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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Devil's Kitchen HW on The Mind

Nick and I started talking about climbing a different route on the South Side of Hood back in January of 2009. We thought that Devil's Kitchen Headwall had a nice ring to it and we knew several of our friends who had successfully climbed this daunting title. Friends always give the best beta about a route. Weather looked promising on Valentine's Day '09. Nick, you and I are dates this year. Here are pictures from that saunter.
We stumbled our way up to Crater Rock and evaluated the wind loaded snow. Not happy with the consolidation and the bumbling clouds shrouding the summit, we practiced building screw anchors and then descended to Portland.Round 2 came again in February 2010. Only a few days under a year since our first attempt. Last time was a bit weird being just the 2 of us on Valentine's Day and all. Which lead our decision to include 2 more dudes to help spread the love. Patrick and Jer. Today felt good. We started early, the legs were strong, and the lungs working correctly. The snow was a bit iffy from the start, but it was hard to tell with snowshoes on. We worked our way over to the edge of the White River Canyon and continued on that line to just beneath Crater Rock. Then we noticed the boot track had stopped. But we didn't notice any hasty pits or other methods of snow evaluating being done. Well, Nick and I being the only ones there at that point, decided to move a bit higher and evaluate the conditions with a quick Rutschblock. While we dug this huge square block out, a crowd formed behind us watching intently. The block was ready. I carefully strolled above it to place myself on top of it and see what gives. A Rutschblock is a simple test in which you dig a block of snow about 4'-6' deep on 3 sides and cut a line on the back wall. You then run through a series of weight loading tests onto the top of the block to see at which point the various snow layers fail. As I shifted my weight very gently onto the block 2 well defined layers failed almost instantly. This means that Devil's Kitchen will have to wait yet again. We even turned around at the exact same point on the mountain as our last attempt.March was stormy on Hood. A month for thought and frustration at times while hoping for a good weather window allowing us to stroll on our old friend. Then about a week ago on Wednesday, April 23, '10, I noticed a weather system breaking apart and potentially giving us a clear window on that Friday. It had to be that Friday because I was going to be up on Hood all weekend with Jim Hashimoto's Basic Mountaineering class helping with snow skills, and wouldn't be able to climb any other day. As it turned out the window would be closing by Friday evening anyway. I phoned several friends with an idea to go play on the Leuthold Couloir route on Hood's West side. All wanted to join, but I realized that by Thursday A.M., everyone had planned commitments they couldn't break.

My pack ready to go and bummed knowing it would have to collect dust for another week or month, I grabbed Duke's leash after work on Thursday and ran up to Powell Butte Nature Park to photograph sunset. On my way up the trail my phone rang and Nick was on the other side asking about our departure time. What?! With my mental gears already switched, I was skeptical but also excited by the possibility of climbing on the one weather friendly day. Now with it being only the 2 of us, Nick suggested that we give Devil's Kitchen HW another go. I had already turned back toward the truck before this point in the conversation and quickly agreed.We left from Portland around 1 A.M. and started our long walk up by 2:30A.M. We kept a steady pace and reached the top of the Palmer in an hour forty. Then continued up towards the East side of Crater Rock which took about another hour and a half. I was feeling quite exhausted at this point and even a bit concerned about how tired I felt as we strolled up to the headwall. Nick was climbing strong and kicking bomber steps for me to follow. Thanks to Nick's steps, a little food, and some good old adrenaline, I felt my energy coming back as we entered the main gully on Devil's Kitchen HW. Finally, after 2 failed attempts, we have made our way onto the route. Quite exciting.We built the first belay anchor and flaked the rope out. Nick would lead up the first bulgy ice pitch and I would swap leads with him and lead up the second ice pitch. Both were relatively short, but they felt huge. Nick's lead was solid, with only a couple of moves, but definitely tricky negotiating the bulge that forced you to the right and thus wedging you under a roof of rime ice. After Nick yelled "Belay On!," I got slightly wedged, but found a way through and then quickly gained the step up to Nick's belay. Excited to continue, I barely, if at all, stopped next to Nick before leading up to the base of the second step. The vertical ice on this step was a bit longer but also had some bomber tool placements and a nice chimney you could step back into. I sunk a screw in at the base and one about halfway up the step before topping out on steep to moderate snow. I then ran the 50 meter rope out to a comfy spot I could dig a T-trench and drop a picket into it as a solid deadman anchor. With my butt firmly planted and my feet kicked in deep, I yelled "Belay On!," down to Nick. The wind was whipping steady, making it difficult to communicate. Nick made his way to my position and lead out the last pitch and a half of simul-climbing to the summit rim.

The feeling of working at that level to reach something and failing several times before is a difficult emotion to describe. It's almost a sort of relief emotion. It's a relief that we don't have to come back and try again. Not to say I wouldn't climb this particular route again, but it doesn't nag at me anymore. Failure makes success blissful.

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