Friday, May 29, 2009

Mt. Hood

I grew up in Portland, where Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain at 11,249 feet, looms ever-present in the eastern sky (except when it's cloudy, which is often). I've wanted to climb it for a long time, and this week that dream became a reality. (Pictures)

I left work in California at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday to fly to Portland, where I arrived around 7 p.m. My mom picked me up, and I had about an hour at home to eat and repack my gear. We picked up Dave, Jake, and Blake in Portland and then headed up to the mountain. Dave has climbed Hood several times, and his brother Jake also has a lot of mountaineering experience, so we had a good group. It was fun talking with them about their adventures on the way up.

We arrived at the Timberline ski area parking lot at about 11:30 p.m. After getting our gear together and filling out our climbing permit, we boarded a snowcat that took us from the parking lot's 6,000 foot elevation up to the top of the Palmer lift above 8,000 feet. It's kind of cheating, but we just skipped the long, boring part of the climb. I like to think of it as "experience optimization".

Conditions were perfect as we started our climb at 12:15 a.m. (We climbed in the middle of the night to avoid ice and rock fall, which is less likely during the coldest part of the day, since it's more frozen in place.) The first two thirds of the climb was pretty straightforward—literally. We just walked straight forward up the mountain, heading due north up relatively gentle snow slopes. I kept wondering when the climb was going to start. Strangely for a big mountain, the wind was really calm. The night sky was clear and beautiful.

The terrain steepened as we approached Crater Rock, which is a rock tower in the middle of the volcanic crater. Crater Rock marks the transition between the relatively straightforward hike up a snowfield to the more technical ascent of the upper slopes. We arrived around 3:15 a.m., ahead of schedule. Since we wanted to summit at sunrise, we huddled up in a snow pit that some other climbers had dug and napped for about 45 minutes.

At 4 a.m. we pulled ourselves out of our cocoon and geared up for the climb ahead. We fastened crampons (metal spikes that grip steep snow and ice) to our boots, donned harnesses, roped up (so that if one person falls, other team members can stop their fall), and pulled out our ice axes (used to prevent and stop falls).

We were back on the route at 4:30 a.m., with 700 vertical feet to go, but they were the steepest and most challenging part of the climb. We would ascend up the Hogsback (a sharply creased snow ridge), traverse left under ice-covered cliffs, and then climb a steep couloir (chute) to the summit ridge. There was a danger of ice and rock fall from the cliffs above, and a danger of trauma and asphixiation if we fell down the steep, icy slopes to the fumaroles (volcanic vents) below. We were a little worried about ice and rock fall since it had been pretty warm for the last few days. Two people were injured in the same area just a week and a half ago.

The final part of the climb turned out to go pretty smoothly, and we pulled it off without incident. The last pitch of the ascent, up a very steep (perhaps 45 degree) section called the 2 o'clock couloir, was a lot of fun, although the constant stream of small ice crystals flowing down it made me a little nervous. I just hoped that one of those little crystals' big brothers didn't decide to tumble down while I was in it, since there would be no way to avoid it in the narrow chute.

I crested the summit ridge right as the sun started to poke above the horizon. The view was breathtaking, with sunlight reflecting off the Columbia River and glittering off the snow, and three large Cascade volcanoes (St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams) visible in the distance. We snapped a few pictures, enjoyed the view, and then traversed the short distance east along the ridge to the summit. We had the summit to ourselves for 10 or 15 minutes before other climbers started showing up.

After playing around and relaxing for a little while—but not too long, because the potentially unstable ice was starting to warm—we headed back down. We took a gentler, more-traveled route down than we had come up, skipping the 2 o'clock couloir for the safer (but still pretty steep) slopes of the Old Chute. By the time we were heading down, the crowds were thickening. There were many people on the summit, and even more below us ascending. We tried to avoid knocking ice down onto the teams below us, but yelled "ice!" whenever the unavoidable happened.

The climb down to the Hogsback was fun. At the base of the Hogsback we put away the technical gear, opting for just ice axes on the lower mountain. We glissaded (sat down and slid) in some places, and ran and walked down others. We made it down to the groomed corduroy runs served by Timberline's Palmer lift, and picked up some serious speed glissading on the smooth ski slopes. We were going so fast we had to slow down to avoid melting our pants.

Unfortunately, a ski patroller ruined our fun when he came over and said that we had to get off the slopes since the lifts were going to start operating. The last couple miles of the descent, down the side of the Palmer and Magic Mile runs, took what seemed like an eternity, but we eventually made it back to the car around 9:30 a.m.

I slept most of the way home, and went straight from the car to bed, where I slept for 10 hours. I got up, at some food, and slept for another 10 hours, waking up at 6:15 this morning. Two days of little sleep followed by one of none had taken their toll on me.

