Mount Hood-Cooper Spur Route

Mount Hood's Cooper Spur route

This was my first ascent of Mt Hood. About the only thing I knew about Oregon's highest mountain was that I didn't want to start the climb at a ski resort. Unfortunately, that was exactly where I ended up starting, although the Cooper Spur Ski Area with its 500' T bar lift hardly qualifies. Cooper Spur is a route I had checked out before but it was way too late in the season to even consider climbing it. This is definitely a route done better early in the season rather than later.

Late season on the north side of Mt. Hood

About the only advantage to waiting is cutting the elevation gain by 2100' and the round trip distance by 6 miles. For now, the route begins at the ski area (3800'), but later in the season you can start at Cloud Cap campground (5900'). The advantages of going this week were having the route to myself and having great snow conditions on the mountain...well great for climbing. 

My plan was to bivouac at a public shelter at 6600' on the approach route, then make a very early start, hopefully reaching the summit near sunrise and getting off the route before the snow got soft. I began skiing up FST 643 from the ski area around 6:30 pm and arrived at the Tilly Jane Campground (5700') a little more than an hour later. I was completely unaware that there was a public cabin here and it certainly seemed like a better option than the rock shelter higher up. I decided to make an earlier start and stay at the cabin. The cabin is available to anyone who wants to use it. A $4 donation is suggested for those who stay there and reservations are required for weekend stays. If you are interested in making a reservation, contact the Hood River Ranger Station at (541) 352-6002. 

I awoke at midnight and was hiking FST 600A by 1:00am. In about a mile I left the trees and with the aid of a bright moon made my way up the narrow section of the spur where the summer trail ends at c.8500' (FST 600B). Unfortunately I lost the bright moon to the mountain as I began my way to the steeper slopes. By 10,000' the slope was 40+ stayed that way until I finally reached the summit but never exceeded 50 degrees. Route finding on the upper section is straight forward: keep to the right of the route to avoid the rock and follow the natural line to the top which becomes more of a gully than a spur. Five hours and twenty minutes after leaving the cabin, I stepped onto the crater rim.

Looking down the Cooper Spur route


Whoa, just in time!


Another beautiful morning from  the top of a volcano

My only disappointment was that there was not a great view even though it was a sunny morning. I had hoped to get a view of some of the other Oregon volcanoes, but they were no where to be seen in the early morning haze. After making the slow descent I retrieved my skis that I had stashed around 9000'. I had hoped the snow would soften but it hadn't. The wind had largely exposed the ice crust from a couple weeks ago and where it hadn't, most of the snow on the way back was as much pumice as snow. Ski season seems to be over on Cooper Spur...the climb sure would have been easier without telemark boots. While the spur itself doesn't seem to have much left to offer in terms of skiing, there were plenty of nearby areas that looked like they could be fun.

Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes; Jeff Smoot; Pages 110-112