Background photo is an image of Highway 395 on the shores of Abert Lake, made by F.J.D. John in 2016.
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This episode kicked off a spate of fiery activity on top of Oregon’s tallest mountain that lasted a good 75 years. Oregon newspapers reported excitement on the mountain in 1853, 1854, 1859 and 1865.
The 1859 eruption is particularly interesting because, of course, that’s the year Oregon became a state. It was also a very dramatic incident. According to a pioneer named W.F. Courtney, quoted by author Bill Gulick, “It was about 1:30 in the morning when suddenly the heavens lit up and from the dark there shot up a column of fire. … For two hours as we watched the mountain continued to blaze at irregular intervals. …”
So, less than 35 years before the Mazama Club’s charter members made their plans to summit Oregon’s largest peak, it had been belching fire into the night sky.
TODAY, EVERY WINTER, thousands of happy Oregonians slide down the sides of Mount Hood on skis and inner tubes. (They do that in the summer, too — Timberline offers the only year-round Alpine skiing in North America.)
Every summer, thousands more set out to climb it. Mount Hood is the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Japan’s Mount Fuji. (New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock gets more climbers, but is only 3,165 feet high. That's just 700 feet higher than Mount Constitution on Washington’s Orcas Island, which gets many times more climbers than both Hood and Monadnock combined — many of whom pedal all the way to the top on bicycles. It all depends on one’s definition of “mountain.”)
Mount Hood is not the most technically difficult by a long shot, but it can be treacherous. Over the years, roughly 140 climbers have been killed on the mountain.
And yes, one of those was actually killed by volcanic activity, although not the kind one usually thinks of. In 1934, a fumarole — a crack in the ground venting hot volcanic gases — melted holes and caves in one of the glaciers on the mountain. A climber, coming across these caves, decided to explore them — and was overcome by fumes and suffocated inside. This climber remains the only person in state history to have been killed by a volcano in Oregon.
In the past several dozen years, there have been a number of small “earthquake swarms” at the mountain, reminding everyone that it’s still alive and smoldering. Although any volcanic activity on Mount Hood will most likely be quite mild compared with the Mount St. Helens eruption, it is one of the more likely candidates for America’s next volcanic breakout.
Which is an interesting thing to contemplate while riding inner tubes with the kids at Snow Bunny.