On Top of the World: Students Climb Mount Hood

May 11, 2016

An intrepid band of Reed students pulled off an epic feat last weekend, trekking for six hours through snow, ice, steam, and rock to reach the windswept summit of Mount Hood.

Environmental studies major Raphaela Hsu-Flanders ’16, political science major Sydney Scarlata ’16, physics major Evan Peairs ’16, and biology major Guananí Gomez-Van Cortright ’18 climbed Oregon’s tallest peak with Reed climbing instructor Rodney Sofich.

The began their trip at the flagpole at Timberline Lodge at 1 a.m., equipped with boots, ice axes, crampons, helmets, day packs, water, chewy bars, and sunglasses, except for Evan, who wore a pair of welding goggles (he’s a physics major—what did you expect?)

Setting out from Timberline (elevation approximately 6,000 feet), the team climbed for about four hours in pitch darkness, the dominant sound being the whistling of the wind and the crunch of boots on snow. At about 10,500 feet they reached Crater Rock, which marks the beginning of the most difficult and taxing part of the climb. They now began to make their way up the Hogsback—a steep snow ridge that leads towards the summit. Finally they headed West and followed the Old Chute, a route that leads past active fumaroles—volcanic outcrops that vent steam and sulphurous odors into the air. Here they roped up to each other, digging in with their ice axes, climbing on hands and feet, their calves aching.

Environmental studies major Raphaela Hsu-Flanders ’16 ropes up for the final ascent. Note the mountain's massive shadow in the background.

“You have to want it,” says Raphaela. “Mentally, you have to be in the right spot.”

“It was more a mental challenge than a physical one,” agrees Evan. “You’ve got to keep your mind on what you’re doing.”

“I kept thinking, ‘We can do this. And we will do this,’” says Sydney.

Finally, they reached the summit—an awe-inspiring 11,245 feet above sea level. Looking to the west, they could see a gargantuan shadow of the mountain as the sun rose over the peak.

“It was totally amazing,” says Sydney. “I was like, ‘F*ck, yeah!’”

The expedition represented the climax of an adventuresome year in which Reed students climbed legendary Cascade destinations such as Smith Rock, South Sister, Munra Point, and Mount Saint Helens, not to mention some epic rock climbing.Reed boasts a longstanding tradition of outdoor adventure. Beat poet Gary Snyder ’51 and environmentalist Arlene Blum ’66 (who led the first all-woman ascent of Annapurna I) both climbed Mount Hood as students. Reed’s outdoor programs have attracted national attention. And every year, scores of freshmen go on an Outdoor Odyssey, which many later remember as one of their favorite experiences at Reed.

“Reed Outing Club and Mountaineering Club have brought together a fantastic community of people who are passionate about the outdoors,” says Raphaela.

The climbing team represented a classic cross-section of Reed students.

Raphaela wrote her thesis on the intersection of scientific communication and environmental regulations with Prof. Inkyoung Kim [political science]. During her time at Reed, she also taught science in a local middle school, worked in the admissions office, and led the Reed Mountaineering Club. After graduation, she will work for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

Sydney wrote her thesis on the use of diplomatic sanctions in US diplomacy, specifically in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, with Prof. Alex Montgomery [political science]. She also founded the women’s soccer team and spent a semester studying in France. After graduation she will go to Morocco with the Peace Corps.

Evan invented a novel type of musical instrument for his thesis on acoustics with Prof. John Essick [physics]. He also operated Reed’s nuclear reactor and led the madcap student construction group Defenders of the Universe, which builds outlandish contraptions such as a giant hamster wheel, a walking machine, and a monkeybar bicycle. After graduation he is heading to the Bay area to work in robotics.

Guananí won a President’s Summer Fellowship to write fiction in Spain this summer. She has also run the Reed Outing Club and served as a Night Owl.

We look forward to hearing about their next exploits.

Tags: Students, Sports & Adventures