Behind Mount Hood

by Vy Nguyen

Mount Hood is everyone’s favorite. Either for its beautiful snowy peak that towers over the walking trails, the variety of outdoors activities available such as skiing or backpacking, or the fact that it is the second most climbed mountain in the world, Mount Hood has become Oregon’s pride, a symbol of the state’s natural splendor. But have you ever wondered where and how the mountain adopted its current name? And how the mountain relates to the state’s indigenous history?

In 1792, during Britain’s exploration of the Pacific Northwest under the command of Captain George Vancouver, the group spotted Mount Hood. It was Lieutenant William Broughton, a member of the team that decided to name the mountain Mount Hood as a tribute to a British admiral, Lord Samuel Hood, who led the British navy to victory at the Battle of Mona Passage in 1782 during the American Revolution. Lewis and Clark came across the mountain in 1805 and called it Falls Mountain or Timm Mountain, but later referred to it as Mount Hood after being notified of Vancouver’s discovery.

Since then, Mount Hood has always been called Mount Hood. But for centuries before Vancouver’s visitation, local tribes have always called it Wy’east. There are many versions of the meaning behind this name, but they mostly follow a relatively similar storyline, just with different character names.

According to the Chinookan tribe, there was an old woman, named Loowitlatkla (“Lady of Fire”), more commonly known as Loowit, that lived in the center of the earth. As this was the only place that burned fire in the world, Loowit took on the task of tending and providing the fire to the people that came to ask for it. So good and faithful was she at her duty, that she was noticed by the great chief Tyee Sahale. He offered her the gift of eternal life as a tribute, but Loowit disliked it because she did not want to live forever as an old woman. Sahale could not take it back, so he granted her a wish of her choice.

Her wish was to be young and beautiful, and the next morning, she woke up as a gorgeous maiden that won the hearts of many, among them the brothers Wy’east and Klickitat from Multnomah. Loowit could not choose between them; as a result, they ended up in a catastrophic fight that destroyed villages and forests. Sahale was so furious of the destruction that he knocked down the Bridge of the Gods, a majestic stone bridge that spanned over Columbia River, thus created the great Cascades Rapids of the Columbia River. He also smote the three lovers, but as he did so, he realized he loved them. Therefore, where each person fell, he erected a mighty mountain in their name to commemorate them and their tragic story. Loowit transformed into what we now call Mount Helens, Klickitat turned into Mount Adams, and Wy’east became Mount Hood.

The Klickitat tribe holds a similar version of the story. They, however, called Mount St. Helens Louwala-clough and Klickitat Pahto.

There were some conversations that started in 2015 about the possibility of changing the name of Mount Hood back to Wy’east after the official name change of Denali Mountain in Alaska from the previous Mount McKinley. Oregon Public Broadcasting started a quick survey on this topic and received responses from all sides of the spectrum, some such as below,

“Why, why, why not, Wy’east? It is in the West. All foolishness aside, keep it Hood for heaven sake.”

“It’s not ours to rename. Give it back to the nations the U.S. stole it from. Let their people decide what to call it.”

“When 90 percent of Oregonians say, “Hey, I’m going skiing on Wy’east this weekend,” we can consider this question. Which, incidentally, will never happen.”