7/7/12 UPDATE: Check out the successful ascent report here (http://www.jeffreyjhebert.com/adventures/sunshine-route-on-mount-hood-2).
Ever since my first visit to Mount Hood last summer, I've been thinking about heading up the North face of the mountain via the Sunshine Route. With a free weekend and awesome weather in the forecast, Jake, Bret, Kate, and I drove out of Seattle on Saturday morning, headed for glacier travel, steep snow climbing, and corn skiing.
We made the more scenic drove down via Ellensburg, Yakima, and Hood River. It was a perfect day and we started to get pretty excited when Hood came into view. We stopped in Hood River and asked around about road conditions. The report was that the road to Cloud Cap was in early April shape and that we would have to hike a ways in. Upon reaching the access road, we realized that the gate to the road was down, so we had to start at the Tilly Jane trailhead at about 3,800 ft. An older guy was just getting back from a car-to-car up Cooper Spur and told us that it was quite a slog to get to snow.
Regardless, we geared up for the hike in and donned ~70lb packs with our camping, climbing, and skiing gear. It was a solid 3+ miles and 2,000 ft up to Cloud Cap where we set up camp on the porch and enjoyed an amazing sunset. Bed time at 10pm only gave us about 5 hours of restless sleep before we woke up early for the ascent.
Thankfully, we left our camping gear at Cloud Cap, but we were still lugging a ton of gear up the mountain. It took about 2 more miles until we reached the glacier and donned our skis. Unfortunately, the early-morning spring conditions were quite icy and we quickly realized that skinning wasn't going to be the most efficient way to go. We strapped the skis back on and started back up with crampons.
It was slow-going with lots of weight and a pretty steep aspect across the glacier and up the snow dome. We reached the top of the dome at about 9,600 ft and took a breather. At this point, the Sunshine Route headed up a steep section above some crevasses, so we roped up and then continued up the face. We switch-backed up and then made a somewhat sketchy crevasse-crossing before traversing over to the ridge line. There were two options at that point for pressing on--a 60+ degree icy slope on the ridge or a thin snow-bridge spanning a crevasse and reaching the top of a large cornice. Neither one sat well with the rest of the crew, so we decided that would be our top elevation (10,300 ft).
The descent was incredibly fast and tons of fun. Things had softened up significantly and we thoroughly enjoyed our turns down the snow dome, across the glacier, and back to our gear stash. The rest of the hike out was pretty monotonous, but we cruised along at a good pace before staggering to the cars and stuffing our faces with day-old pizza and gatorade. It was a pretty big day, with 14 miles of distance and 6,900 feet of elevation change. Whew.