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An experienced Mount Hood trail guide tells you what you need to know before you hit the Oregon trail

April 30, 2013

Experienced mountain climbing guide Doug Ironside offers insights for climbers who are planning to summit Oregon’s Mt. Hood for the first time. From advice on proper equipment to the wisdom gained over many years on the mountain, Doug gives us an up-close look at the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer from a professional’s point of view.

Interviewer: We’re talking with Doug Ironside who’s a guide at Mt. Hood in Oregon. Doug, what kind of advice would you offer a first time climber that’s thinking about climbing Mt. Hood? How would instruct them? What should they prepare for?

Doug: Well, I’d say that the most obvious tip is to achieve the highest level of fitness that you can reach that’s reasonable for you. A fit climber is always better prepared than one that’s not conditioned. People often underestimate the effort that it takes to climb the mountain. Equipment has to be pretty solid, because the climb up the mountain is actually very aggressive for the last 1,000 feet near the top.

Don’t Let Your Eyes Fool You

It’s quite steep, steeper than almost all other so-called easy climbs in the Cascades. So your equipment has to be top notch.  The climb is relatively short, maybe a one day tour, whereas most of the other big mountains are overnight trips that require you to camp out somewhere. Mount Hood fools a lot of people into thinking that the climb itself is less serious than it is. Even though it’s a day trip, you can almost always look back and see your car in the parking lot and that causes some people to mis-read the actual climb.

climbing mt hood

That sort of naturally will give people the idea that it’s not as remote or as serious as some other peaks, when in fact, it’s steeper.
Looks can be deceiving. But it’s really a great climb. I’d say, to go back to your question, my advice for a first time Mt. Hood climber is that you don’t need to be a super athlete to do these trips. But you owe it to yourself and your climbing partners to be in reasonably good shape.

Preparing for Northwest Weather

You should have good enough gear so you’re ready for the rigors of weather like we get here in Oregon.

Interviewer: Is this weather normal that we’re seeing up here?

Doug: It’s normal that we’re having it, but it’s not usual.  It’s typical that we see weather like this now and then, but we’ve had significant snowfall since early June until now. So that’s a week of June snow and wind that’s pretty unusual. It’s probably more usual that we get those conditions in May than in June.

The Right Equipment  Matters

Interviewer: What’s the critical piece of equipment you think a climber needs? You’re going to have your ice axes and your boots, and the normal stuff. But outside the normal stuff, what’s the one piece of equipment or luxury item that you would want to bring?

Doug: Well there are certain things about Mt. Hood that (I mean, this will sound a little odd), because everybody wears them, but a climbing helmet is probably more important on Mt. Hood than on many other climbs because it’s steeper here and we have more debris falling. As soon as the sun strikes the upper mountain, things begin to fall.

On Mt. Hood it’s not uncommon to hear everybody yelling, “Ice! Ice! Ice!” And occasionally a rock will fall, and there are a lot of other climbers on the route above you who might kick things down. So, I think that many mountaineers wear a helmet just because that’s just part of the program. But on Mt. Hood, you really do need it.

The Experience of Climbing for a Cure – The Climb to Fight Breast Cancer

Interviewer: I met one climber who signed up for the climb who just didn’t think she could do it but she did it anyway. What’s that like?

Doug: I’d say that the most significant guide experiences for me have come from climbers who have been cancer survivors. They’ve reached the point in their wellness that they want to take the challenge of a trip like this. Those successes are far more moving for me than when those who are exclusively  fundraising reach the top.

There’s one woman that I know of who keeps coming back each year but I don’t know how many times she’s climbed. There she is over there. I believe she’s a two-time cancer survivor. I frankly don’t know how she does it. She’s about 70 years old and I can’t understand how she manages but I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be able to accomplish that when I’m 70.

Interviewer: I’d have to agree with you on that one.

Doug: She’s pretty special. So, yeah, there have been a lot of moments when I’ve been able to witness some of the climbers achieve profound personal success.

Words of Encouragement for Would-Be Climbers

Interviewer: If you could speak with a potential climber who’s thinking about doing the Mt. Hood climb, would you have any words of encouragement to help them make up their mind to support the cause for breast cancer research?

Doug: Just speaking honestly, I would just say that you have to separate your emotions about the cause you’re supporting  from the reality of the climb itself.

That can be a little difficult for some people to separate in their minds. A trip like this, or an event like this, is a really great way for somebody to take a significant step by proving to themselves that they have it in them to actually do this kind of thing. I know a lot of people who participate in the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer and have raised a lot of money for research because they have a particular person in mind that they’re doing this for.

Perhaps it’s someone special in that climber’s memory, or they climb for someone they know who’s struggling with cancer. Achieving the climb has the potential to round out that relationship a little bit. Climb to Fight Breast Cancer has been both a wonderful and impactful part of my work that I’m proud to take a part in.

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