Mt. Hood via Cooper Spur

I wanted to do the Cooper Spur route on the north side of Hood this season. But, I’d have to do it soon. It was melting out, and even warmer days ahead meant it would soon be too dangerous. I managed to go after it mid-week, on maybe the last safe day in the season.

I pulled into the Cooper Spur Resort. The road was still gated because of snow, so I’d have an extra 2,000 feet to go. That’s typical though. If the road wasn’t gated, the route would likely be out.

I decided to do this as an overnight. I could sleep in the Cooper Spur shelter near the start of the route. I expected it to be empty, so I just brought a sleeping bag, pad and stove — barely any extra weight. I managed to make it go with a 22L pack.

I started ascending the hiking and ski trail. I reached snow towards the end, and route-finding was annoying here. It also looked like I was the first person to be on the North side of Hood in a week. There weren’t any bootprints, or anything resembling a bootprint. I arrived at the shelter, and as expected, it was empty.

Cool trees on the ascent.
The shelter.

When I arrived, clouds were covering the mountain. Soon, they broke, and I got my first view of the route. It was thinning out, but there was a route of continuous snow to the top. It would go.

The route is infamous for its numerous deaths. Any mistake near the top of the route — the steepest portion — means a near-instant fall of 2,000 feet onto the Elliot Glacier. With the grade, self-arrest isn’t successful. It also seems soft snow is the biggest contributor to these incidents. The ENE aspect means it gets the morning sun right away.

So, I decided to do the entire ascent during the night, summiting by sunrise. That would guarantee the snow would be in good condition for my ascent and descent. I set my alarm for 2 a.m.

I woke up, ate a quick breakfast, then started hiking. After reaching “Tie-in Rock” I transferred onto the Cooper Spur Ridge. The snow was continuous now, and I put my crampons on.

As predicted, snow conditions were perfect. Hard, but just the right amount. I continued up. A little before 4 a.m., there was enough light to turn off my headlamp. Sunrise was still two hours later, but with the latitude, light pops out pretty early.

Sunrise over Mt. Adams and St. Helens.

The continuous several thousand feet of steep cramponing was a real calf-burner. It was very engaging as well, especially as a solo. If confident in steep snow, there’s no need for a rope or protection. It’s also really fun to move fast on terrain that’s just below technical.

The first half of the route was about 40 degrees, and soon it steepened to a consistent 45 degrees. For the last thousand feet, the angle was between 50 and 55 degrees. Here, I had to snake my way through the rock bands. I was glad it was dark, otherwise, this would be a torrent of rockfall. I didn’t see any recent rockfall signs on the snow too thankfully. So, I continued up — but quickly

The rock cliffs near the top of the route. I went through the widest chute dead-center.

Below me was a short run-out that led to the 2,000-foot cliff above the Elliot Glacier. Standing here, I supposed the frequency of deaths made sense. There’s no margin of error.

At 6 a.m., I pulled onto the summit. It was a fun “mantle,” instantly shifting from the 55-degree snow onto the flat summit plateau. I was completely alone and watched the sunrise for a few minutes.

Mt. Hood’s sunrise triangle shadow.

Wary of the changing snow, I started to descend right away. If I thought the ascent was a calf-burner, this was a calf-killer. The snow was still hard. This meant it was safe, but not fun for my calves. I front-pointed down over 2,000 vertical feet. Then, I reached 40-degree snow which I could crampon down facing. Finally, I reached tie-in rock. It was an easy hike from there to the shelter.

Cooper Spur route photo, taken on descent. Fall-line is straight onto the Elliot Glacier. Ouch…
Photo of the full Cooper Spur route.

At the shelter, I collected my camping equipment, then hiked down. Now, the sun was in full force on the Cooper Spur Ridge. I saw the occasional boulder fall and tear through the route. The forecast said several days of unseasonably warm weather were ahead as well. Seems like this was the last day of the season.

I hiked back to my car, seeing no one. The solitude was refreshing, especially compared to the South side of Hood. I packed my gear, then drove someplace else.

Leave a Comment