Climbing Mt. Hood was amazing. The scenery was beautiful, the climbing was fun, the weather was perfect, and the company was great. I'd love to do it again!

More pictures are available in the picture gallery.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to sound snooty

There's been a dearth of commentary on verbiage around here lately (actually, a dearth of verbiage at all, as someone pointed out to me today). Here are some bonus tips for you.

Everyone likes to sound pompous every once in a while. If you're one of those ones, and now is one of those whiles, then I'd recommend the following:
  • Replace "while" with "whilst". Even better, use it whilst—er, while—speaking out loud.
  • Use "one" as an impersonal pronoun. You know, like, "When one finds oneself in the company of the masses, one is prone to turn up one's nose." If you want to come down from your throne, use "you" instead. (Grammar Girl has a more thorough treatment of this topic.)
  • Use "amongst". Similar to "whilst", you probably wouldn't use this word amongst your friends.
Have fun snooting!

Addendum: "an historic" should definitely be on the list. That one makes me want to throw up—unless you're English, in which case you're excused.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

First responder

I saw a man get hit by a car on Friday.

The experience was kind of surreal, like out of a movie. I was driving south on Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara at 45 MPH, approaching an intersection a little after 11 a.m. Our light was green. As I neared the intersection, I saw a man on the concrete median start running across the highway, right in front of oncoming traffic. One car missed the guy. The next car, the one right in front of me, wasn't so lucky. The driver slammed on his brakes and swerved hard, but wasn't able to avoid hitting the guy. He hit the man with his left front fender and immediately pulled over. The guy was laying in the road on his back, motionless.

Traffic just stopped. Several people looked on, apparently not sure of what to do. A few were on their phones, calling 911. The driver got out of his car and ran over to the pedestrian. Strangely, everyone else stayed in their cars for a minute.

I pulled over and walked over to the victim. The driver was there, trying to talk to him, and another man was hunched over him, on the phone with 911, explaining our location and describing the man's condition. The victim, perhaps 55 years old, was alive. He had a pulse, but was having a hard time breathing. He had a few external lacerations, but wasn't bleeding badly anywhere. He was conscious, but wasn't responding to questions. The impact had literally knocked the shoes off his feet. Both shoes were 10 or 15 feet away, in different directions. The man, who had started out at the edge of the intersection, was now 15 or 20 feet down the road.

A guy wearing a fluorescent vest pulled up behind us in a big orange construction truck. He turned on his flashing lights and set up traffic cones to protect the accident area. The fire department showed up within four or five minutes, and the fire chief went to work, directing onlookers and his men. A crowd of 10-15 people had gathered around, and the chief directed everyone who hadn't witnessed the accident to stand over on the sidewalk. He had me stay there, along with the driver and another car that had seen the accident.

The fire department was short-staffed at first, so they had the driver hold the victim's head (to stabilize his neck) while they examined him. After they realized that it was the driver, though they had him step away, and asked me to come help. I was hunched over this man who was struggling to breathe, holding his bleeding head in my hands while they cut the clothes off his body, checked his breathing, put an oxygen mask on him, and moved him onto a flat board to prepare to load him onto a stretcher.

Another fire truck arrived a few minutes later, and one of the fire fighters replaced me. An ambulance showed up a few minutes after that, and they loaded the guy into it and drove away. The police arrived and interviewed those of us who had seen the accident.

I felt really bad for the driver who hit the man. There was nothing he could have done to avoid the accident, since the man ran right out in front of four lanes of high-speed traffic. I hit a dog once in high school, and I felt terrible, like I never wanted to drive again. I can only imagine how the driver must have felt after hitting a person. I was impressed with how he dealt with the situation. He stayed calm and did everything he should have.

Being so involved in the accident made me realize that many of my skills are pretty lacking. Thankfully, in this case the man was breathing, his heart was beating, he was conscious (sort of), he wasn't bleeding badly, and professional emergency responders showed up within minutes. What if he had been hurt worse, though? What if he had gotten hurt far from professional help?

My response to the accident wasn't perfect. I should have blocked traffic with my car, rather than pulling over. I should approached the scene immediately, rather than waiting a minute to decide what to do. I've taken basic first aid courses, but it's been a while. I don't really remember how to do CPR. I'm pretty sure I remember how to do resuscitation, but I'm a little fuzzy on that, too. I've been considering taking an EMT class for a while, and this experience made me realize that those skills could make a huge difference. Most days, it doesn't matter if you know first aid. Most days no one gets hurt. But on the days when people do get hurt, a person with those skills could be the difference between life and death. I'd like to be prepared to be that person.