This last weekend, I took a break from writing up my North Cascades Backpacking Trip to climb Mount Adams with my friends Michael and Margie. Michael was the leader of the trip, having done the climb several times and having the most experience of us all. This was Margie’s second time to the summit (she has also been to the false summit several times). I was the noob of the trip, having never climbed a mountain before.
The trip started very early on Saturday morning. The goal was to leave my house by 4:30a to get down to the ranger station in Trout Lake to secure climbing permits. Michael slept in a bit, so we were actually on the road 1/2 hour later than anticipated. The drive was around 5 hours or so – we took the “shortcut” through some unpaved forest service roads that were a little rough, but nothing my big truck couldn’t handle. The drive did offer some views of the mountain, which helped amp up the excitement level.
We checked in at the ranger station and found out that the mountain was going to be quite crowded for the weekend – 170 climbers already had permits! Well, it is a big mountain, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, and in hindsight, it was a good thing.
The route for the trip was the South Climb and is considered a non-technical route, although we still needed to use crampons and ice axes. Our goal for the first day was to hike up 4.5 miles to Lunch Counter and set up camp. On day two, we’d get up at 2:00a head for the summit, and then all the way back to the truck.
Last year there was a big forest fire on the south side of the mountain, and the first couple of miles of the trail are through the burnt out landscape left behind. There is no water and really no shade to escape the heat.
In the picture below, you get a good feel for how the early trail felt. Michael is pointing out our route up the mountain, which was currently covered with clouds. Fortunately the weather was forecast to be improving over the weekend.
Even though the trees were dead, there was still enough food to support the wildlife. We passed a small buck early on the hike up the mountain. He really didn’t seem bothered by us at all, and allowed us to take his picture.
As we hiked along, the weather around the mountain improved, and we started to get great views. In this picture, the highest point is actually the false summit (Piker’s Peak – 11,657’). Our basecamp was just behind the ridge on the right side.
At our first water crossing, Margie took the first tumble of the trip – she did a nice slow motion fall to the ground. Of course I didn’t ask to help her up, I was too busy taking a picture!
The trail became more difficult as we ascended. It turned into a sandy, rocky, slippery mess.
There were still a few easier section interspersed along the way, like along this ridge.
and there were some purple flowers.
Eventually, we made it to the first glacier and took a quick rest break. This was the beginning of the area where people would camp before attempting the summit. Our goal was higher up on the mountain. From this location, the view of Mount Hood was pretty awesome (you can also see a camp down the hill a bit).
The hike up this glacier wasn’t too bad – it wasn’t steep, and because it was the afternoon, the snow was soft. We just kick stepped up without using crampons. There was a little rock to traverse, but not much.
Eventually we made it up to our campsite. The prevailing winds come from the west, so people have created rock wind blocks in all of the good camping areas. We found an area without any other campers and set up our tent. We had a great view of our route up to the false summit from our site.
While Margie and I erected the tent, Michael filled all of our water bottles and started boiling water for our freeze dried dinners. Yum! After filling up on food, we had some down time to relax before bed, and I ended up getting a couple of pretty cool sunset shots of Mount St Helens.
Then it was off to bed! We slept in all of our climbing clothes so we wouldn’t have to get dressed at our 2a wakeup time. With all of the gear on, and three people in the tent, it got a bit warm, even though I was using my lightweight sleeping bag – I’m glad I didn’t lug up my expedition bag.
2a came pretty quickly, we got up for a quick breakfast and started heading up the hill! It was a clear night, and we almost didn’t need our headlamps to make our way along. Even with the moon out, you could see tons of stars – the advantage of having less atmosphere above your head.
This was my first time in crampons – we had discussed various techniques for going up and down, and I was warned about not rubbing my feet/legs together (so I wouldn’t shred my pants). It was kind of scary as we started up. The snow was very icy – you absolutely needed the crampons on to get up the hill. I constantly thought about keeping two points of contact with the ground (two legs or one leg and ice axe) – and I still lost count of the number of times I messed this up. Eventually I developed a rhythm, and was a little more comfortable.
And then it happened…about three quarters of the way up the first snowfield, my left crampon came off. I assessed the situation – we were on a steep section, but there was a “bowl” nearby that I could sit down in and adjust things. Margie was nearby, and moved over to help me out while I fixed things up.
And then it happened part 2…Now we are on a steep part of the snowfield and the crampon comes off again! Now I panic – I am screwed. This was steep and icy, and I had nowhere to go to fix things. Margie saves the day! She climbs below me and fixes things up as best we could on the side of the mountain.
