Skiing The Leuthold Couloir On Mount Hood In The Cascade Range of Oregon
Location: Leuthold Couloir, Mount Hood, Mount Hood National Forest, Cascade Range, Oregon
Starting Point: Timberline Lodge (6000′)
Distance: 5.75 miles
Time: 5.5 hours
Summit Elevation: 11249′ | 3429 m
Vertical: 5575′ (If start at top of Palmer Chair, it is 2995′ up and 5575′ down)
USGS Maps: Mount Hood North, Mount Hood South
After Chris Ebeling, Jeremy Wood, and I skied the Newton Clark Headwall on Mount Hood, the weather closed in and we had to take a down day. We didn’t go too far and hung out in the happening place of Government Camp, OR. It was dead. Luckily the Huckleberry Inn is open 24-hours a day and serves delicious food and Internet.
Hunkered down in the drizzle of the PNW, we made a plan for the next day to ski the Leuthold Couloir on the west face of Mount Hood. Mount Hood is an active stratovolcano in the Cascade Range of northern Oregon. It is the highest point in the state at 11,249′ and is called Wy’East by the Multnomah tribe.
The Leuthold Couloir goes from the summit of Mount Hood down the west face, through the Hourglass, and onto the Reid Glacier. It is sandwiched between Yokum Ridge/the Queens Chair and the Reid Headwall. It’s roughly 35 degrees for 1600 vertical feet. The Leuthold Couloir is normally considered a grade III ice climb, but for us it was a super fun couloir ski descent.
Mount Hood is home to several different ski resorts including Timberline, where we would start our ski mountaineering adventure. Timberline Lodge is a National Historic Landmark that sits at 6000′ on the south side of Mount Hood. Maybe you recognize it from The Shining starring Jack Nicholson?
Next to the Timberline Lodge is Timberline Ski Resort. This is the stomping grounds for one of the busiest ascent routes for a glaciated peak in the world. Between climbers and park rats at the summer ski hill, this place is busy year round. And that means you better register as a climber.
On the exterior ground floor of the Wy’East Day Lodge is a climber’s self registration. Stop by and read the rules, get the latest beta, and register your climb. Also grab so blue bags. In the adjacent parking lot, we packed up our packs with axes, crampons, skins, ski crampons, 40 m rope, and standard glacier kit – and of course snacks too. Everyone needs snacks in the mountains.
After registering, our plan was to buy a single lift ride at the resort for $15. That would let us get up high and eliminate a bit of walking so we could enjoy a casual morning. FYI this does not work. The staff at Timberline do not consider ski mountaineers to be climbers. If you have skis on your feet, you cannot be a climber. We were not allowed on the lift. We opted to buy full priced tickets at a discounted professional rates, and rode the chairs anyways.
After two lift rides with our big packs, we arrived at 8,450′ feet at the top of the Palmer Chair. Our ascent route was the trade route up the Palmer Glacier on the south face, past the Hogsback, and through the Pearly Gates to the summit of Mount Hood. We skinned up and started walking. We could see where we returned at Illumination Saddle off to the west.
The route was busy for April. We passed lots of people epic-ing Mount Hood. Between the drifting scent of sulfur and a steady pace, we quickly reached the top in just over two hours – 2,800′ above the Palmer Chair. The rimed up Pearly Gates was the crux of the ascent, but it was not bad at all. We chose the climber’s left Gate and it was nice to have crampons and an ax for this section.
Once we reached the summit, we realized we had plenty of time before we needed to ski. Summit party. Other skiers at the top of Mount Hood were pounding beers, hacking turns through sastrugi, and taking Tinder photos. It was an interesting scene. We soaked in the lay of the land, enjoyed the views, peered down the Cooper Spur, and enjoyed the highest point in Oregon.
Finally we decided to venture on the ridge in crampons to the west to the entrance of the Leuthold Couloir. The ridge walk isn’t bad, but the drop offs could be intimidating to some people.
The rimed features of this stunning stratovolcano were like something from another world. It was mind blowing. At the top of the Leuthold, we switched to downhill mode – what a cool place to ski. The top few turns above the Queens Chair were rough, firm, rimed, and wind effected. It only got better from there.
After the couloir opened up, the snow was relatively smooth, although a bit punchy in spots, which kept us on our toes. The slope was steep and consistent – about 35 degrees (maybe a few turns up to 40 degrees). We had been warned that the choke of the line, called the Hourglass, could be super tricky to maneuver through. It wasn’t. In our late April reality, it was several snowcat tracks wide and made for easy skiing.
The apron opened up below the Hourglass as the ski line hugged the base of Yokum Ridge and headed down toward the Reid Glacier. We continued on down and stopped short of the open crevasses on the Reid at about 9100′. The Reid certainly has some big holes to watch out for so we roped up and set a skin track back to Illumination Saddle. The Reid Headwall loomed over our skin track and looked like it had some cool skiing potential. We were able to skin the entire way to the saddle at 9300′ in about 20 minutes.
From here it was an easy ski back to Timberline Lodge. We made a point to traverse across the Zig Zag Glacier so we didn’t get sucked down to the southwest into the Mount Hood Triangle – even though it looked very inviting. It would be nice to have GAIA app with some preset waypoints if it was a whiteout.
The clouds came in as we skied back down to Timberline Lodge on the freshly groomed snow. The biggest hazard of the day was watching out for snowcats in ping pong ball like weather conditions. Another cool ski line ticked off.
Our ski mountaineering mission to ski the Leuthold couloir took 5.5 hours, 5.75 miles, 2995′ up, and 5575′ down.
See our route for skiing the Leuthold Couloir on Mount Hood:
Here are additional photos from skiing the Leuthold Couloir on Mount Hood:
This trip report for skiing the Leuthold Couloir on Mount Hood is from April 28, 2016.