On Mount Hood: Book Review

Trail to the Top

“If you ask a little kid to draw a mountain… he’ll draw Mount Hood.”

With that simple insight, Jon Bell begins his tale of this iconic peak that we Oregonians call our own.

On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak is a book much like the mountain itself: accessible, vibrant, and filled with stories of times long past & those still in the making. Part travelogue and part natural history, Bell weaves a personal narrative of his backpacking trip around the mountain on the Timberline Trail with chapters filled with historical facts and anecdotes relating to the mountain.

For the book, Bell tapped the knowledge and expertise of some of Oregon’s most prominent earth scientists including Willie Scott, geologist at the Cascade Volcano Observatory, and Andrew Fountain, glaciologist at Portland State University. With their expertise, the peak’s geologic history of more than half-a-million years comes alive for the reader, providing a strong starting point for anyone seeking to understand this volcano and its context within the High Cascades.

Of course, the most stunning stories included in this book are those of the human endeavors on the mountain. Being one of the most climbed peaks in the world, Mount Hood is the setting of many triumphs and, unfortunately, many deadly failures. Most notable among them is the incident in 2002 when a rescue helicopter crashed on the mountain while attempting to save the lives of nine climbers who fell into a crevasse; A story which Bell tells in full in what is, arguably, the best chapter of his book. (You can see video of the crash here.)

While not the most gripping read of its genre, On Mount Hood is a supurb introduction to the mountain for anyone new to the region or who may be living in its shadow, but has never taken the time to explore and understand the volcano. I give it three out of five rock hammers for being an easy and pleasurable read.


On Mount Hood is available at Powell’s and other Portland-area bookstores, so support your local economy if you can. But if you live far away and your local store doesn’t carry it, then please buy it though the links on this page and help support this blog.


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