We eventually made it to the top of this snowfield. We then had to cross a small sandy/rocky scree section, and I notice that my right crampon is coming loose, so I tighten that up before we attempt our assault on the last snowfield before the false summit.
And then it happened part 3…On the very steepest part of the entire climb, my right crampon comes off. Now I am extra screwed – I can’t go anywhere, and Margie really can’t drop below me to fix things up. This is where it was fortunate that the mountain was crowded. A nice fellow named Christian caught up to me and helped get the crampon back on. As he follows me up, he notices that the torque on the crampon when I am sidestepping is causing it to loosen up, so he suggested that I climb straight up, using my toes – I gave that a try and although I could tell my crampons were loose, they did not come off again before I reached the false summit.
I have to admit at this point I was pretty discouraged (There were a couple of other less stressful crampon incidents I did not write about). The altitude was getting to me a bit, and gear failure frustrates me to no end. However a quick break at the false summit helped me reenergize a little bit. Looking at the rest of the route to the summit, it didn’t look like I would need the crampons on until the very end, so I opted to put them away until they were absolutely needed again. Then I broke out the camera and enjoyed the views for a bit before we moved on.
Mount St. Helens – the shadow in the lower left hand corner is the shadow of Mt Adams. I should have taken a picture of the whole shadow…but I didn’t.
This is the view down to our basecamp. There is a relatively flat “point” of rocks on the right side of the picture. Our camp was where the flat section backs into the taller rocks.
Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and The Three Sisters.
From the false summit, we crossed a relatively flat snowfield before going up a steep rocky and sandy section of the mountain. As we approached the top, it became apparent that I would not have to get back into the crampons, which greatly reduced my stress level.
I began to reflect on the climb – would I really do something like this again? was I having fun? I was still discouraged/frustrated by the crampon issue, and my mind was in a bad place. Then I crested the summit and saw this…
Now that is a really wide angle picture, and doesn’t do the view justice. Mount Rainier was absolutely spectacular as we came over the top…at that instance everything was worth it. My frustrations went away – I was simply in awe of the place I found myself.
Mount St Helens
Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson
It turns out that in the 1920’s, someone made a mining claim to the sulfur on the summit. They built a horse and mule trail to the top and built a shack on top of the mountain. The project was abandoned because the quality of the ore was too poor. The shack is still there, and apparently when it melts out there is a book you can sign on the inside. It was just starting to poke through the snow, so I had to settle for a picture on top.
Another advantage of having lots of people on the mountain – we found someone to take a picture of the three of us with Mount Rainier in the background.
We tromped around the summit for a bit and found the official summit marker – the elevation has either eroded away or was never stamped into it.
Then it was time to head down…but our adventure wasn’t done.
Getting down to the false summit was a piece of cake. There really wasn’t any snow on the slopes, so we had to hike down, which is much faster than hiking up. At the false summit, the glissade chutes down the snowfield were very steep and full of rocks. After speaking with some other climbers, we decided to take a “trail” down a steep rocky section instead.
Part of the way down the hill, Margie slipped and fell – to the downhill side! This was a super scary moment – I watched her body make a full revolution before stopping (I couldn’t believe she stopped after just one – it was very steep). As I moved down to assist her, we discovered that her backpack had hung up on some rocks, otherwise she’d still be rolling down the hill. I helped her stabilize on the hillside as another group caught up to us. It turns out it was Christian – who helped me on the way up, and Christian also happens to be a doctor! After getting checked out, it appeared that Margie had a severely bruised hip, but could continue down the mountain under her own power. Michael helped her navigate to the bottom of the scree field at which point we glissaded almost all the way back to our basecamp.
Back at basecamp, Margie was a bit sore, but could still continue on. To help out, Michael took a ton of her gear and then sent her down the mountain while we broke camp. Heading down was probably the hardest part for me. Moving through the snowfields wasn’t too bad and we caught up to Margie right as we cleared the last of the snow. I had decided to just wear mountaineering boots for the whole trip…the bottom of my feet were screaming at me all the way down! Big mistake – at this point I was really wishing that I would have just carried the extra weight!
Eventually, we did make it all the way back to the truck…and it was awesome to get those boots off my feet – I’ve never had my feet hurt so bad!
Overall, the trip was a ton of fun, and I’m glad that Michael and Margie had me along!