked quite unfamiliar. We’d come to a rock band and guess–couldthis be it? Then it occurred to me to position the phone to my skin and from then on I could get just enough time to get a new vector to camp before it collapse. We knew we were getting close, but 50’ visibility was tops.
A butt glissade beckoned, and we both jumped in a whooped it up sliding down to what we hoped would be neared to camp. I hollered–“let’s stop and recheck!” So we rolled on to our ice axe and stopped and low and behold–the GPS indicated we were a scant 300’ from camp–I pointed in the direction to Chad and at that very instant, the fog parted just over our camp and revealed the tents! “There it is,” we hallooed in delight, and then the fog decked it again. We practically raced the little distance to our awaiting companions.
We were so late coming down, that Jeff had already notified the high camp rangers of our potential
trouble high on the mountain so all were very grateful to see both of our faces as were we to see theirs!
Looking back to the summit. That’s the storm we were in!
Cassandra had gotten very wet and cold and was reported as shivering in her tent and with the wind so
high, there was concern we might have to overnight–but I had one more trick in my bag. My down moomoo bag. I popped my head in and handed her the special bag and asked here to shed all her wet clothes right worn to the skin and put the moomoo bag on so that I and Josh could dry her wet things–so she passed all the clothing out and we tied it and variously waved it in the howling wind. Everything–absolutely everything was dried as a bone on 20 minutes and the dry and cocooned Cassandra was now feeling quite toasty and in good spirits!
Breaking down camp in such wind is tricky and both Jeff and I regaled with tales of tents sailing off down wind, so one man was assigned to do nothing but hang on whist his companions unclipped and folded, etc. It seemed slow as we watched and sometimes helped the new mountain goats fuss with their packs but within an hour we all had backpacks on and said a fond farewell to our temporary home and wonderful experience that will live long and fond in our memories. The next 1000 feet of butt glissading
down into the awaiting sun was just icing on the cake! I would say our prayers and training and commitment paid off well.