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North America, United States, Oregon, Mount Hood, Yokum Ridge

Mount Hood, Yokum Ridge. As we swung the car up the last few switchbacks to Timberline, Mount Hood stood crystalline clear against the blue sky. There had not been many clear days like this during the present season, and on the chance the weather might not last, it seemed a ripe time for a new ice climb on the mountain. The Austrian, Leopold Scheiblehner, and I had some ski-mountaineering in mind, but after scanning the upper slopes of the mountain, we could not resist the idea of something more complex. We had heard that Yokum Ridge, on the west side, had not been done under winter conditions and just seeing it from the road was a fine lure. (At the time we did not know that the entire ridge and buttress had never been climbed. Since the mock-up in the lodge did not show a dotted route, it aroused our curiosity.)

The date was April 9. At four o’clock we had strapped on our packs and were ski-climbing to the Illumination Saddle. Here, at 9000 feet, we pitched my tent in a protected saddle, cooked a quick supper and wondered how cold the night would be. After a winter in nightly comfort, glacier camping seemed a rude shock. It is not hard to oversleep, and we managed this well. But it was only seven and the sun had not yet reached us. Putting the crampons on, we roped immediately and crossed the saddle to the Reid Glacier. Here we descended and traversed to the lower flanks of Yokum Ridge. The knife-like blades of ice seemed like a nightmare of ice problems instead of a route to the summit. With a covering of ice feathers, not a single rock was visible. The ridge reminded me of a serrated Alaskan one, with fluted ice on the south flank. Getting onto the crest was a toe and ice-pick workout—a strenuous one for the first cramponing of the season. Leo led this, and once on the ridge we alternated the lead. The climbing was easy in some places. In others it was delicate and exposed, and in some places it was unpleasantly difficult and dangerous. Because of the frost and rime formations, the whole surface was often a buildup of frost feathers. An axe belay was often useless, and ice pitons could not be placed. When possible we kept to the wafer-thin crest and hacked out a stance. When crossing the flanks of the fluted walls, we could do little but hope a slip would not occur. Ahead all we could see was the array of glistening towers in the morning sun. Somewhere, 2000 feet above, was the summit of Mount Hood. Both the west and northwest faces of the mountain seemed smooth and gentle in comparison to our picket fence of whiteness. Several of the most treacherous pitches stand out in our minds. A mushrooming tower threatened progress and so Leo decided to try the south flank. After chopping downward and across a groove, he disappeared around a hidden corner. Some 15 minutes later he came into view again, cutting up a gully-wall that needed both hand- and footholds. We continued flanking the worst towers just under the crest, being careful to work into tiny belay spots on the ridge or behind towers. Once I chimneyed my way up a 30-foot section of vertical ice, grasping long columns of ice feathers and pulling outwards to keep my balance while kicking and cutting footholds. This required great care, for the wrong slash of the ice axe might have brought the whole chimney wall down. It was a difficult and dangerous place—sometimes I could see daylight through the frost feathers two feet under the veneer surface. At one point Leo cut some huge holds over his head and somehow swarmed up a 12-foot overhang. Several times the ridge ran down into notches, and we had to reverse our technique or jump into little ridge platforms. On the final upper buttress a zigzag ice corridor took us past the steepest profile. We climbed right across a fluted flank for one lead and then angled back to the top of the crest. Surprisingly, this section was not as difficult as the lower ridge and in due time we came to the broadening of the ridge, where it merged into the summit slopes. About one o’clock we stood on the top, facing a strong, biting wind. Our descent down the normal route led us soon into camp again. Skiing wide open, we raced for the lodge in the afternoon sun.

Fred Beckey