Mt Hood’s Cathedral Ramp saw its first ascent on April 17th, 2021 by Matt Zavortink, Aaron Nelson, Kyle Tarry and Nick Sweeney (me). This route sits high on Mt Hood’s Northern aspect, starting off the Eliot Glacier at about 9000 feet. This route features moderate, well-protected mixed climbing in a fantastic alpine setting. While this is probably not the highest-quality route in the area, it’s still a fun alpine romp with technical challenges within the ability of many area climbers. The first couple of pitches are the highest quality and would be worth doing as part of a link up in the area (hint, hint, Portlanders… don’t make me come back for this).
After the typical early start and grind from Timberline, I finally stepped into the early morning sun on the summit ridge above Old Chute. Kyle had been waiting patiently for me here while scoping the route. I had been struggling with altitude issues and moving slowly all morning, dry heaving between steps as we weaved around groups climbing the South side. Our seemingly complicated approach required climbing up and over from Timberline Lodge. From here, we would descend the upper Sunshine Route on the North side of the peak, and finally traverse the Eliot Glacier to the route. This sounds complicated and illogical, but this approach saves thousands of feet of elevation gain over approaching from the north. It also makes the day feel more like alpine cragging than proper alpine climbing.
Our goal was to make the first ascent of “Cathedral Ramp,” an ice feature on the Eliot Headwall that was named in Bill Mullee’s 2014 guidebook for Mount Hood. Mullee also marked and named another unclimbed feature nearby, The Pencil, which saw its first ascent in January 2017 by Alex Parker, Tim Bemrich and Jacob Oram. The Pencil looked GNARLY but was apparently moderate, clocking in at WI3+. We were hoping to find the same on Cathedral Ramp. In the days leading up to our attempt, Kyle learned that Matt and Aaron had the same plan; we quickly agreed that any competition or weird vibes between teams would ruin a great day of climbing. It turned out that sharing the route with Matt and Aaron was a ton of fun! It’s always a good time to hang with new friends while belaying. I had never met Matt before, but it turns out that Aaron and I met in the Cordillera Blanca back in 2018 at a base camp.
With both teams at the base of the climb, Matt and Aaron got set up to attempt the left-hand of two obvious lines while Kyle and I took a right-hand start. Kyle took the first lead and found high-quality ice right off the deck, placing screws and rock gear for protection. This pitch was 55 meters of WI3 with a fair amount of mixed moves.
Pitch two started with a steep snow gully, the most obvious feature of the route. We could tell from the glacier that this would be steep snow, which allows for quicker movement than equivalently steep ice. This gully brought me to a mixed step of rock and ice that was pure fun. I had one tool tapped into a sliver of ice, a hand pushing on a rock, one boot balanced on an edge with the other front pointing in thin ice – I love this stuff! From here, a spooky interlude of terribly loose rock had to be climbed to gain the next icefield. With diligence, I was able to farm out a decent cam placement here, which gave some comfort as none of the rock appeared to be attached to the mountain in any way. Some easy ice led to a good two-screw belay at the top of this 60 meter pitch.
Pitches three and four were uneventful, taking a rising traverse leftward. We originally had hopes of topping out Cathedral Spire as the team who made the first ascent of The Pencil had done, but the ice pitch they had climbed was non-existent for us. It seems likely that this ice pitch only comes into shape during proper Winter. Instead, these pitches of easy rock and ice brought us into the North Face Right Gully just above the upper ice step. At this point we stowed the ropes and scrambled directly to the summit of Mount Hood. Terrain varied from some steep neve to 500 feet of calf-burning WI2 with the odd mixed section.
After topping out, Kyle, Aaron, and Matt decided to go for a victory lap on the Eliot Glacier Headwall with a friend they met on the summit. As two teams of two, they each climbed separate (previously established) lines of 4 pitches of water ice up to WI4. I opted to hike off the South side alone to get a jump start on my long drive back to Spokane. I kicked myself for bailing early when I saw their awesome photos of perfect water ice! Nonetheless, this was a great day of climbing. It was really a dream come true to establish a first ascent, however minor, on one of the premier peaks of the Cascades.
The crossover approach from Timberline is convenient and involves the least amount of elevation gain of any approach this time of year. It would be cool to see someone climb any of the routes in the Eliot Glacier Headwall area with a “sit start” from the North side of the peak.
We protected the route with ice screws, cams, and nuts. Pitons and a picket were carried but never used.