After climbing Hood from the crowded South Side, we wanted to attempt another route from the wilder north side. The "Sunshine" route ascends to the top in an elegant line on the north-east side, starting on the Cooper Spur, crossing the Eliott Glacier to moderately steep snow slopes, and onto the north ridge. It is reputed as one of the most enjoyable routes on the mountain. It is named for the fact that it is in full sun for most of the day... which was going to keep us from finishing it.

Later in the season, the "standard" Sunshine route can be climbed in a day from the Cloud Cap Inn (5,900 ft). In late May, the access road to Cloud Cap was still snowed in, however. This meant we would have to start from the Tilly Jane Trailhead at 3,900 ft. This adds 2,000 ft to the climb, for a total elevation gain of 6,300 ft.

On a rest day before the climb, we hiked the trail from Tilly Jane to the base of the ridge to take a look at the route. We were surprised to find a ski cabin some distance below tree line, complete with a stove and firewood! The cabin is left open for skiers and climbers to use. It is maintained and stocked with firewood by volunteers. A night in the cabin sounded too good, so we made plans to do the climb in two days. We went back to camp at the Nothingham USFS campground and started packing our gear. This time we wouldn't have to carry a tent!

We left the trailhead the next morning around 10AM and made the relatively short hike (about 3 miles and 2,200 ft) to the Tilly Jane Cabin. The trail was a mixed bag of dirt and hard packed snow. We arrived at the cabin around noon and settled in. Eric started the wood stove and it quickly got nice and warm. We had brought tortillas and cheese and treated ourselves to quesadillas grilled directly on the stove top. A nice change from the usual freeze-dried menu! We set the alarm for midnight, and hit the sack.

We had the cabin to ourselves that night. Our sleep was troubled only by a few mice which were roaming around. After a quick breakfast, we left the cabin around 1AM and headed toward the rock shelter located at the base of Cooper Spur at 7,000 ft. Not willing to cross the glacier in the dark, we decided to wait a while at the rock shelter. It was good to get out of the howling wind for a while. In the shelter, Eric sat on his pack forgetting that he was carrying a collapsible water bottle... the thing blew up inside the pack. There went half of our water for the day. Fortunately, on our reconnaissance hike two days earlier, we had noticed a small stream of melt water a bit higher up, on the edge of ridge. We soon found it again, although at this time of the night, it was barely dripping. It took a while but we managed to collect enough water to continue (using a picket as an aqueduct!).

We had lost a lot of time. By the time we were traversing the glacier below the Elliot icefall, temperatures were starting to rise quickly. This was to be a very warm day. We reached the steep slopes near "Horseshoe Rock" (~8,200 ft) around 8AM. It was really warm. The sun was blazing hot and the snow was softening quickly. We still were about 1,200 ft below the summit and did not like the prospect of coming back through these steeps much later in the day. We decided to err on the side of caution and turned back. The icefall was making disturbing cracking noises when we traversed back under it. On the way back across the glacier, Eric was treated to his first "punch through", into a small crevasse we had crossed earlier that morning. One leg to the hip, no harm done. It was definitely too warm. We were back at the cabin at 10AM.

We were quite disappointed, particularly since the Sunshine route is a really good one. Oh well, at least we had already tagged the summit from the other side. In retrospect, we should have started a lot earlier, and crossed the glacier by headlamp to reach the summit at sunrise. Our lack of glacier experience had kept us too careful. Lesson learned.

Mount Hood, OR - Sunshine

May 26-27, 2003 / Grade II+, 40° snow, glacier, alt. (11,235 ft), 1-2 days.
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Mount Hood from the north-east.
 
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The Sunshine Route.
 
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Nothingham USFS campground.
 
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Preparing the gear.
 
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At the Tilly Jane trailhead.
 
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The charming Tilly Jane Ski Cabin.
 
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Relaxing in the cabin before dinner.
 
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Eric making quesadillas on the wood stove.
 
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Candlelight dinner at the cabin.
 
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Crossing the Elliot Glacier.
 
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The Elliot Glacier icefall.
 
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Sunrise on the Elliot Glacier.
 
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Going up the ridge toward "Horshoe Rock".
 
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Panoramic view of Mount St Helens and Mount Adams, from our high point.
 
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Crossing the Elliot Glacier on the way down.
 
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Back on the Cooper Spur.
 
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The rock shelter at 7,000 ft, at the base of the Cooper Spur.
(high res. images are about 300KB)