North Carolina Highpoint – Mount Mitchell

The North Carolina state highpoint, Mount Mitchell, is the highest point in the US that is East of the Mississippi River.

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Logistically it is simple to climb Mount Mitchell, as it boasts a convenient parking lot just 100′ from the summit and a paved path to reach it. However, my traveling companions and I wanted to get some exercise so we parked at the ranger station on highway 128 and hiked the couple of miles to the summit. This was a pleasant and shaded stroll with some minor steep sections to work up a sweat. It feels better to “earn” a summit even when there is a simpler option of driving.

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Tennessee Highpoint – Clingmans Dome

My visit to Clingmans Dome was part of a week-long road trip through Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky that featured a great deal of wonderful food and drink (bourbon). I hit Clingman’s Dome while driving from Nashville, TN, to Asheville, NC, thinking this somewhat remote peak would be a quick stop for a calming ~1 mile hike.

Although the hike was indeed that short, what blew my mind was the utter zoo of people who had the exact same idea that day. There were several hundred other people crowding the trail, and cars backed up so uch on the road it was easier to park a half mile away and walk to the trailhead.

Now that I’m re-reading it, the Sumitpost page does say it is the most visited highpoint. But why? The hike so short it doesn’t make sense to go through that hassle. It must be some combination of the holiday week (this was July 2, 2017), the proximity to Dollywood, and nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park that draws the crowds.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable jaunt to the top to see the flying saucer tower, sneak my first peak of the Appalachian Trail, and have my fourth highpoint in the books.

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Oregon Highpoint – Mount Hood

Preparing for Adventure

In March, 2015, I took an “Introduction to Mountaineering” class through Kaf Adventures. This was 8 hours of classroom time focused on learning the basics of glacier travel, avalanche danger, and route planning. That day jump-started what has since become a wonderful way to experience breathtaking views while pushing myself physically and mentally. It also introduced me to some great friends and climbing partners with whom I could go on all these adventures.

Gaining mountaineering skills also created the opportunity to summit some of the more challenging state highpoints, as there are around five that require significant technical climbing. After a solid first climbing season in 2015 (which included summits of Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams), I targeted Mount Hood for 2016 as an early season climb (due to high rockfall later in the year).

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Mt. Hood from near Timberline Lodge

Therefore, on July 2, 2016, my climbing partner and I drove down from Seattle to Oregon to attempt my third state highpoint, and the first that required an ice axe.

Alpine Start

Due to the high risk of rockfall on the route, we wanted to get an early start and decided to spend the night in the Timberline Lodge parking lot at 5,800′. They don’t allow tents there, so we simply slept (or tried to…) in the car from 8pm until midnight, when we woke up to start the climb.

Surviving the Ski Area

If you start the climb at 10am, you can just take the ski lift up nearly 3,000′; but then you would be facing rockfall for the rest of the day.

Instead we we walked up snowy but plowed roads by headlamp in the middle of the night. For whatever reason I didn’t expect that there would be so much activity on the mountain at that time. But the snow cats responsible for grooming the year-round skii slopes run throughout the night. Several times we had to hustle off the road when we saw bright lights or heard their rumble.

I think going up the plowed roads was simply a Hood-rookie mistake. Other climbers were walking up right underneath the ski lift line. This seemed like a much more straightforward and safe way to go, and is what I would do next time.

Sunrise

Above the ski area we witnessed a beautiful pink-hued sunrise with views of Jefferson and the Three Sisters to the south.

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Morning alpenglow of Jefferson and Sisters

There was a mix of snow and rock along the steady climb under clear skies up to Crater Rock at 10,000′ or so.

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Ascending in Mt. Hood’s pointy shadow

Routefinding

Our original plan was to climb the South Side (Hogsback) route, which is known to be the simplest and most popular. Once we got to Crater Rock, however, we talked with a few other groups and learned that the bergschrund on that route was too big to cross safely, so most parties were instead traversing and using the Old Chute Variation instead. That made sense to us, so we got out our map to review what was next.

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View of Devil’s Kitchen from near Crater Rock

That was when the clouds rolled in and we were completely thrown into white-out conditions. We sat down for a break and to see if we could wait it out. We didn’t want to continue up in those conditions because we weren’t familiar with that new route; I had read a lot and watched videos about Hogsback, but knew nothing about Old Chute.

After 15 minutes of waiting in the persistent clouds, we decided it was best to turn around and start back down the mountain. Disappointed, we stood up and put on our packs. And that’s when we had a lucky break, and the clouds blew away just as quickly as they arrived.

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Ascending up to Old Chute alongside one of the few roped-up groups

 

Clear Above

We of course knew the clouds could return at any moment, but we also knew we could again decide to turn back at that point. So we seized the opportunity and continued our ascent along Old Chute. Fortunately we had beautiful clear skies the rest of the day.

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View back down to Crater Rock from near Old Chute

Old Chute was steep and filled with gravelly ice that gave only partial purchase when I kicked my crampons in. The ice pellets would easily dislodge, causing hikers below to be pelted as they ascended. That being said, it was a lot of fun scrambling up that section and an utter surprise that it ended in the summit.

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Final climb/scramble up Old Chute (you can see someone at the top)

On Top of Oregon

The summit of Mt. Hood differs from other volcanoes I’ve been on (Adams, Baker) because it is not very big. I didn’t find the summit ridge nearly as scary as what I had pictured from my online research. From it we had beautiful views all around of Rainier, Adams, Jefferson, and more!

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On the summit of Mt. Hood

This video is my summit panorama, but be warned the volume is loud and it was moderately windy that day.

Reflecting

As I write this, two years have passed since climbing Mt. Hood and it still remains my most favorite climb. That final ascent through the Old Chute was a challenging blast, and how it emptied out onto the narrow summit ridge was a great climax to a roller coaster day. I’m definitely happy with the decision not to bring rope and harness. I made this climb in my mountaineering boots, but I would consider doing it in my La Sportiva Wildcat GTX trail runners (still with crampons of course). One thing I would definitely change: don’t try to drive all the way back to Seattle immediately afterwards. Take a nap somewhere!

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My climbing partner descending through Old Chute

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