Summit Ridge on Mount Hood

On a clear day, three volcanoes loom on Portland’s horizon, seemingly close enough to touch: St. Helens, Adams, and Hood. What does it take to get to the top?

“If you’ve ever looked at a distant mountain and felt a stirring inside, you have the passion to be a mountaineer,” says John Godino, longtime member of the climbing group Mazamas. We asked Godino and other local climbers for advice on how to summit our backyard peaks this spring or summer, with tips for getting your butt (literally) into shape.


Elevation: 8,363 feet

Difficulty: Medium-Light—Mount St. Helens can present risks of avalanche but tends to be straightforward and well traveled. 

Summit Strategy: Join a Meetup group (such as Portland Climbing & Mountaineering) and climb with new friends. “Members are generally new or just getting into the sport,” says organizer Matthew Pennock. “There are also a lot of experienced individuals who enjoy sharing their knowledge.”


Elevation: 12,280 feet

Difficulty: Medium—Mount Adams is a great opportunity to practice snow travel with ice axes and crampons (depending on conditions) in a relatively safe alpine environment. 

Summit Strategy: Climb with Mazamas, says climb leader Godino: “We are the oldest climbing and mountaineering organization in the Northwest. We have over 300 climbs and 500 hikes each year, for every ability level. We offer a wide range of classes to bump up your outdoor skills. “As Adams is about a 7,000-foot climb from the trailhead to the summit, only the most fit climbers attempt it in one day,” Godino says. “Making it into a two-day climb is more relaxing and enjoyable for most people.”


Elevation: 11,250 feet

Difficulty: Tough—Climbers die yearly on Hood, which has extreme weather and glaciers. 

Summit Strategy: Climb with professional guides. “Mountaineering is dangerous,” says Henry Whitehouse of Timberline Mountain Guides. “There are so many inherent risks one has to be prepared to take. The nice thing about hiring a guide service is that we deal with these every day.”


1. Build endurance: Pennock says stamina and endurance are key. “Do some longer uphill hikes with a steady pace. Think about long periods of consistent climbing up thousands of feet. Mind that snow will be much slower than hard earth.”

2. Beef up: According to Adam Baylor of Mazamas, if you can hike the Columbia River Gorge’s Dog Mountain or Table Mountain “while carrying a 25-pound pack and not be completely trashed when you’re done, then you’re probably fit enough for a successful Mt Adams climb.”

3. Get high: Whitehouse recommends training hikes with elevation gains of at least 3,000 feet. “Lots of cardio work, and if possible hiking at altitude.”

This article appeared in the July 2014 issue of Portland Monthly Magazine.

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