My friend (a former NOLS instructor about to head back to China to be a bum and study) and I decided on very short notice to do some work on the South side of Mt. Hood in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The night before as we tried to snag some Zs down in govy, I could hear it raining outside and was wondering to my internet-stranded self how the conditions were going to pan out. We left the T-Line lot at 1:30 am to ~15-20mph NW winds and new snow blowing sideways. Worrying slightly about visibility, we headed up anyways to reach clearing at about 7k’ with no moon and a decent cat track to tramp along.

We brought some red plastic sleds with us to speed the descent and stashed them in a pit just off of the end of the cat track before heading up to the rock band. The snow was alright, about 4 inches of windload on top of a hard and icy layer that I suspect was frozen rain of the night before. We made good time up to crater rock after noticing a group of 12 ragtag lights (Mazamas?) following up our steps about 20 minutes behind us. I wanted to put good space between us and them so as not to get tangled with them on the final pitches.

The hog’s back made for easy going and steps were already kicked west across the slope to the final pitch. Snow conditions here were of mild question, with a fairly loose layer predominating on top.

Punching up through the rime in teh devil’s kitchen as the pair ahead of us descending from above rained some down on top of us, we topped out at 7am to meet some Volkl sponsored skiers seemingly preparing to shoot a segment East of the summit. Enjoying the bluebird skies for ten minutes or so, we descended. Meeting a solo climber halfway down the pitch, he informed us that the ragtag bunch that we had seen earlier was roping up on the hog’s back. As we turned the corner, we were greeted with a zoo.

Two rope teams of four were tightly bunched on the upper reaches of the hog’s back, while another was progressing out onto the traverse. The leader placed four pickets in the space of probably 40 ft while his team moved behind him at an agonizing crawl. It quickly became apparent that he had not explained to his apparently novice companions how to pass pro, and so each had to be shouted instructions as they reached the first of the pickets. My partner and I opted to move quickly and descended to them intending to pass. When we reached the leader he was crouched next to the second member of his team and when asked what was up, he said “His harness is literally falling off” (Mazamas.). This man, despite having placed four, was still wearing at least six other pickets like a suit of armor, along with several ice screws.

We snuck past the circus and headed down the hogs back and had reached the second to last of them when he, looking nervous at my approach, prudently dropped his ice axe down the slope, where it came to rest next to a sulfur fumarole. He quickly became anxious while the man behind him asked loudly and repeatedly “Why did you do that? What are you going to do now?”.   A shouting match quickly ensued between the rear team and the leader above about how they weren’t going to summit, which did nothing but make the man so nervous that he looked like he was about to completely panic. I decided to take matters into my own hands and whipped out my ski poles, handed the man my axe, and walked him through turning around and walking back down the hogs back to where they had left a pile of their backpacks. The whole team was a joke, and the man was actually in kinda’ bad shape. We got him set sitting on the hogs back to wait for his friends, and he informed us that this had only added to his bad day, as early his crampon had fallen off (what??). As soon as he was seated, he started to get stomach cramps and had to stand back up. Getting him seated again, my WFR self started asking the usual questions and found that he was actually pretty dehydrated. Noticing that the teams were headed back down, having made it no further than where we encountered them, we got ready to leave once he was secure. A few questions yielded very predictable answers. Yes, they were Mazamas, and all “first timers” except for the man in lead.

Taking leave of him and absolving ourselves of legal liability, my partner and I quickly descended to T-line to find that our sleds had been replaced by a cat track. Probing at length with my avy prove, I failed to recover them, and I suspect that they were in fact confiscated by whoever had decided to drive a cat in a circle right there.

We were back at the car by 10:15 am or so, having dallied to look for the sleds, drink a redbull, and talk to an old fellow at the top of t-line. All in all it was easy and solid, and a good start to our season (and my partner’s 1-day season- she is at this moment back in Beijing).

A few final thoughts on the group at the hog’s back though:
I am relatively new to this sport, but I’ve got some sense in me, as well as the skillset needed to tackle a fairly benign route like the S. side of Hood. Even though I’ve spent little time on the mountain and haven’t really seen the range of who tackles these sorts of things, it was clear to me that the group in question was so radically out of place as to put themselves and any that they encountered in danger. I also don’t know the going opinion of Mazamas held by more experienced climbers, but I’d like to lodge a complaint with the cosmos: it is an extremely ridiculous situation when institutionalized risk actually makes things riskier. Opting to rope up, they wasted valuable time as the snow above warmed, and they moved out into the shooting gallery only to run into a problem that further decried their unpreparedness (how does a harness fall off?) which left them standing on that slope for easily 30-40 minutes.
Their leader was also in no position to be leading 11 inexperienced people, as merely accepting such a charge decries foolishness. Furthermore, as the situation around him became more complicated and dangerous, he responded by becoming more agitated and feisty with his group, and failed to come up with a solution to any of the problems that he faced.

I appreciate that the Mazamas respond to a desire in budding outdoorsmen to reach the high places in the world, but to assume responsibility for the unaware and unprepared is dangerous, and may lead either to decreased interest in mountain travel, or worse, tragedy.