A walk on the wild side of Mt. Hood: Ladd Glacier - May 12, 2012
In June 2000 I stood at the Queen's Chair on Cathedral Ridge, after climbing the Sunshine Route with Bob Brievogel, and looked down at the NW side of the mountain, wondering what's over there north of Cathedral Ridge? Oh, "just the Coe and Ladd Glaciers" was the reply. My curiosity was aroused.

Afterward, I looked at the books, and found no mention of routes except for the Coe Icefall from Cooper Spur (not a summit climb). It's been 31 years since a successful official Mazamas climb of any route on Hood between Sandy Glacier Headwall and Sunshine - Cathedral Ridge in 1981 - and only a couple attempts on the Coe Glacier in '83 and '84. Before that, the only recorded ascent I've been able to find is a climb from the Ladd Glacier by Newton Clark - in 1886! That's a cryin' shame!

The question of Coe/Ladd route possibilities continued to gnaw at me over the years. I wondered if, as global warming advanced and spring arrived ever earlier in the Northwest, there was now a reasonable north-side approach. So to find out if a NW approach was feasible, in 2010 I skied with Russell Kelley from Laurance Lake up to nearly the end of road 2840 to scope it out. The road starts at 2900 ft., quickly gains an open ridge with great views of the mountain, and at mile 3+3700 ft. passes the Pinnacle Trailhead. This trailhead is only 6 miles from the summit and 20 FEET below the Cooper Spur ski area - which is where most climbs on the north side start, now that they don't open the Cloud Cap road until it's completely dry and routes are out of condition. So access isn't nearly as rigorous as you might think. I decided then that I would find a time to make an attempt from that approach.

After a leading a Sunshine climb in 2011, 2012 seemed like the right year to give Ladd Glacier a try. Al Papesh and Jeff Hawkins signed on. After canceling his Hood climb at the beginning of the week due to avalanche hazard, Jeff recruited Katy Ryan of Bend from his climb to ours. With her ice climbing resume and strong conditioning, a great addition! Besides, it made us "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", as this litle poem by Katy (with contributions from Jeff) explains:

T'was may 11 and our adventure began
Three climbers with an unusual Mt Hood plan
A north-side route
to keep each astute
Best disregard the 'fire closed' ban

Three to begin, but let's add one more
An unknown climber to complete our core
Preferring ice to rocks
we name her 'Goldilocks'
Thus bringing our climber total to four

Bear #1 would be called 'Data'
For he was always dialed with za beta
And #2, he called 'Metro'
just cause he 'set' so
Alas, we have 'Boy' Bear #3, as it was meant to be

A rare approach, was in our sight(s)
As we prepared to climb day into night
The temps need be stable
to put this route on the table
But avi conditions gave us a fright!

We started this trip at 1/2 past five
With all intentions of staying alive
We hiked and we shoed thru the big burn
and put a curfew on when we return
Off by noon, and that ain't no jive.

We began the ascent at 2 in the morning
Well before the snow would be corn-ing
Ascending the Ladd
made us quite glad
This path, anything but boring

Step after step, then the sunrise
Approaching steep ice, in no disguise
We gathered our wits
climbing in bits
A well-kept plan kept us quite wise

Off to the east, we heard not a peep
Though the avi debris was piled quite deep
No plan now for summit
for in the past we had done it
Today, our lives we be happy to keep!

1800' short of the tippy top
This is where our climb we did stop
Now called a tour
with sights to adore
turn-around time, chop-chop!

Written in limerick rather than prose
This story draws to a "final" close
Of bears who braved fire and ice
to climb with damsel so pretty and nice
Where they venture next, who knows?

We proved out the "Ladd Glacier Route", though only to the 9500 foot level in order to exit all avvy-threatened areas early. The route not only goes, but is a truly fine route, with one 100 foot pitch of WI3 as you leave the Ladd Glacier to make it interesting!

The Ladd Glacier Route follows Barrett Spur to the Ladd Glacier, then a clean 50-65-degree icy coulour and 45 degree snow slope on the west side of Pulpit Rock, to gain the ridge above Pulpit that intersects Cathedral Ridge. Cathedral leads to the Queen's Chair, where the Sunshine and Leuthold Routes intersect, and on to the summit. This route competes with the Cathedral Ridge route as the only two truly wilderness routes on the mountain, starting at undeveloped trailheads. (Not counting Yocum Ridge, which is not for mere mortals like us!)

Yet this route hardly appears in the guidebooks. Which is bizarre, given the quality of the setting and the climbing! Jack Grauer's "Mount Hood - A Complete History", and Nick Dodge in his guide, mention the first climb of this route by a party led by Newton Clark in 1886. While the ridge above Pulpit Rock is frequently attained by climbing the Coe Glacier Icefall, so far we have found no other mention of climbing from the Ladd. For all I know, yours could be the second complete ascent of the route, as we only completed it to the 9500 foot level to prove it out.

With the rising winter snow levels, it's now feasible to approach the north side of Hood from Laurance Lake via the Pinnacle Ridge Trail during all but a few weeks a year. This gives a 3-6 mile hike starting at between 2800' and 3800' elevation, 3.4-6.2 miles from the Timberline Trail, depending on the snow level on the road.

Based on our trip, I estimate that the route would typically stay in for about a month after the road opens to the 3800' trailhead in early May, as long as you hit it in cooler conditions and complete the crux pitches to 9500 feet by 10AM, when the sun first hits this snow slope.

Given our start time, and our pact to be off the steep stuff by noon no matter what, we got pretty far! Climbing only another 300 feet of easy ridge would connect to the Sunshine->Coe descent line I've done before. Good thing we kept to our deadline, as it was really surprising that we saw almost nothing come off while we were there - though one large snowbridge went "whump" when I stepped on it while traversing back to the Snow Dome! West-facing crux pitches is a big help.

Our calendar timing was perfect: we were able to bust through the last patch of snow on the road above Laurance Lake in 4wd, and drive to the trailhead, a blocking tree having recently been cleared. We started hiking at 5:50 PM. The trail was all-snow after the first 3/4 of a mile, so snowshoes were perfect. It was very interesting hiking through 3 miles of smelly burned forest from the Sept 2011 Dollar Lake fire. Just don't lean against a tree and wipe your face - you will look like you are on a night mission! Live trees finally show up for a bit around the Pinnacle, then the burn ends about 300 feet below the Timberline Trail.

At 9 we crossed the Timberline Trail, and camped in the trees just below the Barret Spur crest at 6200 feet. we were horizontal from 10:30 to 12:30, then off up the route.

The ice pitch required several pickets and one ice screw. Later in the season, 3-4 might be valuable. We just simulclimbed the whole 800 feet to the ridgetop - nice lead Al! Then intermittent hard/soft snow above to the spur ridgecrest above Pulpit.

So the route is now open and available, and if someone acts fast they just might tick a possible second complete ascent.

Al's photos
ShareMyTrail.com mapping page
JPEG route map with camps

We used:
- 1 half rope
- two tools each
- steel crampons
- 6 pickets
- 1 ice screw
- multiple GPS units

Here's the recorded timetable:

2:30PM left PDX
5:50 started hiking
8:53 cross Timberline Trail, sunset
9:30 camp
10:30 lights out
12:30AM lights on
1:30 start climb
3:00 Barret Spur saddle, drop onto Ladd
3:30 prow of Barrett
4:30 start roped
5:45 West shoulder of Pulpit Rock
6:00 Glenn flagging, Al leads (Yay Al!)
7:00 cross small bergschrund next to rock, do the ice pitch, placing 4 pickets and one screw at the crux.
7:40 enter the sun
9:00 gain the ridge at 9400 feet above Pulpit Rock
9:30 break at 9500 feet
10:30 exit across the Coe, across a large debris field from something big coming off the upper Coe icefall
11:00 snow dome
12:30 return to Barrett Spur, back across the same debris field (Wow!)
2:00 head back down Ladd and Barrett to camp
3:30 at camp
6:30 hike out
8:30 back to cars